No, this is not going to be a review of the new NBA Jam game that’s coming to your living room on your Wii system some time in 2010. Although, if you know someone who can get me a preview of that (and a free Wii) I’d be happy to write that as well. But I digress…
I was thinking about what kinds of things I could write about that might provide the average D-League fan with some insight that he or she might not otherwise get – speaking of which, who is the “average D-League fan”? I’ve been wondering that; perhaps a topic for another post. But I digress again…
So there I was, thinking, and it occurred to me that the average D-League fan, whoever we discover that to be in some future post, probably doesn’t get a great feel for the NBA prospects who aren’t just wholly dominant offensive players. Put another way, I think most anyone who is basketball-crazy enough to follow the D-League can see NBA potential in someone like Sundiata Gaines or Malik Hairston or Mike Harris – the guys whose numbers are just off the charts and who are very clearly on another level from just about anyone else on the floor.
With respect to a great group of guys, the Bakersfield Jam doesn’t have anyone like that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have players with NBA potential. Quite the contrary, actually, as proven by the fact that three of our guys have already played at the NBA level during regular season games.
Enough foreplay, though. The point I’m building to is that I figured it would be interesting for you all to read what might qualify as an insider’s perspective on some of the potential NBA talent in our league (albeit an insider with mediocre-at-best knowledge of basketball at any deep level and no left hand whatsoever). Today I start with two guys from the Jam who I think have the ability to play in the NBA right now and very well might do so next season.
In a lot of ways, I think Brian’s stats speak for themselves. He arrived in Bakersfield on December 18th and was on the floor December 19th in the second game of a back-to-back with the Idaho Stampede, who at that time had the aforementioned Gaines and were a pretty good team. Brian helped lead the Jam to its first win after an 0-9 start with 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 10 rebounds in only 26 minutes.
For those of you who didn’t catch his MVP performance in the D-League All-Star game, Brian is a 6’11″ power forward with three-point range. There are times I think that hurts him a bit, since he is vulnerable to falling in love with the three when his size might be better used on the interior.
Not surprisingly, in speaking to Brian about his game and getting a shot at the NBA, he said that what he hears through the NBA grapevine is folks want him to work on his strength and rebounding. If you’re an NBA scout, then, I would think what Brian has done in his time at Bakersfield would look great to you.
While his offensive game has been up and down over the course of his two-plus months with the team, virtually every other element of his game has improved, most notably his rebounding.
As I said, Brian has been the leading rebounder since his arrival: in the month of December (6 games) he led the team with 7.8 rebounds per game; in January (11 games) that number became 8.9; thus far in February he has bumped his average up to 11.1 per game (not including his 13 rebounds at the All-Star Game). He has also become a much greater defensive presence in the paint, posting two straight months of averaging at least a block per game after swatting less than 0.7 per game in December.
Stats aside, I can tell you from watching Butch on a game-to-game basis that he is simply working harder and boxing out better today than he was when he first came to the team. And his relative struggles in the scoring department probably have more to do with the fact that his offensive role has diminished as the Jam has added more offensive talent to the mix than they do with any shortcomings on his part.
Bottom line – I would think a big man with three-point range and consistently improving rebounding ability could find a home on a number of NBA teams…
I think Jeremy Wise is one of the two most intriguing prospects in the D-League – not to say he’s one of the top two players in the league, but he is one of only two guys (unless I am mistaken, which sounds like a long shot to me) who will be eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft.
That said, I am probably eligible for the draft, and I’m not an intriguing prospect at all – in Jeremy’s case, I will be pretty surprised if somebody doesn’t at least drop a second-rounder on him. He is far too good of an athlete to not draw NBA interest.
Jeremy is also an interesting case because he was cut by the LA D-Fenders, who drafted him. Lucky for Wise and the Jam, Bakersfield is just a couple hours away and he found a happy home here.
Jumping back a step, Jeremy left Southern Miss after his junior season and had NBA workouts with both Oklahoma City and Detroit, working out with guys like Patty Mills, Darren Collison and Ty Lawson. I would say it’s a pretty safe bet that Wise tested out better than all three of those guys in terms of athleticism – he is listed at 6’1″ (though he looks taller than that to me; or maybe he’s actually 6’1″ and everybody else is lying) and 185 pounds, and he is a plus athlete at the NBA level, not just the D-League level.
Not only does Jeremy routinely jump over, around and through multiple defenders to finish at the rim (often with a thunderous dunk, other times with tricky lay-ins) but he has lately taken to coming over from the help side and getting above the rim for some of the nastiest blocks I’ve ever seen. I can also say quite honestly that in watching the vast majority of his 29 games with the Jam, I have yet to see a defender who can consistently stay in front of Jeremy if he attacks with a dribble-drive.
At this point you’re probably asking what the hell he’s doing in the D-League in the first place. At 6’1″ and 185 (dripping wet, I should mention) Jeremy is point guard size, even a small point guard, and before this year he really hadn’t played the point guard position. As a college standout, he was a scorer: he averaged between 16.7 and 18.7 points per game in his three years of college, and was the best scorer at Southern Miss since Clarence Weatherspoon nearly 20 years previous (literally… that’s not a figure of speech).
If he wants to play in the NBA, he was told, he needed to add muscle and point guard skills. More so than anyone else the Jam has had, watching Jeremy develop those skills has been a joyful experience.
Once again, the monthly splits do a pretty good job of telling the story of Jeremy’s improvements: in his 11 games (only 6 starts) in December, Jeremy averaged 15.5 points (50.4% FG shooting), 3.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game; in January, he became the regular starting point guard and his scoring dropped slightly to 13.7 (49.1%) with 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals; in February, Jeremy has really started to put it all together, averaging 21.4 points (59.5%, and that’s not a typo), 5.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He is also shooting just under 90% from the free throw line this month, a critical component for a player who one expects to handle the ball down the stretch.
A scout I spoke to at the Jam’s Sunday night game (just before Wise posted 24 points, 11 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks in a tough 109-108 loss to Austin) compared Jeremy to Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings. It’s a relevant comparison because they have similar body types and scoring talent (I give my guy the edge athletically but Jennings probably has a better long-distance jumper) but what’s remarkable about Jeremy’s improvement over the course of this year is that I think he’s actually developed his point guard skills to a place where he’s MORE of a point guard than Jennings.
He is also very young – the second-youngest player on the Jam, to be exact, at just under 24 years of age. Had he not left school early, he would be graduating in a few short months; instead he has spent the last several months working hard on his game rather than schoolwork, a decision that I think will pay off for his long-term NBA future.
Certainly he still has things to work on (the long jumper; just running the offense as a “coach on the court,” so to speak) but I’ll repeat myself here, in slightly stronger terms: I’ll be SHOCKED if nobody in the league thinks Jeremy Wise is worth a second-round pick.
So there you have it – just my take on a couple of prospects that you basketball fans might get a chance to see at the NBA level in the near future. I’ll do my best to address any comments or questions folks might have about either guy, or about other guys on our roster… And next week I’ll probably give you a couple more names to look for.