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A.J. Hammons will have a steep learning curve to see playing time

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Will A.J. Hammons overcome attitude questions to contribute on bench units in his rookie season?

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks only had one pick in this summer’s NBA draft, and they used it on A.J. Hammons, a 24 year old senior coming out of Purdue. As a second round draft pick, if Hammons sees much playing time, it either means injuries or that he’s just THAT amazing. But, now that he’s made the team, he’ll have his chance to impress the coaches.

Biggest Question

Will A.J. Hammons be ready to see the floor as a third, or even backup, center at any point this season? The question should be obvious. Hammons is a second round pick at a position where it can be very difficult to come in and play, especially for a coach like Rick Carlisle.

That said, rookies saw the floor last year, and Carlisle will always play the guys who earn it. Part of whether he sees the floor will be the health and performance of Andrew Bogut, Salah Mejri, and Dwight Powell in various configurations, as well as the ultra-offensive Dirk-at-the-5 lineup Dallas used sparingly last season.

Hammons is a rookie, with a few attitude questions and immense offensive talent. His defense isn’t stellar (per Synergy, he was only the 47th percentile defending at the collegiate level. Now, he will face only the very best of those players at the rim), and you need rim protection in today’s NBA.

Hammons is talented, however, and Salah Mejri saw time last year—albeit as a much older rookie with far more professional experience. It’s possible he earns a few minutes a night, especially if he shines in the opportunities he is sure to get against teams like Memphis, Utah, and Sacramento.

Best Case Scenario

The best case scenario for Hammons is that his prodigious offensive talent carries the day and he can team up with J.J. Barea and Seth Curry on second unit pick and roll plays at a level of efficiency similar to what Brandan Wright produced in that same role.

Hammons dominated college competition in efficiency last season. Here are some of his Synergy rankings: 93rd percentile overall, 94th percentile in post ups, and 98th percentile scoring as the roll man in pick and roll play. Fun fact about the NBA? The pick and roll is a piece of nearly every offensive set, and is run more than any other play. It is the bread and butter of every offense, and the gravity of an efficient roll man is a very powerful force—just think back to 2011 Tyson Chandler or the past few seasons of DeAndre Jordan rim-runs.

If Hammons can learn NBA defense and harness his offensive ability, he could make it to the backup center spot by season’s end and compete for the All-Rookie teams. Given his makeup and the difficulties faced by others in his position, however, probable outcomes tip more towards his worst case.

Worst Case Scenario

Hammons is a rookie. The learning curves faced by different positions in the NBA vary. As far as things go, centers have a pretty easy offensive transition, but their defensive curve may be the steepest of anyone, right up there with point guards on offense.

The tap dancing required on pick and roll defense to prevent a roll, a pull-up, and a blow-by all at the same time, the addition of defensive three second penalties (compared to the college game), the need to be in the lane or ready to be in the lane for help defense at all times, combined with the traditional role of the center as quarterback for all the defensive calls when a team is on the floor make it really tough for a team to be effective with a young big man.

The worst case is that he never sees the floor, his apathy shows in practice, he’s ineffective in the time he’ll probably get with the Mavericks’ D-League affiliate Texas Legends, and he’s not on the team next year.

He is, after all, a second round pick.