Buycks continues to make most of opportunities

Point guard Dwight Buycks finally has his shot. (USA Today)

Point guard Dwight Buycks finally has his shot. (USA Today)

Dwight Buycks has been active on social media the last two weeks, thanking those who have congratulated him for earning a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Toronto Raptors. The point guard has transformed from a junior-college shooting guard to an NBA court general in a matter of four years, and while many have helped him along the way the one person who may have helped him the most is Junior Cadougan.

Tabbed as a shooting guard out of Indian Hills Community College, Buzz Williams said the 6-foot-3 shooter would “help immediately replace what we are losing on the perimeter,” referencing graduated seniors Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. With Cadougan in tow to replace the departing Dominic James — Maurice Acker was pegged as the starter after filling in for the injured James to end the 2008-09 season — Buycks was set to man the perimeter with fellow incoming JUCO guard Darius Johnson-Odom and senior David Cubillan.

But when the freshman Cadougan fell to the floor in a September practice, rupturing his right Achilles’ tendon and all but ending his first year on campus, it was Buycks who was left to fill the void at the point.

“I’m more of a scoring guard,” Buycks told me in October 2009. “But at the same time, with [Cadougan] down, I really wouldn’t have any problem playing point guard and slowing down the scoring role because, at the end of the day, it’s all about wins.”

Forty-four wins in two years and the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance in eight years later, Buycks did prove it was all about wins. When Cadougan was slow to recover from his injury in 2010, Buycks stayed at the point, manning the position post-Acker. It was about wins, but it was also about his progression as a point guard.

He wasn’t the model of a true court general — his 1.38 assist-to-turnover ratio was nothing to write home about and he only averaged 1.2 assists his final 10 games — yet it gave him valuable experience at the position while still refining his scoring skill set.

It went somewhat unnoticed, but Buycks shot better than 41 percent from beyond the arc as a Marquette senior, sixth best in the Big East. He also shot a respectable 46 percent from the field and handed out 3.4 assists in 28 minutes per game.

And when given the freedom outside of Marquette, Buycks flourished. A cup of coffee with the Suns didn’t amount to much, though his D-League performance with the Tulsa 66ers that year helped make up for the absence of the Summer League, which was cancelled in lieu of the lockout. In 26 minutes he averaged 15.3 points on a scorching 54 percent shooting and handed out 2.6 assists. That stretch of 28 games earned him a spot with the Thunder Summer League team in 2012, when he averaged a respectable 9.5 points in 21 minutes.

Continued work that offseason — Oklahoma City was set with Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor and rookie Reggie Jackson — sent him to France, where he earned MVP honors in one of the top leagues in the country. He averaged 18.0 points, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 32 minutes, and once again the Thunder took notice.

So, too, did the Raptors. Buycks averaged 9.5 points and on 48 percent shooting and 6.0 assists, fourth best in Orlando, proving once again he was able to score — a necessity for an NBA point guard — while finding the open man and making good decisions as a passer. When Toronto sent him to Las Vegas with a guaranteed contract he proved what he was capable of, scoring 18 points and dishing out 10 assists in his second game. His encore was even better two days later when he scored 28 points against the Suns, ironically the only other team to give him a real chance in the League.

Buycks’ progression as a scoring point guard has been nothing short of incredible. His skill set at Marquette always seemed to favor a more open, NBA-like pace, but even the Association seemed like a stretch for a senior who never put it all together. There was never room for a 6-foot-3 shooting guard; Cadougan’s injury changed that. His dedication to improve on his skills did the trick, and five years ago he got a chance he otherwise wouldn’t have had, and it resulted in the chance of a lifetime who used to play on the wing at a junior college in Iowa.

In the words of Buzz Williams: “What a story.”

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