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Raphiael Putney Having Breakout Season In D-League While Eyeing NBA

Rio Grande Valley forward Raphiael Putney closed off last season on a high note and has began this year with a bang, but will he ever have an impact at the next level?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After going undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts in the 2014 NBA Draft, 6’10 forward Raphiael Putney faced a bit of uncertainty regarding his future basketball prospects.

Luckily for him, his future was not in doubt very long as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers offered him a tryout in October of that year. They were impressed with what they saw and eventually found him a place on the team. While he wasn’t heralded coming out of college, he made an impact last year whenever he had the chance. He fell into a bit of a shooting slump after an impressive 6-7 from the field in his first game, but he closed the season out well, shooting 53% over the last month of the season.

Despite his strong play, Putney often found himself behind guys such as Glen Rice Jr., Tony Bishop and Akil Mitchell, as well as Clint Capela. With all of those players having moved on this offseason, the opportunity was there for Putney to expand his role and showcase his development.

Four games into this season, it is clear that Putney came ready to play. Having secured the starting power forward spot prior to the year, he has been a standout for the Vipers who are 3-1 as of the time this story was written.

Not only has he been getting it done with his scoring, where he’s excelling to the tune of 16.8 points per game on 51% shooting, but he’s also leading the team in rebounding (9.8), second in blocks (3.0) and despite his size and role in the offense, he’s also fifth on the team in assists amongst full-time players.

He’s not going to be the type of player that takes over games for his team, but he is perfect for the offense that Matt Brase has been rolling out for the Vipers. Their fast-paced style is great for him, as he’s incredibly athletic and with his shooting he can clear out space in the paint for former Georgetown big man Josh Smith.

He was a 31% shooting from three-point range throughout the course of his college career, but he’s already hovering around the 35% for this year and was at 42% mark last year. With the NBA moving towards a preference for big men that can stretch the floor, his continued development in this area will be crucial. In addition to his shooting, Putney has also been able to create for himself a bit within the context of the offense. He’s never going to be a player that breaks a defender down with his ball-handling ability, but he has a very quick first step and combined with his athleticism, is a nightmare to stop in the lane once he has a full head of steam.

While he has made progress on that end, he still has room for improvement. His shooting is getting there, but he occasionally appears lost on the offensive side and can interrupt the flow of the offense with being out of position. In addition to that, he’s very passive when setting screens, which is a big no-no in the many pick-and-roll concentrated offenses of today’s era.

As a ball-handler, Putney definitely needs work. He can be careless with the ball at times and while he’s driving to the lane, he’ll often jump to make his passes. Luckily, all of the improvements on offense are seemingly correctable and are what the D-League is for.

On the defensive side, he’s also going to have to put some work in to get up to an adequate level for an NBA player. Much like on the offensive side, he looks out of place at times and will drift off of his man while he’s focused on watching the ball. Along with that, he appears to be tentative in his decision-making on defense as to whether he should help or stay with his man. Again, these are correctable issues but ones that inevitably have to be made if he wants to compete at the next level.

At his current size, 6’10 and 190 pounds, he’s going to have to considerably bulk up if he wants to play the stretch-four in the NBA. Even at the D-League level he’s been outmuscled while in the most, so it will be crucial to his success to put on weight.

At 25 years old, Putney will have some time to make the adjustments necessary to be able to play at the next level. He’s shown quite a bit of promise this season with his three-point shooting, rebounding and athleticism but he will need to polish up some other aspects of his game to make himself a real threat. If the first four years of this season are any indication, Raphiael Putney should continue to grow by leaps and bounds.