D-League Digest

Dishing info and insight on the NBA Development League

Five wishes for next season

As Steve Weinman has pointed out recently on this blog, the NBA Development League offseason gives us a lot of time to think and ask questions. There is more than six months before the new season tips off, but it’s never too early to look ahead. I’m going to stick with the theme of five, but instead of questions, I’m going to offer my five wishes for the 2010-11 season.

If any of these wishes come true, I think the D-League and its fans will be better off. And if all of them come true, well, I’ll be kicking myself for not wishing for world peace, getting paid to be a basketball blogger, or at least wishing for more wishes.

More/Better Stats
One of the things I really liked that the D-League offered this season was the individual player stat sorter. This page of their website gave fans the opportunity to really delve into player statistics during the season. It was also an incredibly helpful research tool for those of us in the blogosphere trying to find statistical evidence to make a point in a post. I can’t tell you how many times I went to this page to see where a certain player ranked in a particular category, and I’m not just referring to Cliff Clinkscales’ stranglehold on first place in assist-to-turnover ratio.

The point is that more information is a good thing. It was great of the D-League to put this information out there in an easily accessible, easy-to-use format. My wish for next season is for the league to build on this idea by offering even more statistical information.

First, I want a better box score with some additional info included—points in the paint, fast break points, points off turnovers, are four categories that first come to mind. Secondly, I want to enhance the current stats page to include more stat categories such as plus/minus and dunks as well as more options for sorting such as home/road, monthly, and weekly leaders. And finally, make a teams stats page available that is similar to the NBA version. As far as I know, there is no place to go for quick reference on team stats and team rankings in the D-League. I know that such team data exists, so why not make it public and easy to access?

Live Playoffs and Championship
FutureCast is without a doubt one of the coolest aspects of the D-League. Every regular season game was streamed online for free. I also think the D-League’s TV deal with Versus was a good PR move for the league. How many minor leagues earn national cable TV deals?

The only problem is that Versus seems to be averse to airing games live. During the season, they aired games tape-delayed on Saturday nights, and the tape-delay trend unfortunately carried on into the postseason.

I know I don’t speak for everyone, but I watched a lot less of the D-League playoffs than I would have liked precisely because the games were on at a ridiculously late hour, and I had to do an Internet/social media strike to avoid hearing who won the game in real time.

Having the games on Versus is great added exposure for the league, so if they insist on the tape-delayed broadcasts during the season, fine. But restrict that to the regular season. In the information-now era that we live in, it’s really hard to get excited to watch a championship game that is already over by the time you’re able to watch it.

From everything I read on Twitter, Ridiculous Upside, AOL FanHouse, and the D-League site, the decisive game was a classic featuring a championship-winning buzzer-beating 3-point bank shot. But I didn’t end up watching the game for that exact reason: I already knew what was going to happen. The suspense was gone and the moment was tainted, at least for me (and not just because that game winner cost me a contest!)

Ideally, Versus or some other network will choose to broadcast the 2011 D-League Finals live. If not, it’s my wish that they allow the Finals and all playoff games to stream live on FutureCast so the fans can watch the action unfold as the action is actually unfolding rather than hours later after the dust has already settled and the trophy has already been presented.

New Schedule
I wrote about this issue back in February, so I’m going to keep this wish brief. I’d like to see the D-League find a compromise between financial responsibility and fair play. I understand that the league is spread out and travel costs a lot. And I know that it is financially prudent to limit road trips by playing back-to-backs against the same team and limiting the number of games against the teams that are the farthest away. However, when a team is playing 40 percent of their schedule against two teams (as the Erie BayHawks did this season), that’s too much. I’m not asking that each team plays an exact equal number of games against each opponent, but the breakdown needs to be spread out more fairly than it was this past season.

More NBA Players Assigned
The D-League gets a lot of recognition (and rightfully so) for its call-ups. In fact, they set a record with 40 call-ups of 27 players this season. What tends to go under the radar is the use of the D-League for players already in the NBA to develop and hone their talents against pro competition. When an NBA player is assigned to the D-League, too many people still think of it as a demotion or punishment. That mindset couldn’t be more wrong.

Some of the smarter NBA executives and front office members are starting to realize that the D-League can be used as a tool not just to find young, up ‘n coming talent—it can be a place to cultivate the talent and skills of players currently on your roster. If a player isn’t seeing significant playing time or simply need more work to be NBA ready, a stint in the D-League may be the best thing for his NBA future.

The Memphis Grizzlies made headlines by assigning Hasheem Thabeet to the Dakota Wizards this season, and by all accounts, the move resulted in an increase in Thabeet’s productivity upon his return to the NBA. While Thabeet was the most publicized and scrutinized assignee, 23 others were also assigned this season including Malik Hairston, Joe Alexander, D.J. White, Lester Hudson, Bill Walker, and Joey Dorsey.

I’d like to see that number increase next season. More importantly, though, I’d like to see teams give players more than just a one or two game stint whenever possible. I think a couple weeks of working with the D-League team could really benefit some young players in the NBA who are not getting minutes. In order to make assignments more common, the league must first educate everyone from fans to team presidents to players. They need to debunk the myth that many still cling to about an assignment to the D-League as a bad thing. A player sent to the D-League should be encouraged that the team is invested in his development as a player, and he should utilize his time there accordingly.

An NBA All-Star
D-League alums had quite the year at the NBA level in 2009-10. The Rockets’ Aaron Brooks was named the league’s Most Improved Player. The Warriors’ Anthony Tolliver posted a 34-point, 8-rebound stat line in an April win over Minnesota. And the Jazz’s Sundiata Gaines had one of the best moments/shots of the regular season to beat the Cavaliers at the buzzer.

One thing a D-Leaguer has never done yet, however, is be named an NBA all-star. I know this wish is a bit ambitious for next season, but I’m setting my hopes high. Maybe Aaron Brooks steps his game up even more. Or maybe Tolliver makes that 34-and-8 a regular occurrence. Or maybe it’s Tolliver’s Warriors teammate and fellow D-League alum Reggie Williams that breaks through.

The D-League isn’t really meant to produce superstars. Those players are usually gifted enough that they play right away upon being drafted. But there are several D-League alumni who have shown flashes of all-star potential. Is it likely? No. But it’s definitely not impossible either. Undrafted players have become NBA all-stars. It’s only a matter of time before a former D-Leaguer achieves that same level of success. Next season? Well, with a little wishful thinking, maybe…just maybe the NBA can be where D-Leaguer to NBA All-Star happens.

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