As the Boston Celtics dispersed from the locker room, David Lee walked over to R.J. Hunter and chatted him up for a few minutes before leaving for the night. A few weeks later, Hunter leaned back in his seat on the Boston Celtics bench and began talking to Lee during a game; the 22-year-old rookie guard and the championship power forward 10 years his senior. It seemed like an unlikely pairing but it has been an easy connection this season.
Lee received a request from his agent when Hunter entered the league. “Take care of R.J.,” Lee recalled.
The two wound up with the same agency and the same team — Hunter selected 28th by the Celtics in the Draft, Lee traded there from the Golden State Warriors this offseason. Lee was happy to oblige.
“He’s an unbelievable kid,” Lee told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously his dad was a coach (Georgia State University head coach Ron Hunter) and he knows a lot about the game. But more than anything, off the court he’s a great guy. He’s a player with a lot of potential, really has his head on straight and his work ethic is tremendous. From that standpoint, it’s really easy to be friends with him.”
Hunter entered the league a fan of Lee, who made his NBA debut when Hunter was 12. He remembers watching Lee post double-doubles on the New York Knicks and years later as a veteran leader on the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Hunter chose to curb his admiration while they got to know one another, which included stories of winning a title.
“He’s the teammate I talk to the most. Since day one, he took me in,” said Hunter. “I think it was a respect thing off the bat … he’s been in this league for a decade and some, so I’m not doing a lot of talking. He’s telling me how it is, his experiences off the court. He knows a lot.”
Hunter made a name for himself in college with his scoring abilities. Since joining the Celtics, Lee has gained an appreciation for Hunter’s game beyond the offense. In the limited time they have played together, Hunter says he likes to space the floor for Lee or find him off the pick-and-roll.
“Some of the things that are underrated, I think he’s a really good passer,” said Lee. “He can play really well in the pick-and-roll as well as he’s gotten a lot of steals and rebounds. On defense he has really long arms. I think a lot of people view him as just sort of a shooter and I think he’s got a lot more to his game.”
Lee has made an effort to get to know Hunter as a person. When the Celtics traveled to Europe during training camp, Lee took Hunter out to dinner. During the season Hunter says Lee shares some of his per diem with him on the road.
Hunter is even learning some fashion tips.
“I talk about his watches too,” Hunter said with a smile. “He has a crazy watch collection. This is the fifth different Rolex I’ve seen.”
Lee was mentored by Malik Rose, among other players on the Knicks, and wants to do the same as a veteran. (“Now that I’m an old man,” he said while laughing.) Lee sees a bright future in Hunter, who makes it easy for him to mentor.
“I’ve always said one of the most important things about being a rookie is not only do you have to be talented … you have to have work ethic and be coachable. He has both things,” said Lee. “He listens to the coaches and he’s a humble kid. For that reason, that’s why he’s going to get better and better not only throughout the year, but years to come.”
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