One of Kevin Kruger’s best finds in the offseason was Royce Hamm. In four seasons at Texas, Hamm appeared in 90 games, but averaged just 9.0 minutes and 1.9 points per game. He was at the fringe of the Longhorns’ rotation.
But now he is one of UNLV’s most important players. Hamm is averaging 8.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
“We knew he was athletic,” Kruger said when asked if he was surprised by how will Hamm has rebounded. “We weren’t really sure, having been four years removed from a heavy role. It’s really just been pleasantly surprising.”
Kruger added: “Pleasantly surprised. Make sure you put that.”
Hamm ranks fourth in country in defensive rebound rate. He is grabbing 38 percent of opponents’ missed shots when on the floor. Hamm has been one of the nation’s best on the glass, as he is also top 50 in offensive rebounding rate.
“I just try to play hard, just try to give energy,” Hamm said. “That’s my biggest thing. When I am not scoring, when I am not putting the ball in the bucket, how can I still affect the game.”
But the most important stat for Hamm this season is 26.4. His minutes per game. He has only reached 30 minutes in a game once this season. Part of the issue is Hamm’s foul trouble. He has finished two games with four fouls. His 4.2 fouls per 40 minutes is the 14th highest in the Mountain West.
Ultimately, Kevin Kruger has to cover 10+ minutes without Hamm on the floor. And that has been a struggle for the Rebels. In Hamm’s 132 minutes this season, UNLV has outscored opponents by 15. In the 68 minutes he has been on the bench, UNLV has been outscored by 11.
The first issue is health. UNLV has two big men sidelined due to arm injuries, as Victor Iwuakor and James Hampshire have yet to play this season.
Both are still considered day-to-day, but neither practiced on Tuesday.
Iwuakor figures to have a significant role when healthy. At the very least he should be the primary back up to Hamm.
But for now, Kruger only has three options: David Muoka, Reece Brown or small ball.
Muoka has been a non-factor on offense, as he has taken just 4 shots. He has not been as helpful as expected on defense, as Michigan and Wichita State were able to take advantage of him around in the paint.
Brown has played a total of 1:19 this season, as the second-year Rebel appears to be a last option at best.
Kruger has tried five guard lineups, but that will likely only be useable in certain matchups. UNLV used five guards for a short stretch against Michigan and were outscored 5-0 before Kruger made a change. There will be easier teams to use a small ball lineup against, but that was certainly a terrible matchup for UNLV.
With Kruger choosing from a few bad options, UNLV needs Hamm to play more minutes. If UNLV can get 35 minutes from Hamm, the back up center spot will become a more manageable problem.
I have two tickets to the UNLV game on Wednesday against the Whittier College Poets. The first person to tweet at me (@bischoff_tyler) or email me (OffensiveVegas@gmail.com) a picture of the Whittier mascot (the actual mascot, not just the logo) wins the tickets!