The NBA season officially begins on October 16th, and with that, it’s time to check in on the five former Colorado Buffaloes players who will see time in the Association.
Derrick White, PG, San Antonio Spurs
It’s rare for late first round picks to see much time in their rookie seasons because they’re usually joining playoff contenders who have quality starts and veterans filling out the bench. That was no different for Derrick White as he played in just 17 games in the NBA. Even without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs didn’t really need him with Dejounte Murray and Danny Green starting and with Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Tony Parker and Kyle Anderson rounding out the bench. Now Leonard, Green, Ginobili, Parker and Anderson are all gone, and though former Raptors star DeMar DeRozan comes in, White was positioned to be a primary option off the bench.
White’s role was also dependent on the presence of Murray starting at point as a defensive terror. But Murray tore his ACL on Sunday and will out for the season. Mills, the Spurs’ longtime sixth man, seems to be the natural choice to move into the starting lineup, but Gregg Popovich prefers his one-dimension game to remain on the second unit. That leaves White as the starter. He’s not the defender Murray is, nor is he the shot-creator Mills is, but he’s a solid shooter, passable defender and intelligent playmaker; his skills, though limited, will fit with DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge dominating the ball. Most importantly for White, however, is that he is always improving. The more time he sees as starter, the more his game will grow. If you’re looking for the next Spurs breakout player to help extend their legendary playoff streak, White could be that.
Spencer Dinwiddie, PG/SG, Brooklyn Nets
Dinwiddie started last season as the Nets’ third guard, but with injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell, he broke out as Brooklyn’s best player and was a finalist for the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Last season was what we all expected from Dinwiddie’s NBA career before he tore his ACL at Colorado. He was a projected first round pick before his injury, then fell to 38th overall, stagnated with the development-adverse Pistons (Detroit also jettisoned Khris Middleton for nothing), then never saw an opportunity with the woeful Bulls (they chose Cameron Payne over him). The Nets scooped him up in 2016 hoping to find to strike gold. Knowing Dinwiddie, he was never going to languish in the NBA G League. The second an NBA team gave him a chance, he was going to prove himself as a quality NBA player.
Now in his third season with the Nets, he’s projected to start alongside the injury-plagued Russell. The Nets will start four shooters around an absurdly athletic rim-runner in Jarrett Allen. They’re going to run the spread pick-and-roll and play as a high pace — the perfect style for Dinwiddie to shine as both creator and scorer. The only qualm for Dinwiddie is that after a hot-shooting first half of the season, his percentages cratered. Perhaps that was fatigue, or maybe teams started to focus on him. But if he bounces back and forces teams to respect his jumper, he might be Brooklyn’s best player in what could be a surprising push to the playoffs.
Andre Roberson, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Roberson’s season won’t begin until December, as he is still recovering from a gruesome injury sustained last February. The injury he suffered, a torn patellar tendon in the right knee, is very uncommon. The few players who have recovered from the injury have had drop-offs worse than players who suffered torn ACLs or torn Achilles tendons, according to this study, although that could be subject to small sample size.
If Roberson returns to full strength or close to it, he will remain one of the NBA’s best defenders. In his last healthy season, he was named second-team All-Defense, behind only Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green at forward. Last season, he was the lynchpin in an elite OKC defense, and once he was injured, that unit fell off drastically. In 2018-19, the Thunder will start Russell Westbrook, Roberson, Paul George, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams. Besides Westbrook half-assing for long stretches, that could be the best defensive starting lineup in the association. Roberson is a minus offensively (especially with non-shooters Grant and Adams there too), but he should still be an essential piece in OKC’s push for a top-4 finish in the loaded Western Conference.
Alec Burks, SG, Utah Jazz
Every year I write this article and every year I have no idea how much Alec Burks will play. He could be anything from spark plug 6th man to racking up DNP after DNP. He played in just 100 total games from 2014-2017 thanks to a litany of injuries. In those three seasons, he was always presumed to be a key bench player, but he couldn’t stay on the floor. Burks was poised to break out last season after Gordon Hayward departed for Boston, but Donovan Mitchell blew up in his rookie season. After the starting trio of Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles, Utah has a staggering assortment of bench wings in Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale, Dante Exum, Thabo Sefolosha, Grayson Allen and Burks. (It should be noted that just about everyone there struggles with injuries.) Besides Allen, Burks is the worst defender of the bunch, but he’s also the best playmaker and seemingly the only one capable of playing in transition for an otherwise slow-paced team. If head coach Quin Snyder is fine sacrificing defense and spacing for an electric slasher who can be a spark plug on the second unit, he could see a lot more of Burks this season.
George King, SF/PF, Phoenix Suns
King was a superb role player on the young Buffaloes last season, and he was rewarded by hearing his name called by the Phoenix Suns with the 59th pick in the NBA Draft. King comes into the NBA as a combo forward who should be able to contribute with his versatile defense and sweet shooting. He’s undersized and unskilled compared to other NBA wings, but he’s a ridiculously hard worker who will continue to expand and develop his game. He signed a two-way contract with the Suns, meaning he will likely split time between the NBA and G League.
The Suns should be one of the worst teams in the NBA and they should tank once again, but they did just fire their GM Ryan McDonough, presumably because team owner Robert Sarver is impatient with a rebuild and wants to win now. With vets Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson now on the team (plus Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren), it may be difficult for rookie Mikal Bridges to see playing time, and he’s probably the second most NBA-ready player in this rookie class. If Bridges is glued to pine, it will be extremely difficult for King to see any playing time. But hopefully King will see a large role with the Northern Arizona Suns, develop his game there and set himself up to impress if he’s ever given a chance.