Note: This piece is the continuation of an ongoing series where Ridiculous Upside examines some undrafted 2017 prospects that fans need to keep an eye on. The first three segments of this series was on former Weber State guard Jeremy Senglin, Badgers alum Bronson Koenig and former Utah State forward Jalen Moore. This part will be on former Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr.
As someone that basically just focuses on NBA, G League and elite Draft prospects, I honestly that aware of Derrick Walton Jr. before contributor Jasmine Brown wrote a great piece on him in May. Although he stood out as one of the better guards in the Big Ten during around two seasons of his career with Michigan, he didn’t really jump on my radar on that article. That was definitely a mistake on my part as that article taught me that Walton was able to elevate himself during the midst of the season to the point where he was able to pull the team out of Big 10 mediocrity.
That mediocrity reached its plateau on February 4th when the Wolverines remained 4-6 during conference play after a tough 70-66 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. At that point, it looked like they were on the verge of potentially not making it to the NCAA Tournament as they near the bottom of the Big 10 standings while being well out of reach of landing a spot in the Top 25. However, that status quickly changed due in part to the leadership of Walton.
From that point until the end of the Big 10 regular season, the Wolverines went on a great 6-2 run which featured great victories over Top 25 squads like Wisconsin and Purdue. That great run propelled them from their aforementioned mediocrity into being arguably the team in the conference. Walton had a lot to do with that as he just went off in February as he averaged 17.3 points, 5.4 assists and 6.4 rebounds on 45% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 6.1 perimeter attempts per game.
The great play of both Michigan and Walton even become more evident when the squad made that transition into the Big 10 tournament where they entered the 8th seed. Despite entering as a huge underdog, the Wolverines took that regular season momentum and just went nuts. Michigan started things out by having back-to-back victories over Illinois and Purdue, who entered the tournament as the top ranked team.
That momentum continued into their game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers as Walton put the team on his back as his 29 points and 9 assists helped push Michigan to a 84-77 victory. Walton’s impact carried over to the title game where his 22 points and 7 assists performance against the Wisconsin Badgers was the key behind Michigan winning 71-56 to win the tournament. Walton’s great leadership allowed him o be named as the Big 10 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Michigan’s great Big 10 Tournament run obviously helped push them to the NCAA Tournament where they were entered as the 7th seed in the Midwest division. Although that great momentum only pushed them to the Sweet Sixteen, Walton was still able to showcase his leadership against some of the top teams in college hoops. During his three NCAA Tournament games, Walton put up 18.7 points, 8.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds on 44% from the field and 52% from beyond the arc.
Despite his great NCAA Tournament play, Walton unfortunately wasn’t selected in the 2017 NBA Draft. That was due to the combination of him being spending four years in college and only standing at 6-foot, two things that draft scouts don’t necessarily love. Shortly after the Draft, Walton was picked up by the Miami Heat for a stint in Summer League.
Per usual, Walton eclipsed everybody’s expectations in Vegas Summer League as he put up 10 points and 3.5 assists per game on 47% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc in the four Summer League games that he played. Walton’s great play was actually better than some 2nd round picks like Jawun Evans, Derrick White and Tyler Dorsey.
Unsurprisingly, the Heat were quickly able to sign Walton to a two-way contract, which will allow him to spend most of his time in the G League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Alongside that Walton could have an opportunity to spend up to 45 days with the Miami Heat where he’ll get around $200,000.
Although we’re around two months away from the G League season, Walton might have the potential to stand as one of the best guards in the entire NBA G League. While a lot of that confidence comes from his great senior season, he really does stand as someone that can be one of the more skilled guards in the league. That’s due to how he can contribute in a variety of different ways which include: perimeter and mid-range shooting, on-ball drives to the rim and facilitating.
Among those skills, he’s probably most known as a perimeter shooter where he stood as one of the better outside threats in college hoops. That was most evident during his senior season where he put up 15.5 points and 5 assists per game on 44% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc on six perimeter attempts per game.
That efficiency came whether he was working in catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble. However, the majority of that work came from catch-and-shoot areas, where Walton really stands as a great off-ball weapon that loves to work around the court and get to his area on the perimeter. After he does that, Walton does a little hop milliseconds before catching the feed, which allows him to get in position pretty fast. Walton’s great technique allowed him to be an efficient spot-up shooter, as he average 1.5 PPP (Points Per Possession) in that area according to Synergy Sports.
Although he’s fantastic catch-and-shoot situation, it doesn’t mean that Walton isn’t able to create his own shot. That’s actually the opposite as he’s more than able to utilize some slick handles to get an advantage over his opponent. An example of that is seen below as he shakes up an opposing SMU guard before hitting a nice perimeter jumper.
Another area where he’s able to utilize those handles is an on-ball driver. At this point, that’s a rare part of his all-around game as 55% of Walton’s made field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. However, he does some flashes of being able to drive towards the paint, whether it’s to the left or right side of the rim. According to Hoop-Mah, Walton shot 61% from the rim as a senior, which is above average for a point guard.
The final part of Walton’s offensive arsenal comes from his work as a facilitator, which might be the most important part of his all-around game. In a similar fashion to his work as a perimeter shooter, Walton was a pretty efficient distributor as he maintained a superb 2.9 Ast/TO ratio during the 2016-17 NCAA season.
Walton really looks like your classic facilitator as he’s extremely competent in the pick-and-roll, while also being able to sling it to cutting guards or bigs. Within the pick-and-roll, Walton looks like an NBA veteran as he’s both patient and confident. After working around the off-ball screen, Walton is able to wait until the perfect moment before he slings the rock. An example of his approach is seen below as Walton waits a few moments before slinging a bullet pass to DJ Wilson, who finishes with a big dunk.
Despite Walton not standing as the most complete prospect, as he struggles on defense and needs to become more comfortable as an on-ball cutter, he still stands as a prospect that most NBA fans should keep their eye on. Because even in a G League that gets better every year, it’s rare to see a guard like Walton that can shine as an extremely efficient perimeter shooter while also being able to work as the team’s facilitator. Those two traits alone could push him to eventually land a role on the Miami Heat’s roster during the upcoming season.