Last season Bryce Hamilton exploded from an inefficient rotation player to one of the most dominant scorers in the Mountain West. He was named All Mountain West 1st team after the 2019-20 season after averaging 20.9 points per game.
Now, Hamilton is one of the least efficient players in the Mountain West.
In conference play, Hamilton posted an offensive rating of 111.3 last season. Of the 30 players with a usage rate over 20 percent, Hamilton was the 8th most efficient.
But this season, Hamilton’s offensive rating has plummeted to 96.9. Of the 36 players in 2020-21 with a usage rate of 20 percent or more, Hamilton ranks 24th in efficiency.
A simple explanation for this is that Hamilton has had to do more this season with Marvin Coleman injured and a roster that lacks a second playmaker. Hamilton’s usage rate increased this year. But only slightly. Last year Hamilton was second in the Mountain West with a usage rate 33.5 percent. This year he leads the conference at 34.5 percent.
Hamilton is playing 2.6 more minutes per game this season and taking 1.9 more shots per game. An increase, but not a significant jump. Last season Hamilton was the primary offensive weapon, just like this season.
Hamilton’s usage rate is not the blame for Hamilton’s cratering efficiency.
He did suffer a ankle injury earlier in the season that caused him to miss three games. T.J. Otzelberger said he is still getting treatment every day for that ankle, so that could be a cause for Hamilton’s dip in play.
Whether it is injury related or not, Hamilton’s own shot making is to blame. The easiest to spot is his three-point shooting. Last year Hamilton made 35.2 percent of his threes in Mountain West play. This year he has knocked down just 27.8 percent of his triples. Hamilton went from hitting an average amount of threes to being one of the conference’s worst shooters.
Beyond the threes, Hamilton is not getting to the free throw line. His attempts have been cut in half from 5.1 free throws per game last season to 2.5 this season. Free throws were never a major part of his game, but Hamilton ranks 37th of 40thin free throw rate this season. The only players that get to line less are three-point specialists like Caleb Grill.
While Hamilton has seen his three-point shooting decline and free throw attempts dip, he is taking the lease efficient shot in basketball even more.
Last year Hamilton averaged 5.2 mid-range shots per game. This year it has sky rocketed to 8.3. Hamilton actually knocks down mid-range shots at an above average rate (44.9 percent), but still not high enough to declare it an efficient shot.
So Hamilton’s usage rate has remained the same, but his quality of shot (and ability to make) have fallen off. The reason can be drawn to the types of players on the roster.
Hamilton has led UNLV ins field goal attempts the last two years. But the other players in the top three are simply jump shooters.
In 2019-20 Amauri Hardy and Elijah-Mitrou Long were second and third in field goal attempts per game. While both players took plenty of threes, Hardy and Mitrou-Long each took at least 3.8 layups per game.
David Jenkins and Caleb Grill are second and third in field goal attempts this season; they have combined to shoot 1.9 layups per game.
All defenses have to worry about are Bryce Hamilton isolations and spot up three-point shooters. There is no other concern.
“There’s more (defenders) converging,” T.J. Otzelberger said. “There’s more guys stepping in trying to make him pass. We have to continue to do a good job as coaches showing him where the outlets are, making reads early. I know Bryce is an elite scorer, but the way people are playing him right now, we need him to be an elite passer.”
Hamilton has just four assist in his last four games. He has shown an ability to pass after he breaks down the defense, but not consistently.
Even with a better passing Hamilton, the offense would not be at the level needed to compete in the Mountain West. UNLV simply doesn’t have enough to breakdown defenses.
While Otzelberger has usde more post ups later in the season, neither Devin Tillis nor Mbacke Diong are good enough to be a focal point of the offense.
It remains to be seen if Hamilton will return next season, but if Otzelberger can add two playmakers to the team, Hamilton should return to an All-Mountain West level of play.