One year ago, most around the NBA D-League would have struggled to tell you who Raphiael Putney was. He was playing behind a plethora of talented front-court (including some perennial NBA players or current Rockets' assignees) players with the Vipers. And while the coaching staff encouraged him throughout as they turned to other options, Putney appeared in just 24 contests, playing less than ten minutes per game.
Ironically enough, even in limited playing time, Putney was a relatively efficient performer, posting 6.3 points and 2.5 rebounds. He even shot 48% from the field and 42% from deep. Still, one wouldn't be surprised to find him embracing a role player responsibility in RGV. After all, he averaged a modest 21.2 minutes per game through a four collegiate career at Massachusetts.
All of this seemed par for the course for Putney. Because of this, he's taken all of the D-League (and even much of the NBA) by storm with some rather eye-popping production and subsequent progression.
Putney has skyrocketed into somewhat of a minor league superstar. The forward is averaging a near 20 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and one steal per game. He's played 34.2 minutes through 23 contests, taking on a much more prominent role and becoming a major key to the Vipers' steady 13-10 start. The fact that his offensive efficiency has maintained at a high level, even as he takes on more responsibility as a centralized member of RGV's system is very impressive, but that's not all Putney has done. While offensively, he can spread the floor and shoot well, he's a bruiser inside. Putney is a physical player who fights for rebounds and understands full well that his long frame can be used to his advantage when pestering opposing shooters.
"I know he was good, but I had no idea he was going to be this good," one D-League staffer admitted to RidiculousUpside.com.
So what's been the change in his recent exposition onto the minor league hardwood? Putney took his rookie campaign in stride and then went on to play in Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Malaysia over the summer. He was even the M.V.P. of the Malaysian championship game. Such an opportunity to strut his stuff a bit more was necessary, Putney told RidiculousUpside.com.
"It was obviously a chance to earn more money, but I just considered it an opportunity to go out and get better. I love to play this game. I was getting my mind right. I'm someone who is always learning," he said.
At 25, going on to play in such exotic locations might be a little intimidating for someone like Putney, who grew up in Virginia and then played around the states in college and as a pro. Once again, the forward took it in stride and understood the value of the experience.
"Sure, there were a couple of things that played into culture shock. But I knew I just wanted to adapt quickly and play basketball. Playing overseas was a huge confidence booster. [Since coming back], the Vipers' coaches have shown a lot of confidence in me, and so have my teammates," Putney pointed out.
Putney's a very athletic player who runs and leaps well. On offense, he can serve as a threat from around the perimeter, or even put the ball on the floor and work his way inside. The forward isn't afraid to throws his body around in an attempt to deflect high percentage shots around the rim. He boxes out and physically makes his opponents work for easy buckets.
He's risen to the top as the cream of the crop when it comes to the D-League's most skilled front-court players. One big question still remains, however: can he truly hang with the big boys? Though he's listed at 6'9", Putney's 185 pound frame may lead to doubt that he can make a similar impact on the NBA level.
"I've been considered an underdog all of my life, wherever I've been," Putney admitted. He later conveyed, "Coming out of UMass, people don't necessarily expect you to be an overseas or NBA player. People talk about my build, but I just want to show them that I love to compete and play the game of basketball."
There's no doubt his production suggests he deserves a shot. He's versatile, and as such, could fill any number of voids. Putting his best foot forward, Putney tallied a career-high 38 points and 18 rebounds during a performance at the D-League Showcase earlier this month. He put on quite a show for scouts and executives on the prowl for the next diamond in the rough. Putney showed them something they'd never seen before.
When asked if he thinks he's garnering more interest and attention, Putney said, "I think people were definitely surprised. They didn't know I can shoot, but I've been working on my offense, and defense. I'm considered one of the skinnier guys, but I'm one of the league's leading shot blockers."
Putney continues to mature and progress as a professional player, but thanks to his time overseas and recent opportunities, he understands the value he can provide. That necessary confidence is there, so perhaps a shot in the NBA isn't far behind. In any event, Putney's story and recent ascension is what the D-League is all about.