It’s been awhile since Nate Hinton played in a real live basketball game. But, like riding a bicycle, he never forgot all of the nuances of the game.
So, when Hinton played 15 minutes for the Dallas Mavericks in Saturday’s 112-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the former University of Houston standout’s main desire was to make sure every minute on the court was meaningful.
“I’m just getting my feet wet, really,” Hinton said. “I haven’t played a game since March. Training and working out is great, but actually getting up and down and playing in an NBA game. . .”
For Hinton, this just wasn’t any old NBA game. Granted, it was a preseason contest. However, it was the 6-5, 210-pound shooting guard’s first time lacing up his sneakers, putting on his uniform and playing in an NBA game where his every movement was going to monitored, dissected and scrutinized.
So how did the wide-eyed rookie grade out.
“He’s aggressive,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Defensively, he’s a physical tough defender that has good anticipation. I love to see a young player get in there and get a bucket. In his case, he got two buckets, and that really helps you get into the flow.”
Another thing that got Hinton going were those three iconic letters – NBA – that are the backbone of every little kid on playgrounds all across the world with aspirations of one day playing on basketball’s biggest stage.
“Everywhere I looked around I see those three letters and I’m excited just to be here,” Hinton said. “I’m appreciative of this opportunity that the Dallas organization has given me and I’m trying to take full advantage of it.”
After getting into Saturday’s game for the first time in the second half, Hinton acknowledged that getting that first wind was tough.
“We came back from a timeout and I was over there breathing hard, because that adrenaline was going,” he said. “I wanted to go in the game, I’m excited, like, Milwaukee is one of the top teams in the East and I’m looking like, ‘Oh, shoot, this is really here.’ ”
Once Hinton settled down, he quickly realized the obvious.
“It just felt like basketball,” he said. “Rick Carlisle and the coaching staff have just given me great confidence. They tell me to just stay working and just keep getting better as a player.
“It’s more spacing on the court (than on the collegiate level), so there’s more opportunities to get into the paint and just make plays and just be a ball player. I work hard, and just being around guys like Luka (Doncic) and the vets in practice kind of makes it easier and makes it better for me to play and watch to see how the pace of the game is.”
Hinton wound up scoring eight points, collecting eight rebounds, dispensing four assists and recording a steal against Milwaukee. Also, when the Bucks whittled a 20-point Mavs’ lead down to 107-100, it was Hinton who drove to the basket, scored, was fouled and completed a three-point play to increase the lead to 110-100 with 1:06 remaining in the game.
“They were kind of coming back and I just knew we had to make a play,” said Hinton, who was 3-of-6 from the field in his Mavs’ debut. “I caught the ball, (there was) a lot of spacing, so I went to the basket.”
Doncic certainly was impressed by what he saw from Hinton.
“He played amazing,” Doncic said. “I think he was really excited.”
Undrafted last month, but signed to a two-way contract by the Mavs, Hinton describes himself as a “just excited to be here” kind of player. He’s like a kid in a room full of unwrapped toys, and he doesn’t know which one to open first.
“My story is still being written, and I’m not going to get too high and I’m not going to get too low,” Hinton said.
Saturday was definitely an auspicious first step for Hinton. And the Mavs hope more promising things are on the horizon when they battle the Bucks again on Monday at 7 p.m. in their second preseason game.
“My sense with (Hinton) is that he’s going to play the same way all the time,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to be aggressive, he’s going to take shots that are there, and defensively he’s going to give you an all-out physical tough effort.”
Bringing a taste of physicality to the game is all a part of Hinton’s DNA. That’s what he did in college, and he doesn’t see anything changing in the NBA.
“I just wanted to do my part and kind of be a part of something special,” Hinton said. “We have a special group here with the Mavericks and I just want to be a part of it.
“So whatever I can do to keep sustaining that momentum and just doing my part by going out there and just playing hard and not thinking and just keep working hard every day, I think that’s the only thing I can control. I can only control my attitude and effort.”
Hinton certainly controlled both of those things in the victory over the Bucks.