Former Michigan star Derrick Walton Jr. talks about how the combine helped him, and his workouts for NBA teams. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — Derrick Walton Jr. walked into the media room with an air of confidence, as if he had just aced his job interview.
In many ways, it was an interview, with Walton finishing his pre-draft workout with the Pistons on Tuesday morning at the practice facility. It’s been a precipitous ascent for Walton, the former Michigan guard who also played in high school at Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods.
Last month, he was one of the last invitees to the NBA draft combine in Chicago, after a few other top names opted to skip it. Now, he’s working his way through a growing number of draft workouts — the Pistons’ was his ninth, with three more to go — and confidence that he might be selected in the draft on June 22.
“A lot of teams are bringing me in, and I’m wowing them even more when they see me shoot well,” said Walton, who averaged 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and five assists and hit 42 percent on 3-pointers last season as a senior. “My stats speak for themselves and (teams) seeing me shoot big numbers and on a large scale, it’s eye-popping for them.”
Although Walton isn’t projected even in the second round of any of the major mock drafts, he hopes that his recent streak of good performances in workouts can get him a longer look, possibly on a summer league squad and then leading to a training camp invitation in the fall.
There’s still a long way to go before all of that is figured out, but for now, he’s just taking it one workout at a time. That’s gone from the Nets, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Lakers, Clippers, Jazz and Hornets and Pistons. He’s looking to lineup three more, with the Pelicans, Magic and Kings, before the draft.
One of the keys to his surge is his familiarity with some of the drills in the workouts.
“We’ve been doing a lot of the drills that we’ve done at Michigan for the last four years,” Walton said. “I’ve got really good feelings about it all. My reps tell me (my draft spot) is open from anywhere.
“We don’t give a range, but there are a lot of teams with picks or looking to get picks.”
The Pistons could be one of those teams, but they don’t currently have a second-round pick, but could trade for one, if they’re looking to add Walton as a third point guard who can be developed slowly behind the veterans.
Even if he’s not drafted, Walton could choose which team he might want to sign with as a free agent and play for them during summer league to get a closer look. Either way, he’s looking to live out his dream and play in the NBA.
“Overall, this has always been my end goal. I always set personal goals aside when it came to team. I haven’t had a pinch-myself moment but an ‘Aha!’ moment, being able to put myself in a situation that I’ve always dreamed of.
“I’m been very blessed and I want to take advantage of it.”
At 6-foot-1, Walton’s biggest challenge is his size, but with above-average shooting, he can overcome some of the questions about what he can bring offensively. With four years of college experience, he can bring a level of maturity that most of the younger and one-and-done prospects can’t: savvy.
In most of his workouts, Walton has noticed that teams are taking note of his overall game and not just focusing on individual parts of his game.
“I’m just a guy who can shoot it, can run a team and compete and rebound. There are a lot of things they say they like about me and it’s just starting to do those things at a different level,” Walton said. “’The word was pretty consistent prior to the combine. That was an outlet for me to put my name out there a little more.
“The combine was a great opportunity and I was grateful to get it and take advantage of it.”
Now, he’s just looking for a chance. And it might not be as risky a move to select Walton in the draft. His style is drawing comparisons to former Cavaliers two-way guard Terrell Brandon with his toughness on both ends.
It’ll make for an uneasy evening on draft night.
And it’ll take on a special meaning if he somehow ends up in a Pistons uniform.
“It would be an extreme honor and dream come true to play for my hometown team,” Walton said.