While Avery Bradley has the potential to be an incredible college player (check here for the definitive scouting report), 6-7, 215-pound wing Jordan Hamilton (Scout No. 13, Rivals No. 5), from Dominguez High School in Compton, California, is perhaps the crown jewel of the 2009 No. 2-ranked Texas recruiting class. In fact, the Longhorn might not have secured the commitment from Hamilton had it not been for his friend Bradley, as the two talked about playing in college together as Bradley's plan to play with former Bellarmine Prep teammate and Washington commit Abdul Gaddy fell through. Hamilton and Bradley met through AAU tournaments and participating in camps together.
Hamilton was ruled ineligible for a fifth season of high school basketball in early November after having his petition for a hardship waiver denied. No word on what he will do to stay in basketball shape during the 2008-09 season, although he will likely compete on the summer circuit again. After struggling academically his freshman year in high school, Hamilton did not play basketball as a freshman at Dorsey High in Los Angeles, transferring to Dominguez after his sophomore year. Those academic issues were resolved last summer through independent studies, which hopefully means he won't have trouble becoming eligible to enroll at Texas. Hamilton says he suffers from ADHD, but hasn't used it as an excuse for his former academic issues and did endure the loss of his grandmother, to whom he was quite close, during his freshman year.
Some questions also surround Hamilton about his attitude. He sometimes loses his composure during games when he doesn't play well or feels officials are making poor calls. Hamilton responds by admitting that his attitude did sometimes get out of hand, but attributes that more to a strong desire to win and the effort spent to develop his game. DraftExpress criticizes him for his poor body language on the court, which reminds me a little bit of the way that Michael Beasley would visibly pout on the court when he made a poor play, which some observers cite as a "star mentality" possessed by Hamilton. That mentality results in some poor decision passing the ball and struggles with shot selection, particularly settling for too many three-pointers, as well as dribbling occasionally with his head down.
DraftExpress also criticizes Hamilton for his "refusal to play any kind of defense." Kevin Durant, of course, struggled defensively as well in his time at Texas, famously making a comment that there were other players on his team in high school or AAU "who did that," meaning play defense. Durant worked hard on his defense at Texas, as Rick Barnes demands, once being hard enough on himself to ask Barnes to bench him for his lack of success defensively, and did improve during his year on the 40 Acres. With Hamilton's competitive instincts, expect Rick Barnes to really challenge him as a defender as soon as he steps on campus.
Part of Hamilton's lack of defense may be the result of average athleticism and a lack of lateral quickness, the two natural attributes that contribute most to creating good defenders. Unlike Bradley, Hamilton also doesn't have a long wingspan for his height, although there are few 6-7 wings in college basketball with the skill set of Hamilton, meaning he will physically dominate against most opponents. It may be the lack of elite athleticism that keeps Hamilton in the program for more than a year, which would allow strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright to help Hamilton maximize his explosiveness. Keep in mind, as well, that Kevin Durant struggled at the NBA pre-draft camps with his agility. Hamilton also may need to lose a little weight, as one scout noted, which squares with characterizations of Hamilton as a "pudgy kid" in younger days.
The final, oft-cited weakness for Hamilton is basically two-fold: He fails to get balanced on some shots and also has a tendency to hunt for them when he feels uninvolved in the offense. In other words, he has a scorer's mentality. To the first issue, it seems to be a problem jump-stopping under control and an unnecessary fade to his jump shot that occasionally manifests itself. LeBron James had similar balance issues for the first couple of years in the NBA, but has mostly solved those problems through practice and consciousness of the issue. For a player with size and a high release like Hamilton, he doesn't need to fade to create space as smaller players like Steve Nash have to do. And Steve Nash also works on those fading shots, as well.
Hamilton averaged 27.6 points and 11.1 rebounds as a junior at Domginguez. As mentioned earlier, he has definite scorer's mentality and instinct. Despite the other criticisms, DraftExpress notes his "picture perfect stroke," "ability to create his own shot," and that he's a "real scoring machine." Hamilton also draws raves as one of the most gifted scorers in the country and a polished player. Scout.com's Dave Telep says that "slice him open, out spills the DNA of a scorer. After playing inside for his first season, Damion James had to develop an outside shot and handle before making the transition full-time to the wing. Hamilton won't have to make that adjustment from high school, since he already plays the position comfortable and well.
Hamilton's "picture perfect" stroke makes him an excellent long-range shooter, with range described as out to 25 feet (the NBA line goes out to 23 feet, 9 inches. Hamilton can both stop and pull a jumper off the dribble (although this is where his balance suffers) and catch and shoot. Those skills give him the versatility to spot up at the line and shoot coming off screens like a guard. Like Avery Bradley, he also possesses a developed mid-range game, with an ability to stop and shoot when moving left a la Dirk Nowtizki. The popular perception is that going left and shooting is more difficult for right-handed shooters since it's in the direction of their off-hand. A former roommate, whom I once saw make a Jason Kapono-esque 27 of 30 three-pointers, also argued that it's easier for a right-hander to stop and shoot going left, a point Nowtizki substantiates and I have come to believe is true. When penetrating into the lane, but finding his path to the basket blocked, Hamilton has the capability to toss in soft floaters.
More than just shooting the rock, Hamilton possesses the handle to get to the rim, crossing opponents over and maneuvering on-balance through traffic. Playing in the open court, his handle allows his scoring instincts to shine. His rebounding ability in the paint, for which he displays the tenacity lacking in his defense, allows him to generate transition opportunities rebounding and pushing the ball (once again similar to Nowitzki). With his scorer's mentality, Hamilton attacks the basket with aggression and physicality, with a solid ability to finish after contact. Though Hamilton faced criticisms earlier in his career about his passing abilities, that aspect of his game has developed over the last year.
Despite any jokes about Hamilton being "Straight Outta Compton" and any lingering concerns about his academic struggles as a freshman in high school, Hamilton seems to come from a good family situation. After the Los Angeles riots following the police beating of Rodney King, his family could have left Lemeirt Park, infested by gang violence. Jordan's father, Greg Hamilton, was a juvenile crew instructor for the Los Angeles County department of probation, and became something of a community activist in those trying times, starting a non-profit with his wife, Karen, that took at-risk kids to sports camps and sporting events at USC and UCLA. Knowing that sports aren't the only aspect of life, they taught decision-making by giving tours of prisons and detention centers. As for Karen's beliefs about school, she says that her son will make a commitment towards getting his college degree when he makes his commitment to college, even if it means he won't be on campus for four years.
Jordan Hamilton MIx - All-American Status (via Ballislifedotcom)
Commit of the Day: Jordan Hamilton (10/13/08) (via maxxathlete)
It seems almost anti-climactic doing this portion, but there are several concerns about Hamilton. Assuming that his grades aren't an issue, his lack of commitment to defense is. I expect Rick Barnes to remedy that quickly based on his history of insistence on it and culture of accountability. The lack of elite athleticism is a concern, as well, but mitigated to a large extent by his combination of shooting stroke, ball-handling skills, mid-range game, and flat-out scorer's mentality. As far as his attitude, his competitive streak that sometimes gets the best of him is present in every great, driven athlete. Michael Jordan had significant problems getting along with and trusting his teammates early in his career. Kobe Bryant has had similar problems as well. If Hamilton harnesses those emotions and focuses them on developing his body and his game, he will be a star.
Those concerns aside, the kid should show up on campus and score the basketball, just as Kevin Durant did. Besides the lack of wingspan and back-to-the-basket game, Hamilton sounds a lot like slightly less-valued Kevin Durant who will no doubt influence another generation of players like Durant did. In fact, Durant's play at Texas probably influenced Hamilton, who notes that he came to Texas because "I wanted to play for a coach who was going to let his wings get off." That's exactly what Texas fans expect, Jordan.