Reputations are hard to shake, and even harder to change. Coming out of Marquette, Dwight Buycks had a reputation of a scoring point guard, a euphemism for a guard that can’t reliably run an offense.
Fast forward two years later, and Buycks — now having played in the NBA D-League and overseas — was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Summer League team in Orlando. Buycks said his goals in Orlando was “to come here and let the world know what I’ve been working on: picking and choosing when I can get my shots and shots for others.”
Perhaps this sounds like the beginning of a story you’ve heard thousands of times before: A player comes to Summer League, promising to have completely retooled his game, only to show that his prior weaknesses still remain. This is not that story.
The 24-year old Buycks spent last season playing for BVM Gravelines in France, where he was named MVP of LNB Pro A, averaging 18 points, 3.2 rebounds and nearly three assists per game while leading his team to a number one seed in the playoffs. Such honors and accomplishments might sway a player to stay in Europe and forget his NBA dreams, but the NBA had always been Buycks’ goal, and no amount of overseas success would change that.
There was no jolt of inspiration, no prophetic visions demanding Buycks change his scoring ways. Those are fit for fairy tales, not real life. The need for reformation was a gradual realization, one that came after a good deal of reflection.
“After reevaluating myself, I wanted and needed to become a complete point guard,” said Buycks. “Overseas, I scored a lot, but that was my job. At this level, [my job] isn’t going to be scoring, it’s going to be running the offense and getting guys shots.”
In the Thunder’s first Summer League game, Buycks the scorer was nowhere to be found. In his place was a player that always thought pass first, penetrating the lane not with the intent to score, but to suck in defenders and sling the ball out to a perimeter shooter. His eyes were constantly, incessantly scanning the floor, searching for an open teammate.
Buycks dished 13 assists in that first game, each one trumpeting the arrival of a point guard transformed. And while he never matched that number again in Orlando or Las Vegas, he played every game with the same, steady, unselfish demeanor.
An oft-heard skepticism concerning scoring guards attempting to remold their game as a passer is whether they have the necessary court vision to do so. Luckily, to hear Buycks tell it, he always had the vision, it was just a matter of properly harnessing it. To do so, he studied the bread and butter play of most NBA offenses, the pick and roll, as well as those who’ve mastered it — among them, Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. “I watched a lot of film, both mine and of other players, (I wanted) to take pieces of other NBA players’ games and put it into my own,” said Buycks. The most important lesson Buycks gleaned from studying those prolific pick and roll operators was that of patience.
“(I have to) wait for that big to set a good screen,” Buycks said. “Because that’s what frees me up, which means the opponent has to help, and if they fight to get back to me, that means (the big and I) can have a pick and pop. Or, if their big runs back, I get to attack, and someone that’s not my man has to come over, meaning someone else is open.”
Buycks became more than just a capable passer, however; in both Orlando and Vegas he was at times downright creative with his distribution. He’d whip no-look, over-the-shoulder passes to his big in in the pick and pop, or get deep into the lane, nearly under the basket, and rise only to wrap the ball around the back of the leaping defender to give his man an easy dunk.
His passing was in fact the first thing Rex Kalamian, an assistant coach of the the Oklahoma City Thunder and the head coach of the Thunder’s Summer League team commented on when asked about Buycks.
“He’s a willing and able passer and a very good pick and roll player,” said Kalamian. “Not only does he have the ability to get into the paint, he has the ability to find guys on the perimeter. When he drives, three or four defenders collapse on him, and he’s gotten a lot or our guys open shots because of his penetration and ability to get to the rim.”
The Thunder wasn’t the only team to take note of Buycks’ remarkable reformation. Buycks was supposed to play for the Miami Heat’s Summer League team in Las Vegas, but his performance in Orlando promptly changed those plans. Suitors both foreign and domestic pursued Buycks, and before the Orlando Summer League even ended, Buycks agreed to a multiyear deal with the Toronto Raptors.
That Toronto had interest in Buycks was no coincidence. Jeff Weltman, Toronto’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, used to be the Assistant General Manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, who worked out Buycks after he left Marquette. At the time, Weltman thought Buycks could eventually be a very good player, but needed to time to develop and address his issues. Following his exploits in Orlando, Weltman felt he had done just that.
When asked if he was surprised at the drastic changes in Buycks’ ability as a passer, Weltman beamed and softly shook his head. “Knowing the kind of guy he is, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Weltman. “He’s an incredibly hard worker. If [running the offense] was his weakness, he was going to find a way to attack it, and it was only a matter of time before he found his way into the league.”
While playing with his new team in Las Vegas, Buycks showed that his still very much existent scoring abilities could work in concert with his improved passing. He averaged 23 points per game on 15 shots (a stark contrast with his numbers in Orlando, where he averaged just 9.5 points on nearly seven shots per game), while still handing out seven assists per game. Very few of his shots were those of a gunner. They came within the offense, when the timing and situation made sense for Buycks to channel his scoring mentality.
Inflexibility can be a death sentence to NBA hopefuls. If a player refuses to adapt or adjust, to change his game in a way that results in a lesser but more stable role, their time in the league will be counted in quarters, not seasons. We’ve seen this countless times with players that have been nothing else but “the man” everywhere they go, only to find themselves hopelessly out of their depths once they arrive in the NBA. Unable or unwilling to find other ways to contribute to the team, the player slowly drifts out of relevance.
But not every NBA aspirator must follow this unfortunate path. For those who realize their future in the NBA depends on their ability to aid a team in areas besides scoring, and who work tirelessly to cultivate their skills in those other areas, a spot on an NBA roster remains a possibility. Dwight Buycks proved as much this summer.
“Hard work pays off. I worked hard down in Orlando and gave myself a chance. The Raptors saw me, and now I have a home; it’s a blessing,” said Buycks. “I’ve had a long journey of working, and the journey’s just started.”