After strong summer, Hamilton looks to elevate his game

Second-year Nuggets forward gets off to good start in preseason
by Aaron Lopez

It’s roughly 16.5 miles and a 1,200 rise in elevation from downtown Denver to picturesque Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

For Jordan Hamilton, the grueling 6 a.m. bike ride was a rite of passage.

Determined to make an impact in his second NBA seasons, the Nuggets forward put the pedal to the pavement as part of his summer conditioning program. He became intimately familiar with the steps at Red Rocks and regularly took 500 to 600 three-point shots in the gym with Denver assistant coach John Welch.

The offseason work paid dividends in Denver’s first preseason game. Hamilton made 3-of-6 three-pointers and scored 17 points in a 106-104 against the Los Angeles Clippers in Las Vegas.

“Last year early in training camp, he was lost,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Now, he’s more into knowing what he has to do to be on the court. He’s still a young player and makes young mistakes, but what he did against the Clippers is what we need. We need guys to make shots.”

Because of the shortened 2011-12 season, Hamilton and other NBA rookies didn’t have the luxury of easing into the NBA by playing in the summer league and experiencing a four-week training camp.

Hamilton’s blur of a rookie season consisted of just 26 games, leaving him hungry to be better in 2012-13. He averaged 19.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in the 2012 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and is working to earn more playing time when the season opens Halloween night in Philadelphia.

“This year, I have more poise, more confidence,” Hamilton said. “Summer league helped me get adjusted to everything. Now I’m just working hard in this training camp to get some minutes early in the season.”

With the Nuggets focusing on defense during the first two weeks of camp, Hamilton said he is working to improve his off-the-ball defense and transition defense. Do those things well, and playing time should follow.

“A lot of our guys are asking the question, ‘How do I get on the court?’ ” Karl said. “My answer is don’t make mistakes and play defense. If we do that, we’ll figure out the offensive end of the court.”

Hamilton’s play was among the highlights of Denver’s preseason opener. He was one of four Nuggets in double figures, and point guard Ty Lawson converted a layup in the final second to give Denver the victory.

While pleased with the defense and overall play, Karl would like to see his team improve its shot selection and take better care of the ball. The Nuggets finished with 25 assists and 26 turnovers.

“Because you play fast, you expect more turnovers, but I don’t think it has to be necessarily true,” Karl said. “We’ve been pushing them to play at a faster speed than last year.

"Speed with fatigue is dangerous. I think that’s what you saw on Saturday. Our guys hit that wall where mistakes happen. I’m hoping to pull back a little bit and get in better shape where we don’t make the mistakes.”

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