This is an odd draft for mid-major prospects. Not only that there are many of them, but there are quite a few projected to be drafted. Personally, I attribute this rush of mid-major prospects to a ripple effect from the one and done era. The culmination of a weak freshmen class and lack of talent retention from previous classes created a talent vacuum from major conference schools, and thus a lot of the mid-major conference talents emerge to fill those spots. Nate Wolters is one of those mid-major prospects to keep an eye on.
If anyone benefited from Jeremy Lin's rise from relative obscurity, it is Nate Wolters. Wolters is a 6'4" point guard with questionable athleticism and a funky shot that put up huge numbers in a little known conference. Does that sound familiar? Unlike Lin, scouts are giving Wolters the benefit of the doubt that he is worthy of a draft pick, with many projecting him in the early second round.
People throw out a lot of lofty comparisons for Wolters, most famously Steve Nash, but I think that's mostly because he's crafty and not particularly athletic. If you are not athletic, and you score, dribble and pass well (and maybe Caucasian of origin), chances are you will be compared to Steve Nash. Nash is the symbol and hope of unathletic men everywhere. If you are skilled enough, perhaps you too can one day date girls half your age in LA and pretend to play point guard next to Kobe.
Nate Wolters is obviously not Steve Nash, but here's the reason why people draw that comparison: Nate Wolters can handle the ball like a dream.
For a kid out of St. Cloud, Minnesota, Wolters shakes and bakes like a New York playground kid. He has a very compact dribble for a guy his size, close to his body and extremely deceptive, and has multiple dribble combinations to change direction and pace. He can use any number of crossovers, double crossovers, between the leg dribbles, behind the back, and inside out combinations to get defenders off-balance.
He's not very quick, at least not exceptionally so, but he is very good at changing pace. His hesitations combos are killer moves, and if you do not bite, he is very quick to turn that dribble into a jumper. If you do bite, he's getting past you with or without a crossover.
For a guard that far and away dominates ball, to average only 2.5 turnovers per 40 minutes is rather remarkable, and the only other comparable player in the nation this season is Erik Green from Virginia Tech. Even under heavy pressure from Michigan's constant traps and doubles in the tournament , he only turned over the ball 3 times with 6 assists.
He has become quite the shooter over his college career. Although his eFG% and true shooting % are good this season, they are not spectacular by NCAA standards; players have averaged higher and never made it to the NBA. He does have NBA range from deep, and he is capable of shooting well from either catch and shoot or off the dribble (47% from both situations), which is rare for point guards that dominate the ball.
His three point shooting took a dip in his junior year, but seemed to return back into form his senior year at 38%. A subtle improvement is that Wolters' mid to short range jumpers improved every season since his sophomore year, from a paltry 25% to a very respectable 45%. The same phenomenon occurred with his finishing at the rim, he gradually improved from an average 55% to an excellent 67%.
Wolters' shooting form is not really unorthodox, but it is not conventional, either. The quirk lies in a bit of a cockback before the shot. Instead of bringing the ball over his head like most shooters do, he brings it in front of his forehead and pushes out from there with a little natural fade. It is similar to Dirk Nowitzki's shooting form with the release point just in front of his forehead instead of just above his head like Dirk. The release is fairly quick with consistent mechanics overall. His elbows are always tucked in and aligned, and he always follows through with his shot.
However, while Dirk has the benefit of being 7 foot tall, Wolters' lower than normal release point may run into trouble facing taller and more athletic guards in the NBA. He also doesn't have the softest touch, as sometimes it looks like he is tossing the ball at the rim rather than shooting it.
Aside from a pretty consistent jump shot, Wolters also has a number unorthodox one handed shots that he utilizes to score over or under defenders around the rim. Because Wolters does not have the athleticism to play above the rim or the quickness to blow by defenders, he has become very adept at using the glass and the spin of the ball to get his shot off. He can make runners off of one foot driving either left or right, gather both his feet for pull up floaters, finger roll off the glass with scoops, and he can reverse layup with English off the glass. Overall, he's simply a crafty finisher in close. Whether or not he can continue to find success over longer and quicker players in the NBA remains to be seen, but the skill is not only there, it is well polished.
One of the most productive players in college basketball, albeit in a "low major" school and conference, the advanced statistics Wolters put up are still hard to ignore. He maintained a PER near 30 for the previous two seasons, and 32 this season. He was 2nd in Win Score per 40 minutes, Win Shares, and NBA efficiency rating per 40 among point guards this past season.
Considering that CJ McCollum missed most of the season with an injury, he may very well be the best statistical PG in college this past season. Evaluation stats like these do not translate into the NBA exactly, but when all 4 metrics that weights stats differently all say you are pretty good, chances are you can play in the NBA. He rebounded quite well at 5 per game. His assists have stayed steady at around 6 per game since his sophomore season. His turnovers were pretty low at 2.5 per game. None of the stats really pop out, but none of them register as a weakness either.
Playing at a fairly high pace in the NCAA as the sole ball handler on the team usually means a lot of turnovers, but Wolters kept his turnovers under relative control. His height was an advantage that allowed him to see over the defense and make great passes. He has confidence in his offense and ball handling, and thus he rarely forces passes.
Overall, he has a high basketball IQ and a great feel for the game, so his passes are often well timed and on target. A very underrated trait is that he has a knack for finding shooters in rhythm with his passes. 4 of his teammates shot above 40% from beyond the arc with 2 more above 36%, and all of their 3 point makes were between 96% to 100% assisted. Not all of the 3 point makes were assisted by Wolters obviously, as the team takes about 35% of its shots from beyond the arc, but he does create much of the openings by attacking the paint and collapsing the defense with his disruptive and deceptive ball handling.
As mentioned previously, Wolters is not NBA caliber in term of athleticism, and skipping the athletic test at the combine did him no favors. At times, he struggled to get by and stay in front of athletes in the Summit League. Defense is a major question mark in the NBA. He may be tall for his position, but his wingspan is only 6'3". Judging from his one "highlight" dunk and his reach measured at the combine, his max vertical is probably only around 30 inches. Neither helps compensate for his poor lateral quickness well defensively. He compensates with anticipation and basketball guile, but definitely is destined to be a below average defender in the NBA. He held good PGs to poor outings before, including potential top 5 pick Trey Burke, but he has also gotten torched by fellow 2nd round prospects like Pierre Jackson.
He did not play great competition overall. Although conferences like Summit League and Patriot leagues are under the umbrella term mid-major, they are more like AA ball to major conferences' AAA, so much of the question would be about whether he can compete at the NBA level, not just against better athletes, but also more skilled players. However, It is hard to score 53 points and follow it up with a 30 point game, no matter who you play.
Wolters may not be an NBA caliber athlete, but players have succeeded in the league without ideal physical attributes. He is extremely intelligent and crafty, and brings a multitude of well honed skills that some point guards never acquire. His work ethic is well documented, and he has been a consistent leader for his team. You can do much worse in the second round.
Strength: Excellent ball handler, strong shooter that improved over the course of his career, under control player that can pass and score.
Weakness: List your stereotypical white athlete traits here (then call yourself racist), played weak competition, questionable defensive profile.