Like most Nets, Justin Hamilton is playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Selected in the second round in 2012, Hamilton has played for three different teams overseas, six months in Croatia and four months in Latvia in 2012-13, then one season in Spain in 2015-2016.
He’s also bounced around the NBA, in between his European gigs, playing 49 games with three different NBA teams along the way, his best stint coming with the Timberwolves where he averaged nine points on 33 percent shooting from deep in 17 games in the 2014-2015 season. He was an All-Star at the D-League level with Sioux Falls the next year as well.
Yet, he’s seen as a key player in the Nets plans. He was the second signing of the Marks era after Jeremy Lin, and before offer sheets were presented to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe. He is the third highest paid of the new Nets, too behind Lin and Trevor Booker. And he’s signed for two years, no options.
So, Marks and Kenny Atkinson had their eyes on Hamilton for a while and liked what they saw. They were especially impressed with his past season with Valencia.
"We thought Justin had a fantastic season over in Valencia," Atkinson, a veteran of 14 European seasons, said at the time of his signing. "He's a stretch five, he can extend the floor from 3-point range. But he's more than a stretch five, because he's a tough guy. He knows how to play inside and he knows how to finish around the basket."
Hamilton seems to have the same mindset on stretching the floor.
"I can come in and bring a different style and approach, the new NBA look where they have stretch fives opening up the lanes for Jeremy [Lin]," Hamilton told Jim Spanarkel on YES at the free agent press conference.
Sean Marks, speaking at the same press conference, agreed. Asked if he was satisfied with the depth at the center position, Marks replied, "We got guys who are versatile. guys who can play multiple positions. It’s the way the NBA is going."
If he can stretch the floor and hit the three at an efficient rate, it will open things up for Lin in particular. Lin will have more space to operate when he’s driving. Hamilton and Lopez will be allowed to wander around the paint or out near the perimeter. Increasingly, it looks like Hamilton and Lopez will have the green light to do anything on the offensive end… including shoot three-pointers.
There are other aspects of Hamilton’s resume’ that no doubt appeal to the Nets front office.
He has a good BBIQ and can find the right place at the right time. Good hands as well. Take at look at his highlights in Spain last year. He comes out of nowhere a lot.
Hamilton is also young. At 26, he’s younger than Booker, Sean Kilpatrick and Bojan Bogdanovic. He’s more a part of the developing youth brigade than a crusty veteran.(Interesting footnote: Hamilton, whose mother is Croatian, received Croatian citizenship earlier this year and could have played in the Olympics alongside Bogdanovic. Instead, he focused on free agency and will play alongside Bogdanovic in the NBA.)
They’ll miss Thaddeus Young’s rebounding and gritty play down low this season Hamilton is not Young. It wouldn’t be fair to compare them. Young should flourish in Indiana as Hamilton develops in Brooklyn over time, but it should be interesting to see whether somebody like Hamilton can step up with the opportunity at hand.
He thinks his experience both in Europe and the NBA will help him mix well.
"I've had all sorts of experience, playing with LeBron James, playing with different types of teams, teams that are winning, teams that are losing," he told Spanarkel. "To me, getting that kind of experience, here and in the NBA, i think it helps we gain a little bit of confidence and come in here with a better attitude."
Of course, he has only played 49 NBA games. The narrative, as it was last season, is that Hamilton and others on the roster are trying to to show they’re capable of finding a role at the NBA level, despite bouncing around. Last year, it was Thomas Robinson (still unsigned), Shane Larkin and Andrea Bargnani (playing in Spain) and Donald Sloan (playing in China).
Still, Kevin Pelton, the stats-crazed ESPN analyst, loved the pick-up.
Justin Hamilton was my Rip Van Winkle-level sleeper this summer. Great snag by Sean Marks for the Nets at $6 million for two years.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) July 2, 2016
Marks and Atkinson’s crew appears to be different in looking at players who’ve been around. They’ve invested in development and sports science and performance. The "diamond in the rough" players are being cut and polished.
So maybe Hamilton can move from Brooklyn’s mystery man to a surprising rotation player. He has two seasons to prove that he can do it, become a dependable backup big that can shoot from deep.