Willie Reed Enjoying His Opportunity with Brooklyn
Over the past few seasons, the D-League has produced some of the NBA’s best up-and-coming players. As the NBA’s minor league system, the D-League has become a legitimate avenue for players trying to make it in the NBA.
Each year, teams are able to sign players to 10-day contracts beginning in January. Most of those 10-day contracts are used to sign players out of the D-League. Last season, a record 47 players received call-ups to the NBA, while 30 players have been called up this season.
It seems like each year we’re talking about which players should be called up. Most of the time, players who put together successful runs in the D-League will earn their way up to the NBA. Other times, we’re left wondering why some players haven’t yet received their opportunity.
One player that took full advantage of the D-League was Brooklyn Nets big man Willie Reed. After going undrafted in 2011, Reed spent the better part of the next three seasons in the D-League as he would go on to play for four teams during that stretch (and he would even have one stint in the Dominican Republic).
It was clear that Reed was by far one of the most talented players in the D-League during his three years with the Springfield Armor, Reno Bighorns, Grand Rapids Drive and Iowa Energy. He posted career averages of 15.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 145 games in the D-League while boasting a 21.3 PER.
Perhaps the most impressive part about Reed’s stint in the D-League was he was earning the respect of his opponents. It’s one thing to impress fans or those watching at home, but to earn the praise of guys they’re battling against each night is another thing.
“Man, Willie Reed was on a bus or flight for like eight hours,” former Canton Charge forward Tristan Spurlock told Basketball Insiders. “He hopped off and played us and I think he might have had 35 points — something crazy. I was like, ‘Who in the hell is this?’
“I was inactive that game, but I was like he is amazing. Who is this? He looked like Willis Reed. He killed everyone out there. He’s hitting jumpers. Everything around that basket you may as well have counted it. Willie was one of those guys where I knew he wasn’t going to be down there long.”
Fast forward one year later and Reed is nearing the end of his first full season in the NBA. Reed was signed last summer by the Nets in free agency after having a successful run with the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. Reed showcased his full arsenal with the HEAT as he became a focal point on the offensive end, while remaining a key part of their interior defense.
It was a game against the Nets in Summer League that likely proved to be the pivotal performance that got him into the NBA for good. He finished that game against the Nets with 17 points and nine rebounds. He signed his NBA contract that week with the Nets and joined them for the remainder of their time in the Summer League.
Now that Reed has nearly a full season in the NBA under his belt, he knows there is more work to be done in order to have success. He’s spent the past several years trying to make a dream become reality and knows his NBA career is in only the beginning stages.
“I know I have a lot to work on,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, I have to work on my offensive game – I have to get stronger. I’ve always been pretty strong, but it’s a totally different level here. The D-League was a little different, but the NBA I think that all of the things that I did in the D-League pretty much translated over to the NBA. My rebounding translated, rim protection translated and pick-and-roll offense. I’m just thankful to be here and I think that as I continue to learn the game more on an NBA level, I’m only going to get better and better.”
Reed’s start with the Nets began a bit rocky. He missed the first 18 games of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. He suffered the injury after making his preseason debut with the Nets. He joined the team a few months later and made his NBA debut on December 11 against the New York Knicks.
Reed’s playing time with the Nets has been up and down, but he’s shown that he can be productive when given an increased role. He’s appeared in 39 games this season, while earning the start in two of those contests. He averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and 1.5 assists per game in the starting lineup.
Per 36 minutes, Reed is posting averages of 15.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He posted his best game of the season on March 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves after recording 14 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
“It’s definitely tough when you don’t know how many minutes you’re going to play,” Reed said. “You try to find a way to make sure that you’re always ready no matter how much you play. If I’m not playing, I’m trying to make sure that I’m cheering my teammates on because I know that where I was last year when I was working a side job in [my family’s] warehouse and in the D-League that I was just dreaming of being here so I’m thankful for every moment that I get the opportunity to be here, even if it’s just cheering for my teammates.”
With just five games remaining on the schedule for the Nets, Reed and the rest of the team will be trying to end the season on a high note. This summer for Reed is going to be huge as he can become a restricted free agent once the Nets extend him a $1,215,696 qualifying offer.
Although he’s missed some time this season due to injury, he’s put together some good performances on tape, which help his chances of re-signing with the Nets this summer or getting a deal with a new team.
“You continue to do what you do best and don’t worry about the season coming to an end,” Reed said. “You just enjoy the moment and live in the moment. Play as hard as you can for as long as you’re out there and everything else will take take care of itself.
“This is going to be a huge offseason. I know that and that’s why every day when I come out here and I step on the floor – whether it’s practice, shootaround or games – I try to make the most of it so they know that I’m working as hard as I can and they believe in me enough to bring me back or another team believes in me enough that I’m an NBA player. I’m just going to continue to go out there and fight.”
With the salary cap set to rise to about $90 million this summer, a lot of teams are going to have money to spend. The Nets can have about $41 million in salary cap space, so this roster could change drastically by the time next season starts.
As things stand now, Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Sean Kilpatrick are the only players on guaranteed contracts for next season.
The team introduced a new general manager earlier this year, and they’ll likely end up hiring a new coach at some point this summer. They’ll be tasked at improving through free agency as they currently have no picks in June’s draft.
The team does have some intriguing young players on the team in Hollis-Jefferson, Thomas Robinson, Reed and Kilpatrick. With such a busy offseason ahead for Brooklyn, it remains to be seen if those players are in the team’s long-term plans, but Reed would welcome the opportunity.
“I definitely think that this is a good situation,” Reed said. “The new general manager and the assistant general manager are bringing great life to this city and this team. They’re getting the right type of game style together – passing the ball, cutting and they’re very defensive-minded.
“I think this is a great opportunity for me. Everybody here is really in the trial period where they’re trying to show that they should be here so we’re all in the same place and I’m just trying to prove that I belong.”
Podcast: More From Willie Reed
Check out the latest installment of the Basketball Insiders Podcast, which featured the aforementioned Willie Reed. Listen below:
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