What was Billy King like as a basketball player?

Billy King, Deron Williams
Billy King and Deron Williams in more agreeable times. (AP)
Billy King, Deron Williams
Billy King, Deron Williams (AP)

Billy King is best known today as the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, the man that engineered the “win-now” trades that developed the Brooklyn Nets from a laughingstock in the standings to a playoff team with an absurd luxury tax commitment.

But long before he doled out draft picks for aging stars in the hopes of immediate contention, King was a pretty good basketball player too. He spent four years at Duke University under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, who now advises King on a number of personnel decisions. His ties to Duke helped facilitate the Nets training camp last season, which took place at Duke University. (They’ll stay home this year.)

He jokes that he was never a shooter, and his lack of scoring meant an NBA career wasn’t in the cards. But this profile of King in Duke Report (called “Billy King: Your Worst Defensive Nightmare”) highlights his defense, noting his quickness and communicative abilities:

King knew the crucial importance of communication. Coach K said that he and Shane Battier were the guys who could communicate best all-time in a group situation. On the defensive end, you could always hear him calling a switch, warning a teammate, psyching out the opposing players, because eventually King seemed to know what they were about to do on the court. They were thinking, ‘where does this guy gather his intelligence, our locker room?’

Especially during his junior and senior seasons, King began getting assigned the opposing team’s top guard. Dennis Scott of Georgia Tech averaged 21.5 points per game and King held him to 3 of 13 shooting. Vernon Maxwell of Florida averaged 18.8 points and King held him to 7-18. David Rivers of Notre Dame averaged 17.4 points and King limited him to 3-17. UNC’s Jeff Lebo averaged about 12 points and King held him to 2-14. And probably King’s very best game of all was against Temple. Their freshman guard, Mark Macon, had been averaging close to 24 points per game and Vitale compared him to Oscar Robertson.

When Duke collided with Temple in the NCAA regionals, Temple was 32-1, having only lost to UNLV 59-58. Duke was 27-6. King knew Macon was fast on the trigger, he liked to move to his left and he loved shooting off the dribble. King’s goal was to make him go places he did not want to go. The game was a nightmare for Macon. He shot 6-29 for 13 points and 7 air balls. The Blue Devils won 63-53.

King was also voted the Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, averaging 1.6 steals per game.

Duke Report — Billy King: Your Worst Defensive Nightmare