Fractured Finger Ends Wolters’ Strong Summer League

Image of Nate Wolter dribbling up court

Rowan Kavner

LOS ANGELES – Nate Wolters’ standout Orlando Summer League stretch has come to a sudden end.

The Clippers’ starting point guard during Summer League fractured his middle finger on his left hand in Tuesday’s 80-63 win against the Thunder, forcing him out for the remainder of Summer League play.

It’s a tough blow for Wolters, who scored in double digits in each of his three games while averaging 14 points, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game, as he continues his quest to prove to NBA teams he belongs in the league.

“Any time you get a bunch of executives and scouts watching, you want to play well,” Wolters said prior to finding out the severity of his injury. “I think I’ve been able to prove I can run a team and hopefully someone will give me a chance. If it’s the Clippers, that’d be great. It seems like a really good group of guys and great coaching staff.”

Wolters wanted the opportunity for significant Summer League playing time, and the Clippers gave him that. He also wanted to play point guard, and the Clippers gave him that as well.

Those reasons led to Wolters, who also planned on playing in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Spurs, deciding to play in Orlando with the Clippers. With the injury to his finger, he’ll have to hope three strong performances made enough of an impact on general managers around the league.  

“This year’s been definitely a roller-coaster for me, especially mentally, just getting cut and getting cut again after 10 days, having to play in the D-League,” Wolters said. “I’ve always been motivated, but it kind of got me more motivated to work hard this summer and try to get back in the NBA.”

After breaking numerous records during his college career at South Dakota State, where he was named the 2013 Summit League Player of the Year and became the only player at his school to score 2,000 career points, Wolters was selected 38th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

He played in 58 games for the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2013-14 season, receiving plenty of playing time alongside a young, rebuilding group which only won 15 games. Wolters averaged 7.2 points and 3.2 assists in 58 games, including 31 starts.

Then came the bouncing around.

After a down year in Milwaukee, a coaching change was made as Jason Kidd arrived. With coaching changes typically come staff and roster moves, and after 11 games with the Bucks, while playing only 12.9 minutes a game for Kidd, the Bucks waived Wolters to make room for Kenyon Martin.

Despite his stint in Milwaukee ending abruptly, Wolters looks back on his time there as a great experience. He said he was thankful the Bucks had the confidence to select him.

“I was able to get quite of bit of playing time,” Wolters said. “Team wasn’t very good, so they played a lot of younger guys and I was able to get a lot of experience, which I really think helped me out a lot. We had the whole coaching change and Jason Kidd had done a great job with them. They decided to go a different direction.”

Wolters went on to sign a 10-day contract with the Pelicans, but after that came to an end, the rest of his 2014-15 playing days came in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive. He thrived in that environment, posting 15.3 points and 7.2 assists per game in 12 games. 

“I had a lot of fun in Grand Rapids,” Wolters said. “The coach was Otis Smith, who was a good GM of the Magic just a couple years ago. He was a great guy to play under. He really helped me out a lot, and the rest of the coaching staff, I got probably the best situation I could’ve in the D-League.”

Last year forced Wolters to learn quickly that nothing in the NBA is guaranteed.

He said a player has to be confident in himself, even when most others aren’t. If he did lose any confidence, his elite D-League play had to help him regain it, sending him on a high note toward Summer League, where he continued to excel. 

He was told by his coaches he needed to stay aggressive, and he proceeded to dazzle for a Clippers team that could use depth at point guard.

“Sometimes when you don’t play a lot in the NBA, you just try to not make mistakes,” Wolters said. “This summer, they just told me to be aggressive and play my game, which makes it a lot easier to play.”

Wolters never had an off night in his three Orlando games, filling the stat sheet in his final performance with 12 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals and only one turnover. While his Orlando Summer League stint has drawn to a close, he hopes his NBA window is just beginning to open back up.

“You only need one team to really like you and give you another chance,” Wolters said.

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