Wolters Negotiating Low Road Successfully
Rookie second-round draft pick proving NBA mettle
Nate Wolters won't be joining fellow Milwaukee Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo as a participant in All-Star Weekend in New Orleans this weekend.
This comes as no surprise.
Even more surprising to many, though, is the way the pride of St. Cloud, Minn. and South Dakota State University is emerging as one of the steals of the 2013 National Basketball Association Draft.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 190-pound Wolters was selected 38th overall by the Washington Wizards, but saw his draft rights traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and then to the Bucks, all in the same day.
Whether Wolters continues to wear a Milwaukee jersey for the balance of his professional career or not, he is making it abundantly clear that he is an NBA keeper. That seemed like a long shot five years ago, when only a few Division-I colleges offered him a scholarship.
Wolters' latest demonstation came Feb. 8 during the Bucks' game against Houston at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The 22-year-old Wolters, making his fifth consecutive start, scored a career-high 19 points, hit 9 of 15 shots and collected seven rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes during Milwaukee's 101-95 loss to the Rockets.
"Coach gave me a lot of minutes," Wolters said. "I just tried to be aggressive out there. I got off to a decent start. I have to be able to produce regardless of what other guys are doing."
Bucks Head Coach Larry Drew was impressed by the rookie's response.
"Nate played a very solid game," Drew said. "He mixed things up really well.
"He took his shots when they were there. He drove the ball to the basket. His mid-range game was working."
Wolters, victimized like many rookies by a logjam at his position, did not play at all in six of the Bucks' January games. In the nine games in which he did appear, he averaged just 13.9 minutes.
He made the most of the minutes he did receive, though, posting a January assist-to-turnover ratio of 9.33 that ranked second in the entire league behind that of Milwaukee native Devin Harris of the Dallas Mavericks.
His performance was not lost upon his coach.
"It's tough when you've got three point guards, but Nate has done a phenomenal job," Drew said. "He deserves to get minutes. That's going to be a big part of his growth, like Giannis' -- being out on the floor. It's my job to find some minutes for him."
Drew has done exactly that recently.
Since he inserted Wolters into the starting lineup Jan. 31 at Orlando, the rookie has 20 assists and just four turnovers. In the team's first four February dates, he averaged 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per outing while shooting .474 from the field.
"It's tough," Wolters said. "Life as a rookie is really hard. There are a lot of adjustments. We've had a lot of ups and downs – kind of a roller-coaster season. I try to stay positive and aggressive.
"I'm going to have some bad days and some good days. I need to just stay as even-keeled as possible."
Wolters hasn't traveled the peaks and valleys of playing and not playing alone.
"Our veterans have helped me out a lot," he said. "They keep telling me to stay positive, be aggressive and have fun when I'm out there."
Wolters scored seven points against Houston during a 16-7 run to open the second half, helping draw the Bucks within 63-61.
The Rockets responded with an 18-8 run to end the third quarter, but the Wolters and the Bucks came back again, narrowing the margin to three points.
Wolters was impressed with Houston, which completed a season sweep of Milwaukee and recorded its seventh consecutive victory.
"They're really tough to guard because they have a lot of shooters and, of course, Dwight Howard in the middle is really tough to stop," Wolters said. "Early in the game, we were doubling him and he was kicking it out to their shooters and they were knocking them down. Overall, I thought we did a decent job defensively. We just didn't get enough stops.
"And we couldn't get a bucket when we needed to. We were down 10 with a couple minutes to go, then we got it down three and had the ball. We put ourselves in position to win. We've just got to keep working on getting better every night and we'll pull out some of these games."
Houston got 27 points from Howard, 22 from James Harden and 18 off the bench from Jeremy Lin, who wasn't drafted by the NBA at all coming out of Harvard University, but has carved himself quite a niche in the league.
Lin, who put in stints with the Reno Bighorns and Erie BayHawks of the National Basketball Development League, was claimed off waivers by the New York Knicks in December of 2011. He burst onto the NBA scene, becoming the first player to record at least 20 points and seven assists in his first five starts since the Elias Sports Bureau began charting statistics in 1970.
Lin, now in his second season with Houston, had some encouraging words for Wolters after the rookie's career-high performance Feb. 8.
"After the game, he told me to keep my head up and keep working," Wolters said. "That meant a lot.
"He's a mid-major guy like me. We kind of came out of nowhere. He's a good guy to try to emulate."
Wolters plans to do that.
"It's a little tough not knowing if you'll play or how many minutes you'll play, but it's something you've got to deal with," he said.
You've just got to be ready every game, whether you're going to play a lot or not play a lot."
Another rookie lesson learned.