Looking into whether or not R.J Hunter can be in Boston’s rotation this season
With the loss of Evan Turner and no free agent guard additions, a spot has opened up in the rotation for one of the deepest and youngest core of guards in the NBA. The Boston Celtics are set with the top of their rotation with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, with Terry Rozier appearing to separate himself as next in line.
While Rozier is expected to take over the role played by Turner, that does not necessarily make it impossible for R.J Hunter to get the minutes he would need to have an impact. Hunter has a particular skill that the Celtics are in desperate need of, and two of the guards ahead of him have struggled tremendously with their three point shooting.
The most likely scenario for Hunter is to have the kind of role that Rozier ended up with last season. At the beginning of the year, Hunter and Rozier appeared to be interchangeable. They would each occasionally get significant minutes. Brad Stevens was all over the place with the rotation and he excersized every option at his disposal. Then, when injuries piled up at the end of the season, Rozier had done enough with those opportunities to get significant minutes in significant games.
Injuries are the most likely way Hunter gets any kind of role in the rotation, but his upside as a shooter has the potential to trump that. The problem with Hunter is that he needs to excel in one area more than any other guard has to excel in any one area in order to be successful. Hunter has done little to suggest he can have a big enough of an impact outside of his three point shooting and he needs to compensate for that.
Hunter was one of the rare draft picks that was taken as an offense first player that was far away from being able to keep up in the NBA physically. If Hunter is ever struggling shooting the three ball, then he becomes too much of a liability in other areas, and Stevens has more than enough options to replace him.
If, however, Hunter can find his stroke and can become a knock down three point shooter for the Celtics, even in limited minutes, then he will have some sort of role in the rotation. Improving their three point shooting is too important to the Celtics for them to leave Hunter on the bench if they know he can have an impact in that area.
The Celtics solidified a weak interior defense by adding Al Horford, and that takes a certain degree of pressure off of the defense of the back court. It becomes a lot easier for the Celtics to accommodate a weaker defensive guard now that they have the added security of Horford’s rim protection.
Hunter is still young enough that he can build himself up physically, allowing him to have a positive impact on the defensive end. Hunter has great size for his position and his length can be a useful tool in generating turnovers and disrupting passes. That being said, right now, the high end potential that can be expected of Hunter this season is three point shooting.
Of course, the first step for Hunter is making sure those behind him do not surpass him. James Young is holding onto dear life and Demetrius Jackson is much more of a well rounded player. If Hunter can be an impact three point shooter then that would be enough to hold off those behind him.
As it stands now, the only realistic scenario where Hunter has a consistent role in the rotation is an injury. Rozier and Smart are good good on defense, Bradley is too impactful on both ends and Thomas blows him away in any offensive category.
There is, however, one lineup combination that may allow for another guard to have a role in the rotation. The Celtics love to go small and they love to use three guard lineups and that is where Hunter can have an impact. Hunter can also benefit from the luxury of having multiple standout defensive guards around him on the court.
Hunter has the offseason to prove that he can be a reliable three point shooter and if he does that Stevens will have to at least try him out in those lineups. Hunter has the size to accommodate the kind of position versatility that is needed in those lineups and the bottom line is that the Celtics know how important improved three point shooting is to them.
Players, coaches and GM have all mentioned their shooting struggles and Hunter may be the one potential shooting specialist on the roster. Hunter has a long ways to go from where he was last year but the intrigue of his shooting stroke will always be in the back of Stevens’ mind.
The Celtics’ roster still feels far from set and that means any kind of rotation is still up in the air. Hunter has a lot of work to do because of the phenomenal depth and balance the Celtics have with their guards, but three point shooting can take this Celtics offense to the next level and with the addition of Horford they have a chance to be one of the most improved offenses in the NBA.