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NBA AM: Wolters Hopes to Reclaim NBA Spot

Nate Wolters discusses his basketball journey, what he learned overseas, his mindset entering Denver’s training camp and more.

Jake Rauchbach

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As training camps open up around the NBA, established players are using this opportunity to refine their game and get themselves in peak shape for the upcoming season. However, there are some players who are fighting for their spot in the league. For a guy like Nate Wolters, who is entering camp as the fourth point guard on the Denver Nuggets’ roster, his season starts now.

Wolters has spent time with the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans in previous years and is coming off a strong season in Turkey, where he averaged 11.6 points, 5.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds.

Wolters has good size at 6’4 and has proven to be a solid lead guard in the NBA and overseas. Along with his other skills, Wolters is particularly adept at making plays out of ball screen action. As the No. 38 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, Wolters is hoping that this opportunity with the Nuggets gives him a chance to reclaim an NBA roster spot.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Wolters to discuss his basketball journey, what he has learned along the way, his outlook entering Denver’s training camp and much more.

Basketball Insiders: How was it playing in Turkey last season?

Nate Wolters: “It was a good experience. I was in Istanbul. It was a really fun city. It was my first time being overseas, so it definitely took some time to get used to it. The league was really good – a lot of good players, a lot of guys who played in the NBA before a lot of Euroleague teams. Overall, the competition was good. It was a good league and I enjoyed it.”

BI: Who were some of the guys who had played in the NBA or shined in Euroleague that you went against last year?

Wolters: “Fenerbahce had Pero Antic, Ekpe Udoh and Jan Vesely.  Their front line was like all NBA guys. The top teams are really good, and then in the bottom teams, there is kind of a big disparity from the top four or five to the bottom tier. I guess it’s like that in any league.”

BI: You previously played with the Bucks and Pelicans. How do you find the international game different from the NBA?

Wolters: “The spacing [is different], and some teams are almost like robotic it seems like. In the NBA, I don’t think there are any teams quite like that. Our coach actually let us play a lot more than a lot of places, so that helped. It was a lot more fun playing that way too, but those guys know how to play over there. That’s for sure.”

BI: Was the goal all season, in the back of your mind, to get back to the NBA?

Wolters: “Yeah, anytime I go over there, that’s going to be my number one goal. Hopefully, next year I can stay and play in the NBA. That’s kind of what I was thinking – go over there and get better, stay in a different country, learn a different way of basketball, hopefully have a good summer, and then come back here with another chance to play in the NBA. So, I think I am in a pretty good situation here [in Denver]. I just got to wait a little bit and see what happens.”

BI: How have you prepared yourself from a mindset point of view to be ready for camp?

Wolters: “I don’t do anything like setting aside time to do mental work, but I am just by myself right now so there is a lot of time to think [and] just have positive thoughts. I am in a situation where I am competing for a spot. It’s not like I am guaranteed for next year. It’s kind of a tough situation for the next month or so, but I just try and stay positive. Just try to control what you can control, which sometimes isn’t a lot, but just try and play hard and try to make the right play when you’re out there.”

BI: What has your preparation been like heading into training camp?

Wolters: “I work out in the Twin Cities at Velocity Sports with Rakim Anim-Finney. He does my basketball stuff. I also worked with Reid Ouse and Justin DeGrood, who are based out of New Jersey. I had a long offseason. I was back in April, so I didn’t really take much time off either. I tried to scale back from playing games a little after Summer League and just tried to relax with family and work out. But at the same time, I tried to unwind before it all gets started next week.”

BI: How do you see yourself adding value to the Nuggets?

Wolters: “When you’re trying to make a team, there is kind of a fine line between trying to do too much and proving yourself. But still, at the same time, you want to be aggressive so they notice you a little bit. [I’ll] just try to run the team and then kind of pick my spots when I feel like I can be aggressive and try to make plays.”

BI: The Nuggets already have several players at the point guard position including Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson. How do you see yourself breaking into the mix and getting a chance to make the roster?

Wolters: “They kind of brought in quite a bit of guys in my situation: [Robbie] Hummel, Jarnell Stokes, D.J. Kennedy. There is kind of like six of us competing for one or two spots, so it’s going to be tough. But who knows who they will keep? You can’t really worry about that. Maybe it will work out here, maybe it will work out somewhere else.”

“I just try to play confident. I think that’s a lot of it. At the same time, you don’t know how much time you will get in the preseason, because there are so many guys, so you have to make the most of your minutes. It could be only five or 10 minutes; it could be at the end of the game when it seems like it doesn’t matter if you’re just watching the game, but it matters for us. So, whenever you get your opportunity, just try to make the most of it and try to not overthink it. Just play and have fun.”

BI: What do you say is your biggest strength as a player?

Wolters: “I would say just running the team and being able to make plays off the pick-and-roll, getting in the lane and either finding the guy for an open shot or being able to hit a floater or getting all the way to the hole. I think I am a pretty good pick-and-roll player, and obviously in the NBA, 70 to 80 percent of the possessions end up in a pick-and-roll. I think I am pretty good at that.”

BI: What parts of your game have you been working to improve during this offseason?

Wolters: “I’m still working on hitting open threes when they’re there and also just trying to get stronger in the weight room. In Turkey, we didn’t have the greatest facilities, so I’m just trying to work on my body in the summer to get stronger and work on my outside shot.”

BI: What is your central motivation as you try to achieve your long-term goals?

Wolters: “My motivation is trying to get as good as I can at basketball just so that I don’t regret anything when I am done. [I don’t ever want to] think, ‘I could have done this or I could have done that… that could have helped my career…’ I think a lot about not having any regrets, so just trying to prepare myself the best I can for each season and just going from there. But other than that, I don’t really have a certain goal of like how long I want to play or anything like that. It’s more just a year-by-year thing, trying to get better.”

BI:  How do you prepare yourself to perform at a high level night in and night out?

Wolters: “I think that is kind of one of the most impressive thing the best players in the league [do]. They have to play 82 games and they always have to be on top of their game, knowing they are going to play 35 minutes. So I think that was good for me to be able to go overseas and play those types of minutes in big games over there. I think that kind of helped me for this year. I mean, I probably won’t be getting huge minutes if I make the team – it will be kind of spot duty – but at any point you have to be ready when your name is called even if it is only for five or 10 minutes. That’s something that you have to get used to.”

BI: What sets you apart from other guys who are also trying to make a roster this fall?

Wolters: “I think I have a pretty good work ethic. I am not going to cause any trouble. I am going to work hard regardless of my minutes, and I am a point guard. I feel like I have a good understanding of the game, and I’ll know the plays and know the system, so I think I will do a good job of being able to run a team when needed.”

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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