As basketball continues to evolve at a rapid pace, significant changes have come with it. Versatile players are thriving, while those with a limited arsenal are weeded out.
There is, however, one role in the game that will never go extinct and will always be valuable to a team no matter how much the game transforms—the hustle guy.
Omari Spellman, the 30th overall pick and one of three first-round selections by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 NBA Draft, is prepared to specialize in that very element.
“I know my job,” Spellman told Basketball Insiders at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. “Trae [Young]’s gonna get the ball and the shine, and I don’t mind that. Tyler [Dorsey], (too).
“I don’t mind being a junkyard dog to come in and rebound, defend and do all the little things that we need to win. I know my job and I want to keep doing my job the best I can.”
The role of playing cleanup will suit Spellman well in the early phase of his career. Having recently turned 21 this past week, his professional skill set is in its developing period. There’s plenty of room to grow in other areas, but he’ll never need a kick in the rear as far as effort goes.
Take an example from July 11 vs. the Indiana Pacers. In the late stages of the game, as the Hawks were within two points, Tyler Dorsey misfired on a three. As Spellman watched from the perimeter elbow, he followed the attempt all the way inside. When he saw the try fall short, the rim was never the same.
“I seen Tyler pull up,” Spellman recalled to Basketball Insiders. “It’s my job to crash, so I just went to the rim hard. It gave me a good bounce and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, you gotta finish that.’ So I just finished it.”
Put-back dunks, leather-bruising blocks and a feathery touch from outside define Spellman’s strengths, but there’s something more about him that stands out—and it was quite noticeable in college.
In one year with the Villanova Wildcats under the tutelage of Jay Wright, Spellman demanded your attention. After every throw down, after every swat, after every big play—his reactions were just so real that the moments drew you in.
“I just try to play the game with passion,” Spellman said back in May at the NBA Draft Combine. “For me, playing the game passionless or emotionless is just not fun. So just have fun while you play, play with passion and play as hard as you can.”
Those feelings were on full display as the Wildcats fought their way through March Madness, and their hard work culminated with an NCAA Championship victory over the Michigan Wolverines. It’s an experience that Spellman won’t ever forget.
“For it to be my first time man, it was definitely something that I’ll remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” Spellman said at the combine. “And doing it with the group of the guys that I did it with, even better. Definitely something I appreciate.”
Fast-forward a few months later and Spellman is a part of the best basketball league in the world. He’s shown flashes already of what he can become alongside Trae Young, his teammate in Atlanta and one of the most prolific players in his draft class.
He’s also receiving plenty of advice from a frontcourt partner of his that was in a similar position one year ago, improving Hawks forward John Collins.
“He’s talked to me a lot about pick-and-roll defense,” Spellman told Basketball Insiders. “Just a lot different reads than in college. He’s talked to me about keeping my emotions in check. He’s talked to me about being a good teammate and just competing as hard as I can man.
“I’m happy to have a guy like him who’s been in it for a year and can make my growing pains a lot less.”
Having had a small taste of the NBA style in Sin City, a confident Spellman doesn’t see much of a difference aside from the level of talent. He believes that Villanova prepared him to make the next jump because of Wright’s offensive system.
“It’s just different players,” Spellman told Basketball Insiders. “You gotta up your game. That’s really all it is. You just gotta compete hard every night and really get after it.”
Nothing has surprised him to this point, and he doesn’t see that changing. He’s ready for the challenge awaiting him.
And that’s the part that excites Spellman the most.
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