If the D-League is all about promise, potential, and possibilities, the Showcase is about proof and production under pressure. With NBA scouts and general managers aplenty, players from 16 teams of the NBA Development League had two chances to prove themselves worthy of a call-up to the NBA. Truth be told, these games were not all-or-nothing propositions. They have been scouted all season, and one great game likely wasn’t going to override a season of mediocrity. But lackluster play at the Showcase surely can sway an NBA team to have second thoughts or turn its attention elsewhere.
So, after four days and 16 games of D-League basketball, what did we learn from the 2011 D-League Showcase?
Antoine Walker is not a call-up candidate.
Everyone loves a good redemption story. Unfortunately for Antoine Walker, that book was not written at the Showcase, and the publisher should be concerned that the idea may never become a reality. Walker’s much publicized attempt to return to the NBA via the D-League suffered a serious setback with back-to-back porous performance on the Showcase stage. In two games, he shot 4-26 (15.4 percent) and committed 12 turnovers.
It’s easy to bash Walker for two bad games. So I should note that Walker has had his moments this season, including a 28-8-5 that included 4-6 shooting from 3-point range as recently as Saturday. His numbers on the season aren’t terrible; they simply aren’t representative of someone deserving a call-up, and beyond the numbers, that point was hammered home at the Showcase where Walker looked old, heavy, and slow.
Walker has more of an NBA past than your prototypical D-Leaguer, but in regards to an NBA future, there are several players more deserving of a call-up right now. He’s not even the most call-up ready on his own D-League team. I’d nominate point guard Cedric Jackson, who played well in the Showcase and has three call-ups on his resume from last season, for that distinction.
It will be interesting to see if Walker plays out the duration of the season with the Stampede. There have been no indications that he would pack it in early, but the Showcase could be a turning point for him. If the dream of his basketball future in the NBA was fueling him when he first agreed to join the D-League, it’s the cold reality of his D-League present and foreseeable future that is facing Walker now. Whether this is his final chapter remains to be seen, but I don’t expect to be writing any stories about Walker in the NBA this season.
Nancy Lieberman is legit.
Lieberman coached the Texas Legends to a 2-0 record in the Showcase, but it was her time on air on Versus during the Erie BayHawks/Rio Grande Valley Vipers game on Wednesday night that really caught my attention. Lieberman was talking, and I tweeted, “I’m just really impressed by Lieberman every time I hear her speak, read something about her.”
A lot was made of her as the first woman to coach a men’s professional basketball team, and rightfully so. But Lieberman is no stranger to being a trail blazer, and he’s damn good at it. Listening to her talk, I was happy to not care that she was a woman. She was a knowledgeable, interesting, thought-provoking coach who is good for her players and good for the league. And she’s also a good coach, leading the Legends to an 11-9 record despite losing Antonio Daniels to injury earlier this season.
Larry Owens, Jeff Adrien, and Trey Johnson are on the short list of players that look NBA ready.
Owens is rumored to earn the first post-Showcase call-up from the San Antonio Spurs. He’s been one of the biggest reasons the Tulsa 66ers have rattled off eight straight wins. Despite struggling in the 66ers second Showcase game, Owens has been on the cusp of a call-up dating back to last season. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1 steal per game.
Jeff Adrien has put himself on the map since being traded from Erie to Rio Grande Valley at the end of December. In six games with the Vipers, Adrien has averaged 20 points on 63 percent shooting to go along with 12.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. In both games at the Showcase, Adrien separated himself from the competition, including a 20-point, 16-rebound performance against his former BayHawk teammates Wednesday night.
Trey Johnson is another player that seems on the verge of a call-up. Like Adrien, he also has some NBA experience. Johnson has been scoring at a high rate all season long, and he closed out the Showcase with 31 points in a losing effort last night against Austin.
Assigned players had varied showings at the D-League Showcase.
The Good: Jeremy Lin, Reno Bighorns
Golden State Warriors guard Lin, in his second stint with the Bighorns this season, looked more comfortable and played a more assertive offensive game, scoring 20+ points in both Showcase games.
The Bad: Pape Sy, Utah Flash
Sy, 6’7″ guard/forward on assignment from Atlanta, saw limited floor time during the Showcase. His minimal stat line was uninspiring: 27 minutes, 5 points on 1-7 shooting, 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls. Hawks fans can’t feel great about Sy’s NBA prospects when he’s struggling to even earn court time with the Flash—and struggling to perform on the court when he does.
The Others: Cole Aldrich, Tulsa 66ers; Hamady N’Diaye, Dakota Wizards; Dexter Pittman, Sioux Falls Skyforce
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Aldrich actually squared off against N’Diaye and Pittman in successive Showcase games. Aldrich had arguably his best showing as a D-Leaguer Wednesday. He set a career highs with 19 points and 7 blocks and also added 5 rebounds and 2 steals as the 66ers defeated Dakota 96-92. Aldrich’s rebounding numbers were down at the Showcase, but his offensive game looked solid. Washington Wizards center Hamady N’Diaye’s performance was less impressive. Against Aldrich and the 66ers he managed just 6 points on 1-3 shooting (4-8 FT) with 7 rebounds and 1 block. The day before he recorded 7 points and 4 rebounds, but did contribute defensively with 4 blocks. Pittman, a member of the Miami Heat, finished his Showcase with 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks as his Skyforce were crushed by the Reno Bighorns, 117-93.
For box scores and information from all of the games from Day 4 of the D-League Showcase, check out the nba.com/dleague.