Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The way we see it. Post D-League Showcase prospect report.

Another NBA D-League Showcase has come and gone. Each January, we intently focus on the NBA's direct feeder League for one week. Most of the players we are scouting have been seen several times already (either in college, international, or summer league play). However, there are always fresh talents to check out. This year, the D-League has a record 19 teams. Each team played two games during the 2016 Showcase which was held at Kaiser Permanente Arena in chilly Santa Cruz, California (January 6-10, 2016). 

The objective for players is simply to be noticed by the right people and possibly be one of the select few that will earn or continue to earn an NBA pay check. Some of the players know the luxury an NBA salary affords. Many of the 30 NBA teams assign their young prospects to D-League affiliates during Showcase week. Other players have lived the five-star NBA life at a previous point in their career and are now competing hard in an attempt to return. 

So who has a chance? The results of our D-League Stat audit and the physical observation of games gives us a feel for the players we think can play "rotation" minutes in the NBA. In our opinion, after years of study, D-League call-ups work best with guys who can simply fit in. A 'glue guy' is much more welcome as an NBA teammate than a guy who thinks he will continue to have a usage rate in the NBA similar to what he had in the D-League. By January of any NBA season, the roles of teams are mostly defined. It is extremely rare for a D-League player to be called up and suddenly be asked to be "the shot-taking man" on an NBA team. 

On the contrary, NBA teams are looking for a D-League prospect that can come in and run with the reserve unit, and possibly make their bench better. Which is not to say that making an NBA bench better is the limit a D-League prospect can contribute. Hassan Whiteside was the in the D-League 13 months ago and we all see him now as a vital starting Center for the Miami Heat. But Whiteside's case is rare. More likely for a D-Leaguer that earns a call-up is to get that foot in the door and hope to be like Seth Curry, JaMychal Green, Jonathon Simmons, and Willie Reed; all of which spent multiple years in the D-League and made NBA rosters this season through training camp. 

Two seasons ago, we hyped DeWayne Dedmon as a prospect in the D-League that should be in the big show. Last season, it was Clint Capela we were sure of. This year we think there are two players worthy of getting minutes during the second half of the NBA season. 

Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Mickey are two BIGs that have continually proven to me that they can play at a level of efficiency high enough to warrant further NBA exposure. 

Stokes is stronger than you
Jarnell Stokes - Stokes just turned 22 years-old. He is an incredibly strong, 6'7" 250 lb. traditional power forward on assignment from the Miami Heat. In D-League play in 2015-16 he is shooting a ridiculously good 67% FG! Stokes has been efficient at every level and the D-League is no different. Among players who have logged over 300 minutes, he is the most efficient per minute. Stokes played three seasons at Tennessee, displaying the footwork, rebounding ability, and honest defensive effort that allowed him to be the 35th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He seems to take the game seriously, and he is in incredible physical condition. I think Stokes is presently the best player in the D-League, all things considered. In my opinion, Miami would be better with Stokes in their rotation which would obviously lead to some difficult choices regarding Heat lifer, Udonis Haslem. Yes, Stokes is a 6'7" power forward. 6'7" is historically small for playing the position in the NBA. However, in THIS case, you throw that lack of height out of the window, and roll with Stokes because his strength is his strength. And what NBA team would not want to be stronger. (Watch Jarnell Stokes do his bully ball thing.)

Jordan Mickey has a legitimate NBA skill. He can block shots. Critics would say Mickey is too small to play Center. He stands a listed 6'8". But his impact on opponent's ability to score in the paint is undeniable. Mickey is just 21 years old, property of the Boston Celtics. He was the 33rd overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. Mickey has a refreshing dis-interest in trying to do more than he should. As a bonus he is converting on 76% of his free throws (up from 66% FT at LSU). Mickey does not play in Boston mostly due to their crowded, talented, front-court that includes Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson, Kelly Oynyk, David Lee, and Tyler Zeller. It is our opinion that most NBA teams should be targeting Boston as place to acquire a quality BIG before the trade deadline. 
Hoop Obsession, Post D-League Showcase, Top Three at each position.

Point Guards

Elliot Williams - Williams, rightfully so, was picked up by the Memphis Grizzlies on a ten-day contract. We viewed him as the best guard in the D-League. Williams was the 22nd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. 

Lorenzo Brown - The 52nd pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, Brown was recently signed to a ten-day contract by the Phoenix Suns. 

Erick Green - Green is standing out in the D-League. Playing for the high-octane Reno Bighorns, Green can shoot to his heart's content. He is scoring 27.7 points per game. His average to below-average athleticism remains his biggest hindrance to getting back to the NBA. Green was released in November 2015 by the Denver Nuggets. 

Shooting Guards:


Same Jimmer
Jimmer Fredette - Jimmer looked like the same guy to me. And we had plenty of opportunities to see him live during his time in Sacramento (2011-14). Perhaps his confidence is up a bit but Jimmer is still Jimmer. He will knock down a very high rate of open looks. He will also be a liability on defense, and his occasional over-penetration will result in a blocked shot igniting the opponent's fast break. We continue to maintain that Jimmer CAN work in the NBA but only on a team with both a shot blocker to help clean up the times Fredette gets beat, and a back-court mate that is at least 6'5" with defensive skill. 

D.J. Stephens - Stephens did not play at the Showcase. He was sitting out after suffering a concussion in a game December 29th vs. Sioux Falls. Stephens is a true 'freak athlete'. He has a 46" vertical! Stephens is so gifted, if he was called up to the NBA, he would be among the top-five percent of NBA athletes. His overall game continues to be a work in progress but Stephens can do some things on a court that some players can only dream of. 

Walter Lemon Jr. - Lemon is a 23 year-old that played four years at Bradley. He can really jump. More importantly, he has shown an ability to shoot accurately (50% FG, 41% 3-pt.) this season to-date. Lemon will need to be a better defender to sniff NBA action but he is now on our radar. 

Small Forwards

Coty Clarke - Clarke is 23 years old with an NBA body. He stands 6'7", weighs 235 lbs. If you make a checklist of what you would like a small forward to do, Clarke checks a lot of boxes. He shoots 35% 3-pt., has more assists than turnovers, makes his free throws (82.4%), and most importantly, he plays defense. Clarke's defensive rating is a full two points better than his Maine Red Claws team DEFRTG. 

Allen Durham - Durham is 27 years-old. He has been playing internationally following a four-year career at Grace Bible College (Wyoming, MI.). Durham plays D, makes shots when needed, and doesn't try to do more than he should. His defensive rating is significantly better than the Texas Legends team DEFRTG. 

Raphiael Putney - Putney is a skinny scorer that has enough athleticism to impact a game. He is averaging 20.3 points, and ten rebounds per game. He is 6'10" but only 185 lbs. His length and quick reactions allow him to block shots at a high rate. Putney is averaging 3.0 blocked shots per game (that is best in the D-League). 

Power Forwards:

Jarnell Stokes (see above)

Vince Hunter - The stretch-four craze has left a sizable pool of traditional power forwards treading water, hoping to get a chance to prove they belong. Vince Hunter would surely be in the NBA as an undersized FOUR if he were born 15 years earlier. He is currently third in the D-League in rebounds per game (12 rpg). Hunter is 6'7", 218 lbs. He runs the floor very well and beats opposing BIGs with his ability to out-quick them. Hunter is AVERAGING five offensive rebounds per game. 

Chris Walker - Walker clearly has the physical tools to be among NBA players. He is long (wingspan is 7' 2.5") and quick. Walker is shooting 62% FG this season in the D-League. That said, Walker's hoop IQ needs to be better. We watched him demonstrate what NOT to do in 'read and react' situations at the Showcase.

Centers:

Jordan Mickey - See above. 

Keith Benson - Like Earl Barron did last year, Keith Benson has a chance to earn a call up as a veteran BIG that could serve as a stop-gap for a team in need. Benson's decision making with the ball is still suspect but the rest of his game is solid. He is 27 years-old. 

Jordan Bachynski - Bachynski is a tall (7'2"), tough, 26 year-old, FIVE that has a chance to play in the NBA. He is improving. He was a career 61% free throw shooter in college. He is shooting 71% FT this season. 

Notes: Sean Kilpatrick was signed today to a ten-day contract by the Denver Nuggets. We thought there were better options. But good for Kilpatrick. In ten-days in the NBA, he will make roughly $49,000 which is about double what he would make playing an entire D-League season. 

The Charlotte Hornets will have a direct affiliate D-League team next season. The Greensboro Swarm will begin play in November 2016. Likewise, the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets will join in the fun for 2016-17, bringing the total number of teams to 22. Brooklyn's D-League team will play on Long Island. 

The city of Santa Cruz certainly gains community profits from the participation of 19 D-League Teams, the attendance of representatives from all 30 NBA teams, plus the international scouts, and media. Virtually everywhere I went in downtown Santa Cruz I saw someone connected to the Showcase. 
The Trophy

The Santa Cruz Warriors Team Store downtown doubles as their headquarters (front office). It was a cool treat to see the 2015 D-League Championship trophy on display. 

One thing not on display or for sale was any D-League Showcase souvenirs. A worker at the Santa Cruz Warriors mobile team shop said that last year the D-League Showcase apparel they had did not sell. Thus the decision was made to not offer any items in 2016. Bummer. 

Among the recognizable faces in attendance at games during the week: Sam Amick, Guss Armstead, B.J. Armstrong, Bernie Bickerstaff, Mike Bratz, Bubba Burrage, Doug Christie, Scott Howard-Cooper, Vlade Divac, Bobby Jackson, Bob Myers, Lute Olson, Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, and Peja Stojakovic. 

Scott Howard Cooper reported during the week that the NBA seems likely to move the D-League Showcase next year to a location in the eastern time zone. 

The D-League has stepped up in too many ways to comprehensively list. It does not go unnoticed that officials, off duty, are dressed professionally. If you envision a bunch of basketball scouts in sweatsuits and sneakers watching these games, that would be wrong. The NBA pedigree is evident at all turns. Many of the executives or scouts were wearing sport coats or otherwise dressed closer to G.Q. than Slam! 

...Jorge Gutierrez put up a triple-double at the Showcase. ...A fan made a half-court shot during a break on Thursday

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