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Willie Reed May Be a Free Agency Steal

Willie Reed discusses his year with the Nets, unrestricted free agency, growth as a player and more.

Alex Kennedy

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The NBA’s free agency period gets underway tonight after midnight, and Willie Reed is free to sign wherever he wants. The Brooklyn Nets decided not to extend a qualifying offer to the 26-year-old big man, making him an unrestricted free agent who should have no shortage of options.

This past season in Brooklyn, Reed averaged 4.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and .8 blocks in 39 games while shooting an efficient 57.1 percent from the field. These numbers may not jump off of the page, but that’s because Reed was playing just 10.9 minutes per game. His per-100-possession numbers were terrific: 21.5 points, 14.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. It wasn’t uncommon to see Reed score in double figures with a handful of rebounds and blocks despite playing just a few minutes.

But the team’s stats show that Reed made the most of his time on the court, as he was one of the Nets’ most productive players when given minutes. He led all Brooklyn players in net rating (+8), offensive rating (116), true shooting percentage (57.9 percent), field goal percentage (57.1 percent), block percentage (5.7 percent) and win shares per 48 minutes (.134). He finished second on the team in PER (19.2), total rebound percentage (16.1 percent) and offensive rebound percentage (12.7 percent).

Reed earned just $947,276 this past season, which was a huge raise from his days in the D-League when he struggled to support his family. Now, after putting some positive game film together and showing what he can do when given an opportunity to play, Reed should be in for another nice pay day (especially with the salary cap spiking to $94 million). It’s clear that he still has untapped potential and he could elevate his game if put in the right situation with some guidance.

While there’s certainly a small sample size here, it’s worth noting that Reed has shined every time he has been given an opportunity. In March, when his minutes with the Nets increased to 15.9 per game, he averaged 7.3 points, five rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. In his two starts for Brooklyn this season (against Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, respectively), he averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and 1.5 assists.

And remember, it was Reed’s outings in the D-League and Summer League that led to his opportunity with the Nets. Prior to signing with Brooklyn, Reed averaged 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks (while shooting 60.3 percent from the field) in the D-League during the 2014-15 campaign. Then, one year ago, he contributed 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game (while shooting 60 percent from the field) on the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. These performances turned heads, particularly in Brooklyn, and Reed showed he has the potential to be a two-way contributor.

“Willie is solid, long, athletic and he’s always going to play hard no matter what,” Portland Trail Blazers big man Ed Davis told Basketball Insiders about Reed. “Once he gets his opportunity, people will see.”

“Willie is a really good dude,” Nets point guard Shane Larkin said about his teammate. “He’s family oriented and has worked very hard to get to where he is now. Obviously we didn’t have the best season and it could have been easy for anybody on the team to pack it up, but Willie was constantly working at the gym early and even after practice. He was always getting good work in. But I think the best thing about Willie that I can remember is him as a teammate. He is always supporting the team. Whenever anybody makes a play – whether it is a steal, a charge, a three or a dunk – he is the first person to stand up and wave his towel in the air or do his signature three-point celebration. And on the court, he is huge competitor and a very confident guy. He has great timing on help-side defense and he works very hard on the offensive glass. I’m happy he got his chance in the league this year and hopefully he can find himself on another roster come next season.”

A number of teams have already started showing some level of interest in Reed, especially now that they know he’s unrestricted as opposed to restricted. He has put enough on film to intrigue executives around the NBA, and now it just remains to be seen which team signs him for the 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Reed to discuss his continued development as a player, his stint with the Nets, what he can bring to an NBA team, how he’s approaching unrestricted free agency and more.

What did you learn throughout this past season with the Brooklyn Nets? This was your longest stint with one NBA team, so what were some of the takeaways?

Willie Reed: “The biggest thing that I learned was that I belong in the NBA. That was the question that I had for myself before I actually played a game or [wondered] the reason why I wasn’t there before. I learned that I belonged. I learned that I could play at a high level and I could contribute. I think that was the biggest thing for me; it was a confidence builder.”

For people who may not know much about your game, what are your biggest strengths? What do you bring to an NBA team?

Reed: “I think my biggest strength is my energy. I always play with a high energy. Other than that, I think the defensive end is where I’m at my best, especially at this point of my career and when it comes to protecting the rim. I think rim protection is my biggest thing. I averaged almost a block a game in only 10 minutes. I was able to be efficient blocking shots while also staying out of foul trouble. Changing shots, blocking shots and getting steals… I think defense is my strong suit. And I’ll always fight for offensive rebounds too. That’s where I am right now.”

How nice is it to see other defensive, high-energy big men like Toronto’s Bismack Biyombo and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside excel? Do you think their success helps you?

Reed: “Definitely, it just shows that if you’re put in the right position, you can succeed. Obviously, Bismack Biyombo was huge during the playoffs after Jonas Valanciunas went down. Then you have a guy like Tristan Thompson, who was excellent in the Finals with his rebounding and guarding everyone. He even did a great job guarding Steph Curry at times. Being versatile, being a really good defender and being a strong rebounder are important. I think that I could help a team – any team – who is looking for that guy who is a high-energy player off of the bench.”

You mention versatility. That has become so important in today’s NBA. How many positions can you guard and what separates you from others at your position?

Reed: “I think I’m a guy who can guard positions three through five. I think I’m a guy who can contain a guy or at least follow the scouting report enough to be able to see what teams need defensively and be efficient at it. I think that’s my big thing. Coming up, I always played for coaches in college and high school who were very defensive-minded, which helped me translate my defense to the NBA. I think focusing on that allowed me to be successful on the defensive end. Now, I can hedge out on pick-and-rolls, I can switch, if the guy is a shooter then I can make them drive, things like that. I will know the scouting report and that only helps my defense.”

How much have you matured and grown as a person in recent years?

Reed: “I think that I’ve grown tremendously. I think that’s due to my family and my maturity. My family allows me to go put in that extra work. Right now, we’re in California. I’ve been here working out and they make sure I stay focused. They know that I’m in the gym three times a day and they know there are going to be times where they don’t get to leave the house, but they sacrifice that and come here and be with me just so that I’m comfortable while I’m training and see a familiar face and be happy. They understand the reason I’m doing this for.”

Like you said, you’ve been working out several times a day in California. You also trained in Cleveland prior to that. What aspects of your game are you focused on improving?

Reed: “Out here, I’m working on the offensive part of my game: post moves, reading the defense, catching the ball off of the pick-and-roll and being able to avoid traffic. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Obviously, I excelled on the defensive end, but understanding that now it’s a faster-paced game in the NBA than in the D-League, I have to figure it out offensively and be able to grasp that. I’m excited about the transformation and I just can’t wait for what this next season brings.”

How much untapped potential do you feel like you have?

Reed: “I think I still have a lot of room to grow. Obviously, being in the D-League, I got better every single year. I think I took that next step and being in the NBA this past season, I think I took a huge a step. I went from being a guy who was injured at the beginning of the season and wasn’t really playing much to being a rotational guy. I think that me proving that I belong just shows that I’m making improvements and I think I could even take my game to another level. That’s why I’m here in Los Angeles, trying to figure out what that next level is.”

You had the chance to play against some dominant big men this year. Who did you learn the most from matching up against?

Reed: “When I got the opportunity to match up against DeAndre Jordan, I think that was big for me, especially being the type of player he is. That’s who I kind of want to model my game after as far as defensively and controlling the paint and offensive rebounding. I think that’s the key. I also want to add offense to my game and I think playing against Karl-Anthony Towns and Chris Bosh helped me. I think they allowed me to see offensively what it is that I need to go to and work on. Obviously, my game isn’t going to be what their game is, but I think that if I can contribute by catching and avoiding the defense, making the extra pass and finishing in the post, I think that makes me a lot more valuable.”

What’s your approach to free agency? Some guys love it, some guys hate it. How do you feel entering this process?

Reed: “I’m definitely just trying to make sure that I continue to work hard. It is something that I think about a lot, and I just want to make sure that I’m in the right position to be able to succeed. I understand that free agency is going to take time. It’s going to be a process. I’m going to do my part by continuing to get better every single day and give myself the best chance to be successful once I do find out what team I’ll be on.”

What factors will you consider as you look for your next team? Is there a specific thing you’re looking for as you talk to teams?

Reed: “I think the biggest thing is trying to get on an up-and-down, faster-pace team. I think that I really excel in that. I’ve done well in that kind of system, especially in Summer League last year when I played on a fast-paced Miami team and I was able to succeed. I think the biggest thing for me is getting in a position like that, where the point guard pushes the basketball and we play at a fast pace. I really feed off of that, turning defense into offense. I think that’s a big thing for me. I’m not really worried about the destination. I just want to make sure it fits me and gives me the best opportunity to succeed. I think that if I can do that, then I can really push and make a name for myself here in the league.”

Basketball Insiders’ Cody Taylor contributed to this article.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.

Spencer Davies

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If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.

Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”

After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.

The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.

Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.

There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.

It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.

“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.

“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”

Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.

“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.

“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”

So what does that exactly entail?

“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”

Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.

“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.

“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”

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NBA Daily: Second-Round Draft Steals to Watch

Several possible second round picks have a chance to make an impact at the NBA level, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA Draft is upon us this week. The hopes and dreams of many basketball players will become reality. Each year there are players who are drafted in the second round who end up outperforming their draft selection spot.

A premium has been placed on draft picks in recent years. Even second round picks have become extremely valuable. For a team like the Golden State Warriors whose payroll might limit their ability to sign quality rotation players (veterans taking discounts to win a ring notwithstanding), smart drafting has seen them scoop up steals like Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell. Both those players have emerged as key rotation guys on a championship team, and both were taken in the second round.

The second round is an opportunity to pick up overlooked young talent on cheap contracts. Sure, it’s rare to get a Manu Ginobili or an Isaiah Thomas or a Draymond Green that goes on to become an All-Star caliber player, but plenty of quality contributors can be found.

Here’s a look at a few guys who have a great chance at becoming second round steals.

1. Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Outside of DeAndre Ayton, there may not have been a more valuable player to the Arizona Wildcats last season than Allonzo Trier. He was the Wildcats second-leading scorer at 18.1 points per game. There have been questions about his supposed selfish style of play, but he’s been a solidly efficient player his three years at Arizona.

This past season as a junior, he shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. Over his three years in college, he was a 47.5 percent shooter from the field and a 37.8 percent shooter from the three-point line. He’s also an 82.3 percent shooter from the line. And he did dish out 3.2 assists this past season.

Trier is a scorer, plain and simple, an efficient one at that. Despite this, his name has failed to appear on many mock drafts. The few that actually project the second round as well have him being drafted near the end. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Trier has great size for a shooting guard in the NBA. A sixth man type scorer is probably his best projection at the next level.

2. Brandon McCoy – UNLV

The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t quite have such a noteworthy year, which might explain a little about why Brandon McCoy is flying under the radar. UNLV posted a 20-13 record and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, McCoy managed to emerge as their biggest bright spot.

In his lone college season, he led UNLV in scoring with 16.9 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field. He also pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game and was their leading shot blocker at 1.8 blocks per game. For a big man, he shot a semi-decent 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.

He has good size, he’s a legit seven-footer. He moves well on the floor and with some work, can be a very good defensive player. Part of what might be causing him to get overlooked is he doesn’t have much in terms of a mid-range game, a necessity for big men in today’s NBA game. But that can be worked on. At any rate, he can be a high energy big off the bench, good to come in and block some shots, grabs some boards and clean up around the rim. Every team could use a guy like that.

3. Devonte Graham – Kansas

One year ago, Devonte Graham’s Jayhawk teammate Frank Mason III was also being overlooked in the draft. Like Graham, the major issue working against him was his status as a four-year college player. Mason went on to be one of the bright spots for the Sacramento Kings, establishing himself as a legit NBA point guard.

This summer, Graham is looking to do the same. Mason was also a bit on the shorter side, coming in at 5-foot-11. Graham has little more size than that at 6-foot-2. He was the Jayhawks best player for most of the year, putting up 17.3 points per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the three-point line. He also dished out 7.2 assists per game.

Most mock drafts have consistently had Graham being drafted early to middle second round. Being a college senior, he has leadership abilities. He’d be perfect for any team looking for a solid point guard off the bench.

4. Chimezie Metu – USC

For much of the mock draft season, Chimezie Metu’s name appeared as a first round selection. But in recent weeks, as other names began to climb up the draft ladder, Metu it appears has fallen back into the second-round. It’s interesting though, as his skill set for a big man appears to project well in today’s NBA game.

He was the Trojans’ best player as a junior this past season. He put up 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field. He pulled down 7.4 rebounds while averaging 1.7 blocked shots. Although the percentages may not reflect that, he has an improving jump shot. He’s quick and mobile defensively.

He’s got all the tools be able to guard the post as well as switch out and guard other positions if need be. With a little more work, he can be a good jump shooter. With the evolution of today’s game, Metu has the perfect build and talent to find success as a modern NBA big man.

5. Tony Carr – Penn State

Tony Carr has been a consistent second round pick in most mock drafts. There has been the occasional one here or there that had him being drafted at the end of the first-round, but the second round is most likely where he’ll hear his name called.

Carr was the best player for a Nittany Lions team that ended up winning the NIT. This past season as a sophomore, he put up 19.6 points per game and shot 43.3 percent from the three-point line. He was able to pull down 4.9 rebounds per game and he dished out 5.0 assists.

He can play both guard positions and create for himself or his teammates. There have been question marks about his athleticism and ability to defend at the NBA level, but all a team needs for him to do is come in off the bench, run the offense a bit and get a few buckets. He’s definitely capable of doing that.

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NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019

The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.

Moke Hamilton

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The NBA world nearly stopped last week when reports circulated that Kawhi Leonard wanted out from San Antonio.

All of a sudden, within a few days, both he and Kyrie Irving were both reportedly open-minded about taking their talents to New York.

And while either (or both) of the two would look great as Knicks uniforms, they’d look much better in orange and blue in 2019.

After all, only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.

Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.

If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right, but one thing that not even Max Kellerman could argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s exactly why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.

So if Leonard or Irving wants to eventually take up residence in New York City, they can prove it… Next year.

If there’s one thing the Knicks historically imprudent front office should have learned from Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s that.

This summer, after hiring David Fizdale, Scott Perry will have another opportunity to prove that the job at Penn Plaza isn’t too big for him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he even publicly entertains the idea of attempting to make a splash this summer or whether he continues to hold steadfast to the belief that there are not shortcuts on the route to contention.

The right play for the Knicks is to follow the route that the Lakers took as it relates to Paul George—refrain from dealing valuable assets for players that you could sign for free. Danny Ainge hit home runs with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and by essentially adding each of them to an existing core of young talent—and more importantly, refraining from acquiring either via trade—the Celtics now have an embarrassment of riches.

The Knicks don’t have those kinds of problems, and as it stands, have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. That could be paired nicely with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the ninth overall pick that they’ll have in the 2018 draft.

In other words, one year from now, the Knicks could have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level. Let the young guys play, let them develop and then carry them into the summer of 2019 with a clear plan in place.

That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.

If they play things right, and if the team managed to unload either Courtney Lee or Joakim Noah, they could open up the very real possibility of landing both Leonard and Irving, but instead of trading the farm for them, they’d have a realistic shot at signing them. They’d be adding them to the core instead of sacrificing it for them. Imagine that.

From where most people sit, Irving seems to have an ideal situation in Boston, and his entertaining the idea of taking his talents elsewhere seems curious, at best… But so did the choice of leaving LeBron James.

Irving has been consistently rumored as having real interest in playing in New York when he’s able to test the market next July, and depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern in Boston that he could opt to take his talents elsewhere.

Growing up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, the young guard knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Probably not. But one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.

As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team, even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.

And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.

Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’ll continue to unfairly carry the reputation of being someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. He’s no Steve Nash, but he is truly special. Just don’t tell the national media that.

Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.

Still, even if Irving and/or Leonard end up elsewhere, the summer of 2019 will feature other free agents including Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, too.

Going from Leonard and Irving to Walker and Butler might seem like a sad story of riches to rags, but one could very easily make the argument that adding two high-quality All-Star caliber starters to a core featuring Porzingis, Ntilikina and two lottery picks would do more to make the Knicks contenders than unloading the cupboard in an attempt to bring one in.

If that sounds like exactly what the Celtics did, that’s because it is. The Lakers, too. There’s a reason why they’re the most winningest franchises in NBA history, it would seem.

One thing we know for sure in the NBA: there will always be marquee free agents. The Knicks just need to do a better job of being able to attract them.

So this summer, if Perry wants to continue to earn favor with Knicks fans with even half a brain, the best thing to do might actually be to do nothing.

In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson and Danny Ainge. 

So if word eventually gets to Perry that Leonard’s interest in the team is real, and if Irving decides that he wants to take up residence in his backyard to try to succeed where Patrick Ewing, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing fell short, Perry’s response should be simple.

“Prove it.”

Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.

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