Wolters an early surprise for Bucks
It took a mere moment of consideration for Michael Redd to say that June 28, 2000 was the highlight of his 12-year NBA career that included an All-Star appearance as a Milwaukee Buck in 2003-04 and a 57-point effort against the Utah Jazz in 2006.
For Redd, who formally announced his retirement from the game last Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, draft night was always special. He noted that he was passed over 42 times before the Bucks picked him in the second round.
That night, he was given a standing ovation by the fans, and talked about wanting to be a lifelong part of the Bucks organization. Externally, his credentials as the team's fourth leading scorer and "face of the franchise" status for the better part of a decade warranted the retirement of his jersey.
What it all came back to for Redd, though, was the fact he was drafted in the second round, a place often reserved for training camp fodder and journeymen, at best – and there he stood, an Olympic gold medalist, a 20-point per game scorer in 11 years with the Bucks.
So it was fitting that that night, as the 2013-14 version of the Bucks tried to counter a late surge by Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, new coach Larry Drew called upon a second round draft pick from this past draft to steady the ship and secure the first home victory of the season.
"I needed him down the stretch – that's what he showed," Drew said of point guard Nate Wolters' play against Cleveland on Nov. 6. "I thought we were in a position here we could finish it out with our veteran guys but that was not the case and I had to get him back in there. He went back in there and did a heck of a job."
Earlier, Redd recalled that when he came to the Bucks, the team already had a stacked back court with Ray Allen at shooting guard and the likes of Sam Cassell and Lindsey Hunter at the point guard. He didn't know if he would make the team, let alone play.
Wolters, drafted No. 38 overall by Washington and then traded to the Bucks, entered a situation this year where 21-year-old Brandon Knight and 10-year veteran and fan favorite Luke Ridnour were acquired to run the show.
The future and the past of the Bucks were ahead of the rookie out of South Dakota State University.
But then Ridnour's back and Knight's hamstrings failed them, and Wolters was thrust into the spotlight at Madison Square Garden on opening night. He committed two turnovers in that game, his NBA debut. He's committed three in the four since, running the offense while the veterans heal.
"Something I'm used to is starting and playing a lot, so I think it helps me get into a rhythm that way," he said. "This playing time has been great, just kind of learning on the job and each minute I'm getting more comfortable out there."
Not only that, he's being called upon by his coach to win games, not just manage them.
Through the first five games, Wolters is averaging just 8.8 points, but is handing out 6.2 assists against just one turnover per game, which is surprising to many outside the organization. It's a different story in the locker room, though.
"In college, he played at South Dakota State and got to the tournament and he had to play the North Carolina's, the Baylor's, the big schools and I watched him and he was doing his thing," said forward John Henson. "I think people are surprised but it shouldn't be shocking that he's doing this."
Wolters admits that he is a different player now, in just a handful of games, than he was even in training camp and the preseason where he looked a step slow and tentative.
"We had a lot of new guys and it's tough playing with older guys – being a point guard you've got to be vocal – and it's a tough position to transition to," he said of his professional start. "So, being able to start and play a lot of minutes I've been able to get comfortable with all these guys and I think they really trust me, which is good."
The fact he's logged at least 29 minutes in each of his first four games – and now critical minutes down the stretch – has also boosted him up.
"He's shown a ton of confidence in me playing in crunch time," Wolters said of Drew. "He's done a great job giving me the playing time, giving me freedom. He's a great coach so I've really enjoyed playing with him so far."
Knight and Ridnour are healing though, but Wolters' play is giving the team time to let them do so properly and not rush back. When they are, Drew and his coaching staff know they have a good problem on their hand with three capable point guard. For his part, Wolters knows his role will diminish, but this experience has better prepared him for it.
"A lot of draft picks don't get to play until the second half of the season or maybe even the next year so I think knowing that I can play at this level (has given me) a ton of confidence so when I get my name called again I'll be able to come in more comfortable and play well," he said.
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