Dallas Mavericks: The A.J. Hammons Dilemma
By Nash Trueblood
The Dallas Mavericks’ only draw pick last summer, A.J. Hammons, had somewhat of a weird first year in Dallas. What does Dallas do with him now?
Assessing the rookie year of new Maverick A.J. Hammons requires some context.
First of all, he was the 46th pick in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory. Seriously, it was so bad, a 24-year-old from the second round will likely be Rookie of the Year. Needless to say, the expectations of Hammons were little to none. In this sense, he was not a disappointment, but his place within the Mavericks organization remains unclear.
He’ll enter his second season at 25 years of age; not exactly a spring chick. While he has shown flashes of potential, he has yet to prove his willingness to improve and contribute to the team long-term. So let’s examine Hammons’ rookie year and look at some strengths and weaknesses.
Taking a look at his raw stats doesn’t provide a whole lot of information.
Hammons averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds while shooting a hair over 40% from the field. Hammons also knocked down 5 threes out of a total of 10 attempts. This is the part of his game that the Mavericks are hoping he can develop over time. During college ball at Purdue, Hammons demonstrated his ability to hit the mid-range jumper while splashing over 50% of his triples. Big men who can stretch the floor are always sought after in today’s NBA, but his ability to defend is what made him appealing.
Hammons was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 2.5 blocks a game in his final college season. This combination of defense and shooting gave the Mavs front office hope that he could be a rotation big in the future.
With his college resumé and potential as a shot-blocking, sweet shooting big man, it may be hard to see why Hammons fell so far in a weak draft. Well as I mentioned earlier, Hammons was 24 on draft day. That alone turns off many teams because most players at that age have all but peaked. Malcolm Brogdon notwithstanding.
One of his weaknesses is a tepid presence on offense. He prefers to waft around on the perimeter rather than go down in the paint. When Hammons sets a screen, instead of running to the rim, he glides to the elbow and readies himself for a jump shot. Granted, he is a decent jump-shooter, but for a burly 280-pound center like Hammons, you’d hope he would use his strength to bully his way to the basket, or at least see if he can grab an offensive board if the lane is too clogged for a layup.
Another one of his flaws is evident whenever you watch him slog up and down the court. Size can be advantageous for a center, but it can also be a hindrance in today’s NBA. Being able to run the floor and recover in transition is a must, and a lack of mobility can be crippling to both offensive and defensive schemes. His small-sample shooting touch and yet to be proven defensive capabilities simply don’t cover his slow movement.
Perhaps the biggest concern has been the persistent questions about Hammons’ motor. A player’s motor is an unspoken way to measure how much effort is put in. This has been an issue since Hammons was drafted and why he fell so far on draft night.
Donnie Nelson even went on to say Hammons might be a lottery pick if he had, “a little more of the tiger in the tank.” Work ethic is arguably the biggest concern when teams consider bringing on new players. If someone is unwilling to work and improve their game while bringing a strong effort every night, it could infect other players and poison a locker room.
While Hammons has disputed his lack of a motor, the proof is in the pudding. He doesn’t stay late after practice and didn’t appear to go too hard the few times he was on the court. In the most exclusive basketball league in the world, effort should be a given for every player.
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There are dozens of prospects in every draft that are either not drafted, or taken in the late second round. These players constantly work to improve and live out their dream of being an NBA player. The Mavs found a couple of gems this year that fit that mold in Yogi Ferrell and Dorian Finney-Smith. A.J. Hammons, however, doesn’t appear to have the same drive and determination that those two have.
If Yogi and Doe-Doe were found in last year’s draft, there will no doubt be even more this year.
At this point, Hammons is taking up a roster spot that could be better served on a player willing to work. Since his contract is guaranteed for the next two seasons, it would behoove the Mavs to find a taker for the remaining money instead of just waiving him.
A possible destination for him might be the Portland TrailBlazers as highlighted by Rip City Project’s Ty Delbridge.
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Despite having potential as a serviceable shooter and adequate rim protector, the Mavericks’ culture is one of the most enviable in the league for a reason. Having players on the team that are more than willing to work and play hard every night should be the priority. Unfortunately, Hammons just doesn’t fit the bill.