Can the top player at a certain position in any league come off the bench? It's definitely a weird situation, but Willie Reed is starting to prove that theory correct through his first five games this season.
Reed was waived by the Brooklyn Nets after the NBA preseason and instead of heading straight to the D-League, he signed with Hapoel Eilat of the Israeli Winner League. After appearing in only one game for Eilat, Reed left the team and announced he would be joining the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBA D-League.
This happens quite frequently in the early D-League season. Guys will sign elsewhere and for one reason or another will come back to the league in attempts to reach that ultimate goal of an NBA contract. Players can dominate overseas and be deserving of a look by an NBA team but the logistics isn't as easy as when a guy is impressing in the D-League and deserves a shot.
Reed has played five games now with the Drive as a reserve and he's averaging 16.4 points and 11.8 rebounds (both career highs) on a ridiculous 76.5 percent mark from the floor. Perhaps more importantly, the Drive are 4-1 since he arrived. He was certainly welcomed with open arms after the Drive's first overall pick in the D-League Draft (Robert Covington) was called-up to NBA almost immediately. Though they play different positions and have vastly different skill sets, Reed has been able to fill in the gap on offense and has provided low-post defense as well with 1.2 blocks per night.
While dominating the D-League is an awesome feat, Reed knows what his ultimate goal is and has started his own Twitter campaign a la Pierre Jackson from last season. Last year it was the #TheySleep movement from Jackson and this year for Reed it's very simple -- #CallWillieUp.
While the D-League is mainly a guard-heavy league, guys like Reed are really able to standout and present themselves to NBA teams as a possible contributor. The one thing you cannot teach is size, and at 6'10 Reed has that area covered. He's also got legitimate athleticism for a man his size and his footwork in the paint sets him apart from "just another big body" for a team.
It's not all roses for Willie however. The free throw line has been his major nemesis so far this year as he's shooting 25 percent (4-16) on the season. Last night in their first loss since Reed arrived he went 1-7 from the line and 0-5 during the second half comeback. Ultimately they lost by 11, but some of those misses can really hinder a late run when everything is clicking for your team. The free throw line has never been a strength for Reed as his career mark in the D-League (102 games played) is 55.6, but even that mark would be a welcomed bonus at this point. Its still very early and Reed will surely right the ship and finish somewhere between 50-60 percent from the line.
Another slightly concerning nuance hidden in those free throws numbers are that Reed is only getting to the free throw line basically three times per contest. For someone who spends the bulk of their time in the paint and gets 95 percent of their scoring from that area (5th in D-League at 15.6 PITP), you would expect him to be drawing more fouls on opposing bigs and earning himself some trips to the line. However, considering his early struggles there, maybe he's avoiding those fouls at this point. One thing is for sure, Willie knows he needs to improve in this area as he shared this tweet with us last night, following his 1-7 showing.
Free throws free throws free throws!!!! I gotta get better!!! Smh— Willie Reed (@ShowtimeReed33) December 7, 2014
Again, there is still work to be done, but the foundations are there for this 24-year-old, athletic post who can definitely help bolster an NBA teams' bench at this point in his career. Come January 5, 2015 (the first day 10-day contracts can be offered) expect Reed's name to be presented as a Gatorade Call-Up.
Here's a look at his debut game with the Drive. The statistics are great, but watch his knack for finding the ball on the offensive end, especially on weak side rebounding. The post move with the triple pivot is a thing of beauty as well.