Today's installment of our look at potential Summer League invitees continues with another potentially-doomed franchise, the Bakersfield Jam. Today's...uh...Jam is Derrick Byars.
How he got here
Byars's basketball career is a bit more in line with your typical NBA player than either of the two players we've profiled so far. In high school he was a Tennessee Mr. Basketball finalist and fourth-team Parade All-American. He spent his freshman and sophomore years in college playing at UVA, where he actually started the first five games of his freshman season before becoming a bench player/occasional starter. After two years he transferred to Vanderbilt, where he was named SEC Player of the Year his senior season. His scoring that year jumped from 12 and a half points a game to 17, despite averaging the same number of minutes. Somewhat counterintuitively, both his field goal percentage and three point percentage dropped. His rebounding improved a little bit, though, as did his steals per game, and he ultimately was among the conference leaders in nine statistical categories. The Commodores went to the NCAA tournament that year, making it to the Sweet 16 before losing to Georgetown. He did very well in the tournament. As Draft Express wrote at the time,
"he has put his complete package of skills on show for everyone in his team's three games this past week. His combination of size, skill, and passing ability rank will get him drafted this year, and a strong set of workouts could possibly help Byars land a spot late in the first round by the time it is all said and done."
Byars was scouted by several teams in the time leading up to the 2007 NBA Draft, including the Knicks and Nets. Scouts saw that he was a smart player who could score and was improving his rebounding and passing skills, though he was also seen as somewhat unathletic whose defense was spotty. Ultimately, he was chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers midway through the second round, just after names like Sun Yue! and Chris Richard and three spots before Jared Jordan. He didn't stay there long, however, and was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Petteri Koponen before being waived. He spent the 2008 Summer League with New Orleans and Orlando, and while he didn't play great, he had a few solid games. He spent that NBA preseason with the Oklahoma City Thunder, again having one solid game but ultimately not making the cut.
Byars bounced around Europe for a little bit before coming to the D-League for the 2008-2009 season. A look at how he did after the jump.
Byars showed he could score almost from the get-go, though he's not always efficient. After starting the season with several series' of good games followed by a terrible one (one point and four fouls in 15 minutes against Utah on December 1, for example) he settled down about midway through January; from the Jan. 15 game against Albuquerque to the end of the season, Byars only had three games where he scored in the single digits.
Byars really started to turn it up in February, scoring a combined 47 points on 28 shots in back-to-back games against Anaheim and 29 points on 17 shots against Los Angeles while making six of ten threes. Somewhere along the line he became a decent rebounder as well, though not always consistent; his per-game rebounding numbers in February were 3-7-9-4-3-1-7-3-6. He also had the occasional game with decent assist numbers for a swingman. His calling card is his three point shot, where he made 38.3 percent, but he also tailed off towards the end of the season, including going 0-14 from behind the arc over a three-game stretch in March. He shot 50 percent on threes in February, though, and led the league in threes at one point this season, so the skill is definitely there.
There should be a place for a guy like Byars in the NBA. He can score, and while he's not the quickest guy he has decent size and can occasionally give a team solid rebounding from the small forward position. Other than becoming a little more focused on defense, Byars could probably stand to get to the line more consistently. There will be nights (or three, or 10) where his shot isn't falling, and going inside and picking up fouls is the best cure for shooting 2-12. Byars did this occasionally this past season, including one encouraging night where, despite shooting 0-4 on his threes he shot 8-9 from the charity stripe, but more often than not he only went to the line once or twice in a game.
There's room for improvement, certainly, but it's hard not to look at Byars's playing history and skill at putting the ball in the basket - you know, the whole point of basketball - and think there's a roster spot for him somewhere.