After a somewhat disappointing freshman season, both individually and certainly from a team perspective, Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton has bounced back and emerged as one of the best scorers in college basketball.
Never really finding his groove coming off the bench on a team featuring three players picked in the 2010 draft, Hamilton was incredibly inconsistent from game to game last year, showing significant issues with his shot-selection, defense and in turn his body language when faced with adversity.
With Damion James, Avery Bradley, and Dexter Pittman now out of the way, Hamilton has moved into a role as Texas' number one option, a situation that suits his style of play and alpha-dog mentality much better. Hamilton's numbers are up across the board, as he's scoring an excellent 23.1 points per-game pace adjusted and shooting 46% from the field (42.9% 3P), while rebounding the ball significantly better and posting a much-improved assist to turnover ratio.
Hamilton's biggest strengths as an NBA prospect clearly revolve around his terrific scoring instincts and shot-making ability. He has NBA-plus range on his jumper, being absolutely deadly with his feet set, and showing a quick, compact release that allows him to catch the ball and get it off in one swift motion. He's shooting almost six 3-pointers a game but is making 43% of his attempts, despite the fact that opposing defenses are almost always geared toward stopping him.
Hamilton is nowhere near as effective shooting off the dribble, though, as his somewhat rigid, unorthodox shooting mechanics are much better suited for catching and shooting than they are for making pull-up jumpers, where he converts just 28% of his attempts.
As a slasher, Hamilton is a mixed bag at this point, as evidenced by his somewhat underwhelming percentages scoring inside the arc over the past two seasons. An improvable ball-handler, Hamilton doesn't do a great job of creating high percentage shots for himself around the basket or in the mid-range area on a consistent basis.
Showing just an average first step, he struggles to fully beat his man off the dribble at times, instead just trying to power his way through the defense. Even when well-defended, he's liable to force a bad shot in these situations, leading to some very tough looks with a hand in his face.
Hamilton is such a gifted talent that he has the ability to convert many of these wild, contested runners, floaters and pull-ups from 8-12 feet away from the basket. Sometimes he'll do so from crazy angles and in spectacular fashion, thanks to his terrific touch, body control, multiple release points, and all-around scoring instincts.
Those aren't high-percentage shots for him or his team, though, and he has a tendency to overestimate himself and bail the defense out rather than trying to make it all the way to the basket and draw free throws. This hurts his efficiency and gives off the impression that he does not quite know what his limitations are at this point.
The NBA coach whose team ends up picking him will likely need to accept that he's going to take some bad shots every night, some of which will go in. Not having to worry about playing time and knowing that he'll have plenty of plays called for him all game long, he's gotten a little more unselfish this year and has seen his assist rate rise and turnover rate drop. He still has a tendency to hunt shots, though, as there are certain moments of the game in which Texas' offense will get stuck and he'll feel the need to be a hero and win games all by himself.
One place where Hamilton is looking significantly better this year is as a post-scorer. The Longhorns made some fundamental changes to their offense this past season, and are now incorporating some of the Utah Jazz's Flex offense in their half-court sets.
Hamilton has been absolutely terrific moving off the ball and utilizing these short curls for quick catch and shoot jumpers from the elbows, and has been even better sealing his man off on the block (a staple of the flex) and going to work. He has the ability to overpower defenders in the paint with his strong body, but also has the skill-level and finesse moves to utilize nifty footwork and finish in all kinds of creative ways around the paint, especially with his jump-hook. As a 6-7 shooting guard, this could give his NBA team another weapon to exploit mismatch opportunities, in addition to his perimeter shooting.
Probably the weakest aspect of Hamilton's game right now is his defensive presence. His fundamentals are extremely poor, as he regularly bites on pump-fakes, gambles for steals, falls down mid-possession, and is very upright in his stance, making it easy for opponents to blow by him. His lateral quickness looks average at best, and his intensity level isn't very high to compensate for that, as he just isn't physical enough, and doesn't seem to take very much pride in shutting down his man.
Even though he has the offensive skills to operate as a shooting guard in the NBA, his defensive shortcomings could very well push him to the 3, where he isn't quite as dangerous a mismatch.
All in all, Hamilton is clearly a big time offensive talent with a game that is probably better suited for the more wide-open style of the NBA. The superior spacing and faster pace of the professional game will make his shooting and overall scoring ability stand out even more. If he wants to reach his full potential, though, he must improve his mentality on both ends of the floor.