Amir Hinton is Knicks’ long shot ready to make some noise
The odds are always against a Division II product getting a real look at training camp, but point guard Amir Hinton may be different.
Signed to an Exhibit 10 contract, Hinton led all of college basketball in scoring at Division II Shaw University at 29.4 points per game and drives to the basket with a craftiness that belies his small-school resume.
After playing on the Knicks summer-league team, the 6-foot-5 combo guard will be the unlikeliest player at Knicks training camp that starts Monday. (There was one Division II player on an NBA roster last season: Atlanta’s Jaylen Morris of Molloy College in Long Island.)
Though the 22-year-old will likely wind up with the Westchester Knicks with his $50,000 guarantee, the ultimate long shot’s future bears watching.
David Fizdale’s mission is to run more this season, and Hinton thrives in transition. For three weeks, Hinton has participated in the Knicks’ voluntary scrimmages at Columbia and the club’s Tarrytown facility.
“We have a lot of young guys; five vets,’’ Hinton told The Post. “Everybody’s young and everyone just likes to run and pick up on defense. That’s something I’ll be fine with. Getting out running, that’s better for me. Not that I can’t be in a half-court system but getting out and running makes the game more fun and free. To have a coach let the players play, that’s good for players to build confidence.’’
Indeed, Fizdale is attempting to be faster with all that young depth this season. Point guards Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina, who has yet to show up for workouts after finishing up a standout World Cup performance with France, will be in a battle royale for the starting job.
Hinton? It’s no secret the Knicks have signed a slew of guys with one-year deals who could be peddled at the trade deadline for draft picks, opening up roster spots.
“The transition from college to pros, it’s a different ballgame, especially the level I played at,’’ Hinton said. “Certain things you can get away with at that level, you can’t get away here. It’s a big jump physically and speed. I’m watching some of the vets, trying to learn from them, making the right reads, take away some of the bad habits I had.”
Hinton, however, is a big believer Division II players are not that different than Division I products. The Philly native had chances to transfer to Division I but didn’t want to sit out the requisite one season.
“In my mind, I’m a Division I player,’’ he said. “There’s nothing a Division I player can do as far as playing basketball the right way I can’t. The only difference to me was the exposure. Especially the conference I played in (CIAA), it was tough. I don’t think it’s a big gap.
“Do I think it’s a burden coming from Division II? The way politics are, some people may think, oh yeah. But they’ll get comfortable if I show what I can actually do and change people’s minds.”
Hinton worked out for 11 teams, with the Knicks’ effort one of his best. With the Knicks focused on giving heavy minutes to prized rookie RJ Barrett and two-way contract signee Kadeem Allen, Hinton’s minutes in summer league were limited to 8.3 per game and he averaged 4.4 points.
While a terrific driver, scouts believe he must improve his 3-point shot (34 percent) and playmaking. He averaged 4.4 assists at the Raleigh, N.C. school.
“As time goes on, I’ll develop into a point guard knowing my spots and get teammates more involved,’’ Hinton said. “I can do that. But all my life, I’ve been a combo in a scoring role. I’m trying not to think too hard and have fun playing basketball, not make the game too hard.’’
Hinton looks at past Division II stars Scottie Pippen, George Gervin, Manute Bol and Ben Wallace as motivation. His Shaw coach, Joel Hopkins, who coached Tracy McGrady, has been influential in Hinton’s NBA pursuit.
“It was definitely a goal of mine going into the season,’’ Hinton said of the scoring title. “But I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
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