There’s only so much to glean from a preseason NBA game. Neither team is operating at 100 percent nor are they showing their hand in terms of their playbooks. However, for rookies and players trying to carve out a spot in the league, the games can mean the difference between a roster spot or playing overseas.
In the Dallas Mavericks’ first preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas’ rookies had an extended run to show what they’re made of. With 3:28 remaining in the third quarter, Nate Hinton, the Mavericks’ two-way player out of the University of Houston, checked into the game and made the most of his opportunity.
“We came back from a timeout; I was really breathing hard because that adrenaline was going,” Hinton said. “I wanted to go in the game, I’m excited. The whole first three quarters, I’m watching those guys play and I’m like, ‘Milwaukee is one of the top teams in the East.’ I’m looking like, ‘Oh shoot, this is really here.’”
Hinton quickly calmed his nerves, grabbing an offensive rebound about a minute later. From there, he showed the poise and tenacity that led the Mavericks to take a chance on him. He grabbed two more offensive boards within in seconds and was able to finish the play with a putback layup, scoring the first points of his NBA career.
“Love to see a young player get in there and immediately get a bucket,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “In his case, he got two buckets. One was an inside play and then the three. That really helps you get into the flow.”
As Carlisle notes, it didn’t take Hinton long to find the nylon again. He drilled a three-pointer about 30 seconds later off a dime from Wes Iwundu, extending the Mavericks’ lead to 87-72. He showed an ease with the game, embracing the advice the team’s veterans gave the rookies.
“The vets just told me, ‘Go out there and hoop with no conscience. Just go play,’” Hinton said, “So, that’s what we did.”
Late in the fourth quarter, the Buck tried to make a run. Coach Mike Budenholzer put his starters back in the game. Carlisle did not counter. He kept his young guys and bench on the floor. Hinton didn’t waver.
With the Mavericks up 107-100 and just over a minute to play, Hinton saw daylight. He drove, attacking the rim, scored a bucket, drew contact, and got the foul. He converted the and-one, giving Dallas a 110-100 lead with 1:06 left to play. The Mavs held on for a 112-102 win.
“They were kind of coming back and I just knew we had to make a play,” Hinton said. “That’s just natural. You catch the ball, a lot of spacing, so, I just went to the basket.”
Hinton knows that he has to get better finishing around the rim. It’s something he heard from teams during the off-season and it’s a personal goal. On this play, his hard work paid off.
“My sense with him is that he’s going to play the same way all the time,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to be aggressive; he’s going to take shots that are there, and defensively, he’s going to give you an all-out physical, tough effort.”
Hinton finished the game with a pleasantly plump box score. He had eight points on 50 percent shooting, a team-high eight rebounds, four assists, and a steal in just under 15 and a half minutes of action.
While Hinton’s performance was exemplary, especially considering he was on the floor at the same time as two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, he isn’t going to coast on the merits of one game. He still has more work to do.
“My story is still getting written,” Hinton said. “I’m not going to get too high, not going to get too low. I’m going to keep pressing on, I’m going to keep writing my story, and keep being a part of a great organization like this.”