The NBA’s path towards developing a fully formed, compatible minor league system will take one step further during the 2016-17 season. Today the Thunder helped lead that charge by signing guard Daniel Hamilton to the organization’s first-ever two-way contract.
Beginning this season, as a result of the latest NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Thunder and all 29 other NBA teams will have the opportunity to sign two players to these combined NBA and G League deals. The salaries don’t count against the salary cap, but the players are only available to the NBA team for 45 out of the 170 days during the NBA regular season. For the rest of the 125 days of the season, the player is available to be with their respective G League team. In this case for Daniel Hamilton, that would be the OKC Blue.
The upside is that these players get a chance to participate in NBA games, receive an NBA salary for those 45 days and practice alongside the best of the best, all while still having the opportunity to play extended minutes in the G League. The teams get to extend their rosters to 17 players without having to worry about cap space, giving them flexibility based on matchups, the chance to limit wear and tear and the opportunity to get more young players fully integrated into their development systems.
For Hamilton and the Thunder, this is the best of both worlds as the young shooter, scorer and creator continues to develop his game. The Thunder traded for Hamilton on draft night 2016, after he completed two seasons at University of Connecticut and was selected 56th overall by the Denver Nuggets.
Clearly, Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti saw something from Hamilton, whose older brother Jordan Hamilton played in the NBA. At 6-foot-6, 187-pounds, Daniel played both on and off the ball as a guard for the Huskies. He was one of two Division I players (alongside LSU’s Ben Simmons) to rack up 450 points, 300 rebounds and 150 assists for the season in 2015-16.
“He fits a profile of sorts for us in terms of versatility and ability to put the ball down on the floor,” Presti said on draft night in 2016.
Last season, Hamilton played for the Blue under head coach Mark Daigneault, starting 47 of the team’s 49 games while racking up 14.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.3 steals in 31.2 minutes per game. He shot 42.6 percent from the field, but a more-than-respectable 37.2 percent from three-point range for the season, on 5.2 attempts from deep per night.
Daigneault calls him a “baller” and says that he’s one of those classic gym rats who probably slept in his basketball shorts as a kid and dreamed of the NBA as soon as he touched a ball. As a result, Hamilton’s confidence as a scorer, shooter, slasher and finisher is through the roof.
The most intriguing aspect of Hamilton’s game, however, is the way he can get his skinny frame into traffic on both ends of the floor. His rebounding numbers were the best on the Blue, even alongside G League All-Star center Dakari Johnson, who recently signed a contract with the Thunder.
Hamilton’s assist average was also a crucial part of his season, and his continued growth in that area will help solidify his role as a playmaker at the next level. Many times last year with the Blue, Daigneault utilized Hamilton as a point guard with the second unit, with the belief that his ability to break down the defense and make the right play off of instincts would pay dividends. Daigneault was right.
“(Hamilton is) definitely comfortable up there. He’s a really good creator. He gets two on the ball. He has great vision. He’s unselfish,” Daigneault noted. “When you have a player like that, you figure out ways to get the ball in their hands there.”
At Summer League in Orlando in early July, Hamilton won a game late for the Thunder nearly single-handedly by completely dominating the final minutes of action. Throughout the rest of the week, he showed signs of his ability to perform at a high level, though in his estimation he didn’t play up to his standards. According to Daigneault, that irksome fact will only stoke Hamilton’s fire higher this summer as he prepares for the upcoming 2017-18 campaign.
“I just have to get back in the gym this summer, continue to get better and keep progressing,” Hamilton explained. “The main thing is getting stronger and not turning the ball over. Defensively, it’s staying locked in and staying engaged.”
Last season, Hamilton could only work on those aspects of his game against G League competition. This year, he’ll get the chance to do it against NBA All-Stars like Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and an All-Defensive perimeter defensive stopper like Andre Roberson. It’s hard to imagine a better trio of challenges for a young scorer to have to face every day. Hamilton, who turns 22 on August 8th, will get a chance to do so for 45 days next season, and then bring what he learns in the NBA to his work for the Blue too.