Assessing the Assignees: Early Season Struggles

We’re only one week into 2010-11 NBA Development League season, and yet we’ve already had six players assigned to the NBA. The two latest, Cole Aldrich and Ed Davis, were lottery picks in the 2010 NBA Draft. Along with the Rockets’ Patrick Patterson, there have already been three lottery selections assigned to the D-League this season.

It was just announced today that Aldrich, the former Kansas center, was sent from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Tulsa 66ers. Meanwhile, Davis, a former North Carolina Tar Heel and current Toronto Raptors was assigned to the Erie BayHawks earlier this week. Both Aldrich and Davis are expected to make their D-League debuts on Friday. Aldrich’s 66ers will host the 3-0 Iowa Energy in Tulsa’s home opener. Davis and the BayHawks will be on the road for the first of back-to-back games against the New Mexico Thunderbirds.

The first four call-ups of the season—Patrick Patterson, Soloman Alabi, Gani Lawal, and Christian Eyenga—have played a total of eight games so far. They have had some good moments, but their overall performances haven’t been great. And they certainly didn’t stand out from the pack. In fact, none of the assignees rank among the D-League’s top 50 in efficiency to start the season. It’s admittedly a small sample size and too early to cast a final judgment on them. Still, their early season showings have highlighted the fact that the talent level in the D-League is high, and the players on assignment will have the opportunity to develop and improve by playing minutes against this level of competition.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what each player has shown to start the season:

Soloman Alabi, Erie BayHawks (Toronto Raptors)
I had the chance to see both of Alabi’s performances in person. He uses his height and length very well on the defensive end of the floor (9 blocks in two games, including 7 in an opening night 38-point win). Offensively is where he has struggled. In two games, he’s shot just 5-16 from the field (31 percent) against a Springfield defensive front that did not have the size to match up with him. The Armor showed the blueprint for stopping him is to body him on the block, where Alabi did not seem consistent or confident in his post-up game. He’s also averaging a solid but not spectacular 7.5 rebounds, but I think that number would improve with some added strength.

Christian Eyenga, Erie BayHawks (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Personally, I would like to see Eyenga more assertive on the offensive end. He took just 6 shots in 25 minutes in Saturday’s loss and attempted just 9 shots the night before. Perhaps a week of practice with the team will have him feeling more comfortable in the offense. Athletically, I don’t think there was a player on the court from Erie or Springfield that could match up with Eyenga, but he needs to find ways to use that athletic ability more often. He did have 5 blocks, but only 1 steal. A fast break combination of Eyenga finishing from BayHawks point guard Cedric Jackson could be lethal, but it did not materialize often in the first two games.

Gani Lawal, Iowa Energy (Phoenix Suns)
Lawal had the highest point total of any assigned player so far this season with his 22-point debut, but he scored 10 of those 22 points at the free throw line while shooting just 6-17 from the field. To his credit, he did add 13 rebounds in that game. His two subsequent performances have been rather unremarkable, however. Lawal has failed to score in double figures in each of the past two games while accounting for 5 turnovers and 0 assists. The Energy have one of the most talented rosters in the league, but it’s still a bit surprising to see the underwhelming numbers Lawal has put up through three games.

Patrick Patterson, Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets)
Patterson’s Vipers have played just one game so far this season, the opening night contest against the Texas Legends. His team won the game, but Patterson battled foul trouble throughout the night and never got in the flow offensively, finishing with just 7 points on 2-6 shooting. On the plus side, he did manage to grab 9 rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Patterson will look to improve his play when the Vipers return to action Saturday on the road against the Austin Toros.

As always, you can watch all of the assignees in the D-League for free with NBA Futurecast, which streams all NBA Development League games live online for free.

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