Nate Wolters is a tall point guard with as varied an offensive toolbox as you'll find at the 1. Hailing from South Dakota State University, Wolters started to gain national attention for his play during his junior year. His breakout game is generally considered to be the 34 point, 5 rebound, 7 assist, 1 steal, 0 turnovers game against a talented Washington team on December 18, 2011. Despite Washington's 32-game non-conference home winning streak and despite their star backcourt of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, Wolters and the Jackrabbits steamrolled the Huskies in Seattle en route to their first ever appearance in the NCAA D1 Tournament. While South Dakota State failed to make an impact in the big dance, Wolters helped them dominate the Summit League and now prepares for his professional hoops career. How might the talented lead guard fit among the best players in the world?
D.O.B. - 05/15/1991 (22 years old)
Hometown - St. Cloud, MN
Measurements: Height (w/o shoes) - 6'3.5"; Height (in shoes) - 6'4.75"; Weight - 196 lbs; Wingspan - 6'3.75"; Max Vert - N/A; Lane Agility - N/A (Nate Wolters was unable to participate in athletic testing due to a strained hip flexor)
Projected Draft Position: 38th to WAS on DraftExpress, 28th to SAS on NBADraft.net
Amateur Take - Offense: Nate Wolters is a dynamic guard with the ability to score in a myriad of situations. One of the most important items in his offensive skillset is his advanced ball-handling. Wolters does an excellent job keeping his dribble low, and despite his average athleticism is difficult to stay in front of due to his array of dribble-moves and hesitations. Standing at nearly 6'5" with a 200 lb body, Wolters can put a defender on his hip after creating separation and shift the defense to provide shot opportunities for himself and his teammates without much trouble. He is very comfortable shooting off the dribble (to the tune of 47.2% in that situation during his senior year), which complements his handle well. After beating the first line of defenders, a simple hesitation allows Wolters to take whatever the defense gives him. He has an unorthodox jump shot and releases the ball quite low but keeps his mechanics consistent and gets the shot up quickly. Defenders have to fight over screens to respect his shot, which helps make him a deadly threat in the pick-and-roll. He does a good job creating separation in isolation and off of picks, and has a nice step-back jumper in his arsenal with range out to the college three. Wolters is a good 3-point shooter, but doesn't rely on the shot to create offense. Still, his 38% from deep bodes well considering the defensive pressure he faced as the star of South Dakota State and the difficulty of many of his shot attempts. While he was a massive threat to score with the ball in his hands, defenses had to respect him when he played off-ball as he shot 47.3% on catch-and-shoot opportunities and moves well without the ball to get open.
In addition to his excellent all-around perimeter shooting, Wolters is a dangerous scorer inside the 3-point arc. The Summit League Player of the Year shot 53.2% from 2-point range last season, combining his jump-shooting with good hands around the basket. Wolters is not a great athlete by NBA standards, but shows good touch at the rim and with his floater. He can attempt a floater from either side of the court and has good range on it, which helps him get good looks at the basket off without much interference from rotating interior defenders. Wolters embraces contact at the rim, which only adds to the intrigue of his transition into the NBA. He attempted .37 free throws per possession, good for fourth among NBA prospects in DraftExpress' database, and shot his free throws at an 82.4% clip. His ability to get to the line helped make him one of the most efficient scoring point guards in the NCAA last season.
Wolters' scoring ability is one of his best attributes, but he's no slouch as a playmaker either and averaged a pace-adjusted 6.2 assists per 40 minutes in addition to his heavy scoring load. He's a surprisingly creative passer and has good court vision, which becomes a huge asset considering his height. Wolters can see right over the top of the defense and makes the right play more often than not. One of Wolters' most impressive skills as a passer is his ability to find the open man in half-court offense via skip passes. He shows very encouraging talent at reading the defense in isolation and the pick-and-roll and hitting open jump shooters all over the arc. Wolters' A/TO ratio of 2.4 trails only Trey Burke among NBA prospects at the 1, buoyed by his turnover rate of only 12%. Wolters won't be able to find scoring opportunities as often in the NBA, so it will be important for him to run offense and set up his teammates efficiently. He was able to do so in college and that is a good sign for his professional prospects.
Amateur Take - Defense: While a solid defender in college, there are questions about Wolters' ability to guard NBA caliber athletes. He does not show great athleticism and his 6'3.75" wingspan is nearly an inch below average for a point guard. Still, Wolters' big frame puts his standing reach at 8'2", well above that of the average PG prospect. He might not be an excellent defender in the NBA, but there is little to suggest he can't become a "not-actively-harmful" defender. It is important to note that Wolters was not a bad defender in college. Questions about his defense are largely directed at his potential transition into the pros.
A lot of buzz surrounded South Dakota State's 2013 NCAA tournament game against Michigan and the showdown between the mid-major star PG and UM's star Trey Burke. Scouts who wondered how Wolters would fare against NBA-caliber athletes looked forward to seeing him try to guard Burke, arguably the best PG in the NCAA last season and a likely lottery pick, on the big stage. Wolters held Burke to a dismal 6 point outing, though Burke found his teammates for 7 assists in the Michigan win. Still, Wolters played very good defense against the kind of player he'll be seeing regularly in the NBA.
For players with Wolters' physical limitations, it's important to show a commitment to defense and endurance to stay in the play if beaten. Wolters averaged 38.5 minutes per game during his final season at South Dakota State and will need to continue to build that endurance to defend at the next level. He could also stand to work on his strength, as he was bullied by more physical guards in spite of his 200-lb. frame. His work in the gym will be an important factor in his ability to stick in the NBA.
Wolters is a very good rebounder for a point guard: His pace-adjusted 5.9 rebounds per 40 trails only CJ McCollum among PG prospects in DX's Top 100. Wolters can also contribute in the steals department. He's not an exceptionally prolific thief, but his pace-adjusted 1.9 steals per 40 show his good hands and instincts despite physical limitations.
Random Red Flag: Wolters is a good perimeter shooter and has been for much of his career, but for some reason shot only 24% from 3 during his junior year. It seems to be an anomaly, as Wolters shot over 36% for all three of his other years at South Dakota State, but it is strange that he was so cold that year.
- Wolters is apparently a very good tennis player, and lettered all four of his high school years in tennis while earning all-conference honorable mentions twice.
- Finished career with South Dakota State's all-time scoring record, all-time assist record, and all-time single game scoring record (53 points) among other records.
- First player in Summit League history to earn AP All-American honors.
- Third player since the NCAA began keeping assists as an official statistic in 1983-84 to average 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in two separate seasons.
- Fourth player in NCAA Division 1 history to finish career with over 2,000 points, over 600 rebounds, and over 600 assists.
- Apparently nicknamed "Naters." Let's do better, everyone.
Let's Get Reel:
Nate Wolters Workout (via MidcoSportsNet) - Apparently he's been doing this essentially every night since his sophomore year. Fans tend to love this kind of dedication.
Nate Wolters (via SDSU Athletics) - I wish this video was longer, but you get to see some nice angles on some Wolters highlights. His hesitation crossover combo at 36 seconds is of note.
Nate Wolters Draft Combine Interview (via DraftExpress) - "What do you think you bring to an NBA team?" "I'm a really hard worker. Whether I play 48 minutes or 0 minutes I'm going to work hard every day and compete in practice and do whatever it takes to win."
- Size for position
- Spot-up jumpshot
- Pull-up jumpshot
- Advanced floater
- Finishing at rim
- Efficient scoring
- Advanced ball-handling
- Isolation play
- Pick-and-roll play
- Drawing fouls
- Court vision
- Rebounding (3rd in the nation in RPG among PGs)
- Positional versatility
- Work ethic; lives in the gym
- Lateral quickness
- Below-rim athlete
Final Thoughts: Nate Wolters was among the most productive point guards in college basketball this year. His ability to create his own shot off of screens or in isolation was an asset in college, but it will be tougher for him to utilize that talent against NBA length. Like so many prospects in this draft, his ability to succeed largely depends on the faith shown by whichever team drafts him.
The Knicks can use help at point guard. Raymond Felton is a steady hand and a tough competitor, but he's inefficient and often struggled guarding opposing PGs. Wolters can step right in and contribute in part because of his physical profile. He's tall enough to spend time guarding either guard position, and can play alongside Felton much like Jason Kidd did for most of the season. Unlike Kidd, however, Wolters can create shots for himself off the dribble and can attack the rim. Wolters is good at drawing fouls and finishing, which adds a layer of offense that Kidd couldn't always provide. Wolters was turnover-averse in college, and his ability to maintain control of the ball would help the Knicks continue the offensive dominance they displayed last season. There are some defensive concerns about Wolters, but he already displays some of the qualities that helped similarly limited athletes become solid defenders.
Nate Wolters worked out for the Knicks last Tuesday. What do you think of Naters?