Hamilton Gets NBA Breakthrough With Nets

Getting his nose broken was Justin Hamilton’s "welcome to Brooklyn" moment.

It was a preseason game Oct. 17, 2013 and back then Hamilton was playing with the Miami Heat. He checked in and felt like things were going well, but Shaun Livingston’s elbow caught him in the face, busting his nose.

Hamilton left a trail of blood as he went to get fixed up. He wanted to keep playing, but was kept out of the rest of the game and missed the next two. Safe to say, being introduced at a Brooklyn Nets press conference in July – after signing a two-year deal – was a much better welcome.

“Everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t change that,” Hamilton said at Nets media day. “I’m fine if that was my Welcome to New York, but since I’m living in New York, my welcome to New York is being on the team here.”

Hamilton’s road to the Nets wasn’t easy. Since being drafted 45th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers (then traded to Miami) in 2012, his basketball journey has taken him through Croatia, Latvia, the D-League, a few NBA organizations and Valencia, Spain. There have been ups and there have been downs. Moments of hope and frustration, but through it all, Hamilton has never stopped working towards his goal.

“I’ve been cut, I’ve been hurt and traded,” Hamilton said. “You just have to be willing to stick it out and persevere.”

His first assignment from Miami ultimately foreshadowed the nomadic nature of the next four years for the big man from California. The team asked him to play overseas for a season, but after a series of issues – like not getting paid – he came back stateside. The next year he was one of the last cuts by the Heat, headed to the D-League – he had an all-star season in Sioux Falls averaging 19.2 ppg and 9.3 rpg –signed a 10-day contract with the Charlotte Bobcats, but was reacquired by Miami. He signed a partially guaranteed, two-year deal with the Heat and once again thought he was going to land a steady NBA gig after playing 24 games, but a concussion derailed his momentum and after sitting out for some time, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. With their roster already set, Hamilton asked to be released.

Another breakthrough appeared to be on the horizon, as the Minnesota Timberwolves picked him up two days later (Mar. 5, 2015) and gave him a chance to start in nine of 17 games down the stretch, with Hamilton averaging 9 ppg and 5.1 rpg. He figured his play had earned him another contract from somebody, but it didn’t pan out. After a few weeks of waiting, Hamilton signed with Valencia in Spain, figuring it better to play steady minutes, even if it meant going internationally again, and it turned out to be one of the best moves of his career.

“Good team, top four or five teams in Spain. I was really fortunate to go there,” Hamilton said. “It was a good organization, played really well, had a good team and was able to come back and that was my goal to play there and come back.”

At 7-foot, Hamilton is a big man, but he’s got some pop from deep. Starting in the D-League he added 3-point shooting to his game, shooting .378 in Sioux Falls, and upped it to .401 in Valencia. His 3-point numbers haven’t been as good in the NBA (.325), but fewer opportunities have skewed his overall percentage.

“In the D-League I was able to shoot a lot, so my 3-point percentages went to 40,” Hamilton said. “Then when I was in the NBA, you only get one or two shots per game, so if you miss that one shot, your percentage goes crazy, so I wasn’t able to shoot enough to get a consistent percentage.

“When I went to Spain, I was able to shoot a consistent amount which shows my capability. I just need a larger sample size. In the NBA, I don’t know if I’ve shot 30 3s in my two-year career, so if you miss a couple, it drops your percentage down.”

Hamilton took advantage of his time with Valencia, averaging 13.3 points (.567 FG%), 5.1 boards and 21.9 minutes per game. Extrapolate that out over 36 minutes and Hamilton averaged 21.9 and 8.6. His play caught the attention of the Nets, with Kenny Atkinson sitting in the crowd on the Spanish shores to get a first-hand look. His agent told him the Nets were in the mix heading into free agency, but that he should temper expectations. When the Nets called at 12:01 a.m. on the first day, he felt the interest was genuine – a welcome change from waiting weeks into the process.

“Justin had a fantastic season in Valencia,” Atkinson said at the July press conference. “I think he’ll be a great complement to Brook [Lopez], he’s a stretch five and can extend the floor from 3-point range. He’s more than a stretch five because he’s a tough guy, he knows how to play inside and finish.”

For a guy who’s bounced around as much as Hamilton, his two-year contract with the Nets feels like the security and opportunity he’s longed for.

“It’s a great situation,” Hamilton said. “It’s a situation where they give you the confidence of a two-year deal and they’re telling you that want you to play, so it’ll be fun to actually earn my spot in the rotation. It’s a whole new system, new team, new organization, so we’re all looking to prove something.”

It’s been a long road for Hamilton, but he said the life of every professional has its ups and downs.

“Every player will have a different story. Some guys are first-round picks and they have the easier way, but it’s still tough to be in the NBA,” Hamilton said. “You just have to be mentally tough.”

Hamilton has earned some perspective and appreciation on his journey and despite a series of tough breaks, he’s comfortable with his path – even the broken nose in Brooklyn.