It's the release that catches your eye. So quick, so smooth. So unbefitting of a rookie.
Boston Celtics first-round draft pick R.J. Hunter has come as advertised with an NBA-ready jump shot. But what's really given Celtics coach Brad Stevens the confidence to go to the 22-year-old Hunter at times early in this season is everything beyond that jumper, things like his effort on the defensive end and his basketball IQ.
Hunter chipped in seven points on 3-of-5 shooting during Boston's 99-83 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, but also added seven rebounds, a steal, and a block over 19 minutes of floor time. He was plus-19 in plus/minus while running with a second unit that helped Boston race away after digging itself out of an early hole.
Hunter has a long way to go to ascend to a consistent rotation player, but he's clearly endeared himself to his coaches early in his NBA career. And as the Celtics deal with injuries to starting guards Avery Bradley (bruised lower left leg) and Marcus Smart (sprained left big toe), there could be an increased opportunity for floor time.
Stevens inserted Hunter late in the first quarter with the Celtics down three. The rookie had a bad turnover on the first play of the second quarter, but atoned with a 3-pointer the next trip down. When Jerryd Bayless strayed to help on Jonas Jerebko under the basket, Hunter took the kick-out feed from Jerebko in the corner and canned the triple as two defenders scrambled to contest.
Hunter attacked the defensive glass, snaring four rebounds in his first four minutes of floor time, and the Celtics were up five by the time he checked out. Hunter got another stint late in the third quarter and helped Boston stretch a tenuous one-point lead to a 16-point cushion during a 12-minute shift spanning into the final frame.
Coming out of a timeout late in the third quarter, Hunter raced off a down screen in the high post and drilled a 19-foot pull-up. Midway through the fourth quarter, Hunter found space off a similar action on an inbounds set and -- shooting from the 17-foot range he often works on after practices -- connected on another mid-range shot.
Hunter still had rookie moments. Before his final field goal, he had a wide-open look from the corner, but missed everything (drawing "Airball!" chants from the Milwaukee crowd). Just before he checked out for the night, Hunter got a little too cute trying to deliver a bounce pass to David Lee -- this with three defenders surrounding him -- and it led to a turnover.
But Stevens praised Hunter's overall effort. The Celtics have an obvious need for shooting -- Boston shot 23.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc on Tuesday and ranked 26th in the league at 30.1 percent overall following the win.
Make no mistake, there were bigger stars off Boston's bench on this night. Minus Smart, Evan Turner helped with the ball-handling chores while giving Boston a little bit of everything (13 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, plus-32), while Kelly Olynyk (11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, plus-24 over 22 minutes) helped right the ship after Boston's starters struggled out of the gate.
But Stevens and the Celtics have put a high premium on skilled talent and guys that can knock down shots. In three appearances and 36 minutes of floor time, Hunter has made 40 percent of his attempts (4 of 10 overall despite making just 1 of 6 triples). The Celtics have a team-best offensive rating of 116.6 points per 100 possessions when Hunter is on the floor and his net differential -- plus-27.8 points per 100 possessions -- is second only to Olynyk (plus-27.9).
The Celtics snagged Hunter at No. 28 in June's draft while utilizing the pick delivered when Doc Rivers dashed to Hollywood. While Boston's deep roster has limited the floor time for the team's youngest players early in the new season, Hunter still has more playing time than Tyler Zeller, who began the year as Boston's starting center.
During the preseason, when younger players got copious amounts of floor time, this reporter liked to joke about "hype trains" and how Celtics fans often swooned over small glimpses of positive play from rookies like Hunter. When Boston is healthy, his opportunities will be harder to come by, but Hunter's skill set is going to give him a chance to be part of the rotation.
And it's games like Tuesday where Hunter justifies those hype trains.