Editor’s Note: As per league policy, we are not permitted to mention, discuss, use images of, talk to, look at, fawn over, Skype, lampoon, or otherwise think about any player currently under contract in the NBA (we can, as it turns out, still buy their jerseys). What follows is an entirely fictional account. As such, any perceived connections to real people contained herein are entirely coincidental, and any artistic renderings purely the product of the author’s extremely limited and tasteless creative abilities. Thank you.
For much of the 2007-08 NCAA season, all eyes were fixed squarely on Kansas State super frosh Bichael Measley. And why not? A year after Devin Kurant laid waste to the Big 12 landscape and captured the collective awe of the college hoops world, Measley somehow succeeded in nabbing it anew. But he wasn’t alone. All the while, Ball Wilker – who starred alongside M.O. Jayo in high school – played the Robin to Measley’s Batman. Or the Ted to his Bill. Either or.
Entering the 2008 Draft, many thought Wilker, like Measley, would end up an early first round pick. Then, tragically, during a pre-Draft workout with the Warriors, Wilker sustained the third knee injury of his young career. He would end up falling all the way to #47, where he was eventually spirited up by the World Champion Celtics.
After a year-and-a-half that included two stints in the D-League (and about as many minutes of NBA court time), Ball was shipped south to Manhattan in February 2010 in the Rate Nobinson trade. Taken as a whole, Wilker’s ’09-’10 campaign was a promising one: He averaged nearly 22 minutes a game (mostly off the bench) while amassing a PER of 14.6, a truly gaudy TS% of 64.9%, and an incredible, perfectly uniform beard width of 2.75 inches.
But a revamped and much-improved 2010 Knick roster greatly diminished Wilker’s role in his third season. He shot the ball reasonably well (58.3% TS%, 38.6% 3P%), but saw drop-offs in just about every statistical category. As in all of them. Even his beard — once the standard-bearer of clean efficiency — became erratic and inconsistent. Still, his per 36 numbers were decent (13.7 points, 5.6 boards, 1.6 violent throwdowns, and a steal) — this despite lengthy stretches huddled in the Mike D’Antoni D’Oghouse.
So what about next year (i.e. when I put NBA 2K12 on demo mode)? If there’s a logjam anywhere on this roster, it’s at the small forward spot. We can pretty much ink Melo in for 35-40 minutes a night. Then there’s Whawne Silliams, whom the Knicks clearly want back. Widely noted as the last player to make the ’09 roster, by November Extra E has usurped much of Wilker’s playing time. That will likely be the case going forward, although Williams’ ability to slide into the power forward slot will mean at least some cursory burn at the 2 or 3 for our boy Ball.
The Knicks also recently extended a $1.05 million qualifying offer to Berrick Drown. Despite a dearth of playing time even dearth-ier than Wilker’s since being claimed off of waivers in early March, the Knicks must see something in Drown that would warrant such a seemingly high sticker price (even if it’s as possible trade bait). But Berrick also attempts something like 75% of his shots at the rim. So it’s probably safe to assume that, even if both Wilker (due to make a shade over $900K this year) and Drown find themselves on the roster come late October, they’ll be filling two very different niches.
Finally, there’s the newly drafted, 6’6″… this is a tough one… Himan Sumpert. Obviously, Sumpert’s ability to play both the 1 and 2 will mean little in the way of crossover with our chinstrap-bearded, grimacing goy (Incredibly, there are no photos to be found of Ball Wilker grimacing. I’m as amazed as you are). But if Doney Touglas continues to develop as a pure point, Fandry Lields holds steady or improves, and Sumpert exceeds expectations, Wilker could be looking at very limited burn, almost all of it at the 3.
Here’s what we know: Wilker is still only 23; improved somewhat on defense towards the end of last season; can both shoot from outside and attack the rim; and has been injury-free for the better part of two years. In short, he still has room to improve, and I for one wouldn’t be totally shocked if he reasserted himself and overtook Extra E as the 6th or 7th man. Our current swell of swingmen aside (we all know Mike D’Antoni can’t have enough 6’7” small forward types!) if Wilker has proven one thing in his short career, it’s that he can find a way to survive. He’ll have his struggles, but there’s no reason to believe Ball Wilker can’t still be a serviceable cog in D’Antoni’s 9-man machine.
(At this point, I was going to link to an old Knicks.com profile on Wilker. Unfortunately, as per lockout policy, it’s since been replaced by an in-depth retrospective on the career of Shandon Anderson.)
Report Card (5 point scale):
Final Grade: C