D-League Digest

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Grading NBA Teams’ Usage of the D-League: Atlantic Division

This is part two of six in our series grading all 30 NBA teams on their usage of the D-League. In part one, we graded the teams of the Pacific Division. If you missed the first post and are unfamiliar with the genesis of this idea or want a full, detailed explanation of how the grades were determined, read the introduction of this post.

Otherwise, here’s the quick and dirty recap of how we graded: 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 TrueHoop Network team blogger’s grade (THN), Matt Moore’s grade (MM), Ridiculous Upside’s grade (RU), and my grade (MH), and calculated a final GPA.

With that in mind, here are the grades and rationales for the teams of the Atlantic Division:

Boston Celtics LogoBoston Celtics: 2.84 GPA
High Grade: A- (MM)
Low Grade: C (THN)
Players Assigned: 10 (6 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 5 (1 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub): The Celtics have used the D-League minimally since its inception.  The call-ups I can remember within the last five years were 10-day contracts given to Mikki Moore and Kevinn Pinkney—neither of whom played very much at the time [Editor’s note: Oliver Lafayette was called up last year, though he played in just one game].

The Celtics’ roster is incredibly seasoned to put it euphemistically and because of this Doc Rivers has become notorious for not giving rookies much playing time. That being said, they do stash away their young players in the D-League for their first couple of years. Most recently/notably, Gabe Pruitt, J.R. Giddens, and Bill Walker have all seen time and success in the D-League.  Despite playing very well, none of these players were given much court time with the big club after being called up, and to make matters worse (for them at least), Pruitt and Giddens are currently without NBA contracts.

I am hopeful that the two new D-League Franchises (the Springfield Armor and the Maine Red Claws)  and their proximity to Boston will entice the Celtics to use the D-League more. This year, the Celtics have a very deep frontcourt, so expect rookie Luke Harangody to tear it up in Maine.

If I had to give a grade, I would have to say C or incomplete. While the Celtics have utilized the D-League recently, it has been more of a holding place for end-of-the-roster rookies who look better in any jersey than in suits. I am interested to see what will happen when the Big Three Era in Boston is over and the rebuilding begins. I expect the relationship between the Celtics and their D-League affiliate to flourish once roster spots are up for grabs after 2012.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: Oh, sure, it looks like all they’ve done is send their guys out to Utah [the Flash were formerly Boston’s affiliate] like it’s Siberia. But bear in mind the relationship with the Red Claws is burgeoning and will only get stronger. The Celtics are built to win now, which means their use is limited, but the plans are there.

Final Assessment: Despite playing in two of the past three NBA Finals, the Celtics have managed to stay somewhat active in their usage of the D-League, assigning six players the past two seasons. Even if all of those assignments didn’t work out in the long run, they’re at least trying, which is more than you can say for most of their divisional rivals. The debut of the nearby Maine Red Claws as their affiliate last season was also a good sign. That kind of proximity lends itself nicely to more D-League involvement going forward.

New Jersey Nets LogoNew Jersey Nets: 0.63 GPA
High Grade: D (MM, RU)
Low Grade: F (THN)
Players Assigned: 2 (1 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 5 (0 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Sebastian Pruiti, Nets Are Scorching):The Nets haven’t really used the D-League to their advantage, and I think it has something to do with the fact that they have had a triple affiliate and all of their affiliates have been so far away.  They also have switched affiliates a few times, and that doesn’t help with familiarity of systems (and neither does the triple affiliate). You have teams like the Spurs with a solo affiliate [San Antonio owns their D-League affiliate] who able to run all the pro stuff so the guys in the D-League can get used to the system.

I think last year the Nets had a chance to send down Terrence Williams, especially when he was rotting on the bench during the middle of the season.  Plus there was that whole Sean Williams incident. Yeah, I’d give them a F.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: Thought about it. Looked at it. Considered it. Passed. Maybe when the team gets settled in Broolyn. Maybe when Prokhorov et al realize there’s a long-term game to be played in the NBA. But with Billy King at the helm? Not holding my breath.

Final Assessment: We’ll see if anything changes with new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, but the Nets don’t have much of a history using the D-League effectively, to put it nicely. Considering how poor this team was last season, it’s a bit perplexing that they didn’t take a flyer on at least one D-League prospect during the season. Sorry, signing former D-Leaguer Jordan Farmar this offseason doesn’t count as a call-up. If this team is as serious about rebuilding as Prokhorov says, they should get serious about the D-League right now.

New York Knicks LogoNew York Knicks: 1.58 GPA
High Grade: C (MH, RU)
Low Grade: D (MM)
Players Assigned: 0
Players Called Up: 7 (6 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger): The Knicks have actually called up players from the D-League, but unfortunately most don’t get much burn. In 2009 they rotated centers in and out without giving any much of an opportunity (Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, and Courtney Sims). Their biggest success story was Earl Barron who started 6 games for the team last year (and averaged 33 minutes per game). But he was more the exception than the rule, and it’s uncertain if he’ll be back this year.

I’m surprised that a team that has a lot of money to burn, a particularly crafted offensive system, and roster spots to fill doesn’t have their own D-League affiliate to mine for gems. Perhaps there are a few players that were overlooked which would thrive in D’Antoni’s offense, and it would be a great way to find cheap talent so that the team can remain far under the salary cap for obvious reasons.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: You know how easy it would be for the Knicks to throw out $3 million from their massive revenue towards a team in Harlem? You realize how popular they’d be for the move? You realize how much they need to start examining the future and development instead of just buying whatever duct tape and hosery is lying around when the best case doesn’t work out? Pretty easy, pretty popular, and very much.

Final Assessment: It’s no secret that the Knicks use of roster space has been disastrous in the post-Ewing era. Bad signings, bad trades, terrible contracts galore. Add D-League usage to the list of things the Knicks could improve upon. In fairness, they have tried to call up some players, and enjoyed some success with Earl Barron last year, as noted above. However, they have not assigned a player in the five years that assignments have been allowed, a clear sign that they aren’t taking full advantage of the D-League. To echo Matt Moore, this is also a team with the resources to own its own affiliate. That is something that should happen, period. Especially when you consider that the Knicks’ current affiliate, Springfield, shares an affiliation with divisional rivals New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Philadelphia 76ersPhiladelphia 76ers: 0.63 GPA
High Grade: C (MM)
Low Grade: F (MH, THN)
Players Assigned: 2 (0 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 1 (0 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Carey Smith, Philadunkia): The 76ers get an F from us. We’re not sure the Sixers front office knows the D-League exists.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: They get an F for their past, and a B for their future by hiring [former Austin Toros coach] Quin Snyder. So I’ll give them a C. A tentative, tentative C.

Final Assessment: The Sixers have essentially ignored the D-League. In their defense, they have had a different affiliate in each of the past four seasons (Fort Worth Flyers, 2006-07; Albuquerque Thunderbirds, 2007-08; Erie BayHawks, 2008-09; and Springfield Armor, 2009-10). But truth be told, they’ve never gone out of their way to make the affiliate relationship one worth saving either. They now share the Springfield Armor with New York and New Jersey, two teams within the same division, making it questionable that the relationship is going to improve any time soon.

Toronto RaptorsToronto Raptors: 1.83 GPA
High Grade: B- (MM)
Low Grade: D (MH)
Players Assigned: 3 (1 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 8 (2 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Zarar Siddiqi, Raptors Republic): There’s not much to say really. The Raptors haven’t actually developed any rotation players out of the D-League. They poached Jamario Moon for a year and a half, but that’s about it. For more, check out this post on the Raptors’ use of the D-League.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: Ah, lonely Halifax. If only… The Raptors have made a lot of noise and clearly have looked hard and long at the D-league. Their affiliations are typically with the stronger D-League teams and they’ve had a piece or two when they’ve needed it. But at the end of the day, they should just man up and buy a team already.

Final Assessment: The Raptors are entering their second year of an affiliation with the Erie BayHawks. They did call up Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Quincy Douby from the D-League two seasons ago, but overall they’ve been more of a dip-their-toes-in-the-water rather than a dive-in-head-first kind of team when it comes to D-League usage. They’re not totally totally out of the water, but they’re not looking to make the full commitment and get their hair wet either. (Insert cold/Canada joke here.) Point is, the Raptors could do more if they bought in fully to the usefulness of the D-League as a player development tool.

How would you grade the Atlantic 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.

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