PHOENIX — It’s a 48-minute game in the NBA, and with franchise center Brook Lopez limited to 25 minutes per game in the early part of the season, someone else has to fill that 23-minute void in the middle for the Nets. That someone is Justin Hamilton, whose NBA career took a detour to Spain last season before finding his niche with the Nets.
Playing 23.6 minutes per game, mostly in relief of Lopez, Hamilton was averaging 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds going into last night against the Suns. He had seven points, three rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes in the 122-104 victory.
Known as a “stretch five” for his ability as a center to hit three-point shots, Hamilton has lived up to the billing, shooting 47.1 percent beyond the arc, including 9-for-12 in the last three games.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson also has praised the 6-11 Hamilton’s ability to protect the rim on defense and is convinced he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent.
“He’s an underrated athlete,” Atkinson said. “I went over and scouted him [in Spain], and that was a little bit of a concern. But he’s worked tremendously hard in the summer since we signed him. If you look at his body now and look at it when he was in Miami, he’s changed his makeup.
“Obviously, we’re giving him freedom to do some things, and it’s not just shoot threes. I told him the other day, ‘We need you in the post some. I saw you in Valencia, and you can score in the post.’ Giving guys freedom, especially where we are in the development process, gives them confidence to try new stuff. That’s how you get better.”
In his previous NBA incarnations with Charlotte, Miami and Minnesota, Hamilton’s role often was limited to a specific task. With the Nets, he must fill multiple roles with his expanded playing time.
“Growing up, I liked to do everything to be a complete basketball player,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been in different systems where I’ve only posted or I’ve only shot threes. Being able to be in a system where you can do both or every facet of your game defensively and offensively is a breath of fresh air.”
With continued success, it’s possible Hamilton might turn into the Nets’ poster boy for their development of free agents who just need an opportunity for an expanded role.
“It could be,” Hamilton said with a smile. “For me, I’m just trying to work to get better and better. Maybe the future holds that as an advertisement. ”