Thursday proved a day for players currently on NBA contracts to shine in the D-League. In fact, the Tulsa 66ers received 51 points yesterday from just their two most recently assigned NBA players.
It is no coincidence that both of yesterday’s Game 1 winners in the D-League playoffs were beneficiaries of mid-week assignments from their parent NBA clubs.
DJ White and Kyle Weaver were the two 66ers referenced above, recently received from the Oklahoma City Thunder to join already-assigned Mustafa Shakur and Byron Mullens in a powerful Tulsa lineup. The four players combined to shoot 32-for-51 en route to posting 90 points as a quartet in Tulsa’s 119-109 win over the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Similarly, Alonzo Gee made his return to the Austin Toros’ lineup for the first time since early March. He blended in seamlessly, scoring 29 points and pulling down nine rebounds alongside previously assigned guard Curtis Jerrells, who posted 28 points, 10 assists and four rebounds in the Toros’ 98-96 road win in Dakota.
None of this should come as a shock. It stands to reason that the guys who have earned NBA roster spots should be the best (or at least some of the best) players in the D-League, and that’s the case more often than not. But Thursday’s action provided an especially prominent example of assigned players in starring roles, so we take note.
But the two series openers played yesterday also reinforced another important basketball virtue: the importance of taking care of the ball.
In Tulsa, both teams put on efficient scoring performances from the field, shooting north of 53 percent from the field and 45 percent on threes and putting up identical 24-for-32 marks from the foul line. But in addition to the fact that the 66ers shot a few percentage points better from the field (though they were not as effective from beyond the arc), they took three extra shots from the field. The glaring figure that led to this: Sioux Falls turned the ball over 15 times to Tulsa’s 10. That the Skyforce sans Alexander Johnson found themselves minus-2 on the offensive glass was just gravy on top of giving Tulsa those extra five chances. In a game where both teams are shooting the ball so well that they are posting well above 1.1 points per possession, extra giveaways can turn a competitive game into a double-digit loss.
While the Wizards’ problems were a bit more balanced between the turnovers and the glass, the story was similar in Dakota. The Wizards shot better percentages from the field and the three-point line and took 10 more free throws than the Toros did. But in addition to the fact that they didn’t make the most of those free throw opportunities (19-for-28 for a paltry 67.9 percent), Dakota gave away five extra opportunities in going minus-2 in turnovers and minus-3 in offensive rebounds to an Austin team playing without o-board machine Dwayne Jones. The result: Ten more field-goal attempts for the Toros than the Wizards. So even though Austin went minus-5 in made free throws, the team made up for it by making three more field-goals (and one more three) for a plus-2 differential despite shooting the ball less effectively from the field.
Box out to protect the defensive glass. Get the basketball. Take care of said basketball. The opportunities created by doing so can make all the difference.