Heading into the 2015 NBA Draft, there was one underclassmen that really caught my eye. As most draftniks were spending hours talking about elite one-and-done prospects like Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell or even Latvian heartthrob Kristaps Porzingis, yours truly was most intrigued by UTEP sophomore Vince Hunter.
That interest came after watching highlights of him playing at UTEP or the NBA Combine where he just showed so much heart and hustle on each possession. On either end of the court, he just fought hard to give his team any kind of advantage, whether it was through fighting for an offensive board or laying down a huge chase down block. Those skills were on display during his sophomore season at UTEP as he averaged 14.9 points, 9.2 rebounds (2.7 offensive), 1.2 steals and 1 blocks per game on 53% from the field on only 28.5 minutes per game.
Despite those great numbers, Hunter wasn’t selected in the 2015 NBA Draft. Following the draft and the subsequent Summer League, the Kings signed Hunter to play with them during training camp. Although Hunter got cut after playing in only one preseason game, Hunter was lucky enough to get added to the Reno Bighorns, their NBA G League squad.
From the jump, Hunter stood as arguably the best front-court player in the entire league as he just expanded on the skills that he showed at UTEP. While he still exhibited that same spirit that he had in college, he started to show some more versatility as he added an ability to drive to the rim while also being more comfortable as a pick-and-roll driver. Those added traits pushed him to average 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds (4.3 offensive) and 1.5 blocks per game on 59% from the field. That great production pushed him to being a 2015 G League All-Star.
Just a few days after putting up 12 points and 7 boards on 75% shooting, Hunter decided to try his chances in Europe by signing a deal with Panathinaikos of the Euroleague and Greece’s HEBA A1 league. Unfortunately his great G League performance wasn’t able to translate to minutes in Europe as he only averaged 8 minutes during his time with that squad.
Following that solid rookie season (at least in the States), Hunter made his return to Vegas by playing with the Grizzlies squad. In only 22 minutes per game, Hunter almost flirted with averaging a double-double as he put up 11.6 points and 7 rebounds per game on 57% from the field.
That strong play pushed the Grizzlies to give him a training camp opportunity. Unlike his prior preseason stnt with the Kings, Hunter was able to actually get minutes with the Grizzlies where he put up pretty solid numbers. Playing 4 games with the Grizzlies, he averaged 8.7 points and 4 rebounds per game on 73% from the field in 19 minutes per game. As good as he might’ve been, he wasn’t able to make the Grizzlies roster as they cut him just a week before the start of the regular season.
Although Hunter was denied an NBA opportunity for the second straight year, he didn’t let that deter him as he made his way back to Europe to play with Avtodor Saratov of the VTB United League in Russia. Yet again, Hunter was able to produce at a high level as he put up 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on 55% from the field in only 26 minutes per game.
With his consistent progression, Hunter entered the 2017 offseason to see if the old “third time’s a charm” motto was actually true. For the third consecutive time, he made back to Summer League, this time with the OKC Thunder in Orlando. Yet again, Hunter thrived as he put up 16.3 points and a team-best 7 rebounds on 59% from the field and 67% from beyond the arc on 2 perimeter attempts per game. While his solid production shouldn’t surprise anyone, Hunter staggered some people when he displayed a bit of a perimeter jumper. Although he only launched 6 perimeter shots during Orlando Summer League, it’s a nice development for a player that was previously looked at as a rim-runner that can attack the offensive glass.
Is Hunter’s perimeter progression just a mirage? We don’t know yet as this is really the first time that he tried to expand his game since he was at UTEP. Luckily, basketball fans will be able to quickly find out as he’ll join the Grizzlies during Vegas Summer League. If he’s able to shine in Vegas at the same rate that he did in Orlando and during the rest of his pro career, Hunter may not have to go back to Europe. That statement is due to the possibility that some team in the NBA looking to hand Hunter a two-way deal.
Although there can be a change that Hunter would decline that deal to possibly get some more money in the NBA, he still stands as a player that a squad in the Association should take a chance on. As he’s shown since his time at UTEP, Hunter stands as a front-court player that can just outwork the opposition, whether it’s as an offensive rebounder or rim protector.
On those skills alone, he stood as someone that always had an outside chance at making a team’s roster as a garbage time player. However, if Hunter’s able to showcase that he can also be a stable perimeter shooter, then there’s a strong possibility that a lot of NBA teams may be knocking on his door.
For a player that’s shined wherever he’s played, I think it would smart for an NBA squad to throw a two-way deal at Vince Hunter.