Nate Wolters was minutes into being drafted into the NBA in June, and the franchise that selected him with the No. 38 pick – the Washington Wizards – had already traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers. For 15 minutes on draft night, Wolters believed this would be his new team, that he’d report to the Philadelphia organization within the next few days.
“I thought I was going to Philadelphia, and my agent texted me, so I never thought I was going to Washington,” Wolters told RealGM. “It was kind of surreal when I think about it.”
Palpable relief and enjoyment filled Wolters, and he learned soon that it took a second trade to place him in a strong circumstance. Less than a half-hour later that night, John Hammond and the Milwaukee Bucks’ front office pulled off a deal to acquire Wolters.
“I’m happy I’m here,” Wolters said. “It’s definitely a pretty good situation.”
As it turns out, the Bucks executed a shrewd move in dealing for Wolters, and the 22-year-old has the look of a steady, reliable point guard long into his NBA life. He doesn’t lean on his athleticism, but rather his elusive craftiness and smart decision-making, especially as a cautious passer early in his career.
Four years at South Dakota State crafted Wolters into a confident ball handler, and he concedes he’s continuing to surprise people. He’s put up a staggering 34 assists to five turnovers through six games as a pro, a first-year player’s model of a nearly perfect quarterback rating. His coach, Larry Drew, and veterans have been enamored by his work ethic, his wise approach already. As Drew says, “Nate’s a gamer.”
Yes, injuries to Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight have allowed Wolters to take a larger role than he imagined this rapidly, but he’s limited a category – turnovers – that most rookie point guards pile up.
“I’m taking care of the ball pretty well, but I’m also being careful trying not to make mistakes,” Wolters said. “It’s a really small sample size, so we’ll see how it goes moving forward. We’ve got a lot of good players too. I’m learning what I can do, what I can’t do.”
Growing up in Minnesota, Wolters had been fond of Steve Nash and carefully watched his calculating approach, and he laughs when someone mentions that he could emulate his game after the two-time MVP. Even so, Wolters has layers of the court vision that Nash perfected and he still tunes into games Nash plays with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“When Nash is on, he’s one of my favorite players to watch,” Wolters said.
Wolters made his NBA debut at Madison Square Garden and remembers an early sequence when he crossed over his defender, drove to the rim, and was met by Tyson Chandler who bothered his shot release. He quickly learned: This isn’t college basketball anymore. These are physical big men lurking for him.
“When you get in the lane, it’s not 6-7, 6-8 guys, like in college. It’s seven-footers,” Wolters said. “I have to be a little more crafty, and it’s a harder finish, a lot harder to get shots off in the lane. Those lessons and this opportunity will definitely help as my career goes forward. There’s a lot to learn still, but each game I feel I’m getting more comfortable.”
From an under the radar collegiate career at South Dakota State University to the second round of the NBA draft, the first trade, then another, was so surreal for him. Fifteen minutes after the 76ers landed him from the Wizards, the Milwaukee Bucks pushed to acquire Nate Wolters, and they brought a guard hardened out of the Midwest a little closer to home.