Orlando teammates Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn dominated the headlines from Day 1 of the Orlando Summer League. However, O’Quinn’s (and even Nicholson’s) box score-friendly line came as a direct result of the dynamite play of an undrafted rookie point guard from Villanova. Maalik Wayns came to Orlando not expecting to start, but, thanks to the sudden departure of Ish Smith, authored the type of performance that catches the attention of the NBA decision-makers in attendance.
Throughout his game against New Jersey, he reaffirmed many of the positive traits he showcased at Villanova while unveiling a different side of his game. Obviously one game doesn’t render absolute truths of a player’s ability, but a string of performances like the one Wayns had on Monday will certainly improve his stock. At the very least, by being content to facilitate and manage the game, Waynes poked some holes in the “shoot-first” label he has carried with him from college.
His passing, too, was rather sublime. Nearly every pass, delivered with one hard or two, was on target. Wayns flashed the ability, to borrow a football term, to throw guys open. Whether it was a post entry or simply a contested ball reversal, he threw to a spot where only the offensive player could catch without abandoning his current position.
Wayns certainly has weaknesses in his game, which is why players like him go undrafted. Wayns often over-penetrated, even on his forays toward the rim that ended in assists. At his size, getting too deep into the paint before reaching a decision is almost a guaranteed turnover. Learning to play at less than top-end speed will help him find a pace that allows him to make smart, efficient decisions.
He also seems to lack any type of mid-range counter. Whether it’s a pull-up jumper, a two foot floater or a one foot runner, Wayns must concentrate on shots that he can get off in the paint, but not at the rim. His lack of length and limited explosiveness vertically will make finishes at the hoop in short supply at the next level.
Even with that said, the Wayns on display Monday has all the makings of a player who carves out a long career in the NBA with barely anyone noticing. His biggest obstacle to do so, however, will be finding the right fit. Even if he’s forced to red-shirt for a year (or two) in the NBA, he must land in a spot in which he can develop into a role that allows him to play to his strengths.
A player whose path was rather similar to this was JJ Barea, currently of the Timberwolves. When Barea was in Dallas, playing time in his first two years was scant. While surely frustrating, this slow development was likely the reason Barea is currently enjoying the spoils of a multi-year deal instead of toiling in Europe.
Like Wayns, Barea needed refinement on both his shot and his game before being asked to produce. If a team throws Wayns into the mix right away, expecting him to be a difference-maker on the second unit, he will likely disappoint and very quickly find himself in a nomadic existence overseas. If a smart team identifies his baseline ability to be a productive role player and patiently develops his game on the cheap, they will have a player capable of stepping into a role like Barea did for the 2011 Mavericks.
But for Wayns to go from undrafted summer league invitee to NBA player, he will need to count on the NBA’s most scarce resource: patience.