Making Sense of the D-League Usage Grades

Updated: September 3, 2010

If you’ve been living under an Internet-free rock the past two weeks and haven’t visited D-League Digest, we recently unveiled our D-League usage grades for all 30 teams in six installments, broken down by division.

Each NBA team was graded on how effective it uses the D-League (via call-ups, assignments, affiliate ownership, etc.) by a pane; consisting of that team’s corresponding TrueHoop Network team blogger, Matt Moore or Hardwood Paroxysm and AOL Fanhouse, Ridiculous Upside’s Jon L and Scott Schroeder, and D-League Digest’s Matt Hubert (also known as me.)

It was a fun, collaborative effort to shed some light on which teams are taking advantage of the D-League as a developmental tool, which teams are trying with mixed results, and which teams are failing to see its value whatsoever.

As expected, the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs stood out from the crowd as the model franchises for D-League usage, earning 4.00 and 3.92 GPAs respectively. These Southwest Division rivals set the standard for franchises around the league. Though they have different approaches—the Spurs own the Austin Toros whereas Houston only controls the basketball operations of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers—but they both have used the single-affiliate model to their advantage through assignments and call-ups to supplement what they do through the draft, trades, and free agency.

Oklahoma City, Golden State and Utah were the only other teams to earn better than a B average, coming in at a 3,75, 3.59 and 3.34 GPA respectively. The Thunder are one of the league’s best run teams. They’ve drafted well (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and have put together a talented, young nucleus that has many predicting them as the team best suited to challenge the Lakers in the West next season. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that there basketball intelligence has led them to invest both time and money into the D-League as a resource they can mine to acquire and develop more talent at the NBA level.

Things fall off quickly from there. Boston, Cleveland, and Dallas were the only teams to fall in the 2.50-3.00 GPA range. And Miami, Memphis, Charlotte, and the Lakers round out the list of teams cracking a C average (2.00 and above).

There’s definitely no grade inflation in the school of D-League usage. Seventeen of the NBA’s 30 teams earned a GPA below 2. That’s essentially saying that more than half the students in class are below C students. Simply put, there’s a lot of room for improvement. The question is whether that improvement is something these organizations are targeting. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions (Washington, New Orleans), there aren’t manysigns that the teams who are failing or underutilizing the D-League care to change or have the desire to improve their relationship with the D-League.

The D-League has gained some traction the past two seasons and had a record 40 call-ups last year. As franchises like the Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and Warriors continue to find innovative ways to use the D-League to their organizational benefit, other teams will eventually catch on. The D-League is like new technology for NBA organizations. Like any new technology, some people/teams are going to figure out how to use it right away while others struggle with it or ignore it entirely.

If the technology turns out to be worthwhile and you were in that latter group that ignored it, you’re left with two options: stubbornly refusing to admit you were in the wrong and continuing to ignore it OR jumping on the bandwagon late and scrambling to make up for lost time learning the basics while those who have already invested in the technology are putting it to greater use. That’s where I see the NBA teams right now. The D-League is still in that infancy stage of experimentation. A few years from now, those teams at the head of the class will know what works and what doesn’t work and how to most efficiently use the D-League. While they’re reaping the benefits, the franchises who are currently earning those Ds and C-minuses are going to be trying to emulate their success without the prior experience to know how to do so.

After the jump, view the final league-wide report card, breaking down the teams into tiers by their cumulative GPA.

Houston Rockets: 4.00 GPA
San Antonio Spurs: 3.92 GPA

Honor Roll
Oklahoma City Thunder: 3.75 GPA
Golden State Warriors: 3.59 GPA
Utah Jazz: 3.34 GPA

Passing, Room for Improvement

Boston Celtics: 2.84 GPA
Cleveland Cavaliers: 2.78 GPA

On the Right Track
Dallas Mavericks: 2.54 GPA

Just Getting By
Miami Heat: 2.33 GPA
Mempis Grizzlies: 2.11 GPA
Charlotte Bobcats: 2.08 GPA
Los Angeles Lakers: 2.00 GPA

Below Average
Phoenix Suns: 1.92 GPA
Toronto Raptors: 1.83 GPA
Chicago Bulls: 1.78 GPA
New York Knicks: 1.58 GPA

Should Consider a Tutor
Washington Wizards: 1.46 GPA
Minnesota Timberwolves: 1.44 GPA
Detroit Pistons: 1.37 GPA
Sacramento Kings: 1.33 GPA
Milwaukee Bucks 1.17 GPA

See Me After Class
Atlanta Hawks: 0.92 GPA
Denver Nuggets: 0.92 GPA
Portland Trail Blazers: 0.89 GPA
Los Angeles Clippers: 0.83 GPA
New Jersey Nets: 0.63 GPA
Philadelphia 76ers: 0.63 GPA

Failing, but with Signs of Improvement
New Orleans Hornets: 0.50 GPA

Failing, Not Even an E for Effort
Indiana Pacers 1.33/0.25 GPA
Orlando Magic: 0.00 GPA