Friday, July 14, 2023 | 2 a.m.
During his career at UNLV, it would have been unheard of for Bryce Hamilton to go scoreless in a game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The former Scarlet and Gray star poured in more than 600 field goals over four college seasons and developed into one of the best offensive threats in program history, culminating in an explosive senior campaign that saw the 6-foot-4 lefty average 21.8 points per game.
But the NBA is a different beast entirely, and Hamilton knows that. Playing with the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer league team, the second-year pro logged just nine minutes off the bench in a Wednesday night matchup against the Boston Celtics at the Mack. Hamilton finished with zero points (0-of-3 shooting) in a 95-90 loss.
And he couldn’t be happier.
“It felt real good to be back,” Hamilton said after the game, flashing a big smile. “I miss Vegas a lot. I’m just happy to be out here and compete.”
Hamilton came to UNLV with the dream of making it to the NBA, and he’s close to making it happen.
He went undrafted after his senior year but quickly landed with the Lakers last summer, which was a dream come true for the Pasadena, Calif., native. He played in five summer league games last year and scored 2.8 points in 16.0 minutes.
Hamilton was an early cut in training camp and spent the entire 2022-23 season with Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers. He displayed his scoring touch there, averaging 14.1 points on 51.4% shooting. He showed growth with his outside shooting, which was considered a weakness coming out of college; with the South Bay Lakers, Hamilton connected on 38.5% from 3-point range, a significantly better rate than any of his seasons at UNLV.
That year of experience has only strengthened Hamilton’s resolve to reach the NBA.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying this pro life, playing against the top guys in the world.”
The goal, he said, is “just getting better every day and just keep competing, and try to climb my way into the league.”
Making the Lakers’ roster will indeed be an uphill climb. The team is deep in the backcourt, and the Lakers just spent the No. 17 overall pick in last month’s draft on another player at Hamilton’s position, Indiana guard Jalen Hood-Schifino.
Hamilton did not play in either of the Lakers’ first two summer league contests over the weekend. His limited playing time on Wednesday was his first appearance of the summer.
It’s not a role Hamilton is used to, and certainly not in his “home” arena. But he’s rolling with it and keeping his eyes on the prize.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play or not,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get in, so (I) just always (need to) be ready for that opportunity and make the best of it.”
Hamilton says the Lakers coaches want to see him develop more as a playmaker and passer and shore up his defense. He’s also focusing on being a good teammate.
Despite his fringe roster status, Hamilton has been at ease this week in his return to Las Vegas. He says he has spent some time with former teammates and coaches from his UNLV days, and he still follows the team.
As a distinguished alum, he’s as eager as any Scarlet and Gray diehard to see how UNLV does in 2023-24.
“I’ve talked to a couple of the new guys and everything,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to watch them play.”
The Lakers are scheduled to play again today at the Thomas & Mack, and then they’ll have at least one playoff game. Hamilton doesn’t know how much court time he’ll see or what the rest of the summer league experience will hold for him, but he is in a good place and determined to keep working until he can call himself an NBA player.
“I’m happy I’m here. I’m very grateful. But not satisfied at all,” he said.