Before we dig into the links and analysis, first let me say happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to all! Though the majority of the population sees this day as one spent away from school or work, it’s important to sit back and realize the real meaning behind King’s message that he unintentionally sacrificed his life for. Without his brave deeds and revolutionary thinking, who’s to say where the U.S. would be even today. Indeed this country has come a long way since King first began his civil rights campaign but sadly, there’s still so much more room for improvement. I’m proud to be a member of the diversified group of writers that covers the NBA, which is far ahead of the pack in terms of race and ethnic relations in professional sports, however I’d by lying if I said we are where we need to be regarding this issue. But on this day if everyone takes one conscious step in the right direction to accepting people for who they are on the inside and not what they look like on the outside, it would at least further fulfill the “dream” of equality for all that was once shared by King with the rest of the world.
About a week ago the NBA D-League held its annual showcase which scouts from across the globe attend in order to get an up-close-and-personal look at the league’s best talent. Essentially, this is one big tryout where each team plays a few games and the more productive players, in turn, get their name out on the market. Because the Showcase has grown both in popularity and and talent, NBA TV aired numerous contests over the weekend with the Denver Nuggets’ affiliate D-League team, the Idaho Stampede, making two appearances in the process. Being that Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone were sent down to the Stampede right before the Showcase began, like the scouts I was able to get an inside look at where these two rookies are in terms of their progression.
Stone: Even though he was sent down just days before the Showcase got underway, Stone had already earned the starting point guard spot and it was clear why. First, though it may seem trivial, the fact that Stone was chosen as the one player to be “mic’ed up” during the broadcast out of the entire two rosters, to me, was a good sign. Stone was constantly chattering with his teammates, directing the action and making sure people were where they needed to be on defense. Again, keep in mind that Stone had only been with the Stampede for a few days and yet played as if he had been there an entire year.
The second thing that immediately caught my eye about Stone was his defense. He was by far the most active player on the defensive side of the ball, even landing a block within the first few minutes of the game. As time went on, his defense became even more intense and by the end of the game he was virtually locking down whoever was in front of him. To compliment his excellent one-on-one defense, Stone rebounded the ball like a power forward rather than a point guard, evident by his eight boards against the Erie BayHawks which was the most on the entire team and third most of anyone in the game. Additionally, his two steals tied fellow teammate and current pot-belly extraordinaire, Antoine Walker, for the most in the game.
Offensively, Stone was again impressive although not quite as much as on defense. He still doesn’t shoot the ball often, but when open he’ll fire up a three with descent form that’s nothing to scoff at. In seven attempts from behind the arc in his D-League stint, Stone made three of them. Other than this occasional outside jump shot, Stone is pretty much a designated driver of the lane and can do so with a strong burst of speed, that if perfected, could be a lethal weapon down the road. Finishing around the basket in traffic still appears to be somewhat of a challenge for Stone, but again, time and hard work should mend this area of relative weakness.
Yet of all the different aspects of his repertoire that pleasantly surprised me, what stood out most with Stone is his natural feel for the game, court vision and distribution skills. From the minute the ball was tossed in the air at mid-court, Stone was controlling the pace of the game, finding open teammates and delivering the ball on a dime in the process. When it was time to push the pace, Stone was spearheading the attack, and when it was time to slow it down, Stone had no problem easing up and getting everyone of his teammates a touch before someone eventually took it upon themselves to score.
Not surprisingly, Stone was called up after only three games in the D-League. He was clearly one of the better players on the floor and is someone who can undoubtedly have an impact at the next level. If Andre Miller is to be traded, after seeing Stone play an extended period of time, I have no doubt that this kid can come in right away and do everything needed from a backup point guard. Plus, his size will be greatly appreciated when paired next to the diminutive Ty Lawson in George Karl’s two-point guard, small-ball lineup.
Hamilton: Unlike Stone, Hamilton is still down in the D-League as we speak. After starting off hot, netting two double-doubles in as many games, he seemed to have hit a wall for reasons unknown to the general public. Also unlike Stone, Hamilton seemed entirely out of place in the two contests I was able to view.
Hamilton didn’t start due to Luke Babbit and Antoine Walker holding down the forward positions ahead of him on the depth chart, and instead came off the bench with the second unit, which is largely who he played with throughout the game. This is something that I didn’t think much of until about midway through the second game when I started to realize how truly out of place Hamilton was all together. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t fit into the rotation or lacked the talent to play, but more so, he just seemed lost.
In the first game against the BayHawks, Hamilton looked OK. He wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he should have been but was making the extra pass that often led to an open teammate knocking down an uncontested shot, which was a good sign. Even more so, when running the open floor on a fast break or penetrating the lane, Hamilton showed an above-average ability to dish the rock to a trailing teammate for a guy his size. In fact, out of all the highlights in Game 1, his passing ability was bar none the lasting image for me. Yes, he hit a really long 3-pointer that displayed his extensive range and even snagged a few rebounds along the way, but the way he passed was a breath of fresh air considering the selfishness on display at the Showcase.
That said, Hamilton also made his fair share of mistakes that I simply could not overlook. Besides being way more timid than he ever should have been, Hamilton shied away from playing staunch defense whenever the opportunity presented itself. His feet were slow, he was always behind his man and when it came to rebounding the ball he never once attempted to box out or get aggressive in the paint. At the end of the game, he finished with the fewest amount of minutes of anybody on the Stampede who saw at least a minute of action.
Going into Game 2 I was openly optimistic about Hamilton bouncing back with an authoritative performance, but instead he followed it up with an even more disappointing outing. After being one of the last members of the rotation to see the floor, Hamilton entered the game only to waltz about on the edge of the 3-point line staying about as far away from the action as you possibly could without actually taking a seat on the bench. Early on the Stampeded were down and in desperate need of someone to step up, yet Hamilton was M.I.A. while Antoine Walker forced up a countless number of ill-advised shots.
As the game progressed, things only got worse. At a jump-ball scenario Hamilton twice left the ground too early, which resulted with him bickering back and forth with the referees that lasted the rest of the game. His body language then took a turn for the worse as his arms went above his head more often to protest a call rather than to take, block or rebound a shot. He then began committing bad fouls which eventually led the once enthusiastic announcer to begin questioning Hamilton’s drive stating, “Now that’s just a silly foul right there, there’s no reason to reach there… I’d like to see [Hamilton's] motor… even though you’re a rookie it doesn’t mean you can’t be a high energy guy for a team like this.”
Finally, Hamilton’s frustrations culminated when he nearly snapped after the referee made, what he perceived, was another bad call. On the verge of getting a technical foul, while stomping and throwing his hands in the air a la J.R. Smith, something must have clicked as Hamilton then followed up his temper tantrum with a minute-long rage where he suddenly became more active than he’d been in two games that I watched him play in. During this period of intense effort and focus Hamilton managed to score a basket, dish out an assists and pull down a rebound all within seconds of one another.
Nevertheless, this was a side of Hamilton I’ve yet to see and didn’t even know existed. All the scouting reports we heard last year about his poor attitude seemed to finally come to life against the Bakersfield Jam which was the last thing I ever expected to happen. Clearly, Hamilton has some work to do in the mental part of his game, but it’s important to keep in mind that he’s still a rookie and is basically just an extra asset at this point in time given how much depth the Nuggets have at the small forward position. We’ll keep you updated on Hamilton’s performances down in the D-League, but for now I’d say the possibility of seeing him play this year is non-existent if it wasn’t already before.
Now for the links (some of which are kind of old, yet still good reads):
If you haven’t yet read this New York Times story on Andre Miller and Ty Lawson I’d highly recommend it. Yes, it’s a little out of date, but it’s still fascinating considering all the controversy attached to the two-point guard lineup.
At least somebody out there appreciates the Nuggets for being the fun, regular season high-flying but perpetual first-round losing “sloths” they really are.
Afflalo has finally appeared to be getting back on track. Here is a story with tons of great quotes from the $44 million-dollar man.
I appreciate the Nuggets trying to model itself after the Spurs, I really do, but let’s be honest here, George Karl ain’t no Greg Popovich.
Of course, we’ve all heard about the Andre Miller malcontent quotes by now, but just in case you’re living under a rock, here’s Miller proclaiming his dissatisfaction with coming off the bench.
Chris Tomasson is reporting Danilo Gallinari and his agent want Nene type money.
Apparently the Smiths are a family of fighters. Here are photos and blurry footage of J.R. Smith’s sister beating up the elderly in China.
Ty Lawson has lots of shoes in case you were unaware. He also is one of the top five most underrated players in the NBA (Insider) according to Chris Palmer.
Recently Jeremy weighed in on ESPN’s 5-on-5 series regarding the Heat and Nuggets.
Finally, Complex.com (the website for Complex magazine) was gracious enough to award Roundball Mining Company best Denver Nuggets blog. We don’t win that many awards around here so this one feels pretty good. Thanks to Complex for the recognition!