On February 21, 2013 The Orlando Magic traded J.J Redick, a well-respected veteran whose desire was to finish the season in Orlando, to the Milwaukee Bucks, a team desperate to make the playoffs, in exchange for what appeared to be a couple of bench warmers. In hindsight, after Tobias Harris posted ridiculous averages of 17.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg, the trade looks like a total steal; especially when considering that Redick was not retained and the Bucks got swept in the first round anyways. There had to be a reason why Rob Hennigan, the only GM in the league younger than Ryan McDonough, traded a player having a career year mainly for a player who A) was projected to play the same position as incumbent starting small forward Maurice Harkless and B) had never been given a chance to truly showcase his skills.
The answer is quite simple: just like he did with the Dwight Howard trade, Hennigan mined talents and obtained assets with upside. In this trade, Hennigan exploited a desperate team. In the year since trading Howard, the Magic went from being a barren wasteland for young, talented assets to having a plethora (Harkless, Harris, Vucevic, Oladipo, and Nicholson.) This formula sounds familiar does it not? Hit the jump as I examine, at incredible length, Hamilton as the likeliest candidate to erupt in the same vein that Tobias Harris did upon changing from a playoff team to a rebuilding one.
Who is Tobias Harris?
It was well documented that in college, Harris was a big time scorer. Having played so well in his lone year of college, the then 19 year old Harris (as a point of reference, Harris is in fact younger than Kendall Marshall) was taken 19th overall in the 2011 draft. Given his age, the Bucks' desire to be a competitive playoff team, and the logjam that existed at both the three and four positions, Harris was not given much opportunity in his first season and half in Milwaukee. In addition to not giving him playtime,the Bucks were not utilizing his effectiveness in the post or taking advantage of his face-up game. He started a portion of last season when Mbah a Moute was out with injury, but was relegated to spot up three point shooter whilst playing alongside the likes of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. That being said however, Harris did as much as he could in the little playing time that he got by posting very solid per 36 statlines off the bench.
So, when the Magic penciled Harris in as the starting four, his per 36 numbers proved not to be a mirage. Harris excelled at his new position when he was surrounded with a good inside threat in Vucevic, a good slasher in Harkless, and good three point shooters in Nelson, Udrih and Afflalo (before he got hurt.) Harris' game is very reminiscent of how Carmelo Anthony played in his first couple seasons in Denver (Melo used to be a mediocre three point shooter and had plenty of success in the post and in case you don't believe me check this page out.)
Given this, the deceptively athletic Harris, his max vert is 37.5 inches, can play two positions (The analysis in this article doubted Harris' ability to be an above average player at the next level. The author must have doubted Harris' ability to succeed as a Power Forward in the rapidly transforming landscape in the NBA despite making spot on comparisons based on Harris' vitals. As you can see, there is a Carmelo comparison in there and this was before Harris had even played a game. I am making a note of this because, physically, Harris appeared to have the tools needed to succeed as an NBA player. This was cemented by the maturity he displayed when Harris became the leader of his college team at such a young age) and seems to have very sound fundamentals in regards to rebounding and scoring the ball. Now what does any of what I just said have anything to do with Jordan Hamilton?
The Case for Jordan Hamilton
Hamilton as a Prospect
For one thing, Hamilton too has been riding the pine for the past two seasons in Denver; something he says has been a rather humbling experience. This isnt the first humbling experience Hamilton has had however. After graduating High School in 2009, Hamilton joined the Texas Longhorns as the top ranked small forward; many scouts projected him to be a top ten lottery pick in 2010, the draft that featured John Wall, Paul George, and Demarcus Cousins. A bad attitude, selfishness, and poor shot selection caused his stats and stock to suffer
Eager to start anew, Hamilton returned to school and improved his stats across the board, simply by rededicating himself to being a better teammate.
He improved his three point shooting touch, free throw percentage, doubled his rebounding totals, and became an overall more efficient scorer all while being the man in the Longhorns' slow paced offense. The year to year maturity improvement is fairly evident, but that did very little to deter GM's from shying away from what they viewed as a volatile personality. Why is the fact that Hamilton improved so much in his second year at all relevant to the topic of this post? Well, it is a lucid example of Hamilton's ability to respond to adversity. Instead of letting the hype continue to go to his head, Hamilton was able to take the criticisms to heart and made tangible improvements across the board. Needless to say but important to recognize how difficult it is to revamp your mentality towards the game, especially when you have spent most your life surrounded by people elevating your ego. This resiliency is an undervalued asset for any prospect as it speaks volumes about how a player is wont to react when pushed to the brink, and I think it is fair to say that Jordan has been pushed to the brink. Even more so when taking into account that George Karl, during the playoffs, started rookie Evan Fournier at Small Forward when Gallinari got injured.
Hamilton as a Pro
College is College though and the NBA certainly has no time for people resting on their laurels from the past. As such you make do with what you have and the best a rookie can do in terms of getting play time on a team stacked with veterans is that he needs to: play within the team's offense by taking good shots (Hamilton's shot charts and heat map in his rookie and sophomore seasons show that the majority of Hamilton's shots are essentially coming at the rim and three point range; the same could be said about Tobias Harris in his rookie and sophomore campaigns) stay within the team's defensive gameplan, and hope for the best.
Both flashed glimpses of having the requisite two NBA level skills, (Hamilton appears to be proficient as far as three point stroke and rebounding are concerned, but his free throw shooting does appear to be inconsistent with his otherwise excellent touch; perhaps the reason for this is that Hamilton gets to the line so infrequently and is not taking his free throws in rhythm. A counterpoint to this argument does exist however as a smaller sample size of shots normally results in better efficiency numbers) needed to be more than a career bench warmer.
In order to maximize a player's worth you obviously need to put them in a position where they can take advantage of their best qualities; system and fit alone can make or break an NBA career. If you disagree, consider for a second how you would prove your worth if you were not put in a position to succeed. Earl Clark might not be the best example of this, but he certainly seemed like a bust after three seasons in the league, but he finally started to seem like an NBA Player when placed in a free-flowing system that minimized almost all responsibility on his part.
After viewing these two videos you get a solid idea of which parts of the game Hamilton is supposed to excel. Watching Hamilton, you clearly see how well he can square his shoulders to fire from distance, gather himself in order to score off the dribble, and use his athleticism (His max vert is a rather underwhelming 32 inches, but with his relative strength, finishing can become a strength of his. Kevin Durant's max vert was listed at 33.5 inches) to allow for scoring opportunities, principally at the rim and in the post. Keeping all that in mind, the 6'8.5 inch Hamilton, and his versatile ability to play both wing positions, would appear to be a very good fit on an uptempo; specifically one with two playmakers running up and down the court searching for mismatches.
Jordan Hamilton - Rookie Highlights (via denbutsu)
These are College videos though, so they do not actually show whether or not Hamilton's skills positively translated to the NBA level and as such, I included the clip above. As a rule of thumb, you want your players demonstrating skills, wherever and whenever that may be, that can translate to the NBA level and applied against tangible NBA competition. I realize that the three or so games in the video is an incredibly small sample size, but the qualities highlighted above, chiefly the ability to stroke it from deep, are on full display. Given that these are favorable highlights displaying positive clips of what Hamilton can do, that one can notice these features are important aspects to take away from individual games. Furthermore, it should come as no surprise that Hamilton had his best games when he was either starting or receiving decent minutes. After all, George Karl ran a high octane offense, something Horancek too wishes to implement.
Jordan Hamilton 25 Pts vs raptors summer league 18.7.13 HD (via kobebryantworld)
I included this last video to demonstrate the point, that when given the minutes and opportunity, the skills put on display in the videos above are certifiable and not just flashes in the pan. Hamilton was matched up against NBA quality talent in Terrence Ross here and he continued to flash that brilliant three point stroke and overall offensive acumen that makes him appear poised for a would be breakout season (The Nuggets still have Hamilton buried on their depth chart.)
Comparing Hamilton to other NBA players
After compiling all this data and doing all this research the player Jordan Hamilton reminds me the most of is J.R Smith without nearly as much of a temperamental attitude. Like Smith, Hamilton has had the tendency to take and make difficult shots and score points in bunches without placing too much importance on defense and Smith did not become a meaningful contributor to an NBA team until he was traded away from the team that drafted him.
Another player Hamilton could mirror is Klay Thompson. With his three point shooting stroke, Hamilton could serve a Klay Thompson like presence in the offense scheme. Thompson is not a fantastic finisher at the rim and does not attack the basket very often because of his mediocre handle and subpar athleticism (Let it be known that Hamilton is stronger and more athletic than Thompson and the Warriors seem to be doing just fine despite Thompson's obvious defensive deficiencies.) In fact when looking at Thompson's shot chart you can see the only aspect of the game where he is above average is shooting from distance. Regardless, he is a very valuable offensive cog for the Warriors because of how well he can shoot the ball. When looking at Hamilton's shot chart the thing that pops out is the amount of red spots (indicating percentages below league average) present, but when factoring the 201 total shots attempts Hamilton took, the poor efficiency zones can be forgiven for the most part. Upon viewing this, it becomes easier to visualize the most effective way to utilize Hamilton's skill set: keep him at the three point line, let him attack the glass at will and watch his value increase. For reference, here are Thompson's per 36 stats
Here is one final tool to use to compare Hamilton, Harris and Thompson. Hamilton has the lowest eFG% and TS% of the group, but those numbers are somewhat deflated by his curiously poor free throw shooting. Either way, Hamilton has the best minutes adjusted counting stats, win shares and PER.
The Magic made Harris the go to player right off the bat,which would have altered the way in which he had been playing to that point, even after asking him to change positions. Under most circumstances, doing what the Magic asked of Harris would have had catastrophic consequences, but instead it gave Harris the opportunity he had been yearning for to validate his talents. Were the Suns to acquire Hamilton, they would not be asking Hamilton to change his game entirely, but rather to display the skills that had him ranked as a lottery pick not too long ago. And while it might be worrisome that all we have to evaluate Hamilton on, despite his being in the NBA for the past two seasons, are his college statistics and ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, it could end up being a risk worth taking as there would be less pressure on him to succeed and contribute. After all, even if the 22 year old Hamilton does not pan out in the way I believe he is capable, he could still end up being used as a valuable trade chip down the line.
In this piece, the skeptical author from above indirectly voiced his concerns about Hamilton's ability to succeed at the next level by mentioning the similarity between Jordan Hamilton and Tobias Harris. Jordan's stats in his sophomore season and Harris' stats in his freshman season were very similar and both had special value as rebounding wings. The author incorrectly assumed that wings cannot provide plus value on the boards because they play on the perimeter. While none of this matters now, the whole point of this article is to highlight the similarities between the two. Harris' breakout season began with Harris playing well in summer league which culminated, in terms of his Milwaukee career, in his extrapolating that into a starting job. Hamilton played well this past summer league, but again, he is set to warm the bench. More to the point is: if the opportunity presents itself, I think the Suns should pounce.
(Disclaimer: There wasn't a single mention about what Hamilton provides defensively and that is infinitely harder to predict and measure. It is worth mentioning though that Hamilton had a win share/48 of .100 despite averaging a meager 9.9 minutes per game. For what it is worth, Hamilton's win shares per 48 and defensive win shares per 48 in his sophomore season were better than Harris' when Harris played for Milwaukee and Orlando. It should be noted however that Harris is not a very good defender to begin with, and while Hamilton does have the length and the strength to become a plus defender he has a long way to go in terms of defensive awareness and becoming more disciplined on that side of the ball.)
Too long did not read
Jordan Hamilton has been buried deep on the Denver Nuggets' bench since being drafted in 2011. Hamilton, like his fellow 2011 draftmates in Harris and Thompson, has posted solid per 36 minutes statistics since entering the league, but unlike his counterparts he has not been given an opportunity to shine. Up above is a lengthy article detailing why I think it would benefit the Suns if they tried trading for Hamilton (A trade like this seems reasonable for all teams involved.) Now go read the whole thing!