Projecting which first- and second-year players will get assigned to the D-League in the upcoming season is tough. There are a lot of different factors to consider on both the player and team side. If the team doesn’t see the value in utilizing the D-League as a development tool—and their are indications that several franchises still feel that way—they’re not going to bother with assigning a player, even if he’s not seeing any playing time at the NBA level.
On the flipside, if the player is playing, even sparingly, at the NBA level, the team may feel that brief bit of NBA competition is more valuable than heavy minutes at the D-League level. However, other organizations, particularly those that have a strong relationship with—or own—their D-League affiliate may opt to assign players more regularly, trusting that the time spent their will help the player grow individually while also staying within the team’s system and becoming familiar with some of their organization’s offensive and defensive principles.
So this post isn’t really meant to project which players will get assigned to the D-League but rather to highlight a few young players who could really benefit from a stint in the D-League. Click through the jump to find out which players could be honing their NBA skills and growing into their professional potential in the D-League this season, including a few second-year players who spent time in the D-League last year.
Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers via trade from Oklahoma City (Round 1, Pick #18)
In his one year at Kentucky, Bledsoe was somewhat overshadowed by fellow-freshman guard and eventual number one overall pick John Wall. Now with the Clippers, Bledsoe finds himself in the shadow of another talented point guard, veteran Baron Davis. The crowded Clippers backcourt also includes Eric Gordon, Randy Foye and potentially free agents Mardy Collins and Bobby Brown as well as unsigned rookie Willie Warren from Oklahoma.
It’s possible that Bledsoe could crack the rotation, but it will be tough to find minutes behind Davis and Gordon and Foye figures to be the first guard off the bench. Having spent just one year at Kentucky, especially if the Clippers want to bring him in as a point guard, since he deferred to Wall much of the time as a Wildcat. Unfortunately, the Clippers do not have a track record of assigning players. In fact, they’ve never done it. Bledsoe could be the first, but don’t count on it.
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics (Round 1, Pick #19)
The Celtics are an old team, but they’re also one of the few teams in the league with a realistic shot of winning the NBA championship next season, bringing back a core of veterans that has played in two of the past three NBA Finals. Rajon Rondo has emerged as one of the elite point guards in the NBA, but Boston’s backup guard rotation is a question mark. They’ve added Delonte West and Von Wafer to last year’s acquisition of Nate Robinson and D-League call-up Oliver Lafayette, who may be cut before the season begins.
Where does the rookie Bradley fit into the mix? His NBA position is unclear, and it’s also uncertain whether one year at Texas was enough to prepare him to be a factor in May and June against top-level competition. Perhaps some early season seasoning in the D-League could make Bradley a more valuable piece of the playoff puzzle in Boston. They showed the willingness to use the D-League last year with call-ups and assignments, so it wouldn’t be a shock if Bradley was sent to Maine to develop at some point this season.
Daniel Orton, Orlando Magic (Round 1, Pick #29)
The Orlando Magic earned a 0.00 GPA in our recent D-League grades. They simply haven’t used it at all. In a recent article, Otis Smith, Orlando’s president of basketball operations, said the chances of the Magic using the D-League his season is more likely than in previous seasons, but that’s not really saying much. Orton won’t see a lot of minutes backing up Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat, but the organization seems to believe he’ll benefit more from practicing against them than playing against D-league big men. I think it would be a good idea to let him do both. I’m not saying he has to be D-League bound all season long, but a few weeks of heavy minutes probably would serve he and the Magic well in the long run.
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers (Round 2, Pick #40)
Some of the same character issues that caused Lance Stephenson to drop to the second round of the NBA Draft resurfaced last month when he was arrested for assault. He’s since been banned from the Pacers’ team facilities and so it goes to follow that his future with the Pacers may end before it really began. Whether he ends up in Indiana or elsewhere, the biggest form of development needed for Stephenson is his maturity. The D-League isn’t designed as a rehabilitation center, but perhaps a dedicated D-League coaching staff could help Stephenson turn the corner as both a person and a player.
Pape Sy, Atlanta Hawks (Round 2, Pick #53)
Ridiculous Upside’s Scott Schroeder already has this one covered:
Why would I assume that the Hawks, who are notoriously bad at using the D-League, will now suddenly turn over a new leaf and pay a player’s European buyout just so that he can develop in America? Because that’s what they said the plan was before the NBA Draft … I know the Hawks aren’t the most trustworthy team in the NBA under their current ownership, but let’s hope they give Sy – and the D-League – a decent chance at developing. And, as the 53rd overall pick in the draft, developing is probably needed.
Latavious Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder via trade from Miami (Round 2, Pick #48)
I believe Williams is technically a rookie because he was under the age limit and ineligible for an NBA call-up last season, which he played in the D-League as the first player ever to go straight from high school to the D-League. Not surprisingly, his rights were acquired on draft night (via trade) by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who own the Tulsa 66ers, the team for which Williams played all of last season. It’s expected that Williams will spend most if not all of this season back in the D-League, but if his year two progress follows the pattern of last season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he earned a call-up later in the season or made the Thunder’s opening day roster in 2011.
Earl Clark (Round 1, Pick #14)
Clark finds himself amid a logjam of forwards in Phoenix, mixed in with the likes of Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Josh Childress, Hedo Turkoglu, and Hakim Warrick. As it stands now, it’s hard to rank Clark ahead of any of those players. He played just 7.5 minutes per game in 51 appearances for the Suns last year. He played three D-League games, averaging 20.7 points in more than 34 minutes per game. Put another way, in those three D-League games, Clark played more than 25 percent of the minutes he played all season with the Suns. If he’s going to be relegated to a similar role this season, I think they’d be better served giving him the D-League minutes.
Christian Eyenga, Cleveland Cavaliers (Round 1, Pick #30)
How will the Cavs use the D-League in the post-LeBron James era? Their treatment of Eyenga will be one of the first indicators. Let’s be honest, the Cavs aren’t going to contend in the East this season. If they choose not to blow up the team, they could contend for a playoff spot, but even that is not guaranteed. So, does the athletic wing Eyenga make it onto the court for a Cavs team that needs a fresh start? Most say he’s still too raw to be a regular contributor. Why not give him big minutes on a smaller stage and wait to unveil him in Cleveland when he—and the Cavs—are more primed for the big time?
Byron Mullens, Oklahoma City Thunder (Round 1, Pick #24)
As a rookie, Mullens appeared in just 13 games for the Thunder. The good news for Mullens is that he plays for one of the most D-League-friendly organizations in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder’s player development blueprint for Mullens included 27 games in the D-League last year, including four D-League playoff games. The emergence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook over the summer has the Thunder thinking much bigger than an eight seed in the West this season. Playing behind Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka,”The Chairman” Nenad Krstic, and possibly rookie Cole Aldrich, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mullens was sent to Tulsa to play with the 66ers again this season.
Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies (Round 1, Pick #2)
Thabeet was the biggest assignment of last season—both literally, at 7’3″ tall, and in terms of media coverage as the number two overall draft pick, the highest ever assigned to the D-League. I don’t know that Thabeet will be assigned again, but if he would be, quotes like this one make me believe he’d accept it and make the most of the opportunity. “A lot of people take it as a demotion, but to me it was time to go and work on my game. The guys I played with in Dakota recognized that and they supported me. They told me, we can help you get back up there. They were a big help and now I’m back here and happy to be part of the Grizzlies again.”