Not even a long layoff could cool Derrick Walton Jr.
After closing his Michigan career playing arguably as well as anyone in the nation, Walton seemingly picked up where he left off in the Orlando Summer League last week.
In four summer league games with the Orlando Magic, Walton shot 46.9 percent from the field (15-for-32), 50 percent from 3-point range (6-for-12), and averaged 10 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 20.8 minutes. He came off the bench in three contests and started once, finishing with a positive plus-minus rating three times.
“I feel like I fit in and I stood out,” Walton said earlier this week. “Overall, I think it was just a good experience to be able to go out there and play and kind of get used to the professional game.
“I feel like I was just playing the game with the ability that I was blessed with. I was just playing the way I finished off (last season), just trying to show that's who I really am consistently.”
Walton showcased his court vision, slick passing, ability to operate in the pick-and-roll and shooting prowess against the increased competition, particularly in the first two contests where he shot 61.5 percent from the field (8-for-13) and 50 percent from 3-point range (4-for-5).
Despite the knock on his size (6-foot, 190 pounds), Walton’s demeanor, smarts and toughness earned rave reviews and impressed Magic summer league coach Chad Forcier, who admitted he became a fan of the former Wolverine.
“I'm not a guy that gets rattled and nothing really phases me,” Walton said. “I think they were really blown away by how I made tough shots, orchestrated the offense and competed.
“They thought I was doing really in all facets of the game but I just think I can get better with the feel of the game, knowing the ins and outs and like in college I want to be pretty much a step ahead.”
Walton’s best performance came against former teammate Zak Irvin and the Miami Heat, scoring 13 points with 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-2 on 3-pointers), three rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes off the bench.
After battling in practice daily and playing in the backcourt together at Michigan for four years, Walton said it was a change of pace to look down and see Irvin sitting on the opposing bench. Yet, that didn’t take away from the duo rooting for and supporting one another.
"It was kind of funny actually because when we were in college we would try to play open gyms as much as possible on opposite teams to make it really competitive,” he said. “In a game setting it was a little weird.
“But it was cool. It was good to see him competing and pretty much trying to do what our childhood dreams are.”
Walton also played with a pair of familiar faces on the Magic — former Michigan State standouts Kalin Lucas and Matt Costello. Walton credited Lucas, whom he primarily backed up, with helping him adjust to the level of play, while he and Costello suited up on the same team for the first time since high school when they were AAU teammates on Dorian’s Pride.
Walton added he couldn’t help but let the two Spartans what the score was the last time he faced Michigan State, an 86-57 blowout win at Crisler Center on Feb. 7.
While Walton certainly strengthened his case with his summer league showing, it’s unlikely he’ll stick with the Magic, who already have point guards Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack on their roster.
Still, Walton’s body of work at Michigan as well as the combine, draft workouts and summer league could net him a training camp invite or a spot in the Development League.
He’s in constant contact with his agents about his offers and what the next best move is. But after watching 25 teams pass on him in the draft and take players he thought he outplayed — the Cavaliers, Warriors, Clippers, Grizzlies and Wizards didn’t have a pick — Walton knows he still has his work cut out to achieve his NBA dream.
“I mean I was already pretty hungry,” Walton said, “but (going undrafted) just gave me a lot more fuel to the fire.”