The Dallas Mavericks recently wrapped their 2021 NBA Summer League experience. While their stay in Las Vegas didn’t net them many wins—they won their final game against the Miami Heat, bringing their record to 1-4—it was an opportunity for some young players to get back in the gym and get some game reps.
Nate Hinton was a player to watch in the desert. Coming off his rookie season, in which he appeared in 21 regular season games, the two-way guard and fan favorite was a feature player on the Mavericks’ roster. Starting all five games, Hinton averaged 7.8 points on 31.4 percent shooting overall, six rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.4 steals before an injury sidelined him during the final game.
I spoke with Hinton prior to his final game in Las Vegas. He reflected on his time with the team and what he’s looking forward to next season. What follows is part of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Doyle Rader: You didn’t have summer league last year, so what’s this experience been like for you this year?
Nate Hinton: It’s an amazing experience. Getting the opportunity to go out there and compete and play with other guys and this whole organization—to have a chance to actually play. I haven’t had the chance to play in a little while. ... But just having a chance to play, and actually go out there and compete again. It’s a great experience to play with the guys on the Mavericks team, and play the organization, and it’s an amazing experience. And I’m thankful I got the opportunity to do that.
DR: What are you looking to improve in your game at Summer League?
NH: Just looking to improve on training. I’ve been working out and training hard, but game shape and training shape are two different things. That’s something I’m realizing as a pro that you can train all day, but if you don’t have run in, then it would be an injustice. So, just trying to learn my body, just being professional and just going out there, and just improve on all aspects of my game. Because obviously, what I did in Houston, as a rebounding defender, obviously that can take you just so far. Just keep continuing to be a better shooter, and work on my ball handling, and just my overall game. Just so that way I can whatever, and bring whatever to the Mavericks organization, and my whole NBA career.
DR: What exactly is the difference? I understand it as a concept, between just being in the gym, and that kind of shape, and then that between game shape?
NH: It may be different for everybody else, but knowing my own personal game—I train so hard, and I train so hard on both sides of the ball—but the only way you can get into game shape is to get into game shape. You can run miles and miles, but at the end of the day, you stop and go, and get to the rim, and taking the game and doing all these different things that occurs in a game, it’s just different. And so sometimes it takes—I don’t want to say it takes long—but it’s just maybe you got to work it out.
DR: What is your philosophy on rebounding? Do you do the angles thing like Dennis Rodman was talking about in the Chicago Bulls documentary? How do you approach it?
NH: To me, my mentality, I played with older guys, when I was coming up. So a lot of times, playing older guys, they’re not going to just pass you the ball, unless you got a rebound. If you play other point guards, like when I was at Houston, you try to go get the ball. So my philosophy is just keep ball, get ball. And knowing your teammates, and knowing what kind of shot they take, and seeing how the ball comes off the rim, seeing if it’s long or short, and then just reacting to it, and just taking it down.
I look at it like a 50/50 ball. If the ball is in the air, everybody has a chance to get it. It’s just the one that wants it. A lot of guys have a 40-inch vertical or jump out the gym, but they can’t really go get a lot of rebounds because it’s really a want to. It’s not really a, “Oh, I can just jump the highest and get the ball.” It’s really all about just seeing the ball and wanting the ball.
DR: How are you learning to get along on the court with your teammates, and how do you adjust to that environment?
NH: The environment is great. It’s really like a big—it’s another level of the AAU tournament, really. Because sometimes, a lot of times, in the AAU tournament, guys would be from all over the state, or from different states. And then they would come down for the weekend, and we got to check out what everybody does, and just play. So honestly, it’s been really like an AAU tournament.
But adjusting and playing with guys that you’ve never played before, just you figure it out on the fly. Seven days is not a lot of time to really get into the plays you want to get into in that kind of stretch ... and everybody is trying to play, and show what they can do. But really just playing it out, and smoothing the rough edges out each possession. Each game we’re watching film, and just building up team camaraderie. A lot of guys just so happen to know each other from previous years or know what school they went to, or like minded people knowing each other. But I think for the most part just adjusting to this environment has been a very supportive process.
Michael Finley told me after one of the games that it was a part of the process. So, it’s just a step in the right direction, that you got to. It ain’t going to be perfect. It’s not meant to be perfect. If it was perfect, there would be a bigger expectation of, “Okay, you got to go do this or that.” This is part of your process of planning and development into a career. So, we’re just taking it game by game, and hopefully—I know it will be beneficial in the future.
DR: Have you been able to speak with Jason Kidd yet? And if so, what was that conversation like, and how do you envision yourself on the Mavericks this next season?
NH: Yeah. I talked to him. We’ve actually had a personal opportunity to talk to him at a camp this past summer and then a little bit more at the gym, working out. He was watching me workout whenever we was preparing for Summer League. He was a great guy. He’s real, real positive and really helping me out. He’s been real and everything. He just pulled me aside, and was like, “You just go at the defender, versus going another thing.” And it was just like, “Okay, wow.” A top NBA player, NBA champion, one of the all time great point guards telling me that.
It was definitely motivational and inspirational, hearing it from him. And he’s just positive. He knows that I work hard. And I’m just hoping to get opportunities. Last year, obviously they didn’t come probably as much as I wanted them to, but I’m working hard, and it’s part of the process, and I got to earn my stripes. Over time, everything will fall in place. I see myself just going out there with the energy, defense, and just whatever they need me to do. And just ready for anything and everything.