Due to a shoulder injury that cost him all of training camp, preseason, and the early part of his first year with the Atlanta Hawks, the club hasn’t seen much of Daniel Hamilton after they signed him to a fully-guaranteed minimum contract in August. Less than a month later, he was diagnosed with a tear in his rotator cuff and hit the training table as the rest of his teammates opened the season without him. Hamilton made a full recovery and was moved to the Erie Bayhawks for their opening back-to-back against the Grand Rapids Drive and Lakeland Magic this past weekend.
While the Hawks were busy picking up their third win of the year against the Miami Heat on Saturday night, the Bayhawks took care of business in both of their games, picking up two early wins in their quest to repeat last season’s success, in which they made the Conference Finals in their inaugural season. For the parent club, the wins are a nice bonus, but the real questions stemming from the weekend’s games were all about Hamilton, who took the floor for the first time as a member of the Hawks organization.
Results from the two games were decidedly mixed. On one hand, his traditional stats look amazing — a triple-double in the opener against Grand Rapids, with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, and a very efficient 24-point, 12-rebound performance 24 hours later. On the other hand, the film from these games tell a slightly different story — poor shot selection and defense may mar his chances of getting on the floor with the Hawks any time soon.
Across both games, the Bayhawks and new head coach Noel Gillespie put the ball in Hamilton’s hands consistently, simultaneously unlocking his best skill (passing) and hiding his worst (outside shooting) on that end of the floor. In this sense, Hamilton profiles similarly to current Hawk DeAndre’ Bembry, who struggles with his three-point shot but can be a team’s primary playmaker from the wing. Hamilton doesn’t have Bembry’s handle and burst to break down defenders off the dribble to get to the rim, but he is a good passer in pick-and-roll, as he showed over the weekend:
His passes could have a bit more velocity, especially out to the corners, but at this point that’s just picking nits with his pick-and-roll game. Given Hamilton’s role as a wing who can handle the ball enough to be a primary playmaker, he’s a very good passer who can consistently find the open man, whether it’s the big man rolling to the rim or hitting the opposite corner. If teams lay off him to clog passing lanes, he’s a capable finisher with either hand, adding another layer to his pick-and-roll skill set.
Passing and finishing out of pick-and-roll comprise Hamilton’s positives from the two performances, as the rest of his game ranged from underwhelming to downright awful at points. A career 32.7 percent three-point shooter across more than 500 attempts in two years in the G League, including 28.3 percent last year on 254 attempts, the outside shot is not a particularly strong tool in his toolbox.
Opposing teams are happy to let him pull up for jumpers out of pick-and-roll, instead throwing multiple bodies between him and the basket to protect the paint. Hamilton hit one of his four pull-up jumpers in the two games despite running no fewer than 24 pick-and-rolls, which shows that he knows where his strengths and weaknesses lie in these situations.
As a spot-up shooter, Hamilton fares much better. Despite a shot that will remind fans of Lonzo Ball due to the funky release from his left shoulder, he’s consistently been strong in this area, which bodes well for his NBA career. His overall three-point percentage is heavily impacted by his inability to shoot off the dribble, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with his spot-up shooting — he’s ranked in the 80th percentile or better in spot-up catch-and-shoot jumpers in each of the last two years in the G League. He didn’t have many opportunities to show off his spot-up shooting in his first two games with Erie, but there’s enough evidence that he can shoot to feel comfortable with his skills here.
A big issue that impacts Hamilton’s efficiency is his shot selection, which can border on insane at times. Given what we know about his ability to shoot off the dribble and off movement, you can draw your own conclusions about his choices in the below clips:
The confidence in himself is admirable but these are some abhorrent attempts from a guy who might have a better chance of throwing it in over his head from the half-court line than making some of these threes in transition. Each is more incredulous than the last and likely drew some obscenities from his coaches each time he decided to let it fly. To give a bit of statistical context to some of these shots, Hamilton scored 0.755 points per possession on pull-up jumpers in 2016-17 and 0.554 in 2017-18. If you’re unfamiliar, those numbers are really, really bad.
Defensively, things were even worse for Hamilton. Despite his physical tools on the wing, his effort and engagement on that end were downright awful in both games. He consistently lost his man moving around the perimeter and sunk into the paint far earlier than necessary in order to crash the defensive glass. A cynic might even say he was eschewing his defensive responsibilities to pad his rebounding stats.
In pick-and-roll defense, Hamilton showed good knowledge of the scheme but poor fundamentals. He consistently jumped over screens to send ball handlers toward the baseline or toward their weaker hands, but that’s where the positives ran their course for him. He was far too upright defensively throughout the weekend, allowing opponents to lower their shoulder and easily move him off his spot:
There were multiple other moments that showed his low effort level or propensity for gambling on the defensive end of the floor:
To his credit, Hamilton did just return from a shoulder injury and might have some residual conditioning issues to work through, but there are a lot of issues that show up in the above clips that have very little to do with conditioning. His awareness and engagement were highly questionable throughout the weekend and, although things like that don’t show up in the box score, they’re just as important as his ability to hit the weak-side corner in pick-and-roll put up triple-doubles.
It will be worth monitoring where Hamilton goes from here with the Hawks. The big team is stacked with wings, which may preclude him from getting much playing time in the NBA this season. They did agree to a fully-guaranteed contract, so one would think that they had real plans for him to be a part of the team this season, but given the play of some of the players ahead of him, including rookie Kevin Huerter, who has immediately come into the team and showed he belongs in the NBA, it’s unclear what his role will be for Atlanta.
There are major questions about his game on both ends of the floor, and it’ll be up to Hamilton to show the Hawks coaching staff that he deserves NBA minutes, but there was very little over the weekend to indicate he’s ready to contribute much in Atlanta.