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Don't Look Now, but Milwaukee Bucks' Rookie Nate Wolters Belongs

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Don't Look Now, but Milwaukee Bucks' Rookie Nate Wolters Belongs

If you're one of those who watches college basketball intently, does their own scouting and tries to predict who'll sink or swim, then you've probably had some internal debate over Nate Wolters' NBA outlook.

He's been a one-man show over the past few years. Wolters averaged at least 19.5 points and 5.8 assists in three consecutive seasons at South Dakota State. But there were obvious concerns over his possible transition.

For starters, Wolters' inflated stat lines came against mediocre Summit League competition. He had a great chance to make a statement in the NCAA tournament but finished just 3-of-14 against Michigan in what was his worst individual showing of the year. 

However, it was Wolters' physical limitations that likely caused him to slip to the second round of the draft. 

He's got excellent size at nearly 6'5'', but Wolters clearly isn't the same caliber athlete as the majority of NBA point guards today. He's also one of those rare prospects with a shorter wingspan (6'3.75'') than height. 

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Wolters lacks that breakdown quickness and open-floor explosiveness you see from the average NBA ball-handler. To think he'd struggle separating on offense or holding up defensively wasn't an unreasonable thought at the time. 

And now go figure—we're just over a week into the season and Nate Wolters is second amongst rookies in minutes played. Credit that to Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour going down with injuries, but Wolters has undoubtedly held his own out there.

Just look at the 6-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's dished out 24 dimes and coughed it up four times through four games. 

Wolters handled the rock at South Dakota State but was in more of a shoot-first role given the lack of talent around him. Now in Milwaukee, he's had to shift his focus to strictly facilitating and orchestrating the offense. 

But nobody expected this part of the transition to be a problem. Wolters has terrific offensive instincts, exceptional vision and the willingness to give it up. And for the most part, those attributes are going to help offset some of his issues in the speed and strength department. 

 

Facilitating 

Wolters should have a long career as a serviceable backup point guard thanks to his ability to facilitate an offense. He's already shown a solid understanding of when to create versus making the simple pass.

Like a quarterback who lacks the arm strength to make the big play, Wolters is in a position where his job is to manage the game—not necessarily win it. 

He's shown a good command of the offense and how to run it early on. Watch him survey the defense and wait for the play to develop.

Wolters see the floor quite well, knowing what routes his guys are running and the timing of each. In this play, John Henson is setting the down screen for Khris Middleton, who's going to pop out for a quick catch-and-shooter jumper. 

And Wolters reads it and ultimately hits his man in rhythm.

He's got the feel of a true point guard out there.

Off the bounce, Wolters has the ability to manipulate the defense with the dribble. Using shoulder fakes, hesitation moves and a crafty handle, Wolters knows how to throw a defense off balance. 

He's going to be a reliable pick-and-roll point guard for a long time. Below, you'll see him toy with three defenders before setting up an easy bucket for his big man. 

After shaking his defender, Wolters draws the screener's man and then the rim protector down low—all in one play.

With the Bucks running the high pick-and-roll, Wolters has two help defenders ready to step up and prevent him from penetrating.

With one quick move right, he draws the first help defender. And with a hesitation dribble, he loses him. Wolters is able to get to the rack, where he then draws a challenge from the center protecting the rim. That leaves teammate Zaza Pachulia wide open for an easy bucket. 

 

Wolters' sneakiness and unpredictability off the bounce can create chaos for defenses and scoring chances for teammates. 

 

Complementing Scoring with Playmaking

While Wolters' No. 1 priority will always be distributing, his scoring touch makes him a dual threat with the ball. 

Wolters would be a lot easier to guard if he couldn't shoot or make off-balance shots. But he can. He's got an array of moves in his in-between scoring arsenal, including runners, floaters and other finishes off one foot. 

He's only 2-of-10 to start the year from downtown, but Wolters is a capable shooter. He shot nearly 38 percent from downtown as a senior and 40 percent as a sophomore.

Wolters might not evolve into a lethal long-range sniper, but he should still become threatening enough to keep defenses honest. 

Consider him a shot-maker over a shooter—Wolters can knock them down from any angle or spot on the floor. But consistency will be what determines just how potent an offensive player he can become. 

 

Outlook Moving Forward 

Wolters doesn't offer much upside, but there's no doubt he can follow the same path Luke Ridnour carved out for himself—a guard with similar strengths and limitations. 

Wolters is a guy who can execute an offensive game plan by protecting the ball and getting it where it needs to go. And when the opportunity presents itself, he has the offensive talent to put some points on the board. 

Defense is likely to be a challenge throughout his career, but as a backup, it shouldn't make or break him. 

He has the mind and skill set to provide a bench with a reliable blend of quarterbacking, playmaking and scoring. Wolters' playing time will take a hit once Knight and Ridnour return, but it certainly appears the Bucks were able to secure an asset in the second round of the draft. 

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