Ed.’s note: A hearty welcome aboard to our newest contributor, Matt Hubert! The man behind the curtain at the excellent Blog Talk BayHawk has graciously agreed to hop aboard to share his D-League-wide insights with us on a weekly basis. While Matt’s terrific coverage of the Erie BayHawks at BTBH remains highly recommended reading, please be on the lookout for his Thursday columns here at the Digest going forward. Matt, you’re on…
D-League All-Star is a term that raises eyebrows. Casual fans hear the phrase as an oxymoron. How can someone in the NBA Development League (read: not good enough for the NBA) double as an all-star talent? Is it even possible?
The short answer is yes. For the long answer, continue reading.
For starters, we need to avoid thinking in NBA terms. While the D-League All-Star Game and NBA All-Star Game share a weekend, the similarities end there. The D-League All-Star Game more closely resembles the NBA’s Rookie Challenge, which pits second-year standouts against the NBA’s most promising rookies. Like the players featured in the Rookie Challenge, the D-League All-Star Game features players that are part production, part potential. By the book, the players are selected for what they’ve done so far this season, but it’s that elusive element of potential?the thinking-but-not-quite-knowing that the best is yet to come?that makes this game and these players worth watching.
The difference is that while Rookie Challenge competitors like Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings are being groomed for NBA stardom, following in the footsteps of players like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Amare Stoudemire, the guys in the D-League All-Star Game are just looking for the NBA to give them a chance.
No one’s expected to go from D-League All-Star to NBA All-Star, but the D-League All-Star Game can open a pathway to the NBA. Since the D-League All-Star Game debuted in 2007, several participants have gone on to earn NBA contracts, including Jawad Williams, Von Wafer, and Lance Allred.
With that in mind, I want to take a look at the some of the 20 players named as 2010 D-League All-Stars and make their case as a potential NBA player by comparing them to a current NBA player with a similar playing style. Check out the D-League site for the complete list of D-League All-Stars and keep in mind the fact that players need to be on an active D-League roster to compete in the game, so players who are called-up or playing in the NBA already will be replaced.
Morris Almond, Springfield Armor (Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks)
Almond is now a two-time D-League All-Star, a rare feat that players hope to be able to avoid via a call-up. But being the leading scorer in the D-League, as Almond knows, is both a blessing and a curse. He’s highly regarded in D-League circles as one of the top players. However, since NBA teams aren’t usually looking to call-up a player to be their go-to weapon on offense, they tend to bypass Almond in favor of other players who strike them as more well-rounded or a better fit for their scheme. He reminds me of Crawford because Jamal has spent his whole career doing one thing well: scoring. He put up 50 points or more with three different teams, but because his teams had little success and he was not overly adept in other areas, his talent was overlooked. Now, playing alongside a pair of all-stars in Atlanta, Crawford is being talked about as a leading candidate for 6th Man of the Year, his team has the league’s sixth best record, and he’s still playing the same way he did in Chicago, New York, and Golden State: as a scorer. Mo Almond may never go for 50 in an NBA game, but it’s hard to believe that he couldn’t be an offensive spark-plug off the bench for a team out there. You’re telling me the Nets couldn’t use a little extra firepower?
Alade Aminu, Erie BayHawks (Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers)
Hold on, hold on, I know these two names together seems a bit much, but I’m both a BayHawks and Lakers fan, so give me a second to explain myself. The talent level here is not comparable; it’s just not, but the development of the talent is given the comparison of Aminu this season compared to Bynum’s five-year career. Both started with some question marks: Why did Erie ship the rights to NBA-experienced Rob Kurz (more on him in a few paragraphs) on draft night? Why did Los Angeles waste a lottery pick on a 17-year-old as Kobe Bryant is entering his prime? Both had some struggles adjusting to the pro game early: Aminu scored in double figures just once in his first five games while Bynum averaged just 7.3 minutes per game as a rookie. Both started out primarily as dunkers before starting to develop post moves. Both showed some promising signs of breaking through: Aminu at the D-League Showcase, Bynum at the start of his third season (2007). Both have been marred by inconsistency: Aminu because of playing time and his wavering offensive aggressiveness/assertiveness and Bynum because of injures. So, there is something to the comparison. The hope in L.A. is that Bynum becomes an all-star center, and it seems reasonable to believe that can and will happen. The hope for Aminu is that he develops a consistent work ethic to the point where he can become a player dependable enough to earn minutes in an NBA rotation.
Joey Dorsey, Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics)
The Rockets assigned Dorsey to Rio Grande Valley to perfect what he does well. Kendrick Perkins received essentially that same experience in the condensed, intense way of spending the 2007-08 season under the tutelage of Kevin Garnett in Boston. The Celtics unleashed an aggressive mean streak in Perkins that apparently never goes away as he appears to want to fight everyone who tangles with him in the paint, which he now owns as one of the NBA’s best defensive centers. Dorsey is basically the power forward version of Perkins, basketball’s equivalent of hockey’s enforcer that gets paid to check, fight, and bully the opponent’s scorers. If Dorsey can master that in Rio Grande Valley, Houston will likely welcome him back with open arms and unleash him on the rest of the NBA.
Sundiata Gaines, Idaho Stampede (Sundiata Gaines, Utah Jazz)
OK, so this is a cop out, but Gaines’ story is too good not to include. You want to be an NBA player? Work hard in the D-League to earn a 10-day contract and then make it happen when you get the call-up. Gaines’ game-winner against the NBA-leading Cavaliers likely won’t be topped by a D-Leaguer this season. Now signed for the season by the Jazz, he will have to be replaced on the all-star team, but his story is inspiration to everyone on a D-League roster that the dream is sometimes just one jumper away from becoming a reality.
Trey Gilder, Maine Red Claws (Kevin Martin, Sacramento Kings)
In my opinion, Martin has been one of the most under-appreciated players of the past few seasons in the NBA. While I’m not saying that Gilder is at the same level as Martin, Martin’s unexpected success at the NBA level proves that it’s possible for someone of the slender/skinny/scrawny body type to make it in the NBA. In addition to sharing the same physical build, Martin and Gilder both play the game with a such a smoothness that they make you appreciate the artistry and poetry of basketball when you watch them. It’s a thing of beauty, ballet on a basketball court. Can one be a ballet baller? If so, I nominate Martin and Gilder. Often when I go to type Gilder’s name, I type Glider, and it seems appropriate. He seems to glide around the court effortlessly. The knock on him is that he’s listed at just 185 pounds?exactly what Martin is listed at?making it tough for him to defend NBA forwards and even some of the bulkier guards, which is a valid worry. But Martin gives hope to players of Gilder’s ilk. I don’t get to see either of them play as much as I’d like, but every time I do, I’m impressed by how they operate offensively. So smooth.
Dwayne Jones, Austin Toros (Chris Andersen, Denver Nuggets)
When you think of Jones and Andersen, you think energy and rebounding. Switch the emphasis a little toward rebounding for Jones and a little toward energy for Andersen, but put either player in the right situation with the right surrounding cast, and he can be an effective player by doing those two things very well: bringing energy and grabbing rebounds. Jones leads the D-League in offensive, defensive, and (obviously) total rebounds, and he trails only Joey Dorsey in rebounds per 48 minutes. The point is that like Andersen, who played a key role in Denver’s run to the Western Conference Finals last year primarily as an energy guy who rebounds and blocks shots, Jones rebounds at an astonishing rate. Because of the inherent desire and want-to that go into rebounding, it’s a skill that tends to translate more easily than scoring to the next level. I think Jones could find a home and make some team happy with him in the NBA.
Rob Kurz, Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Troy Murphy, Indiana Pacers)
They’re both playing in the state of Indiana now, and they’re both Notre Dame Fighting Irish alumni. But beyond that, both Kurz and Murphy are big men who can stretch the defense. Murphy is a little bigger, but Kurz has slightly better shooting percentages across the board (FG, 3, FT). Both are also right around the 10 rebound per game mark at their respective level. If Kurz is going to catch on at the next level, Murphy’s model is the way to go.
Mustafa Shakur, Tulsa 66ers (Rafer Alston, Miami Heat)
When Jameer Nelson went down with a season-ending injury last year for Orlando, most people said that the Magic were done. Enter Rafer Alston. He’s not the biggest, the fastest, or the best shooting point guard, but he’s got enough athleticism paired with a great deal of basketball savvy to be effective, and he helped the Magic get to the NBA Finals. Shakur’s about an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier, but he reminds me of Alston in the way that he does more than you think he does throughout the course of a game, and he’s not afraid to step up in the moment.
Curtis Stinson, Iowa Energy (George Hill, San Antonio Spurs)
There’s a sense of maturity about the way Stinson leads the Energy attack. Hill was the same way from the time he came into the league and became Gregg Popovich’s favorite player. Unlike Tony Parker, who is one of the main offensive threats for the Spurs, Hill is asked to fill in where needed, run the team, and keep everyone happy. Stinson has played a similar role for an Iowa team that has torn through the D-League this season. He knows how to score, but he also makes a point to get others involved (9.9 assists per game) and rebounds really well from the point guard position (5.6 per game).
D-League All-Star isn’t a misnomer; it’s an honor for those who earn it. For the nine players above and the rest of the 2010 D-League All-Stars, the pathway to the NBA goes through Dallas. There, the all-stars will showcase their talents in front of scouts who just may see some of the same NBA DNA similarities I wrote about and decide to give them an opportunity at the next level. The 2010 D-League All-Star Game takes place Saturday, February 13, and can be seen live at 3 p.m. Eastern on NBA TV.
Please chime in below in the comments section with your thoughts on the player comparisons as well as your own NBA player comparisons for the D-League All-Stars I did not cover here.