Rip Hamilton on Detroit Pistons, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo

Jay Asser 10:46 15/02/2018
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Rip Hamilton had his No32 retired by the Detroit Pistons.

Instead of running circles around defenders and pulling up for his patented mid-range jumpers, Rip Hamilton nowadays provides insight on TNT‘s ‘Players Only’ broadcasts.

The 40-year-old’s second act will have a hard time reaching the highs of his playing career, which included three All-Star appearances, 15,708 points and a championship with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons.

Sport360°‘s Jay Asser caught up with Hamilton recently and asked the former shooting guard about a range of topics, from how his Pistons side would fare against these current Golden State Warriors, to the art of coming off screens and everything in between.

JA: Do you think Dubai would be a good place for the NBA to host one of its Global Games?

RH: Definitely. When it’s such a destination, especially when a lot of my peers have visited there, taken their family there and went there to hang out, I definitely think that’s a place that one day, hopefully, the league could potentially have a game or something there.

JA: LeBron James has been to seven-straight NBA Finals. During your time with the Pistons, you and the team went to six-consecutive conference finals. Just how impressive is it what LeBron is doing?

RH: It’s unreal. Seriously, it’s unreal. At least with the Pistons, I could lean on other guys. I could lean on Chauncey [Billups], I could lean on Rasheed Wallace to dominate and take over the game. LeBron dominates, not just on the offensive end, but on the defensive end. He can do it by scoring, passing and rebounding. Not only that, I mean also what he’s been doing for USA basketball, playing and giving up his summers to play basketball. He hasn’t had a break, so what he’s doing right now is unreal.

JA: There’s an abundance of up-and-coming young players in the league right now. Who’s the young guy that you’ve been most impressed with?

RH: Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think in a couple years, once LeBron retires, he will be the MVP of the league. I think he’ll be the best player in our game. He has stuff you just can’t teach. He’s just gifted. With his length, he makes up so much ground on the floor and he loves to play both ends of the floor.

JA: You mastered the art of coming off off-ball screens. Who’s the guy in the league right now that you think does that the best?

RH: I would have to say Klay Thompson. He’s a guy who can dominate the game without having the ball in his hands.

JA: How much of coming off screens is an art form that requires feel, and how much of it is technical that comes with repetition and practice?

RH: One, you have to have a feel for the game. When I played, there were certain plays on the court when coming off a screen, I would tell a guy like Arron Afflalo, who was a rookie at the time, to locate me. Sometimes he couldn’t see it. So I think it’s something that is a feel, you have to practice in it and you have to believe in it. It’s not as sexy as the guy coming down the court, crossing somebody over, taking out their legs. It’s not as sexy as that. You just have to be committed to it and say ‘hey, you know it’s the way I can dominate the game without taking my team out of offensive rhythm’. Because when you’re moving without the ball, everyone can still make plays and the ball is not bogged down in the hand.

JA: You were a killer from mid-range. If you were playing in today’s game, would more of your shots come from beyond the arc, or would you still target the mid-range?

RH: Well the game is totally different now. I think that with the way the game is played now, I would have more opportunities than I did because defensively, the game has changed. And teams are a lot smaller. For instance, I would be able to get to the basket even easier because now you’ve got a small forward playing the five position. When we played, the centre was 7-foot and the power forward was 6-foot-11. Nowadays the power forward is 6-foot-7 and the centre is 6-foot-7.

JA: From an efficiency standpoint, the mid-range is considered the worst shot in basketball. Do you think it still has plenty of value and is an area that can be exploited?

RH: Absolutely, especially when it comes to playoff basketball. People get caught up on how Golden State has performed over the last couple years, but the league is like, whoever wins the championship, everybody else wants to copycat. So it’s kind of like when we (the Pistons) won defensively, everybody felt as though you had to defend to win. So if you’re like, let’s say, I compare Golden State to the Phoenix Suns, who were the first team that actually played four out, one in with Amar’e Stoudemire. Nobody believed you could win a championship that way. Now Golden State is doing the same thing and everyone is trying to duplicate that, but it’s hard to do that when you don’t have the personnel.

JA: The 2003-04 team won the championship, but you were a part of other Pistons teams that had better records and fell short of the title. Was that 03-04 squad the best team you played on?

RH: Absolutely. We had guys that came off our bench that ended up being starters and franchise players, like Mehmet Okur. I thought he was a huge plus for that team that people forget and don’t give a lot of credit to. You look at a guy like Corliss Williamson, who was a mismatch each and every night because you could play him at the three and we would just pretty much give him the ball and he would always get us in the penalty. Then we had great pit bulls in Mike James and Lindsey Hunter. So I think that team was definitely the best team.

JA: The enduring legacy of that 03-04 squad was that it was a ‘team’ in every sense of the word, greater than the sum of its parts, etc. But that side was stocked with talent and multiple potential future Hall of Famers. Do you ever feel like that team gets an unfair characterisation as a team devoid of stars?

RH: We don’t get caught up in what the media says. If you ask anybody that played in the NBA during that time and if you had the rank the guys we had on our team, you would probably rank multiple guys in the top five, top 10 of their position. It’s just that we did everything the right way and weren’t caught up in personal stats.

JA: Do you think that 03-04 team could beat this version of the Warriors?

RH: It all depends on what rules we’re playing by. If we’re playing with the same rules that we played in 2004, during that era, I don’t think they would have a chance. But if we played in the era now where the game is a lot more wide open, you can’t put your hands on or touch guys going to the lane, I think the advantage would be theirs.

JA: You’re fondly remembered for rocking the protective mask for much of your career, even after your nose injury healed. Was that something you were just comfortable with and became routine after a while?

RH: Yeah, I was definitely comfortable. The doctor told me I had to wear it for the rest of my career, but that was something that I could have easily taken off and not worn anymore. But it was kind of like my cape, kind of like my brand. It was kind of my make-up.

JA: The Pistons moved to a new arena downtown this year, but have struggled with attendance. As someone who played at Auburn Hills, what did you think of the move?

RH: I think it was great to see that when you look at Detroit sports and you see the success of the Red Wings and Lions, two teams who were downtown, and now have the opportunity to have all three (major) teams downtown, I think it’s something special. Like I wish that we had the opportunity to play a few games downtown, just from the fans standpoint. So I definitely think it’s something the fans have to get used to, because a lot of them were used to going to Auburn Hills. Like for me, if I went back, I would feel more comfortable going to Auburn Hills than downtown just for the simple fact that’s where I went all the time. But I think it’s great for the city for the team to be downtown.

JA: There’s been a lot of discussion about the NBA’s age limit for players turning pro. There’s been talk of extending it from 19 to 20, or at least two seasons in college, as well as getting rid of it completely. You played three years at UConn before going to the league, so what’s your stance on what the rule should be?

RH: I would say you get rid of the rule itself. I don’t think you should hold a guy back that could come out of high school and go straight to the NBA. The one thing about it is, at the end of the day, it’s the general managers and presidents of the teams that are drafting these kids. So if you feel like a kid’s not ready, it’s up to you to draft him or not. I feel as though we have a lot of talented guys and basketball right now is at an all-time high. If you look at last year’s draft lottery, you probably had six or seven guys that were freshmen. So I don’t believe you should hold a guy back that’s talented enough to play in the league right now.

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