Monday, July 24, 2017

Walton Watch: Walton signs two-way contract with Miami Heat

Big Ten Media Days kicked off today in Chicago, an annual tradition full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (okay, maybe I just recently reread Macbeth). Commissioner Jim Delany talked about the the conference's newest TV deal and offered not much else of substance ... that is, unless you love FCS teams on your team's schedule.

But, when it comes to Big Ten Media Days, that's to be expected. It's a nothing event creating nothing stories, with no tough questions or illuminating answers. In short, it's a glorified small-talk chamber.

In actual news that you might care about today, Derrick Walton signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat. He will join the Heat's G League (the artist formerly known as the D League) team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Walton impressed during his stint on the Orlando Magic summer roster, which he shared with former Michigan State Spartan Kalin Lucas. Despite his play, the Magic's signing of Shelvin Mack seemed to have closed a door there, as the team already had starter Elfrid Payton and highly paid backup D.J. Augustin on the roster.

Walton clearly did enough to get a chance elsewhere.

The Heat appear to only be carrying two point guards right now (Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson). As NBA fans know, the Heat nearly made the playoffs despite a dreadful first half, only to finish 30-11 in their last 41 games.

Dragic is a veteran and the 25-year-old Johnson had a strong third season in 2016-17, averaging 13.7 ppg and shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Obviously, Walton will have to put in work in the G League, but if he plays like he did during the summer league, he'll get his shot on the big stage. As mentioned before, you only need look to Yogi Farrell this past season to see a player like Walton, overlooked in the draft process, who managed to burst onto the NBA scene in-season.

Meanwhile, fellow Wolverine Zak Irvin also inked a deal, only his will take him to Italy's VL Pesaro. If his life is anything like Aziz Ansari's in the second season of "Master of None," a life of pasta-making, vespa-riding, on top of playing basketball, sounds pretty, pretty good.

Also in the column of "pretty good" -- as new MLive beat reporter Aaron McMann notes in the aforementioned link -- is V LPesaro's description of Irvin as an "excellent technical schoolman." If we do anything in this life, we must strive to be excellent technical schoolmen/women.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Walton Watch: Solid day for Derrick Walton, but challenger Kalin Lucas shines in Magic win against Knicks

Derrick Walton's quest for a spot to prove himself further in the Orlando Magic's training camp continued Wednesday against the New York Knicks.

Unfortunately for Walton, fellow point guard and former Michigan State Spartan Kalin Lucas stole the show Wednesday.

I recapped Walton's first three games on Monday -- thus far, Walton has turned heads with his ability to direct the action on the floor while also hitting his own shots, both at the rim and from outside.

Through two games, he led the Orlando summer squad in points. On Monday, Walton dropped five assists, but finished just 4-for-12 from the field after playing an excellent first half. The announcers posited fatigue was the cause -- maybe, maybe not.

On Wednesday, Walton's Magic took on the New York Knicks. As I've mentioned here previously, Walton is in a pretty good situation with a Magic squad that is not exactly set in its point guard rotation.

However, Walton does have some competition within the summer league squad from Lucas, a player familiar to Michigan fans.

Lucas didn't play Monday (Walton got the start), but he stole the show in Wednesday's 84-73 Magic (2-2) win.

In 31 minutes, Lucas scored 20 points while tallying seven assists and three steals -- an impressive performance for Lucas, who is already a member of the Erie BayHawks. He was acquired by the team in December, and has bounced around quite a bit since his days in East Lansing, first playing overseas before bouncing around NBA and developmental league rosters.

I didn't get to watch today's game, but clearly Lucas brought his A-game with Walton charging hard for a camp spot. Walton, meanwhile, in 20 minutes scored nine points on 3-for-7 shooting (2-for-3 from beyond the arc) with four assists, two rebounds and zero turnovers (Lucas had two).

Through four games, Walton's stat line is pretty good: 10 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, 15-for-32 from the field (46.9 percent) and 6-for-12 from three (50 percent).

Scan Magic Twitter or other Magic social media pages and you'll find Magic fans raving about Walton. Lucas, however, has acquitted himself well -- having bounced around as much as he has, he's looking to leave his mark during the Summer League.

But has it been enough?

We'll find out soon. Either way, Walton has made Magic followers take notice. From Orlando Magic Daily:
But the attention, as it sometimes does in Summer League, went elsewhere. To the shiny new toy. 
Derrick Walton Jr., a rookie from Lucas’ college’s in-state rival, quickly stole the spotlight. Fans began salivating over Walton’s passing and driving ability. He took over a lot of the scoring load. The buzz around Summer League quickly became about Walton and his chances to make the Magic’s training camp roster. 
Walton supplanted Lucas as the starting point guard for the team’s third game against the Dallas Mavericks with Lucas sitting out the entire game.
 Internet buzz is just that, buzz, but the chatter about Walton has been mostly glowing.
The Magic close Summer League play at 10 a.m. Thursday against Charlotte.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Walton Watch: Solid first half for Michigan's Walton in Magic's third Summer League game

Derrick Walton continued to make his case for a shot at a roster spot during Summer League play Monday.

As mentioned last week, the undrafted Walton finds himself in a solid situation on the Orlando summer squad. The Magic point guard depth chart is particularly inviting for an undrafted player looking to make an NBA team.

The Magic return starter Elfrid Payton, who closed the 2016-17 well but still struggles as a shooter. Backup point guard D.J. Augustin is entering the second year of a four-year deal, but he wasn't exactly impressive this past season. C.J. Watson's contract for next season is only partially guaranteed.

In short, Summer League is Walton's chance to make an impact, get a camp invite and potentially get a shot to make the roster.
While it wasn't his best day from the field, Walton did just that in Orlando's third Summer League game of the season.

"When Walton's out there, they just seem to get good looks," commentator Greg Anthony said during the third quarter of the Magic's matchup Monday against Dallas.

Although the Magic squandered a big first-half lead, Walton made an impact throughout the first half, flashing his ability as a floor general. At no point did he looked rushed or overwhelmed.

Heading into today, Walton led the squad with 11.5 points per game (in two games), just ahead of former Michigan State Spartan Kalin Lucas' 11.0 ppg.

In the Magic's third game of the summer, Walton wasn't incredibly efficient with his own shot (8 points, 4-for-12 shooting), but he finished with five assists (his best assist total in three SL games to date). Unfortunately for Walton, he went 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. The NBA TV announcers said it seemed like he might have run out of gas in the second half -- hard to tell, but he certainly wasn't as impressive in the second.

I can't say I watch too much Summer League basketball, but the announcers spent quite a bit of time throughout the game -- and especially in the first half -- praising Walton, even going so far as to predict he'll not only make the Magic's roster, but figure into the rotation.

On Saturday, Walton scored 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting, with three rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes.

On Sunday, Walton dropped 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, with three rebounds and three assists in just under 22 minutes.

While you can't read too much into SL play, it is an important time for players like Walton, who want to put additional data out there to convince teams to give them a shot.

So far, Walton looks like he belongs in the conversation. Plus, as mentioned, Orlando needs reserve point guard help.

Walton and the Magic will next take the floor Wednesday against the Knicks. The Knicks roster includes former Wisconsin star Nigel Hayes, who, like Walton, also went undrafted.