When you grow as tall as Spencer Hawes did at 7-foot-1, and both your father and your uncle played basketball professionally, you can either fight the family business or embrace it.
When he was a freshman in high school and already 6-4, Hawes, now a Charlotte Hornets center, told his dad (who was also his coach) he was all-in on basketball.
"When I wanted advice, I could get it, and when I didn’t want advice, I probably still got it.," Hawes said of his upbringing. "I was blessed to be around people who played the game at a high level."
That savvy, that shared knowledge, is what Hornets coach Steve Clifford likes best about Hawes, who Monday had his best game this season with 13 points and 13 rebounds off the bench in a 122-100 rout of the Indiana Pacers.
Clifford doesn’t have to spend much time explaining things to Hawes because 10 seasons into his NBA career, Hawes is so sophisticated about the sport.
"It’s his IQ. He understands basketball and has such a feel for the game. And he has a terrific skill level,” Clifford said. “He had 11 defensive rebounds (against the Pacers). He’s always been a pretty good defensive rebounder, even for a center.
“He brings intelligence to the court every time he plays, which is important.”
Hawes says he has no other choice. He’s not a good enough athlete to skip steps. When Clifford mentions Hawes’ skill set, he’s talking about Hawes’ ability to make 3-point shots and his passing ability. As the Pacers game illustrated, that forces the opposing center to vacate the lane to guard Hawes, opening driving lanes for others.
"I can’t really run that fast or jump that high, so I’ve got to make up for it somehow," Hawes said. "I think as you get older, as you study the game and get more experience, you can make up those intricacies and make it a lot easier on yourself."
Not just easier on yourself, but easier on others. Point guard Ramon Sessions, who plays on the second unit with Hawes, makes his living off drives to the rim. Sessions quickly learned the value of Hawes drawing big men out of the lane.
"I love playing with him," Sessions said. "Not the quickest guy, but he knows how to use his body and his intelligence.
"With a (center) out there on the 3-point line, it makes it awfully easy to drive the lane."
Sessions said the added bonus is Hawes’ ability to pass, particularly hitting cutters for layups. Hawes said his father taught him to play like a guard, in the event he didn’t continue growing to more than 7 feet.
"As a big guy, you always want to play guard. And I assume guards want to be big guys," Hawes said.
"(Passing) is what really gets me into the game – getting the ball moving. Guys have the most fun when the ball is moving. That’s how basketball is supposed to be played. We’ve embraced that and it’s led to our success."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell