R.J. Hunter worth a flier for Bulls

The Chicago Bulls’ acquisition of Michael Carter-Williams seemingly put the finishing touches on the roster. Apparently not.

The Bulls are reportedly adding 2015 first-round pick and recently released R.J. Hunter as the team’s 15th man. The Celtics selected Hunter with the 28th pick in the draft, only to cut him one year later. Nonetheless, Hunter’s pre-draft profile gives the Bulls hope that he can be more useful to them than he was in Boston.

Georgia State

Hunter had an extremely productive career playing under his father at Georgia State. He was the team’s best player all three seasons, and he even willed the team to the Round of 32 of the 2015 NCAA Tournament with this historic shot:


Hunter was unfairly billed as the next Klay Thompson, but his dominance at Georgia State created lofty expectations. He put up a 25-plus PER in each season in college while playing mostly against sub-par competition:


***Chart courtesy of Sport-Reference.com***

Hunter won Sun Belt Player of the Year during his sophomore and junior seasons but actually saw a steep decline in his efficiency. He took on more of a ball-handling role during his last season at Georgia State, which led to more shots off the dribble and almost double his turnovers from the season prior. His three-pointers fell off from 100 made at a 39.5 percent clip during his sophomore season to just 80 three-pointers at an abysmal 30.5 percent clip. He also settled for far more long two-pointers (increased from 19.9 percent of shots to 32 percent, per Hoop-Math.com).

His junior year was still impressive, with a line of 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. The only other players that season to average 18 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while making 80 three-pointers were A.J. English and D’Angelo Russell.

Nonetheless, the drop-off in efficiency led to Hunter slipping all the way to pick No. 28 on draft day. That didn’t stop advanced stats pundits from seeing potential in the lanky guard.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, who annually projects the top players in the draft using his WARP system, pegged Hunter as the 11th-best prospect in 2015 when accounting for scouting. When not including Chad Ford’s big board into the equation, Hunter had the sixth-best projected WARP in the entire draft. Hunter’s excellent free throw percentage (85.3 percent), steal (2.2 per 40 minutes) and block (1.1 per 40 minutes) rates for his career helped boost the projections. It’s also important to remember that free throw percentage is actually better at predicting success from behind the arc at the NBA level than the college three-pointer.

Of course, Hunter’s success at Georgia State was quickly forgotten as he badly struggled at the NBA level.

Boston Celtics

In fairness to Hunter, he was never given much of a chance to succeed in Boston with the depth of their roster, but he showed little ability to play at the NBA level during his rookie season. He made just 19 three-pointers in 315 minutes at a 30.2 percent clip. His thin frame was also exposed on the defensive end, where he no longer had a zone defense to make up for his shortcomings.

Hunter hasn’t fared much better even when he’s gotten playing time elsewhere. He’s shot only 35.4 percent from the floor in his Summer League career (although he converted on 45.8 percent of his attempts from behind the arc this summer in five games). He even shot only 29.6 percent from the three-point line in eight D-League games. These are competitions a seasoned college player should be dominating.

The preseason was the first glimmer of hope for Hunter in quite some time. He averaged seven points in just 14.8 minutes per game. His per-36-minute preseason numbers came out to 17 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game while making 2.4 three-pointers per contest, albeit at a 30.4 percent clip. He still shot 44.4 percent from the floor overall and displayed some of the potential that made him a first-rounder a year ago:


Hunter at his best is a long (6-foot-10.5), skilled guard with a beautiful-looking shot that hasn’t had great results thus far. At his worst, he’s an erratic shooter who gets bullied on the defensive end. The Bulls are willing to bet, at a very low cost, that his strengths will emerge in Chicago.

Still, the fact that Boston let him go after a solid preseason is not a good sign. However, Chicago needs any shooting it can get, so the Bulls will happily take a flier on the 23-year old given their situation. Also, being a former first-round pick is a bonus for Gar Forman and John Paxson’s egos.

The Bulls lost Tony Snell in the MCW trade and essentially got him back in this deal. The difference is Snell showed over thousands of NBA minutes that he couldn’t play at this level. Hunter still has the chance to prove he has more to offer.

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