“Everybody’s got their perception,” new Dallas Mavs center A.J. Hammons said during a Friday conference call to the DFW media the day after being drafted with the 46th pick in the second round of the NBA Draft. “They’ve got the perception of me being like a little lazy here and there. But it’s something I’ve been working on to get that opinion out of the way. I’ve been running the court all summer trying to get a better motor.”
Hammons is nothing if not honest here. Forget the reports that have "sources'' who say Hammons -- an accomplished four-year player at Purdue, no doubt -- plays with an engine that revs low. You don't need "sources'' when A.J. is himself saying it, when his college coach said it, when Mavs bosses Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle said it.
From Carlisle, joking on Draft night: "I just talked to him on the phone. He sounds really energetic to me. ... There are perceptions about guys that facilitate them dropping lower than they should."
From Donnie: "I think if he had -- look, if the guy, you know, like you say, the guy probably had a little bit more of the tiger in the tank, he'd probably be a lottery pick.''
But Hammons was NOT a "lottery pick'' and was not a "first-round pick'' and those are realities -- not "perceptions. Carlisle truly raves about Hammons' talent: “We really like him, we like his talent, we think he's a first-round talent ... I think there’s a good chance can help us some right away.”
Now that's something to build on.
At 7-0, 250, Hammons is not only the big body that the Mavs could use off the bench, but he can (based on his college work) do it on both ends of the floor. In his senior season, Hammons was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten, as well as receiving honorable mention All-American honors. He led the conference in blocked shots all four years.
Offensively, Hammons has a very soft touch around the rim. He can put his back to the basket and post up or step out and hit an eight to 10-foot jumper when asked to do so. He’s got a solid hook shot, as well as an effective drop step and turnaround jumper, but there is still much room for improvement in his offensive game to look forward to. Hammons also excelled on the boards where he averaged 8.2 rebounds per game and 13.4 per 40 minutes, making a vast improvement from his junior to his senior campaign.
Perhaps the most captivating part of Hammons game however, is his aforementioned shot-blocking ability. The Mavs desperately needed a reliable rim protector, and with a 7-3 wingspan and solid instincts and mobility, Hammons excels as a shot blocker, averaging 2.5 blocks per game and 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes as a senior.
Hammons’ game does not come without weakness however. After all, the 24-year old did slip down into the second round for a reason. (And not just "perception,'' and not just because so many Euros went early.)
The biggest knock on Hammons, beyond the "motor'' thing, seems to be his passing ability out of the post. He tends to turn the ball over at a bit of high rate, though that rate improved during his final college season. Also notable: Hammons may have struggled with conditioning and drive though out his career, but our understanding is that he was in excellent shape at the combine.
In the end, the Mavs got a guy who they feel can step in and help their frontcourt depth right away, and, if we wish to dream, perhaps eventually develop into a lottery level steal as his career progresses. The Mavs have the right coaching staff to develop a player of Hammons talents into something more. ... and that's at issue here as much as anything.
In other words, it's not just on Hammons to put a tiger in his tank. It's on the coaching staff to do the same.
At this moment, Salah Mejri is Dallas' starting center. Zaza Pachulia is free and Javale McGee has a July 12 deadline looming with Dallas having to make the decision to keep him or shave him and his $1.4 mil salary depending on what the Mavs do in free agency -- and if you read DB.com, you know what the Mavs wish to do regarding Hassan Whiteside and his $94-mil price tag.
Hammons is going to Summer League with the Mavs, where coaches like 'Gana Diop (of the Texas Legends in the D-League) along with Carlisle's staff can help. Allowing him minutes against more mature competition should help, too. (See more on the players the Mavs are assembling for Summer League in Orlando and Vegas here.) The best news on Hammons is he isn't some raw prospect trying to learn the game, or some 20-year-old yet to mature into his body. At 24, he should be ready to learn ... and the pressure is shared by the Mavs, who need to teach.
Can you really coach "motor''? Is this really like the old ESSO commercials where you fill 'er up to put a tiger in your tank?
“Skilled big men aren’t out there growing on trees,'' said Carlisle, knowing that A.J. Hammons have skills that cannot be taught while hoping that "motor'' can. "Finding these guys is very difficult. Our people have done a lot of homework on him. We’re happy to have the opportunity to get a guy like that.”