Kevin Kruger’s biggest offseason win may have been convincing someone to stay in Vegas. Bryce Hamilton has led UNLV in scoring the last two seasons, and now that he is back, the Rebels are going to rely on him again.
“We want this team to go as he goes,” Kruger said. “We’re not shy about that at all. And I think he’s welcoming it.”
We have seen two seasons where UNLV made Hamilton the focus of the offense. Last season, Bryce Hamilton poured in 17.9 points per game, up from the 16 averaged on 2019-20.
Despite the increase in points, Hamilton’s efficiency dipped dramatically. His two point field goal percentage, three point field goal percentage and free throw percentage all dropped while his turnovers per game jumped.
His offensive rating fell from 103.7 to 96.7. Of the 100 players in college basketball with a usage rate of 28 percent of higher, Hamilton ranked 89th in offensive rating last season, making him one of the least efficient high volume scorers in the country.
The key for Kruger will be to create an offense that resembles the 2019-20 UNLV team and not the 2020-21 squad. In 19-20, UNLV had multiple guards that could create their own shots off the dribble. Elijah Mitrou-Long, Amauri Hardy and Bryce Hamilton could all get to the paint and create good looks for themselves or teammates.
But last season, UNLV had just one shot creator: Hamilton. So Hamilton always had to attack a set defense. A defense loaded up to stop him and him alone.
When Mitrou-Long and Hardy were around, defenses had to send help to stop those two. So Hamilton got more opportunities to attack defenses that were out of position.
That is what Kruger needs to find.
“Bryce’s ability to score, it’s an instinct for him. It’s natural,” Kruger said. “You know, you’ve got nothing goinh and he just throws the ball in. All the coaches get a pat on the back, but he’s the one out there making things happen.”
Hamilton can bail out bad offensive possessions by creating his own shot. But that has to be the fallback plan, not the only plan (or only plan possible of being executed) like last season.
Hamilton could have left UNLV. He could have tried the professional route or even transferred to another school. But he came back to Vegas.
“The main goal is to win,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament. That’s definitely the main goal. That’s goal number one, just to be able to win. I feel like with this group, we are able to do that.”
It may be unrealistic to expect UNLV to head to the NCAA Tournament in Kruger’s first season, but Hamilton’s efficiency may be key.
But if Hamilton can develop more of his game, UNLV could be in the NCAA Tournament and Hamilton could have a better shot at the NBA.
“I got a lot of good feedback,” Hamilton said of going through the NBA Draft process. “I got a lot of feedback about playing defense, shooting and just being able to prove I am a winner.”
Hamilton has been a below average defender throughout his career and has hit just 31.9 percent of his threes at UNLV.
If he can become above average at either of those aspects, Hamilton will be a serious contender for Mountain West player of the Year.