With the always-captivating NCAA tournament running at the same time as the final leg of the NBA playoff chase, March is one of the best parts of the year for basketball fans.
Even lovers of lottery-bound professional teams without a prayer for the playoffs can drool over the thought of collegiate stars donning their favorite squad’s colors next year.
Brooklyn is kind of on the outside looking in.
The Nets still have a pulse in the Eastern conference playoff race, but they can't stop flirting with flat-lining.
If they were able to pull out a W against the Boston Celtics on Monday, the eighth spot would belong to them. Then, after picking up a big-time win against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, the Nets pulled to within a half-game of Boston for the final playoff postseason opening.
With 12 games to go, the Nets aren’t down for the count just yet. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
But, for a moment, let’s forget about this playoff chase and think happier, calmer thoughts. Everything is bright and sunny until the reality of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers railroading the home team in front of a half-packed Barclays Center on Friday arises.
Fast forward three months to the NBA draft -- could Brooklyn’s first-rounder come in the form of a March Madness star?
(Side --and sad-- note: the Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap picks with the Nets as part of the Joe Johnson trade, so Brooklyn will pick towards the tail end of the first round, likely 29th.)
Who is this kid?
The Nets rank 27th in the league in three-point shooting, which is alarming. Outside of the New Orleans Pelicans, who still have a chance, every top-10 team of that category is a relative lock for the postseason.
Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have been somewhat reliable from beyond the arc, but Markel Brown has shot 25 percent from deep and Jarrett Jack has been even worse at 23.4. In today’s NBA, ball-handlers need to be able to stroke it from distance.
R.J. Hunter, the hero of 14th-seeded Georgia State’s magical upset over Baylor in the round of 64, could be the answer for Brooklyn.
The 6’5" shooting guard is a cold-blooded sniper. Here’s how NBADraft.net described Hunter’s biggest strength:
In short, his jump shot ... He's quite possibly best pure shooter in college ... He doesn't have your prototypical release but he is fluid and smooth and shoots a high percentage from virtually anywhere on the court ... He's got range for days and doesn't lack for confidence ... There's no shot on the court that he doesn't like and likewise, there's no shot on the court that he's afraid to take ... He can spot up and pull up off the dribble but he is at his best when he's coming off of screens.
Hunter is a career 35.4 percent shooter from three-point land and 50.5 percent from inside the arc. He’s also willing to take -- and make -- big-time shots.
After struggling throughout the entire game against Baylor, Hunter went into Kobe Bryant-killer mode with three minutes left. He scored 12 of his team’s final 13 points, including the iconic game-winner from Jimmer Fredette territory.
While he’s yet to declare for the draft, Hunter would be crazy not to capitalize on the buzz he’s created and make the leap. It’s hard to imagine his stock getting higher than it is right now.
Bleacher Report’s Daniel O’Brien called Hunter the "top mid-major NBA 2015 draft prospect" back in September, and also talked about his ceiling as a pro: "… a key role player, someone providing an offensive boost in the rotation. Hunter will stretch opposing defenses as a sharpshooter and also find some buckets inside the arc."
The Nets have instant-offense guys. But nobody in the rotation provides that spark with any semblance of consistency.
Hunter has drawn premature comparisons to another gangly shooter by the name of Reggie Miller (obviously a bit much), and he’s certainly not without fault. But considering how badly the Nets have shot from deep this year, particularly after Mirza Teletovic went down, taking a shooter like Hunter late in the first is a bit of a no-brainer.
Hunter is a good player in general and could help in the shooting department. There are questions about his defense and quickness and he is similar to Bojan Bogdanovic in terms of his defense. All that said, it seems he will definitely be in the discussion at No. 29. He may even go higher.
NBA scouts like what they see in Hunter because of a rule of thumb in evaluating shooters. There are spot-up shooters playing off of other players; other players who can shoot off screens; and still others who need the ball in their hands. An NBA prospect has to be very good at one of those traits to be a shooting wing in the NBA. He can do more than one thing.
In Brooklyn, with Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack dominating the ball, Hunter would hypothetically have to do a lot of his damage on spot-ups and catch-and-shoots off screens—which is what most draftniks point to as his greatest ability.
Most mocks project Hunter to go in the mid- to late-20s. Switching picks with the East-leading Hawks definitely stings, but still managing to get a guy like Hunter would soothe the pain for Brooklyn come June.