Not knowing it would be the last game her team played this season, Jordan Hamilton was one of two Wildcats to field questions with Joe McKeown after their 67-59 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. Things weren’t clicking for the starters, as Veronica Burton got in early foul trouble and Sydney Wood fought nagging injuries, setting the stage for crucial aid off the bench.
Enter Hamilton, who took over ball handling duties and scored a season-high 14 points that kept Northwestern in it. In the first half, she showed her electric offensive ability and defensive tenacity that gave her team new life. After the game, she admitted it had not been the best season for her personally, and that her shooting had not been up to its standard, but also expressed optimism moving forward.
Unfortunately, Hamilton now won’t get to put that optimism to use for another year. But after what was probably a fair self-assessment by the Texas native, let’s dive into the stats to evaluate a junior campaign that was affected by injury early on and was inconsistent, if hugely important at times, thereafter.
The following numbers are taken from HerHoopStats.com.
When Hamilton talked about 2019-20 not being a great season, there isn’t a need to look too far past her stats. Having averaged 34 minutes as a freshman and 29 as a sophomore, it’s fair to assume she didn’t think she would see under 20 minutes per game as an upperclassman.
Yet, that’s what circumstances dictated, and her shooting struggled for it. The guard shot under 34 percent from the field and connected on barely over a quarter of her shots from beyond the arc, including a woeful 18 percent during Big Ten play. Her free throw percentage also dipped well below 70 percent for the first time in her career. She showed a penchant for doing some of the little things well, like assists and steals, and coming up clutch in certain key situations, but there wasn’t much else to write home about.
The following numbers are taken from HerHoopStats.com.
Again, there is not much new to be said from the more in-depth metrics. Hamilton’s offensive role was largely secondary. After she didn’t shoot a lot in the early and mid parts of the season, the coaches implored her to be more aggressive. In that time, she showed her weapons but lacked consistency.
While her two-point percentage wasn’t terribly affected, her three-point accuracy was. Hamilton shot 34 percent from downtown over her first two years, which is decent if nothing else, but an eight-point dip this year was uncharacteristic.
After averaging nearly eight points per game in her first two seasons and being tasked with more playmaking, this year presented a different role for the junior. Coming off the bench, she provided a steadying hand when NU needed her most this season. A few games come to mind, namely road performances at Maryland and Michigan, home showings against Purdue and Nebraska, and in the Big Ten Tourney versus those same Wolverines.
A commonality of nearly all of those games was that Pulliam struggled or was largely a non-factor. Northwestern scored an average of 61.4 points in the contests, well below their season average of about 70. When Hamilton was given the opportunity to step up in these tough situations, she did so successfully more often than not.
The Frisco, Texas product was inconsistent after she returned from injury, partially to no fault of her own. By the time she was at full strength, Sydney Wood had stepped up into a starting role that she wouldn’t relinquish. Instead of sliding back into her once-secure starting spot, Hamilton’s minutes would have to come from the bench.
While McKeown doesn’t like to take his starters out, this year’s unique depth gave the junior opportunities to play nearly half of the average game, but she never really found her stroke in the new role. The numbers don’t sparkle: shooting 34 percent from the field and just over 25 percent from three is not the junior season the guard or her coaches probably envisioned. Her A/TO ratio wasn’t great either.
Now that Hamilton is healthy, the focus has to be on her shot. While Pulliam and Burton will be tasked with carrying the load of the offense, there is a significant scoring void left by Wolf and Scheid. Northwestern is guard-rich right now, and there is a scenario in which the ‘Cats roll out a four-guard lineup next year. Anna Morris, a highly touted power forward recruit, may have something to say about that, though.
Simply put, Hamilton has plenty of experience and knows how to do a little bit of everything. She has shown her explosive ability but needs to work on honing it and improving her shooting consistency.
The Bottom Line
With the high level of guard play from Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton, Hamilton is not taking a starting spot away from them. Sydney Wood has also established an unmatched chemistry with Burton on defense, so it seems unlikely that McKeown would remove Wood in favor of Hamilton.
With Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf graduating, there is an opportunity for NU to go small. It seems logical that Courtney Shaw would fit into Wolf’s role, and while there doesn’t appear to be a next Scheid just yet, that could be Hamilton’s starting spot. She started in all but one of the games in which she appeared as a sophomore in place of Wood, and that was as a part of basically the same lineup as 2019-20 but with Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah instead of Wolf.
Despite her statistical shortcomings this season, there’s a level of trust between her and the coaching staff, and plenty of room for her to build on her strengths with more consistent playing time, especially if she has left the lower-body injuries that plagued her during the last two seasons behind.