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.
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