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Nets’ Justin Hamilton, Joe Harris making case for key roles

Detroit Pistons center Boban Marjanovic (51) pulls in the ball against Brooklyn Nets center Justin Hamilton (41) during the third quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The 2016-17 season is all about developing prospects and finding role players for the star-famished Brooklyn Nets. During the club’s offseason overhaul, general manager Sean Marks brought in a slew of potential rotational pieces. This upcoming campaign is a chance for them to carve out a niche in the league.

More than half the team is fighting for playing time or even a spot on the roster. Two of the most interesting reserve newcomers are big man Justin Hamilton and sharpshooter Joe Harris. Both started their careers for contending teams (Hamilton with Miami, Harris with Cleveland), and they never had substantial chances to carve out a role in the Association. Brooklyn represents an opportunity to get playing time, establish a role and show they can improve a rebuilding squad.

After his college career at Iowa State and LSU, Hamilton bounced around between the NBA, Europe and D-League. His most recent stop was the Spanish ACB club Valencia, where he averaged 13 points and shot 41 percent from three-range in 22 minutes per game. The 7’0″ center has refined his skills and could finally break through at the NBA level.

Hamilton inked a two-year, $6 million deal in July, and Brook Lopez is the Nets’ only other true center. It’s a prime window for Hamilton to become Brooklyn’s backup 5-man, and in the process, show the league he belongs.

There’s a lot to like about his offensive game. He has great hands around the rim, moves the ball well as a passer and shoots smoothly from the perimeter. Hamilton isn’t a dazzling post-up presence, but he has good pick-and-roll skills and fluidly finishes drop-offs and offensive rebounds.

Although he’s not vertically explosive and can’t run end-to-end in a blink, his foot speed is underrated. Hamilton has snagged a few offensive boards during the preseason by beating his man to the spot. Here’s a quick ambush and smooth hook shot against Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks:

 

The most intriguing part of Hamilton’s offensive repertoire is outside shooting. As previously mentioned, he shot 41 percent from the international arc last year. Through three preseason games, he’s 4-of-10 from the NBA line and also has shown great command from mid-range.

His ability to consistently connect from the perimeter is something rarely found in reserve centers. Few 7-footers can legitimately pull defenders away from the basket as a shooting threat; Brooklyn could create some matchup problems and open up slashing lanes for the second unit:

Hamilton has hit at least one triple in all three preseason games he’s appeared in. It’s encouraging that coach Kenny Atkinson has found a variety of ways to utilize his shooting prowess. On Tuesday against the Miami Heat, he drilled pick-and-pops, spot-up threes from the corner and mid-post turnarounds:

 

The biggest limitation for Hamilton is post defense, particularly against acrobatic centers. He had trouble containing Hassan Whiteside Tuesday, although there’s no shame in struggling against a top-shelf starter. Brooklyn might have to be careful in certain situations, because some athletic bigs will shoot right over him. And if he gets caught on the perimeter, there’s a good chance he’ll get burned.

While Hamilton won’t be the Nets’ most talented isolation defender or defensive rebounder, he’s alert and works hard to win positional battle. He hasn’t missed many chances to box opponents out this preseason, and he’s made a few defensive stops as a weak-side helper.

He’ll inevitably be on the wrong end of a few mismatches and suffer occasional foul rashes. But as long as Hamilton is attentive and fights to be respectable on defense, his offensive game is more than worth the minutes.

In the backcourt, Harris is making the case for a valuable off-ball role. The former Virginia University star couldn’t crack the Cavs’ rotation the past couple of seasons (9.1 minutes per game), and midseason foot surgery shelved him for the remainder of 2015-16. He’s now aiming to prove he’s more than a spare part bouncing between the D-League and the big leagues.

Harris’ top attribute by far is his three-point shooting stroke. He’s hit a modest 36 percent through 56 NBA games, but that’s largely due to a lack of rhythm and playing time. Harris drilled 41 percent from deep in college, and he’d likely flirt with 40 percent if he had a regular role in Brooklyn.

With a 6’6″ frame and swift, fluid shooting mechanics, he has terrific tools for a wing scorer. There is no wasted motion in his delivery, and he makes opponents pay for giving him daylight. Through four preseason games, he’s 7-of-13 from distance. Here’s an example of his quick trigger against the Knicks:

 

Harris doesn’t need to convince the Nets’ staff that he’d enhance their floor-spacing and three-point attack. That’s what they signed him for. In order to earn a bigger chunk of playing time, he must prove he can sporadically attack the bucket and defend opposing wings.

No one will confuse him as a dynamic slasher, but he has found ways to attack the cup and keep defenders honest. Harris can attack closeouts, hit floaters and make timely cuts to the rim. He’s burned opponents a few times this preseason when they overplay him beyond the arc.

Check out a couple of examples of his catch-and-finish cuts to the bucket. Here’s a curl-cut that Atkinson set up after a timeout; Harris made Brown pay for going over the screen, and Luis Scola delivered a perfect pass:

 

Harris is also good at reading the defense and improvising. He noticed that no Celtics were defending the paint, and a quick backdoor cut led to an easy layup:

 

On the defensive side, Harris has been active and yielded mixed results. He doesn’t have the turbo-burst of lateral speed required to contain the league’s shiftiest wings. Sometimes slashers can shake him with change-of-direction drives, and he’s averaged 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes in the preseason.

Fortunately, Atkinson won’t have to worry about Harris’ effort level, both individually and in team concepts. Harris has shown willingness to fight through screens, close out on shooters and recover when he gets beat off the bounce. That doesn’t entirely compensate for his lack of quickness, but it helps his case for playing time, depending on the matchup.

Unlike Hamilton, Harris has more competition for a regular role. Randy Foye is an experienced combo guard who may start at the 2. Sean Kilpatrick had a rotational role last year, and he’ll get a healthy slate of minutes off the bench as a versatile scorer. Rookie Caris LeVert will eventually push for playing time once he’s healthy, and small forward Bojan Bogdanovic might spend some time at shooting guard in certain lineups.

Nevertheless, Harris’ skill set and strong preseason audition gives him a great chance to scrounge up 15-20 minutes per game. His shooting efficiency could streamline Brooklyn’s perimeter attack and prove he deserves to be part of the future.

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