After over a month since star import Aaron Brooks suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, the Illawarra Hawks finally announced a replacement, confirming swingman Darington Hobson will be joining the team for the rest of the season.
Whilst rumored names over the last few weeks have centered around shooting guards and power forwards, it may come as some surprise that Hobson, projecting primarily as a three at the NBL level, has been the acquisition, but his versatility should allow him to cover multiple position and skillset needs.
Hobson's calling card is shooting the rock, a skill he has appeared to hone over the course of his career. Over Hobson's first two G League seasons, Hobson shot the three at 25% and 32.8% respectively, however over his final two G League seasons (2014-2016), he brought his marks up to 38.5% and 37.8%, also on great volume.
This positive trend followed into his international career. The greatest sample available for his play post-G League was his time playing for Fiat Torina in Lega Serie A - over 664 minutes, Hobson shot the three ball at a 38.2% clip, this time on an even greater volume - six attempts per 36.
Hobson is more than a shooter, however. Through tape, Hobson displays an impressive craftiness off the dribble, with an above average handle for his size and a willingness to make plays for himself and others. This is backed up a rate of 5.5 assists per 36 over his G League career, and during his time playing in Lega Serie A, 5.1 per 36.
Hobson's offensive volume has never suggested that he's a ball in hand, #1 on-ball option like Aaron Brooks was for Illawarra previously. He should however provide a welcome middle ground of a much-needed secondary creation option,
without taking the ball out of LaMelo's Ball's hands much.
With Illawarra struggling so mightily on the offensive end, currently coming last in the league in Offensive Rating at 108.6, Hobson's ability to pose a threat both on and off the ball brings a much needed complementary piece alongside an offence currently starting and ending through an 18 year old point guard in Ball, which can go badly, as the New Zealand Breakers showed in their latest game against the Hawks, in a 91-79 victory over late October.
In a first quarter timeout, [Breakers head coach] Shamir told his Breakers, “The Hawks only have one ‘go’,” meaning that Ball was the opponent’s only play maker. “You know what you have to do to stop him.” And so the Breakers did, roughing up Ball off the ball, denying him catches, refusing to react to his hesitation dribbles and playing him to pass. Much of the night went like this for Ball.
LaMelo Ball vs. RJ Hampton: Taking a close look at the showdown via The Athletic
Hobson also presents value outside of his scoring game. At every level of play, Hobson has been an elite rebounder for a wing, averaging 11 boards per 40 in college, 8.2 boards per 36 in the G League, and 6.9 per 36 throughout all European play (six games with Rethymno Aegean in Greece, 22 with Italy's Fiat Torino). This propensity to hit the glass will help Illawarra get away with smaller lineups, such as Tim Coenraad and Todd Blanchfield at the four. If teams are running a less physical presence at the four, it could also mean some minutes for Hobson at the four himself.
While information on Hobson's overall defensive impact is sparse, Hobson's length on the wing appears to lend itself to being pesky hunting for steals. Measured with a 6'9.25 wingspan at the 2010 NBA combine, Hobson has length which has translated to an encouraging 1.6 steals per 36 over all European play.
With all these elements going for him, the question may be asked - why hasn't the 32 year old Hobson been granted more NBA opportunity over the course of his career? There are several key limitations.
While Hobson can certainly shoot the ball, his at times inconsistent season to season efficiencies, mediocre free throw accuracy (68.6% over his international career and 68.4% in his G League career) suggest streakiness that could result in a range of outcomes over the remaining NBL season. He may come in and shoot the lights out, or he may not get it going and struggle to find his value on the offensive end of the floor.
While his three-point percentages have generally been positive, his overall field goal percentages have been low (G League career 41.7% FG and .505 TS%).
This has generally been attributed to a lack of explosiveness around the rim, leading to poor finishing. Earlier in his career, comments have been made about questionable shot selection. While he can create off the dribble, the poor finishing numbers and low free throw rate suggest the shots he creates for himself are not of a particularly efficient variety - assumably, these are mostly off the dribble jumpers. It should be noted that his effiency was much better in his most recent stint playing for Fiat Torino, where he shot 46.1% from the field.
His creation for others comes with a bit of a catch as well. While he does sport a high assist rate for a wing, it has come with a similarly high turnover rate at most stops. Hobson accrued 3.2 turnovers per 36 through his G League play, and 2.5 per 36 through all European competition.
A level of skepticism should also be applied to his impact on the defensive end. While he does possess nice size and length to hang with most wings, he has poor lateral quickness, struggling to stay with more explosive perimeter players, and basically ruling out his viability to effectively play the off-guard spot in any bigger lineups. His ability to slide up a spot to the four is also limited by his slim frame, where he will likely be at the mercy of stronger NBL power forwards.
Hobson projects primarily as a small forward. While Todd Blanchfield likely retains his starting spot at the position, it provides Illawarra with an interesting alternative down the stretch of games, as Blanchfield has been struggling mightily this season, shooting only 25% from 3 and averaging 10.9 points per contest. Should his shooting woes continue and Hobson impress, we may see Hobson eat into a small chunk of Blanchfield's current 30.9 minutes a game. It's also likely that we may see them share the court together during some lineups.
In theory, we could see some matchup dependent lineups with Hobson at the four, but between Tim Coenraad already providing a quality pick and pop option with his small-ball minutes, the lesser-used (and even less recommended) AJ Ogilvy/Josh Boone twin tower lineups, and Sam Froling rightfully demanding minutes once he returns from injury, I struggle to see Hobson demanding minutes at what would likely be a secondary position.
While I don't think Hobson has the foot speed to feasibly play minutes at the two spot, coach Flinn has experimented with lineups, and we could see bigger lineups played with Hobson there at times. However, with Sunday Dech's recent breakout, and Flinn's willingness to spare opportunity to fellow youngsters Dan Grida and Angus Glover, I would consider these lineups few and far between.
The rotation is still subject to further flux. The Hawks still have an import spot to spare, and owner Simon Stratford suggested another player announcement is incoming.
Darington Hobson is not a perfect player, but he is a welcome addition to the struggling Hawks. He provides a much needed skillset to the roster, and if there's one encouraging sign that he could come in and really provide an impact, it's the positive statistical impacts Hobson has made past his physical prime and into a couple of encouraging European seasons. It would appear Hobson is aging gracefully as he refines his role and shot selection, and should that continue, the 32 year old veteran could be a really helpful piece for the rest of the season.