Player Preview: Deron Washington

Deron Washington scores over Greg Paulus. (HokieSports.com)

Essentials

Position: Small forward/ shooting guard

Age: 23

Height: 6-foot-7

Weight: 210 pounds

Years pro: Rookie

From: Virginia Tech

Role

Not much of one for now. I had hopes Washington could be a defensive stopper off the bench. But this obviously isn’t an indicator of getting on the court much:

Said (Pistons coach John) Kuester, “That first week of practice, he was lost.”

Although Washington didn’t play in the Piston’s first preseason game, he has played in the three since.

Still, a slipup like his first week on such a deep team probably puts him behind the curve in the fight for minutes.

Scouting report

Will: Show off his athleticism.

That might mean a number of things – defending, running the fast break, getting loose balls or grabbing offensive rebounds. When he’s on the court, his energy should stand out.

Won’t: Make jumpers.

Washington made just 26.9 percent of his 3-pointers his senior year at Virginia Tech. And that was after making them a point of emphasis the previous summer.

Must improve: Free-throw shooting.

There are two main ways Washington can earn minutes: running the court well on fast beaks and coming in as a defensive stopper at the end of games.

And he would be so much more valuable at both if he was a just a little better of a free-throw shooter.

Washington made just 61.6 of his free throws at Virginia Tech and 37.5 percent in the summer league this year. If he can get that to 70 percent, his value skyrockets.

Stock

Rising

Washington has a non-guaranteed contract, but it’s well-accepted he’ll make the team. After playing in Israel last year, that has to be a good feeling for him.

Three predictions

1. The first time Washington plays meaningful minutes, he will impress.

Kuester probably won’t go to Washington until there’s a situation where Detroit looks lethargic. Washington will come in and inject life to he Pistons and look like one of their top players.

2. Washington will play in fewer than half Detroit’s games this year.

I think he’ll spend a good amount of time on the inactive list. And isn’t he a prime candidate for the D-League?

3. Washington will never receive regular NBA minutes.

A lot of players come through the NBA with great athleticism, but limited skills. A large majority don’t stick.

Washington seems like a good guy, but just playing the odds, he won’t last in the NBA.

For each of the Pistons’ new players, I want  get another voice (or more) besides my own into the previews – someone who has seen these players up close more than I have. I call this feature “in other words.”

In other words: Brad Greenberg

Before he became the head coach at Radford, Brad Greenberg was an assistant on his brother Seth’s staff at Virginia Tech, where he coached Washington for three years.

Brad Greenberg was also the Philadelphia 76ers’ GM from 1996-97, when they drafted Allen Iverson, and spent seven years in the Portland Trail Blazers’ front office.

He was nice enough to answer a few questions about Washington.

When you coached him, did you see any skills that were NBA-ready?

He had a tremendous quickness and spring and courage. He was a fearless player.

Some people don’t think those are skills, but I think those are pretty valuable things in the NBA, as athletic as the players are.

He has the physical attributes to get to balls and make some plays that players who just aren’t as quick or as springy or as bold and courageous can make.

What do you think about his label of being more of an athlete than a basketball player?

I think he’s worked hard to develop a lot of his basketball skills. He’s improved over the years as a shooter. He’s improved as a ball handler. He’s improved, I think, as a passer.

But he’s still a young player. I think most people, when they say that, they’re talking more about offensive skills. His defensive instincts are advanced.

He’s a young player and still developing and will keep working to get better

Kuester said Washington looked “lost” the first week of practice, but that he picked things up after that. When he first came to Virginia Tech, did he have similar problems?

No, he was able to learn offensive and defensive tactics – no problem. The NBA is a much more complicated and fast-paced process for young players. …

Even now, watching preseason exhibition games, teams are running are running fairly complex offenses and reading off each other while playing. And they haven’t been going very long.

So, I think for any young player, that’s an adjustment.

In college, Washington guarded anywhere from point guards to power forwards. Is he limited to covering shooting guard and small forwards in the NBA?

I think that’s ideal. He matches up best with players close to his height. …

He’s very quick, though, and hard-working if he were matched up with a bigger, stronger guy who tries to post him up. He’s learned how to use his quickness to compensate for if he’s giving up some size or giving up some weight.

Is the ideal system for him offensively something more up-tempo?

I don’t know. … It might be easier for him to attack the basket on a team that was extremely aggressive at trying to create open-court situations.

That’s one of his best things – to use that quickness to drive to the basket. So, he probably have a few more opportunities to do some things with the floor spread out. …

He’s pretty good at one or two dribbles, 25 feet and in, and just attack the basket and use his quickness. That could play to his strengths more than a team that was going to walk the ball up the court.

Everybody talks about his dunks, but what are some nuances in his game that, unless you watch him closely, you’re not going to appreciate?

I think he moves well without the ball. He’s a pretty good cutter. …

He can get out and fill the lane. So, obviously, he’s a good runner to go out and fill the lane.

To dunk the ball, you’ve got to get yourself in position. He’s got great instincts at trying to crash the offensive glass. …

He’s got a unique ability to chase down a breakaway and block what looks like a clear-path layup from behind. …

There are some players who have done that over the years in the NBA that I was always amazed by. I was lucky, in my years with the Trail Blazers, Jerome Kersey was incredible at that. He could be five feet behind a guy on a breakaway. And miraculously, he could catch up and time it and pin the ball to the glass.

Deron is incredibly aggressive at trying to make that kind of play. He’s able to make some plays that basically erase clear-path layups.

What’s something about Deron most people would be surprised to know?

His mom was a great athlete. He’s probably the third best athlete in his family behind his dad and his mom.

(His mom, Denise, played basketball at Xavier University in New Orleans. His dad, Lionel, played defensive back at Tulane and for 15 seasons in the NFL. He’s now the Oakland Raiders’ defensive backs coach.)

What’s Deron like off the court?

He’s a very nice, wonderful young man, respectful, quiet, loves basketball. He’s a good guy. He’s just a good guy.

He’s been raised real well. He’s been around pro athletes with his dad and football. I think he knows that character is an important part of having a chance to be a pro player.

In other words: Darryl Slater

Darryl Slater covers Virginia Tech for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and also took the time to answer a few questions.

How would you assess Deron’s game?

He’s a great defender. He’s so long and lanky. He was their guy at the top of their press when they did press.

He was a versatile defender. He was able to guard anyone from a point guard to a power forward. His length really helped him with that.

And that’s why he fit so well into Seth Greenberg’s system. Seth likes gritty kind of defenders. And Deron, as I recall, was that.

He’s not a great shooter. I know that’s one thing he wanted to work on going into his senior year. … I don’t think he ended up doing much in terms of his field-goal percentage. (It actually dropped from .503 to .416.) …

I think that’s what, obviously, has kept him from being very attractive to NBA teams. …

But he’s a pretty tenacious player. I think another knock on him is his frame. …

He’s pretty swift in his ability to get to the rim. He’s one of those gliding kind of guys.

I’m sure you’ve seen some those dunks that he’s had, like the one where he got over Greg Paulus. He’s iconic here for those.

Do you agree with the assessment that Washington is more of an athlete than a basketball player?

At the college level, where I saw him, he was a very good player. He wasn’t a 100-percent complete player, but few guys are. He was very effective in the ACC.

But as a pro, that probably is more true.

You mention he got to the rim very easily and smoothly. Was that mostly in transition, or could he do it in the half-court, too?

Definitely in transition, for sure, he could out-run guys.

I think of one moment from his senior year. They were playing Virginia up in Virginia. … He drove to the basket (for the game-winning layup at the buzzer). It was a half-court situation off an inbounds play. …

That’s one of the iconic moments of his career, for me at least. People talk about those dunks and stuff like that, but this was just a great sense of basketball awareness.

I mean, he’s not like Dr. J or anything getting to the rim. But that’s good basketball sense.

Do you have a sense of what kind of guy he is, what kind of presence he is in the locker room?

Great guy. …

He was so close to his mom. He’s from New Orleans, and she was living down there after he came to college. After Katrina, their house got destroyed. …

She moved to Blacksburg, and she got an apartment, so she could be close to him. He’s really, really close to his mom. She’s like one of his best friends.

He’s really a super approachable guy. He’s one of the nicer guys I’ve dealt with. … Always willing to talk after the game, never got snippy, never got surly.

I don’t know how he did with his teammates, but I always got the sense that he wasn’t necessarily a really, really vocal leader. …

But I got the impression guys like him. I liked him. Really down to earth.

Anything else Pistons fans should know about him?

He can’t palm a basketball. For a guy who’s a great dunker, I remember writing that a few times, how ironic.

The guy’s got smaller hands than I do I think, and I’m like 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3.

Slater was kind enough to send over his pre-draft story on Washington, too. A couple excerpts:

Few college players leap higher than Washington, a 6-7, 205-pound forward blessed with an elastic body that makes him a fast-break offensive threat and versatile defender. Problem is, Washington won’t be able to play in the NBA as he did in college.

Because of his spindly build, he’ll have to move farther from the basket, where his weaknesses could be exposed. An NBA team will insist that Washington develop an outside shot; he made 41.6 percent last season and 26.9 percent on 3-pointers.

"It’s not just shooting," said Keith Drum, a North Carolina-based college scout for the Sacramento Kings. "He’s going to have to improve ballhandling, decision-making with the ball away from the basket. His athleticism and energy are good enough. It’s the physical strength and the skill set that will have to get a little bit better. But the strength is less of a problem as he moves away from the basket."

Washington’s scoring and rebounding averages increased every year at Tech, and his career averages were 11 points and 5.4 rebounds. But (Virigina Tech coach Seth) Greenberg knows Washington’s defense might be his biggest asset.

"How many guys in the draft can guard Sean Singletary, Jack McClinton and [James] Gist?" he said, referring to Virginia’s shifty 6-foot point guard, Miami’s 6-1 perimeter ace and Maryland’s 6-9 power forward.

Said Drum: "Defensively, I think he’s capable of guarding people away from the basket because of his energy and his athleticism."

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