Justin Russo
Dec 9, 2019 · 8 min read
(Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sometimes the most eye-opening player in a game can play the most minutes or score the most points. Sometimes that player can grab the most rebounds or dish out the most assists. On Sunday evening in the nation’s capital, the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Washington Wizards, 135–119. Turns out, the most eye-opening player in that game was a little used undrafted guard out of Michigan.

Though he played just 12 minutes and 24 seconds, Derrick Walton Jr. had seven points, one rebound and one assist. While he was only a plus-6, it was the impact beyond just the sheer numbers that was noticeable. Walton Jr. hustled, competed and consistently put himself in the right spot time and time again throughout the course of the game.

Kawhi Leonard had a game-high 34 points, as well as 11 rebounds and five assists. He hit three shots from long range. Paul George finished with 27 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals. George did it in just 26 minutes, which makes him just one of three players in NBA history to ever have a stat line like that in that amount of time. Lou Williams dropped in 18 points and dished out six assists while Montrezl Harrell spun his way to 20 points and five rebounds.

But the story of the game, at least as far as the Clippers were concerned, probably was Walton Jr.’s performance more than anything else that transpired on the court. He subbed in with 2:02 to go in the third quarter and the Clippers nursing a three-point lead. By the time he checked out with 4:29 to go in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles had expanded the lead to nine. That stint proved to be a big help.

We’re going to end up looking at some of the plays that Derrick Walton Jr. made during this game. Several ended up in buckets for himself and one was just a really heady play to get the Clippers two great looks at the basket on one possession. Keep in mind that a lot of what Walton Jr. did wasn’t dialed up via sets or actions, but rather just him being engaged in the game and always in the right place.

Let’s roll the footage!

We’re going to kick this whole thing off with 35.2 seconds to go in the third quarter and 4.2 seconds to go on the shot clock. It’s a side out-of-bounds for the Clippers, which is one of the areas that Doc Rivers tends to excel at as a coach. This season, according to Synergy, the Los Angeles Clippers rank third in the entire NBA in points per possession (1.042) on side out-of-bounds plays.

It starts off with Montrezl Harrell being ball denied by Ian Mahinmi at the elbow as Lou Williams sets to inbound the ball. The Clippers want the ball to go into Harrell so he can likely execute a handoff with Williams at the wing and have Williams either take a pull-up three or run right into a pick-and-roll with Harrell. However, the overplay and ball denial by Mahinmi will prevent that from happening.

Recognizing the problems with inbounding the ball, Walton Jr. runs up to the wing and gets it as he’s being defended by Chris Chiozza. After catching, Walton Jr. is going to act like he’s driving hard to the right, which gets Chiozza to overplay the drive to that side. That allows Walton Jr. to crossover behind the back and get down the lane unimpeded thanks to Mahinmi being stuck on the perimeter and Davis Bertans floating out of the paint to keep Jerome Robinson within reach.

By the time Mahinmi reacts, he’s a step behind Walton Jr. as the guard gets the layup off and scores just in time to increase the lead by another two points. A lot of the time in the league, creating something out of nothing is a big part of what makes the difference between winning a game and losing a game. In this instance, Walton Jr.’s ability to break down his defender off the dribble and finish against a short clock not only resulted in a basket, but it helped keep the Clippers in control.

This next play isn’t going to result in a basket for the Clippers but that actually doesn’t matter since, sometimes, the process matters more than the result. It’s going to start with an errant pass of sorts from Maurice Harkless that Derrick Walton Jr. is able to track down between two Washington defenders. After getting control of the ball, Walton Jr. is going to speed down the court and slalom through three defenders to get to the point, where he’ll find Lou Williams on a beautiful no-look feed for a possible three-point attempt.

Rather than take the shot, though, Williams passes it to Jerome Robinson in the corner as Bertans is closing out on him. Robinson gets a free look from the corner but misses. However, that doesn’t come back to haunt the Clippers right away. As the shot goes up, just keep an eye on Walton Jr. in the paint. He’s not going to just assume the shot is going to be made. That’s what separates some players from others.

As the ball rattles around the rim, Walton Jr. is already getting himself into position for the offensive rebound. He’s making a break just to the right of Rui Hachimura and Ian Mahinmi. The ball comes off the rim and Walton Jr. is the first one there to grab it, securing an offensive rebound for his team. He then dribbles out along the baseline before finding a streaking Lou Williams in the near corner for another open three-point attempt. This time, Williams takes the shot. But, like Robinson, he misses.

Look, make or miss does not matter here. It just doesn’t. At the end of the day, Walton Jr. earned his team not one but two wide open looks from three by driving and kicking or getting the offensive rebound and finding another shooter. That’s the type of thing that ultimately wins a team some games in the regular season and earns that guy some more minutes as the season goes along.

Thanks to our good friend over at LA Clippers Film (@LAClippersFilm), we know exactly what this play is supposed to be. It’s going to begin with Derrick Walton Jr. setting an ever-so-slight pindown screen for Paul George near the right block before fading to the corner. Lou Williams is then going to pass the ball to George out near the right wing. Now, what’s supposed to happen here is George would usually face up and give the ball back to Williams up top so the team can flow into some high pick-and-roll action. Instead, we’re going to get a wrinkle.

The Wizards’ Troy Brown Jr. is going to be in top-lock against Williams, trying to deny him the ball on the handoff from George. So, rather than just try to come get the ball from George, we see Williams just walk Brown Jr. towards George’s defender on the wing and set an actual screen. It’s such a great job by Williams that it washes two Wizards defenders out of the play, which gives George an unhindered lane to the rim.

As George drives, he stares right at Walton Jr. in the far corner before turning his head back towards the rim. This draws Walton Jr.’s defender, Chris Chiozza, into the paint. George reads the help defense and hits Walton Jr. for an extremely wide open three-point attempt that the guard knocks down to push the lead to eight with roughly ten minutes to play. Walton Jr. didn’t create this play but he sure did finish it, and that’s something that can’t be understated.

Finally, we see an adjustment that Derrick Walton Jr. can make on a play when not much else is there. It’s a positive sign for a guy looking to stick in the league. This last play starts with Lou Williams receiving a ball screen from Kawhi Leonard at the point, which Williams ends up turning down so that he can drive to his right. By turning down the screen, Williams throws Washington’s entire defense out of whack momentarily.

Williams gets parallel to Brown Jr. on the drive and that leads to two other defenders rotating to help. Hachimura rotates over to help on the drive while Ish Smith helps on Montrezl Harrell, who is Hachimura’s man-a classic case of helping the helper. That’s going to leave Walton Jr. open in the near corner. Williams makes the pass, but it’s high. However, Walton Jr. does a fantastic job of leaping up and grabbing it. Unfortunately, the time spent jumping allowed Smith to close out on him.

Rather than wait for Harrell to run over and set a screen for him in the corner, Walton Jr. attacks aggressively off the dribble and puts Smith on his back foot. As Walton Jr. nears the left elbow, he hard stops and goes into a fading pull-up mid-range jumper. Smith tries to react by leaping and getting a hand up, but Walton Jr. ends up generating enough lift to get a solid look at the basket. He knocks it down and the Clippers see their lead hit double-digits.

If the pass from Williams had been better, perhaps we see Walton Jr. pull the trigger on a corner three-point attempt. Still, with the pass so high that he had to adjust to grab it, Walton Jr. did a fantastic job of attacking a defense that was trying to rotate. It’s a tough shot that he made, but it was just another sign of a guy doing everything possible to help the team win.

Throughout the course of this game, Derrick Walton Jr. saw time as part of six different lineups. But perhaps the most interesting part of that was Walton Jr. getting time alongside the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. It might not matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it also can’t hurt for him to get meaningful minutes with some of the team’s best players.

While the seven points that Walton Jr. scored tied a career-high, the three shots he made were a career-high. Each shot was of importance to the team due to the time they occurred and what they meant. Even the offensive rebound, though it didn’t result in a basket, showed another reason the young guard might be in line for more minutes.

Maybe this wasn’t the sexiest game to look at. After all, seven points aren’t that many and one rebound and one assist is really nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, you can’t have watched that game on Sunday night and not come away impressed with everything Walton Jr. did on the court. He had his hands in everything. And, sometimes, just being involved matters more than what your raw stat line looks like. After all, the only way to make a true impact is to try.

For those 12 minutes and 24 seconds against the Washington Wizards, Derrick Walton Jr. sure tried and sure succeeded due to his trying.

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