The 2011 NBA Development League Showcase begins Monday at the South Padre Island Convention Centre in South Padre Island, Texas. The seventh annual D-League Showcase will feature all 16 NBA D-League teams playing two games each over a four-day span under the careful watch of scouts from all 30 NBA teams.
With all of the league on display, there is plenty to watch for. And players will surely be looking to impress, especially since eight players earned call-ups during or immediately following the Showcase last season, including Sundiata Gaines (Idaho Stampede to Utah Jazz), Cartier Martin (Iowa Energy to Golden State Warriors), and Anthony Tolliver. The 2010-11 season has not yet produced a call-up, and it’s the furthest into a season the D-League has ever gone without a call-up. That’s a record the D-League doesn’t want to publicize, but the lack of call-ups is not for a lack of talent, as detailed in Fanhouse’s Scott Schroeder’s recent breakdown of the top call-up candidates.
Many of the Showcase games feature teams that won’t play each other the rest of the season, making for some matchups. Click through the jump to read about the must-see games from the 2011 D-League Showcase.With four games on each of the four days of the Showcase, you really can’t go wrong. Prospects abound in the 2011 D-League Showcase, but here are my picks for Game of the Day for each of the four days of this year’s action:
Monday: Fort Wayne Mad Ants vs. Rio Grande Valley Vipers
The Vipers may be the defending champions, but they currently sit on the outside looking in at the D-League playoff picture. Nonetheless, they boast a talented roster headlined by recently acquired Jeff Adrien. Despite being an undersized power forward, Adrien has proven to be one of the most effective rebounders in the D-League, pulling down 11.6 boards in 25.7 minutes per game. Mustafa Shakur, who earned a call-up last year, remains one of the D-League’s top point guard prospects, especially with the recent injury setbacks suffered by Aaron Miles and Antonio Daniels. Antonio Anderson is another Viper with a call-up on his resume, but his numbers are down across the board. He’ll need a strong showing at the Showcase to get back on the radar as a call-up candidate.
Fort Wayne has been one of the best stories in the early part of the season, jumping out to an 11-6 start despite being one of only two teams not to receive an assigned player from the NBA this season. The loss of center Chris Hunter was a tough blow, but Oliver Lafayette seems to have picked up where he left off since his return to Fort Wayne, earning D-League Performer of the Week honors in his second week back. Lafayette, who earned a call-up from the Boston Celtics last season is Fort Wayne’s top call-up candidate this season, but the team has also received strong contributions from Walker Russell, who is averaging 8 assists per game and a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. And Marvin Phillips has averaged 12.7 points and a team-high 9.8 rebounds per game. Both Russell and Phillips have also started all 17 games for the Mad Ants.
Tuesday: Erie BayHawks vs. Idaho Stampede
Erie has been one of the most active franchises lately. Their Showcase roster will look considerably different than it did to start the season. Solomon Alabi was assigned yesterday for the second time this season. The Raptors center averaged 8.6 points, 6.7, and 3 blocks in 22.7 minutes per game in 7 games with Erie earlier this season. If he remains with the BayHawks through the Showcase, he’ll be matching up against Idaho’s Jermareo Davidson and Eric Boateng and Rio Grande Valley’s Mickell Gladness and Patrick Sullivan. The new-look BayHawks also feature former three-time call-up Garrett Temple, newly re-signed Blake Ahearn and Ivan Johnson, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and is the only BayHawk to start all 17 games this season.
Though there are plenty of quality prospects on display during the Showcase, none of them will draw the attention of Idaho’s Antoine Walker as he continues to mount his attempted comeback to the NBA. Walker is averaging 17 points (on 45.7 percent shooting) and 6.2 rebounds per game through 9 games with the Stampede. His top teammates include Cedric Jackson, who will have extra motivation against his former team after Erie shipped the former three-time call-up to Idaho last week.
Wednesday: Maine Red Claws vs. Reno Bighorns
The Bighorns have one of the most stacked rosters in the D-League, but they suffered a significant setback in a 124-109 loss to Iowa Wednesday night when Aaron Miles went down with a knee injury. Let’s hope it’s nothing too serious as Miles was having a tremendous season running the point for Reno and was in the running for a call-up. Even without Miles, Reno has to be one of the teams that will be watched most intently by scouts at the Showcase. Patrick Ewing Jr. highlights a roster that also includes the likes of Nick Fazekas, DJ Strawberry, and the recently acquired Salim Stoudamire. After a 6-1 start, Reno is just 4-6 in their last 10 games, so they’ll look to turn things around at the Showcase.
The Red Claws are hovering around the .500 mark, but DeShawn Sims has been a bright spot. Sims leads the Red Claws in scoring (17.7), rebounding (8.8) and shooting percentage (53.6). Other notable players for Maine include Tiny Gallon, Jamar Smith, Paul Harris, Matt Janning, and former Atlanta Hawk Mario West. It should be very interesting to see the front line matchups between Reno and Maine. Will the wide-bodied Gallon square off against Fazekas? Also, a Sims-Ewing matchup at forward would be fun to see—two talented prospects who have produced offensively throughout the season.
Thursday: Iowa vs. Texas
Iowa currently has the best record in the league, and they have the roster to show why. Courtney Sims is a former D-League MVP and one of the few bonafide big men in the league with NBA potential. They also have NBA experience on the roster in the form of Othyus Jeffers, who was just named D-League Performer of the Week, and Kyle Weaver. They also have Garret Siler on assignment from the Phoenix Suns right now, making a loaded roster even better.
On the flipside, the Texas Legends have struggled as of late, in part due to the injury suffered by point guard and team leader, Antonio Daniels. The veteran NBA guard’s absence hurts the Legends, but the cupboard is not bare by any means. Joe Alexander is a leading call-up candidate from the Legends, averaging 19.3 points and 11.1 rebounds, and 1.42 blocks per game. Like Alexander, Sean Williams is another Legend player who was a former first-round pick in the NBA. Williams’ length and shot-blocking alone make him attractive as a call-up candidate. He’s also averaging 10 rebounds per game, and while his offensive game is not expansive, it’s hard to complain about 16.5 points per game and 64.2 percent from the field.
The list of players and teams to watch could go on. I didn’t even mention recent NBA assignees Hamady N’Diaye of the Dakota Wizards and Dexter Pittman of the Sioux Falls Skyforce or Trey Johnson, December’s D-League Player of the Month. Nor did I highlight anyone from the West’s top team, the Tulsa 66ers. The bottom line is that no matter when you tune in during the 2011 Showcase, you’ll find someone or something worth watching—and someone that is being watched by NBA scouts.
Showcase games can be seen on NBA TV, Versus, NBA Futurecast, and AOL Fanhouse. For a full schedule of games and where you can watch, check out the official D-League site. Additionally, the D-League Slam Dunk and 3-Point contests will be held Wednesday night and then aired on tape delay Saturday night, January 15 and Saturday, January 29.