D-League Digest

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

This is the sixth and final post in our series grading all 30 NBA teams on their usage of the D-League. Get up to speed with our grades of the Pacific, Atlantic, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest divisions. If you missed the original 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 Central Division:

Chicago Bulls LogoChicago Bulls: 1.78 GPA*
High Grade: C (MM)
Low Grade: C- (MH, RU)
Players Assigned: 6 (0 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 6 (4 in last two years)

Matt Moore’s Explanation: No investement in the league, but the guys they’ve brought on that have produced have stuck. That’s something.

Final Assessment: The Bulls are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to using the D-League. They’re playing hokey-pokey. They stick a foot in here and a hand in there, but that’s not what it’s all about when we’re talking about utilizing the D-League as a developmental tool. Shannon Brown passed through Chicago a few years ago. Last year, they called up the likes of Chris Richard and Rob Kurz, but neither player stuck. It seems to me that they have the right aim, they have the value of the D-League in sight, they’ve just yet to hit the (wait for it…) bulls-eye.

Cleveland Cavaliers LogoCleveland Cavaliers: 2.78 GPA*
High Grade: B (MM)
Low Grade: B- (MH, RU)
Players Assigned: 8 (3 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 11 (4 in last two years)

Matt Moore’s Explanation: It pays to have season ticket holders willing to invest in a team you haven’t needed… until now.

Final Assessment: Living in Erie, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the Cavaliers’ usage of their D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks, firsthand. They’ve had a good working relationship with the BayHawks, sending down Darnell Jackson and Danny Green last year and calling up Cedric Jackson (though he was barely used). But that was the old regime. The organization has a lot of new challenges after the departure LeBron, and depending on how their season goes, they could be looking at a total roster overhaul. If that happens, they may see an influx of new pieces that would lead to even more reliance on strong usage of the D-League.

Detroit Pistons LogoDetroit Pistons: 1.37 GPA
High Grade: B (MM)
Low Grade: D- (MH)
Players Assigned: 7 (2 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 0

THN’s Take (by Dan Feldman, Piston Powered): Their seasoned young players remain in Detroit, and the Pistons often only trust their own coaches to work with their raw players. Not many guys fit in between, justifying few D-League assignments. It seems more one- or two-week stints would be helpful for the raw players to test Detroit’s coaches’ lessons. Also, I rarely hear about the Pistons mining the D-League for end-of-bench players. But at one point, Amir Johnson may have been the D-League’s best player of all time, so that counts for something, right?

Matt Moore’s Explanation: They’ve used it to develop guys, but it hasn’t worked out. B for effort? Besides, Bynum is arguably their best point guard.

Final Assessment: D-troit basket-ball. D-League usage. D-minus grade. The Pistons have never called up a player from the D-League. They might be deserving of a pass for their success during the early 2000s, but there’s no excuse for not testing the D-League waters last season when the team struggled. There were a record 40 call-ups last year, yet the Pistons didn’t make a single move. They have used the assignment strategy in the past and employ former D-League Rookie of the Year Will Bynum, but there’s a lot of room for improvement in their D-League usage.

Indiana Pacers LogoIndiana Pacers: 1.33/0.25 GPA
High Grade: A+ (THN), D (RU)
Low Grade: F (MH, MM)
Players Assigned: 0
Players Called Up: 0

THN’s Take (by Tim Donahue of 8 Points, 9 Seconds): To my knowledge, the Pacers have never used the D-League at all. If I remember correctly, their original affiliate was Albuquerque, and now it’s Fort Wayne. They have never called anybody up. They have never sent anybody down.

I suppose D-League supporters would give this approach an F. I give it an A+. As currently constituted, I see no value in the D-League, and I don’t think it is helpful for the Pacers’ young players to play there. I could see wholly owned teams like Tulsa (Oklahoma City) and Austin (San Antonio) being valuable since they can be treated like an actual farm team, and the players can be tutored in the NBA team’s system by coaches who understand the franchise-wide strategy and culture. But the Pacers share the Mad Ants with Pistons and Bucks, so you can’t control the coaching. I also worry about facilities and injuries. Finally, I spent most of my high school afternoons coming home and watching CBA games on ESPN, and I have visions of teams entirely populated by chuckers without conscience—bent only on showing NBA scouts enough to grab a 10-day contract.

Coach Jim O’Brien was asked about it once, and he said that he prefers that guys (like A.J. Price and Josh McRoberts) practice with the team. He said the only time he would send anyone down was if he knew that (a) the team wouldn’t get a lot of practices for the next month or so, and (b) he knew he wouldn’t need the guy. Keep in mind that constant injuries over the last couple of years have made it hard to have any Pacer player be expendable.

Not much more to say than that. The Pacers flatly don’t use the D-League.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: F. FAIL.

Final Assessment: I couldn’t disagree more with my TrueHoop Network colleague on this one. While I understand Tim Donahue’s point about the Pacers sharing their affiliate with other NBA teams, I don’t think that’s a viable excuse for a franchise like Indiana to essentially boycott the D-League. And if that’s what’s holding them back, then they should take the lead from a fellow small-market former ABA franchise, the Spurs, and purchase their own affiliate. Basically everything that the Spurs do right with personnel and player development, the Pacers do wrong—or at least less successfully.

Maybe if Jonathan Bender or Al Harrington had come around a few years later, they could have been developed in the D-League. Will Pacers rookies Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Magnum Rolle face similar fates? With the Pacers organization seemingly too stubborn to learn from history or their peers in San Antonio, it wouldn’t be surprising. Besides, even if the affiliate system is reason not to send players on assignment, that’s no excuse for not scouting the D-League for potential call-up candidates. It’s hard to believe there hasn’t been one player in the history of the D-League that could’ve helped the Pacers, especially since they haven’t had a winning record since the 2004-05 season.

Milwaukee Bucks LogoMilwaukee Bucks: 1.17 GPA
High Grade: D+ (MH, RU)
Low Grade: D (MM, THN)
Players Assigned: 5 (1 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 2 (1 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball): Milwaukee Bucks
As far as D-League usage goes, I’d give Milwaukee a D. They don’t seem to have much interest in D-Leaguers. Last season, Jodie Meeks struggled to get playing time or be consistent with his jump shot, but they kept him up with the big club in case they needed him. He seemed like a prime candidate to spend a month or so in the D-League to regain confidence in his jump shot.

Milwaukee hasn’t yet signed their two second round picks in Darington Hobson and Tiny Gallon, but if they do, both would benefit from some time in the D-League. Milwaukee has tons of depth on the wing and at the four, making immediate playing time for either youngster very unlikely. It’s tough to criticize the Bucks when talking about developing young players. Brandon Jennings and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute have been getting minutes from day one as draft picks of John Hammond. But why the Bucks didn’t use the D-League more with Joe Alexander or Meeks is a curiosity.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: They are what I refer to a s a “banisher” club. They use the D-League as a prison to punish those that suck.

Final Assessment: The Bucks are another team that has used the D-League—just not very often and not very effectively. Their lone call-ups were of Eddie Gill and Jared Reiner. And their most recent assignment, Joe Alexander, was traded to Chicago shortly after the Bucks assigned him. So they weren’t all that into developing him. As Jeremy Schmidt noted, you can’t fault them for not using the D-League with guys like Jennings and Mbah a Moute as they’ve produced at the NBA level. But you can fault them for several other things, so a D+ sounds about right.

*TrueHoop Network blogs By the Horns and Cavs: The Blog did not respond to inquires to provide a grade, so the Bulls’ and Cavaliers’ GPA was based on just three grades.

^Pacers grader Tim Donahue went off the charts with an unconventional A+ grade for the Pacers. That was weighted at 4.33 on the 4.0 scale, which explains the Pacers grade. However, since his rationale for the grade was entirely unique among all of the bloggers, I also gave the Pacers a second GPA without factoring in Donahue’s grade.

How would you grade the Central Division teams’ usage of the D-League? Let us know in the comments below.

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