At 11:20 p.m. Thursday night, I sat alone in the middle section of the 300s level of the theater at Madison Square Garden. The sections around me were nearly vacant. Two ushers meandered in my general vicinity, but most of the crowd that remained at the evening’s featured event – the 2010 NBA Draft – sparsely filled the seating in the lower level.
Earlier in the evening, fans had filled every seat in the building, media packed the floor level, players and their families crowded in the adjacent area designated the green room, and security had plenty to do. But the first round had long since finished, and the lottery-bound green room residents were a distant memory.
So when NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver stepped out onto the stage at 11:20 and announced Latavious Williams to the Miami Heat as the draft’s 48th selection, it came as no surprise that there was little more than a smattering of applause. But it didn’t take anything from the moment, which by now you know signified the first time a player has gone from high school directly to the D-League to becoming an NBA draftee.
This is not necessarily “what the league was set up for,” (as I’ve heard claimed) in the sense that there is little reason to doubt the NBA wouldn’t like to see players receive at least some post-secondary education before entering the professional ranks, be it in the NBA or with a stop in the D-League first. Mike Taylor played in college and a season in the D-League before being drafted in 2008, and Jeremy Wise tried to follow the same path this year, although he was not selected. However, for those truly disinclined to going the collegiate route, Williams’ selection Thursday night marks the latest step in a path that can and likely will be replicated.
It’s clearly too early to conclude the journey a success for Williams, who as a second-round pick is not guaranteed a contract for the coming season. But while the selection is a step in the right direction, it’s even more encouraging to see Williams acquired by Oklahoma City, the team whose D-League club he played for in 2009-10. The Thunder had enough of an interest in Williams to keep him with the Tulsa 66ers all season and to deal for him on draft night, which demonstrates some commitment to his long-term development.
That Williams wasn’t selected in the lottery like preps-to-Europe-to-pro Brandon Jennings was a year ago isn’t a knock on the D-League route. It’s a reflection of the fact that Latavious Williams isn’t Brandon Jennings. He doesn’t have any analogous traits to Jennings’ quickness or scoring and distributing abilities (as comparing skill sets directly between a point guard and combo forward seems a bit silly). Ridiculous Upside‘s Scott Schroeder projects him, with some more work, as a possible eighth man at the NBA level.
That’s not an ostensible franchise point guard. But it is a legitimate rotation spot in the world’s premier basketball league. If Williams can reach that point or even anywhere close, he will have done a major service for the D-League’s viability with younger athletes and perhaps team executives as well.