All NBA teams do not treat the D-League equally. Some organizations have invested a lot into the D-League—in some cases, literally, by buying their affiliate—using it to develop young players and/or call-up unclaimed talents that they’ve scouted during the season. But other organizations have shown very little interest in utilizing the D-League as a developmental tool.
The D-League is still in its formative years and its relationship with the NBA’s teams through the affiliate system is still a work in progress. There is no golden blueprint (goldprint?) that explains the right way to use the D-League. Still, it is pretty clear to those who follow the NBA and D-League closely that some organizations are ahead of the curve and using the D-League more effectively than others.
With that in mind, I came up with an idea to grade all 30 NBA teams on their usage of the D-League. I wanted this to be a comprehensive effort, so rather than just offering my take on the teams, I reached out to the excellent bloggers of the TrueHoop Network, asking each team blogger to grade their team’s usage of the D-League (25 of them complied by giving a grade). I also got grades of all 30 teams from Matt Moore, who covers the D-League for AOL Fanhouse, and a combined grade from Scott Schroeder and Jon L of Ridiculous Upside.
Bloggers were asked to consider quantity and quality of each team’s assignments and call-ups, ownership and communication with the D-League affiliate, and any other factors that contribute to effective usage of the D-League. For each team, I took the THN blogger’s grade, Matt Moore’s grade, RU’s grade, and my grade, and found the average to calculate a final GPA. For the purposes of these posts, the grading scale breaks down as follows:
Click through after the jump to see how the teams of the Pacific Division were graded.
Grading panel consisted of: Matt Hubert, D-League Digest (MH); Jon L/Scott Schroeder, Ridiculous Upside (RU); Matt Moore, AOL Fanhouse (MM); TrueHoop Network team bloggers (THN)
THN’s Take (by Rasheed Malek, Warriors World): No team in the NBA has used the D-League more successfully then the Golden State Warriors. Under Don Nelson, the Warriors have adopted the belief that the D-League is a better alternative for adding talent than second round picks. The Warriors prefer to bring players in from the D-League because they can come in and contribute right away, have experience with the NBA style of play and fit a specific need for the team.
Players such as Kelenna Azubuike, C.J. Watson and Reggie Williams are some of the players who’ve secured multi-year deals from NBA teams after initially being called up by the Warriors from the D-League. Add in other players such as Anthony Tolliver and Chris Hunter who’ve experienced significant playing time with the Warriors and it’s clear that the Warriors are the model franchise when it comes to utilizing the D-League.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: So weird. Such a backwards franchise with one brilliantly executed plan. Even though they don’t send anyone down, their use of the D-League as a talent pool gets them an A.
Final Assessment: Golden State’s usage of the D-League has been among the most publicized of any NBA team because of the number and success of their call-ups, particularly Reggie Williams and Anthony Tolliver. Don Nelson has been more willing than most coaches to give players minutes after calling them up from the D-League.
That is a result, in part, because of injuries that have hampered the Warriors, but it’s also a testament to Nelson’s spirit of innovation and willingness to go against the grain and try something different. Although there’s room to grow in terms of the Warriors’ management of its homegrown talent, their propensity for finding D-League prospects that are more than just stopgap solutions make them one of the best in the league in terms of D-League usage.
THN’s Take (by D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog): The Clippers have used the D-League sparingly, opting instead to fill out the end of their bench with veterans on their last legs. JamesOn Curry getting called up last year was the first guy I could remember in a while, and fittingly enough he played less than a minute last year in his time in the NBA. While they’ve been notorious in the past for not stashing players overseas (Big Sofo—Sofoklis Schortsanitis—in ’03 being the lone exception), they’ve been just as bad not using the D-League or calling guys up on 10-day contracts, even in lost seasons with nothing to lose.
Times might be changing though—the Clips signed undrafted rookie Marqus Blakely before another team could get their hands on him once he showed off in the D-League. For that reason, they get a D-, even though their past use of the D-League has been extremely poor and probably deserving of an F.
Final Assessment: With the Lakers as the top ticket in town, it would make sense for the Clippers to try to shake things up a little and invest in the D-League. But owner Donald Sterling is notorious for not wanting to spend, and that reputation seems to carry over into the franchise’s feelings toward the D-League as well.
The Clippers have never assigned a player to the D-League, shocking for a team that is routinely restocking with draft picks. And their lone call-up last season lasted about as long as this sentence. They’ve had just one winning season since 1992, and their usage of the D-League suggests that they’re way behind in terms of utilizing it as a tool to help them get better in the future.
THN’s Take (by Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold): On the positive side, they own their affiliate (the L.A. D-Fenders), instituted the Triangle offense on the team, and sent players down (Jordan Farmar, Sun Yue) to get needed experience/court time that they were not getting with the Lakers. Remember too that the Lakers actually made a bit of news by having Farmar actually play a D-Fenders game and then also suit up for the Lakers on the same night, so I give them some extra points for their innovation with that particular move. However, on the negative side, the Lakers rarely explored options on other teams as potential call ups to fill out the end of the roster or ever took a flyer on a young player that could end up developing down the line. Considering the level of talent that exists in the D-League, that is a bit disappointing.
All that said, if I could really give the Lakers an “incomplete” I would. The Lakers run an offensive system that is difficult to pick up without practice time, so the calling up of players from other teams isn’t really the most sound option (this is in stark contrast to a team like the Warriors that have a lot of success with D-League call ups due to the wide open nature of their offense and the ease in which new players can be integrated). Also, due to the Pau Gasol trade and payroll concerns, the Lakers have not had a first round pick since 2007 (Javaris Crittenton, who did get sent down, but spent the majority of his time up with Lakers due to lack of guard depth and the hope that he would learn more in the NBA). Plus, some of the second round picks that they’ve selected have ended up playing in Europe (Marc Gasol, Chinemelu Elonu) rather than staying stateside. This lack of infusion of young talent combined with the complexities of the Triangle and the Lakers’ status as a high-talent team without a lot of room on the roster conspire to make them a poor organization for D-league utilization. (On a side note, I believe this is one of the reasons the Lakers decided take a year off from having the D-Fenders participate in the D-League as their model and usage was relatively low. This has led to an inefficient use of both financial and player resources.)
I will say, though, that this upcoming season I expect the Lakers to use their affiliation with the Bakersfield Jam to a much greater extent. Since they have signed both their second round picks (Derek Caracter and Devin Ebanks), I believe both players will see some time with the Jam in order to get some minutes and court time that may not be available with the big league club.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: Historically, they’ve used the D pretty well for a team that’s been in contention for 10 years. They just haven’t needed it. Of course, suspending operationss for a year is a pretty big step backwards for the league. So there’s that. BUT SERIOUSLY, JORDAN FARMAR PLAYED IN THE D-LEAGUE AND NBA IN THE SAME DAY! (What? What do you mean Farmar’s with Nets now? Oh, crap.)
Final Assessment: The Lakers are a unique case. Few teams have the luxury that the Lakers have had the past decade. From Shaq and Kobe to Kobe and Gasol, the Lakers have had loaded rosters, which has enabled them to thrive without the need to develop a lot of raw prospects. They do own an affiliate, but the D-Fenders are on hiatus for the 2010-11 season, so it’s hard to call them a success or a failure. Their stature as The Lakers prevents them from feeling some of the needs other teams in the league face.
THN’s Take (by Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns): The Suns at least do sport an affiliation with the Iowa Energy and have considered owning their own affiliate, but the reason I can’t go higher than a C- is that no D-League-developed player has yet to make even a minor impact on the franchise. They have sent rookies such as Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin on short stints to Iowa, but the trips weren’t altogether impactful nor have either of those players really produced at the NBA level. The Suns have used the D-League to fill out on the end of their bench the last couple seasons, but since the D-League has yet to lead to any success at the NBA level, the Suns deserve a C- for their D-League efforts.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: They sent Alando Tucker down… and they seemed to have a plan with Steve Kerr in place, even though it never really worked out… and Kerr’s gone… If [New Mexico] wasn’t such a mess, maybe [I'd grade them higher].
Final Assessment: The Suns have been a team in flux the past several seasons, transitioning from the running game of Mike D’Antoni to the defensive-minded Terry Porter to Alvin Gentry, who is probably somewhere in between with leanings toward D’Antoni. With Steve Kerr now out as general manager and Amare Stoudemire signing with the Knicks, change is still in the air in Phoenix. One thing that’s been pretty consistent throughout has been the Suns’ lackluster use of the D-League. They’ve had a few assignments and a few call-ups, but nothing particularly noteworthy. They use the D-League to some extent, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
THN’s Take (by Zach Harper, Cowbell Kingdom): The Kings get a F. I’m not even sure they know they have an affiliate.
Final Assessment: The Kings have had very little involvement with the D-League, but they have assigned one playe—Donte Green, for five games during the 2008-09 season—and called up one player—Garrett Temple, for five games last season. Unfortunately, they let Temple go (he’s since been signed by the Spurs) and have generally otherwise stayed away from the D-League for prospects. This is a small market team that could do themselves a favor by finding a few D-League gems a la the Warriors.
How would you grade the Pacific Division teams’ usage of the D-League. Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to check back for grades of the other NBA teams in the upcoming days.