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Buffs in the NBA: How did the alumni do in 2022-23?

It was a tanktastic season for most of Colorado’s NBA alumni.

Sacramento Kings v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2022-23 NBA regular season wrapped up on Sunday. The play-in is set, the playoffs are looming and the other ten teams not included can decommission the tank brigade for the next few months.

Seven Colorado Buffaloes alumni appeared in the NBA this season: Derrick White, Spencer Dinwiddie, Alec Burks, McKinley Wright and Jabari Walker, plus coaches Chauncey Billups and Jamahl Mosley. The last three players, plus the coaches, had their final games on Sunday, so we can start with them.

Jabari Walker was not supposed to play as much he did. He was the 57th pick in the 2022 draft and was a toss-up to even earn a spot on Portland’s 15-man roster. After a strong Summer League in which he displayed his feel for the game, defensive IQ, rebounding ability and just enough shooting, he made the team and got a few minutes here and there. The Blazers didn’t prioritize his development as much because they were gunning for a playoff spot, until they weren’t. Once he got minutes, the Blazers were in full tank mode, giving heavy minutes to the likes of Kevin Knox, John Walker Jr. and Jeenathan Williams. There’s not much to take away from his season but Bari will have to continue working on his jumper to get on the floor more.

As to why the Blazers were worse than expected, well, it turns out Billups might not be a good NBA coach. The players love him — Jerami Grant said he’d run through a brick wall for him — but fans have complained all season about defensive schemes that don’t work, late adjustments, lack of timeouts, and late-game collapses. The Blazers were relatively healthy and had a tremendous season from Damian Lillard, but things never clicked and that may lie on the coach. It seems like Billups would be better suited to a more developmental situation — like, say, Detroit — because he might not be ready to coach a win-now team.

Speaking of unexpected tanks, McKinley Wright IV earned a rotation spot on the Dallas Mavericks just before everything went down the drain. After initially signing a two-way contract, Wright earned a one-year deal to be the fourth guard behind Luka Doncic, Dinwiddie/Kyrie Irving and Frank Ntilikina. He was in and out of the rotation but played fairly well when he got minutes, averaging 12 points and 6 assists per 36 minutes — nothing special, but he’s a caretaker point guard who plays hard defense. It’s unclear if Dallas plans on bringing him back, but then again no one knows what’s going to happen there after years of roster mismanagement.

Alec Burks played a vital role on the Detroit Pistons, but he turns out to be too good to play while they lost 23 of their last 25 games to finish with the league’s worst record. When he did play, he had the same role as he’s had for the last few years now, which is to be a stabilizing presence off the bench, handling the ball a bit, making smart passes and hitting open threes. The Pistons were a bit of a mess without Cade Cunningham, but they needed all the shooting they could get to open the floor for Jaden Ivey to experiment and develop his skills. Burks will be back in Detroit next year and they should be a lot better with Cunningham, Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic and whoever they draft with their first pick. (Please no more Killian Hayes, I’m begging.)

The last tanking coach was Jamahl Mosley on the Orlando Magic. He did everything right as the head coach of a rebuilding team. Paolo Banchero had free reign to develop his skills, Franz Wagner took a big step forward in his second year, Wendell Carter Jr. continues to be one of the league’s most underrated players, Markelle Fultz has rebuilt himself, and even Bol Bol and Jalen Suggs look like real NBA players after looking lost in seasons prior. If the Magic can add some veteran depth to nurture this development, they could have a very bright future with Mosley leading the way.

Spencer Dinwiddie was lucky to avoid the nightmare in Dallas. He returned to the Brooklyn Nets in that Kyrie Irving trade and immediately made himself comfortable again. The Nets were a strange collection of trade pieces after what transpired with Kyrie and Kevin Durant, but it worked out enough for them to clinch the 6th-seed in the East. The breakout star was Mikal Bridges, my love, but Dinwiddie deserves a ton of credit for his 16.5 points and 9.1 assists per game after the trade. His efficiency was worse than usual — and it’s never good, tbh — but the Nets still had a superb offense with him re-orienting his guard from secondary scorer to primary facilitator. They probably need him to get hot to have any chance of beating the Philadelphia 76ers in he first round.

Finally, we have Derrick White, an essential glue guy on the Boston Celtics, the co-favorites to the win the Finals. When he’s not repping CU gear on the team bus, White has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, an unselfish ball-mover and a more-than-solid three point shooter. He’s the perfect 2-guard to fit next to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, as their collective defensive ability and versatility make them adaptable to any opposing offense. White will be an x-factor in the Celtics’ title chase.