Skill set expansion not always a development requirement

Updated: February 3, 2010

We’re about one more Brian Spencer-inspired post away from having to pay the Empty the Bench star royalties (of course, if he gets a percentage, joke’s on him).

In any event, a recent email exchange with Brian reminded me of one of the most intriguing topics of conversation from my time at the Showcase in Boise: management’s expectations for assignee Joey Dorsey during his time with the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season.

At the time, Dorsey was tearing up D-League frontcourts doing exactly what Joey Dorsey does: banging on the glass (13.3 rebounds per game), playing defense and dunking aplenty, especially on second chances (a big part of the reason he averaged 14.9 points per game on 64.7 percent shooting from the field).

Really, those are the things Dorsey has always done on the basketball court, albeit not always to that statistical end. What piqued my interest was the assertion from Vipers and Rockets staff members that this is really all they are concerned with Dorsey doing.

“He has do to what he does at a very high level,” Vipers coach Chris Finch said. “He doesn’t really have to learn any new skills. He just has to apply himself at a higher level every single day.”

Head of Basketball Operations Alex Del Barrio mentioned that he would like to see Dorsey do a better job finding open shooters as a passer out of the post. That aside, his thoughts on Dorsey paralleled those of the coach.

“He really is a dunker, and he’s going to be that at the next level, strictly a dunker,” Del Barrio said. “He fits the mold kind of like Chris Andersen: He gets a lot of put-back dunks, gets a lot of rebounds and blocks a lot of shots. If Joey can stick to those three things and improve his passing, I think he has a chance to have a decent NBA career.”

It isn’t so much that any of this is earth-shattering ideology (it isn’t) as it is the example of a player who isn’t in the D-League to broaden his array of skills that interests me.

I think there is a tendency among some observers (guilty party here at times) to believe that the D-League is necessarily about having players build skills that they don’t have already. Without question, that’s a big part of it for a lot of players. Bill Walker needs to become a better jump-shooter. Alexis Ajinca needed someone to get in his ear and tell him, “Dude, you’re seven feet tall and have arms that span the county. Leave the 18-footers to small people and start posting and toasting like the big man you are.” Those are just two such examples of many across the D-League.

But while it never hurts players to be able to make more positive contributions in different ways on the court, it’s important not to fall into the trap of believing that players who are in the D-League need to completely remake themselves or add attributes that really aren’t within their means in order to be considered a viable option for the next level.

Dorsey’s case is perfect evidence of that. Rockets GM Daryl Morey made it quite clear just how concerned the big-league team was about Dorsey adding finesse elements to his game: not very.

“We want him to do the things that he’s going to have to do well at the NBA level,” Morey said. “We’re never looking for him to shoot a mid-range shot or have any post moves. That’s not something we see him doing at the NBA level. Obviously, we work on those things and want him to improve, but that’s not the focus. The focus is on doing the things he needs to do to get in the rotation in the NBA.”

Like Finch and Del Barrio, Morey praised the work Dorsey had done on the glass and at the defensive end and stressed that consistency and avoidance of mental errors comprised the critical goals going forward for the Memphis product.

Less than a week after the Showcase, Dorsey received the call to return to the Rockets, and he hasn’t been back to the D-League in the three weeks since (though he will be in Dallas as a D-League All-Star next weekend).

Keep doing what you do, Joey.