The Dallas Mavericks have several young, talented players. Unfortunately, they have a lot of veterans blocking the path to minutes for these players. So they have assigned rookies Nicolas Brussino and A.J. Hammons to their D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
Hammons has been deployed by the Legends on multiple occasions this season. This will be Brussino’s first trip as both get the opportunity to play a lot more minutes and develop their budding basketball repertoire.
The Mavericks are one of the NBA’s most effective teams at utilizing their minor league affiliate. Of course, the proximity of the arenas certainly helps.
“Being in Frisco compared to Dallas, we’re able to come over and watch guys, we’re able to bring guys up and down within the same day because of the distance,” says player development coach Darren Tillis.
“We try to use that to our advantage where we can get guys on both levels, we can get them playing and get them experience. They could practice with us in the morning then play in the D-League in the evening or vice versa. It’s a big advantage to us to have our D-League team in our city.”
Keeping a close eye on the Mavs up-and-coming players, Tillis says the motivating factor to send Brussino, Hammons and any player down is so they can actually play. Not just play, play a lot.
“I just think it’s good for their growth. They’re able to do things –especially the three guys (Brussino, Hammons and Pierre Jackson) we assigned– they’re able to get up and down. They’re gonna play three games this week. As much as you practice, there’s nothing like game competition.”
Mavericks General Manager and Legends Owner Donnie Nelson had his assistant on hand to track the progress of the team’s players oftomorrow.
“(They’ve) just gotta play games,” Max Weisberg says. “That’s the biggest thing here: just play games.”
After practice Tuesday afternoon, Tillis and Weisberg both raved about the overall performances of the 24-year old Hammons and 23-year old Brussino, stressing the requirement of getting in basketball shape.
“The intensity is the biggest thing,” Tillis declares. “Playing, you know, this is conditioning. Once we get to NBA practices it’s a lot of practice, not going up and down because of the 82 game schedule. For A.J. this week, he gets to play three games with four practices. We just think that can be instrumental for his growth.”
“He’s gotta get in basketball shape,” echoes Weisberg. “A big thing for him is we want him to stay on the court so he’s got to learn to play without fouling and he’s got to learn to use his size and use his skill.”
“He’s one of the more skilled big men that was in the draft last year. It’s not often you see a guy who’s seven feet tall that can shoot and protect the rim. We’re just looking for him to put it all together.”
Tillis notes that the repetition supplied by the increased workload will prove beneficial for Hammons. “He’ll have the opportunity to get game reps. He’s been doing a great job with us, but in the rotation he’s not playing but two to five minutes a game. Now he’s gonna play three games where he’s probably gonna play 30-plus minutes. You can’t duplicate that in the NBA right now.”
Hammons himself doesn’t shy away from these facts, saying what he wants to do better is “really just not fouling out and rebounding. Just showing I can play when I get out there.”
The 46th pick in last summer’s draft, the 7-footer has shown a sharp outside touch from the center spot so far in his rookie season, making four of his six three-point attempts.
“I’ve always had (a jumper), just never used it,” he laughs. “New league, new everything.”
“It’s something I wanted to do so I decided to start shooting more my senior year in college. When I came into the league, I just tried to make sure I didn’t stay in one place, making sure I could be more than just a center.”
Asked what the biggest difference between the levels is, the four-year Purdue star thinks it’s “probably the pace.”
Tillis provides some more detail about the big factors that separate the NBA and the D-League. “You’ve got All-Star guys who played in the NBA for ten or twelve years. You’ve got younger guys who are developing, also picking up things from day-to-day. I think as a younger guy you gotta make the adjustments where NBA guys are usually able to study more film and know their opponents more. For rookies and young guys, they’re learning each stage.”
“Each day is something new to them where the veterans have been through it, they know what to look for. Young guys are still trying to learn how to even study what they’re doing.”
Weisberg really liked what he saw from the Argentine Brussino, who has taken the assignment with open arms and a positive attitude.
“I think today he was more active than yesterday. For a rookie and for a guy who’s adjusting to life in the United States, it’s tough to adjust to the NBA game. It’s tough to crack the rotation. He’s getting in better shape. It’s really good for him to get here, run up and down and get his wind back together.”
“He thinks this is really good for him. The biggest thing for him is getting game shots. This is a really good way to do that for him.”
The Legends play three home games in the next four days, with Brussino and Hammons expected to suit up for all three.