Leading up to the start of the regular season, RunRebs will be profiling every significant player on the UNLV roster in a series we call “Meet the Rebels.” Today’s focus: senior guard Justin Hawkins.
This year’s edition of the Runnin’ Rebels is vastly different from last year’s squad, with new faces filling crucial roles up and down the roster. With so much turnover and so many moving parts, it’s tough to know just what to expect from the team, especially early in the season.
Justin Hawkins is an exception.
The senior guard is, in a word, dependable. Teammates, coaches, opponents and fans know just what to expect from Hawkins, and his value is only enhanced by that stability. It’s one of the reasons he was named a captain for this season. Hawkins is the guy that takes care of the little things and does the job efficiently. And while that won’t earn him much of the spotlight, his coach definitely appreciates it.
“He’s off the charts in terms of basketball IQ,” said coach Dave Rice. “He’s a great glue guy in the sense that he just does whatever his team needs. He’s taken his leadership up a notch this year, and he’s also taken his play up a notch as well. He’s like having another coach on the floor.”
Hawkins’ main contributions come on defense, as he was far and away the Rebels’ best player on that end of the court last season. According to Synergy Sports data, Hawkins graded out among the nation’s top defenders by allowing just 0.656 points per possession on plays run at him. The next-best UNLV defender was the now-graduated Oscar Bellfield, and it wasn’t particularly close (0.763).
Hawkins also held the players he was defending to 34.2 percent shooting last year, the best mark on the team. Brice Massamba was the only other player with a rate under 40 percent (39.4), and that came in limited minutes.
The bottom line is, Hawkins can D up. For that reason alone, look for him to play a pivotal role for the Rebels, particularly when there’s a perimeter scorer that needs to be stifled.
“We know we’ve got a lot of scorers,” said Hawkins. “We know the offense is going to be there. But it’s just as important to be able to stop people on defense and hold them to the least amount of point possible. A lot of it is about intensity, holding everyone accountable for their rotations, things like that. Being a captain, it’s about making sure people know what they’re supposed to do. We can be a good defensive team if we do that.”
Hawkins isn’t one-dimensional, however. He also graded out as one of the Rebels’ most efficient offensive players last season, mostly due to his ridiculously low turnover rate. In 24.9 minutes per game, he averaged 7.9 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting (32.3 percent on 3-pointers) — not spectacular by any means. But because he turned the ball over just 7.0 percent of the time, he was able to score 0.974 points per possession; only sniper Chace Stanback had a better number (1.08).
That efficiency on both ends of the court makes Hawkins a very undervalued player. He’s a lockdown perimeter defender who chips in on offense, takes care of the ball and uses his experience to coach his teammates. That’s the dictionary definition of a glue guy.
“I do whatever coach asks me to do,” said Hawkins. “If he needs me to score, I’ll score. If he asks me to play defense on someone, that’s a given. I’ll help out the young guys, make sure they’re ready to play. Whatever we need.”
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