If you are into advanced stats, you might just be into Nate Wolters.
In the last 10 years, exactly 14 guards have been drafted who had put up a PER of 31 or better the season right before they were picked.
(For reference, a PER of 31 or better means you are an incredibly efficient player. I hate to even mention it within this context, but LeBron James is the only NBA player in the last 10 years to post a PER of 31. Clearly, college players reach this threshold far more often, but it is still a big accomplishment. PER is defined here.)
So, how have the guards with all of the right numbers from relatively “small” schools fared in the pros?
You have the real stars and success stories: Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard. You have legitimate rotation players who earned legitimate minutes and important roles: Rodney Stuckey and George Hill. You have the hopeful contributor: Charles Jenkins. And you have the guys who just made it, but are not still around: Morris Almond, Lester Hudson, and Jermaine Taylor.
(A few guards have managed these amazing numbers even while playing in major conferences. Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving are superstars. Jameer Nelson put together a nice career, and Travis Diener contributed for a while. Erick Green will be a rookie.)
Which group will Wolters join?
Selected at #38 overall in the 2013 draft, Wolters finished his first Summer League campaign with verve, scoring 20 points on 8-13 shooting along with five rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes off the bench. That final game marked easily his finest of his pro career, as he started slowly and his numbers prior were far more modest before the final game. Then again, one Summer League game or five Summer League games is an impossibly small sample size.
Hopefully those 126 college games are more telling.
To learn more about Wolters, I recently called Billy McKinney – the Director of Scouting for the Bucks. Here are some excerpts from the interview. Thanks always to Billy, and a hat-tip to Draft Express for the stats.
For me, and I think for a lot of people at home, the second round was pretty crazy and confusing. Was it as crazy for you guys as it was for us with all of the trades?
It was, absolutely. It was like a free-for-all, is the only way I could describe it. Once we felt that he (Nate Wolters) would be available, we started trying to move up in the second round to acquire him. And at that time, the phones were ringing off the hook with people that were interested in the pick that we had, the 43rd pick. And we were trying to move up.
Even when the trade call came, the draft pick changed so many times. I was on the phone with the team that had the pick, and they were telling us who to pick with their selection. And I was yelling at other people so that they would know we were taking Nate Wolters. It was really one of the most chaotic moments of any draft that I have been involved in.
I am happy to hear that it was just as crazy for you. I was sitting next to Jim Paschke in the Cousins Center at the time, and we couldn't tell what was going on.
In the room, it was crazy. We had teams calling us, saying, who are you taking? Okay, you have to take this guy. And there was so much going on at the same time. So the second round became a bit more complicated and exciting than we thought. But it had good results.
You told me last year that you had a prospect ranking big board for the first round. Was Nate Wolters on the big board this year? Can you tell me approximately where he was?
Yeah, we thought he was going to go somewhere in the first round. Maybe from 21 on down in the first round. Of course there were some changes. Solomon Hill was projected in the second round, and he went in the second round. Then guys like Allen Crabbe and Jamaal Franklin fell to the second round. Nate fell into a range where we could acquire him by moving up in the second round.
Did you scout Nate in person?
Yes, everyone laid eyes on him. Dave Babcock and I saw him last summer at a camp in California where a lot of the top high school and college players will play. And we saw him play for about three or four days. Then we saw him the next year. This was a case where we thought he would be gone long before our pick in the second round, and he would have been if we did not move up.
What do you like about him in the workout?
There is so much to like about him. At 6'5" he is a really good defender. He has quick feet. And watching him in the workout, his ability to make plays offensively, run a team, defend, and just do the little things that you look for point guards to do. And then make shots
He did almost everything well statistically in college. What do you think he will do best in the NBA? Where will he find his niche?
Initially, in addition to being able to run a team, I think he will be a really good defender. He is quicker than he appears, and there is a very good possibility he will be able to guard point guards as well shooting guards due to his size. We felt like, when we drafted him, one of the questions we were asked was, if there was a game tomorrow, could you put him in a game? And we all felt comfortable we could do that.
So, relative to other prospects, you consider him NBA-ready?
You mentioned that you think he could potentially defend both guard positions. Do you see him offensively as more of a point guard or combo guard?
A combo guard. But also can play as a point guard due to his ability to run a team. He is one of those consummate playmakers that always seems to make the right pass. He always seems to know where everybody is on the floor and their strengths and weaknesses.
Larry Drew told me he plans to run a lot of pick-and-roll. How good is Wolters in that area?
I think he will do it very well. It is something he did in college very well. He is a very good passer. He reads the defenses very well, and he ran it a lot while he was in school. He also pushed the ball a lot in transition, so he understands the value of making a play while protecting the basketball.
He got to the free throw line a lot in college despite not being known for his athleticism. How do you think he managed that?
Again, he is quicker than most people think he is. He has really good size, and he has better quickness than people think. And his ability to read defenses, and how to draw contact and get into the paint.
In his rookie season, do you envision him more as more of a scorer off the bench or distributor off the bench?
Probably a little bit of everything. You need a guy that can run the team, and be able to make shots. Maybe not just a scorer, but he is capable of making shots and scoring the ball. Some of the things he did in college we will call on him to do for us.
Do you have any player comparisons for Wolters?
That is a tough one right now. After looking at him play, I am not sure that I had a player that was comparable. We always use comps with players, but I am not sure I had one for him.