On the D-League’s leading scorer

A recent “What’s holding him back?” inquiry from Empty the Bench‘s Brian Spencer got me thinking about the D-League’s top man when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop.

Morris Almond is mesmerizing to watch.

The swingman from Rice has lit up nets around the D-League since joining the Springfield Armor this season. His jump shot looks beautiful both inside and outside the arc (and he shoots better than 40 percent from three). He is a fearless slasher not shy about throwing down in traffic or finishing an acrobatic lay-up with contact. It’s no shock that Almond is the only guy in the league getting to the foul line more than 10 times per game. He can go to the post when opponents make the mistake of asking a smaller off-guard to cover him. Getting opponents off the ground with a shot-fake from mid-range is no problem either.

Even while facing more double-teams than ever before, Almond leads the league at 28.2 points per game on 64.1 percent true shooting while turning the ball over less than three times per game. When he has the ball in his hands, he is a terror in this league.

The tougher question is what he needs to do to reach and stick at the next level.

Perhaps my eye for basketball talent simply isn’t keen enough, but when I watch Morris Almond play basketball, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about glaring flaws in his game. Sure, as Dee Brown said, he needs to do a better job seeing the floor and passing out of double teams. But he doesn’t strike me as a horrific passer either. The guy scores at such an efficient rate that it would be unjust to call him selfish. He isn’t a sieve defensively or non-existent on the boards, collecting five per game playing the three for Springfield (insert your own witticism for me to pine about the lack of rebound rate statistics for D-Leaguers here).

But while he isn’t decisively bad in any of those aspects of the game, Almond doesn’t do any of them well enough to make up the primary impetus for a call-up. The guy is decent-to-good in several areas of the game, but what he’s great at is scoring the basketball, and for the most part, that’s an area where the NBA isn’t in special need.

Almond’s situation reminds me of a conversation I had with Dell Demps, the San Antonio Spurs’ director of pro personnel and Austin Toros’ GM, in which Demps noted that sometimes the big issue is determining how a scorer’s skills will translate to the NBA. D-Leaguers don’t get called up to the NBA to be 25-touch-a-game go-to guys. That is clearly Almond’s role for the Armor. He receives plenty of leeway to create his own offense, mostly because, you know, he’s really, really good at it. Really good. Really. But it’s hard to see him getting those opportunities at the next level. While Almond is a prolific three-point shooter, there are other options for teams looking for someone who will be strictly a spot-up, catch-and-shoot guy. There are definitively better options for teams looking for stoppers, ball-handlers and rebounders.

But what is Almond supposed to do in order to get himself another opportunity in the Association? It would seem silly for the Armor to make a conscious effort to stop having him create his own shot so regularly in favor of getting him the ball more off basket cuts, in catch-and-shoot situations and in transition just to showcase his ability to score in a way that will translate to the NBA. The guy is the D-League’s most dynamic scorer. He was a first-round pick in 2007, has had a couple of cups of coffee with the Jazz and is without question at least a borderline NBA talent.

Perhaps he needs to put in the work to excel at another facet of the game to the point of making that a second calling card.

Or perhaps he just needs to wait until the Warriors are down to four healthy players and no guards, so he’ll be able to move straight to the NBA in his current role (I’m kidding, I think).

One way or the other, Morris Almond is too talented to remain forever at the D-League level. Count me among those curious to see what he will have to do to make the leap.

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