There were five UConn players on NBA rosters to start the 2017-2018 season: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Rudy Gay, and Shabazz Napier. On Wednesday night, a sixth joined them. One night after posting a triple-double for the G-League’s OKC Blue, Daniel Hamilton made his NBA debut for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With 3:37 left in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s 92-79 win over the Chicago Bulls, the Huskies’ former do-everything wing Daniel Hamilton checked into the game. He played four uneventful minutes, but it was a major milestone for the LA native.
Hamilton was a second-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, no. 56 overall by the Denver Nuggets but then traded to Oklahoma City. He spent his first year in the D-League and then signed one of those new two-way contracts, which allows him to move freely between the franchise’s NBA and G-League roster. It’s a more stable arrangement than the 10-day contracts that had been commonplace for fringe players.
When Hamilton made his decision to leave UConn, there was a mixed response from the fanbase, with many suggesting he needed to stay to build on his game. In his two seasons at UConn, he started all 71 games, dropping 11.7 points per contest while also averaging 8.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
For the second-year pro to make his first NBA appearance at age 22 after a good year in the D-now-G-League shows he made the right decision. The path exists; it’s well-traveled, and it’s silly to imply a year in college is somehow ‘better for development’ than a year in the NBA’s developmental league. Oh, by the way, he also got paid... money... in exchange for his exceptional skills. Wild stuff.
With basketball talent as saturated as it is domestically and an increasingly competitive crop of international players, being worthy of an NBA roster spot is tougher than ever. Get used to seeing more college players accepting G-League roles. Even if they leave early for one, it’s not a mistake.
All five Huskies in the NBA were playing Wednesday night. Kemba Walker, first of his name, breaker of ankles, drainer of threes, holder of the hearts and souls of millions of UConn fans, scored 20 points while dishing seven assists and grabbing five rebounds in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Walker’s seventh professional season has been going quite well. After making his first All-Star game last season, the Bronx native is averaging 21.7 points and 6.6 assists per game this year.
Walker’s teammate in the 2011 national championship and for the third year in the NBA, Jeremy Lamb, scored 13 against the Cavs, adding five rebounds and three assists. Lamb started the first 12 games of this season for the injured Nick Batum, who made his return Wednesday. It’ll be interesting to track how his role changes across the season. He’s taken a big step up this season for Charlotte.
After four seasons with the Sacramento Kings, Rudy Gay signed with the San Antonio Spurs this offseason. His performance thus far and fit on his new team have been well-received, as the 11-year veteran is averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He played 22 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss to the Timberwolves, finishing with seven points and five rebounds.
Andre Drummond posted a casual double-double with 13 points and 17 rebounds. The Middletown, CT native is having another excellent season. He’s averaging 13.7 points and a league-leading 15.7 rebounds per game. The 7-footer also leads the league in offensive and total rebound percentage and has over 10 rebounds in each of his 14 games of his sixth year in the pros.
Beloved Husky guard Shabazz Napier, the victor of two national championships, the lionhearted lead guard from Roxbury, the man, the man, the man, scored 19 points for the Portland Trailblazers while hitting all five of his three-point attempts in a 99-94 win over Orlando. Napier’s in his second year with the Blazers, fourth in the league, and is averaging 11.2 minutes and 5.4 points through nine games.
He’s still got it.
Elsewhere in the G-League, Emeka Okafor is averaging 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds for the Philadelphia 76ers’ affiliate in Delaware. The 2004 national champion, a former No. 2 overall pick and 2005 NBA Rookie of the Year, Okafor is attempting a comeback from injury which seems to be going well. He hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2013-2014 season, but maybe he’ll get a chance soon with the way he’s performing.
DeAndre Daniels, who left UConn early after winning a national championship in 2014, is averaging 7.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for the Erie (PA) Bayhawks. Daniels spent part of the 2015-2016 season in the D-League but has mostly been playing internationally since the Raptors drafted him with the 37th overall pick. He was actually recently waived by the Bayhawks after being a first-round pick in the league’s expansion draft.
2017 UConn grad Amida Brimah is in Austin, Texas playing for San Antonio’s G-League squad after going undrafted. He’s averaging 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. I’ll always believe Brimah has a chance because you can’t teach someone to be really tall and athletic. So he’s got that going for him.