Today, we continue our series of Nets player previews, looking at the one big question for each player. Today: Willie Reed.
Can Willie Reed cement himself as an NBA center?
It’s been a long time coming for Willie Reed. Four different D-League teams. One stint in Puerto Rico. One game in Israel. Three NBA training camps. Two in-season NBA signings. Over 1,000 uses of #CallWillieUp on Twitter by him & his fans. But in the five years since leaving school, zero NBA games.
That’s all about to change for Reed, who signed a one-year, partially guaranteed deal with the Nets that’s a good bet to become a full-season deal given the team’s lack of depth at center and the deal’s structure. (Over half of Reed’s deal is guaranteed, and all contracts must be fully guaranteed by January 10th, halfway through the season.) Barring an unforeseen move or injury, Reed’s NBA debut appears, finally, inevitable.
Reed and Andrea Bargnani, his main competitor for playing time, couldn’t be more different. Bargnani was a former #1 overall pick, Reed never came close to getting drafted. Bargnani is primarily an outside shooter who lacks strength and the ability to defend inside, Reed is a high-energy clean-up big man who does all the little things around the rim. Bargnani has nine years of NBA experience, and Reed, as mentioned, is still waiting for his first check-in. But despite Lionel Hollins’s tendency to play veterans, there should be ample time for Reed to show his skills.
If there is such a thing as a dominant D-League career, Reed has had it. He posted two strong seasons in Springfield, ranking in the top 10 of numerous statistical categories, including leading the D-League in 2013-14 in win shares. Per a Nets official, Reed ranks #1 in Armor franchise history in rebounds (818) and blocked shots (154).
Last season, he led the D-League in win shares again, and made the All NBA D-League First Team, as well as the All-Defensive Team, splitting time between Grand Rapids and Iowa.
But you know the old saying: “Nobody wants to look back on their dominant career in the D-League.” (I think Confucius came up with that one.)
The Nets valued Reed’s time in the D-League, which led to his contract, signed during this year’s Summer League:
“The biggest thing about Willie is he’s got valuable time in the D-League and he really improved on his skills,” said Nets assistant coach Joe Wolf, who works closely with the team’s big men. “Overall, he’s just a much better player. He understands situations and schemes better defensively. He’s playing bigger than he has been and I think that’s really helped him. He’s an athlete.”
Rod Boone, Newsday — Willie Reed’s perseverance pays off with roster spot on Nets
Scouts, coaches, analysts, and Reed himself routinely refer to him as a “high-energy” player. “He’s one of those guys you don’t have to run a set for at all,” Otis Smith, his head coach with the Grand Rapids Drive, told Peter Wallner of mLive. “And at the end of the game, he still ends up with 20-something points and 10, 15 rebounds because he’s figured it out.
“He’ll be, ‘OK, guard, go ahead on dribble drive and, if you miss, I’ll just be there to clean it all up.’ He’s got a pretty good idea that with offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and defense that he can make a living. From that perspective, he’s pretty dialed in.”
Reed has always been on the Nets’ radar. After his time in Springfield, the team signed him to a 2014-15 training camp contract, waiving him before the season began. Reed also played for a brief spell under Lionel Hollins in Memphis, signing on near the end of the 2012-13 season before Hollins left the franchise.
The Nets lack athleticism at center. Brook Lopez is hardly a high-flyer, and Andrea Bargnani, well…
Bargnani’s defensive impact also leaves much to be desired. I could tell you that among the 17-65 Knicks, Bargnani ranked last in on-off court defensive impact. Or, I could just show you this.
Reed has made his D-League career on his length & ability to finish inside. In his highlights, you can see what makes him appealing: he’s a big man who can defend the rim and run the floor. You can even see him get loose on a few pick-and-rolls for easy baskets inside. Watch out around 1:30 for the finger wag.
At every step of his career, Reed has known his role on the court: chase loose balls, grab rebounds, put in the easy ones, and block shots. There’s a lot of minutes available behind Brook Lopez, particularly if Bargnani isn’t up to snuff on the defensive end. With #WillieCalledUp, he could surprise if he plays within his skills.