Lester Hudson acquired the nickname “Mini-Vinnie” from Washington Wizards team personnel while playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas … as in Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. The great Detroit Pistons bench player is listed at 6’2″. Hudson’s pre-draft measurements list him at 6’1″ (other “official” listings boost him up to 6’3″). We’ll call it about even. The combo-guard is still trying to latch on with an NBA team, but the Memphis native has already accomplished far beyond what was ever expected of him.
Hudson’s story comes from the same setting as Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher, subject of Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. The former gym class star, where he was discovered in ninth grade, not playing organized basketball, comes from a tough neighborhood in the Home of the Blues. “It’s hard coming out of Memphis because most everybody is from the projects and struggling trying to make it,” he told me after the last Wizards summer league game.
Maybe a rich, white family didn’t take him in, but Hudson did have a coach, Andre Applewhite, who fought tooth and nail to get him to overcome his academic struggles as a kid. Having repeated the ninth grade and already 19-years old, he was declared ineligible for his senior season of high school after playing just one season of competitive basketball as a junior. Hudson tried to stick around for class, but eventually dropped out of Memphis’ Central High without a diploma. This according to a December 2007 profile of Hudson by the Washington Post’s Eric Prisbell, the same writer who authored the most accomplished profile of John Wall to date.
Applewhite then pushed Hudson to Southwest Tennessee Community College, where he had to earn a GED during his first semester to keep attending. Hudson didn’t graduate from Southwest Tennessee CC, which ultimately forced him to sit out a year before he could play for a D-I program. Obviously some schools backed off recruiting him because of this. Hudson eventually wound up at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where he turned 23 before ever stepping on the basketball court.
Prisbell’s article was written just nine games into Hudson’s career at UT-Martin, one where he accomplished the first quadruple-double in NCAA D-I history (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals) in just his third outing. He stayed with the Skyhawks for two seasons, testing the NBA waters in between, and averaged 26.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.6 steals and 45.6% shooting from the field (37.2% from deep) for his career. In 2008-09, Draft Express ranked his 33.5 PER sixth in the nation.
Drafted 58th overall by the Boston Celtics in 2009, Hudson saw action in 25 NBA games last season, playing 131 total minutes. He appeared in 13 games with the Celtics, was sent to the D-League’s Maine Red Claws for five games, brought back to Boston for three games, was waived by the Celtics in early January, claimed by the Memphis Grizzlies shortly thereafter, appeared in eight NBA games with them, was assigned to the D-League’s Dakota Wizards for 15 games, recalled for one last game with Memphis in April, and then finally waived by the Grizzlies at the beginning of July.
Ernie Grunfeld then swooped in and signed a guy to the summer squad who will “make the decision process more challenging” according to Wizards front office personnel, speaking after all the games in Vegas were said and done.
In his first three games off the bench for the Wizards’ NBA Summer League team, Hudson averaged 15.6 points per 36 minutes. Starting alongside John Wall in game four, he scored 14 points, including 3-5 from three, with three rebounds, two assists and two steals. In his final game, starting without Wall in the lineup, Hudson dropped 19 points, including 5-10 from deep, and had nine assists (but five turnovers).
Hudson’s statistics per 36 minutes in 25 NBA games don’t deviate that far from his summer league stats. NBA/36: 15.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 steals; Summer/36: 18.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals.
The biggest differences come in shooting-percentage and turnovers, two areas combo-guards are always looking to improve upon. In the NBA, he’s averaged 3.8 turnovers per 36 minutes; in summer league, that number dropped to 1.9 per 36. Of course, most of Hudson’s turnovers, five of them, came in the final game when he was forced to play more at the point. The errors, along with those of Cartier Martin, helped the Wizards give that last game away to the New York Knicks.
Shooting was perhaps the most encouraging aspect of “Mini-Vinnie’s” summer league performance. In 25 NBA games, Hudson has shot 39.6% from the field and 31.3% from three. In Vegas, he shot 48.8% from the field and 48% from three. Worth nothing that Hudson shot 39.7% on FGs (34.4% from three) in five games with the Maine Red Claws, and 44.9% on FGs (45.3% from three) in 15 games with the Dakota Wizards.
Oh yea, Hudson also hit a buzzer-beating game winner in the Wizards’ fourth summer league contest against the New Orleans Hornets. His teammates chased and mobbed him afterward, and Hudson said he didn’t stop smiling from making that shot until tip-off of game five.
What actually might keep Hudson on an NBA roster is his pestering defense, aided by a 6’8.75″ wingspan on his 6’1″ frame. He can pick up with full court pressure and force a lot of turnovers. At UT-Martin, he averaged 2.3 and 2.8 steals per game in his junior and senior seasons respectively. Past scouting reports have pegged him as a defensive gambler, but he seemed to do a better job at playing aggressive while staying in front of his man in Vegas, where he averaged 2.3 steals per 36 minutes.
“He also hopes for something that was improbable a few years ago: a college degree,” wrote Prisbell in his ’07 article on Hudson. And the former high-school drop-out did ultimately accomplish that degree at UT-Martin, majoring in physical education.
“Hard work pays off,” Hudson told me, describing a tough lesson learned in terms of what he’s overcome academically, which he’s now trying to apply toward the hope of sticking around in the NBA.
Neither Flip Saunders nor Ernie Grunfeld were willing to assess his future standing with the team. Saunders did, however, mention Hudson’s name first when asked what players stood out to him, aside from his main guys, Wall and JaVale McGee.
I asked Hudson if he would stay stateside, i.e., the D-League if he doesn’t make an NBA roster, or if he would be tempted by the possibility of earning more money from playing basketball in Europe. “I think I’ll stick around,” he said. “It’s the best league in the world, the NBA.”
Another lesson learned, don’t be blindsided when you see Hudson on an NBA roster next season.