Rookie point guard Nate Wolters impresses Milwaukee Bucks staff
Charles Gardner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 21, 2013
The Milwaukee Bucks rookie point guard was tired of all the 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 drills he went through during the lead-up to the National Basketball Association draft.
“I was hoping we could have played four more games just to get experience,” Wolters said after the Bucks wrapped up their NBA Summer League experience. “I've got a lot of things I've got to work on to be able to play at this level.
“I'm definitely going to put the work in. This was fun to play some games. We haven't played games for a long time.”
The more games Wolters played in Las Vegas, the more confident he became.
He put on a strong second-half showing in the Bucks' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and scored a team-high 20 points in Milwaukee's finale, a 90-80 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.
The 6-foot-4 Wolters holds scoring records at South Dakota State and his high school, St. Cloud Tech in Minnesota. He averaged 22.3 points in his senior year with the Jackrabbits, ranking fourth among Division I players.
But Wolters knows he will play a much different role as a pro. And he discovered a few things about himself in summer league, after averaging 9.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists over the Bucks' five games.
“It's good to see I can get in there (the lane) and make plays,” Wolters said. “I have to be more aggressive still, not even for my shot but to get other guys easier shots, too.
“I have to make decisions quicker, don't hold the ball so much. Just get in the lane and make plays. Don't think, just play.”
Wolters struggled to hit shots, connecting on just 40.9 percent of his field goals (18-of-44) and 66.7 percent of his free throws (10-of-15).
But Bucks assistant Nick Van Exel said Wolters' poor shooting in his first summer league experience was not a worry of the coaching staff.
Several other things stood out as positive signs.
“We've showed him tape about getting the ball to where we need it quicker so we're not up against the shot clock,” Bucks summer league coach Bob Bender said. “He did a much better job of that (against the Lakers). He put the defense back on its heels and drew some fouls.”
Wolters proved to be a quick learner but also displayed some natural skills.
“He's very deceptive,” Bender said. “It's not just change of direction, it's change of pace.
“A guy thinks he's got a bead on him and he blows by at that point. Or he comes at them fast, gets them to relax and changes pace again.
“The other part of it is he's a strong kid. If he gets his shoulders by you and puts you on his hip, you're not usually going to get back in front of him.”
The Bucks point guard situation remains in flux, with four-year starter Brandon Jennings unsigned after Milwaukee failed in its bid to land Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague.
Veteran point guard Luke Ridnour was acquired in a trade with Minnesota and fourth-year pro Ish Smith shared the point guard duties with Wolters in Las Vegas.
The Bucks wanted to add to their point guard depth and moved up in the second round of the draft, trading with Philadelphia to acquire the rights to Wolters, who was initially selected 38th overall by Washington.
That made for a crazy draft night for Wolters, but it all ended up fine for him.
“My agent texted me and said I was going to Philadelphia,” Wolters recalled. “Then about 15 minutes later Milwaukee called and said I was going there.
“When I found out it was Milwaukee I was pretty happy. It's close to home and it's a good fit. I like the front office and the new coaching staff. They seem really supportive.
“And my teammates, Larry (Sanders) and John (Henson) and Ish, have given me advice. I've loved it so far.”
Wolters led South Dakota State to NCAA Tournament berths each of the last two seasons. The Jackrabbits were knocked out by Baylor in 2012 and Michigan this year.
“My teammates did a great job,” Wolters said. “We made it to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and that helped me with this whole process because we won.
“We had a couple games there that put the school on the map. I think the program will continue to be on the rise.”
Wolters has taken notice that other mid-major guards have made the leap to the NBA, the most prominent of them being Portland's Damian Lillard, the reigning league rookie of the year and former Weber State star.
Now Wolters is looking forward to his next step. He will make a trip to New York for the league's rookie orientation program and by late August will be working out in Milwaukee and preparing for fall training camp.
“You never get any panic from him that my shot's not falling or how am I affecting the game,” Bender said. “He keeps working at it.
“We always talked with him coming off the floor when we would make a substitution, and he already usually had an idea what we were going to talk about. His understanding of the game and the role of the point guard, that's why his development will come quick.
“He has a big-time basketball IQ. It's just a matter of adjusting to the pace of the NBA game.”