Breaking Down the D-League All-Star Game Roster
Early Monday afternoon, the NBA D-League announced the rosters to the upcoming 2013 D-League All-Star that will take place on February 15th at the NBA Jam Session and air live on NBA TV at 3 p.m. Eastern. The announcement didn’t get the fanfare of their NBA counterpart which was of course broadcast live on TNT before the Thursday games, but you can argue that it is actually more important to the players involved.
While a good portion of the players selected to an NBA All-Star game will look at their selection as another accomplishment, the D-League All-Stars will use this game to show off to those NBA scouts. For example, Gerald Green was trying to make a comeback to the NBA while playing for the D-Fenders last season before landing a spot in the D-League All-Star game. Green put up 28 points on 10-17, which helped land him the All-Star Game MVP and more importantly a 10 day contract with the New Jersey Nets where he turned into a productive role player with the team.
While it’s unsure if any of these selections will take the path of Gerald Green, this group of players is definitely the most talented group of players the All-Star game has ever seen. From NBA players like Jeremy Lamb and Shelvin Mack all the way to an unsung hero like rookie Tim Ohlbrecht who’s made a big impact with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers since coming over from Germany in the fall. Actually, Ohlbrecht might be the least well-known name of the group, but he definitely has one of the more interesting stories because of his journey. The journey has been rough for a majority of these players, but a good showing in this All-Star game could help them reach that goal of the NBA.
This squad will be led by the Maine Red Claws coaching staff featuring head coach Mike Taylor who has led the team to one of the top records in the league in his first season at the helm. Unlike in the NBA where the All-Star game rosters are separated between the two conferences, the D-League basically mixes up all of the top players in two separate teams. For example, D-Fenders guard Courtney Fortson is a member of this team, but he’s joined by players from the other side of the country like in Maine, Fort Wayne or Canton. Speaking of Maine, four of their players (Micah Downs, Chris Wright, DaJuan Summers and Shelvin Mack) will once again join their coach in battle for this game. Both Micah Downs and Chris Wright are similar players because they’re both high-motor players with the ability to create some high flying basketball with their athleticism.
While those two have been leading the team since the start of the season, former Piston DaJuan Summers has been quickly making waves as perhaps the best overall forward in the D-League. After starting the season as the 6th man, he’s quickly transformed into the star player by outshining both Wright and Downs with his near double double stats of 19.5 PPG on 45% shooting while pulling down 8.6 boards per game. His game has turned but not like former Red Claws teammate Shelvin Mack who’s currently in the middle of his second 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. Mack was definitely one of the best, if not the best point guard, in the league with his 20.9 PPG and 7.8 APG, but he still hasn’t been as productive in the NBA, so it appears likely that Shelvin will be back with Maine when this current contract is over.
While the Celtics affiliate will be highly represented in the game, the L.A. D-Fenders (owned by the Lakers) will only feature the number one overall prospect, Courtney Fortson. Fortson has most likely claimed the title of the most electrifying player in all of the Development League with his speed and the ability to do anything on the court. He’s an inch below 6-foot but yet still averages more than 5 RPG. Fortson always tries attack the rim either on offense or defense. Fortson drives to the basket to either kick it off to a teammate (6.5 APG) or to score.
The lone NBA assignee on this roster is 66ers/Thunder rookie Jeremy Lamb who’s been down in the D-League because of OKC’s abundance of guards. Lamb has only spent half of the season with the 66ers but has made his mark as perhaps the best scorer in the league by averaging 21.1 PPG to go along with 5.5 RPG. Lamb is currently in the NBA with the Thunder but is playing a limited role with the team. Of course the game is taking place during the NBA All-Star weekend, so he should be available for this game. The last guard on this roster is long time Mad Ants guard/forward Ron Howard. I recently wrote how he was having a great season with the team before unfortunately going down with an injury in late January. His 18 PPG on 43% shooting makes him worthy of playing in the game, but he’s still trying to recover from injury even though he returned against the Canton Charge on Monday night.
Forwards Arinze Onuaku (Canton) and Marcus Landry (Reno) both play similar positions but are two totally different players. Onuaku uses his 6’9″, 275-pound frame to pound opponents in the post for rebounds and baskets. Earlier this season, Arinze was the top prospect in all of the D-League, but a left knee contusion in late December put him on the mend, and he’s only recently been coming back to the Charge in the rotation as a bench player. Meanwhile former Wisconsin Badger forward Marcus Landry has made an argument that he’s perhaps the best sharpshooter in the entire league. Landry is shooting around 44% from behind the arc which is really outstanding when you look at the fact that he’s also shot the most from three point land. The knock against Landry is that he’s mainly known as a sharpshooter, but that really isn’t a problem when he’s one of the best at it.
Sticking with the Reno Bighorns, center Jerome Jordan is the one of the lone bright spots among an otherwise weak position. The former New York Knick has been a dominant force against all the challenges the D-League has to offer by averaging a league high 2.9 BPG. Where Jordan really excels would be in the paint where he’s improved his moves around the basket to average nearly 14 PPG on 60% shooting. This is a big improvement over his time last year with Erie when he only shot just 48% from the field. Jordan is one of the top 5 prospects in the league and is definitely worthy of an NBA call-up, he’ll have to prove that on a bigger stage during the All-Star game.
The Prospect team will be lead by long-time Bakersfield Jam coach Will Voigt who’s taken his team to the top spot in all of the D-League. The team will feature two Jam players (Jerel McNeal and Damion James) who don’t have the most impressive numbers but have been leaders of the team. James, a former 1st round pick by the Hawks (later traded to the Nets) really didn’t flourish after two seasons with the team, but it appears that he has found his niche in the D-League with the Jam. James is the quintessential 6’7″ athletic forward who likes to drive at the rim, which has helped him average nearly 16 PPG on 40% shooting. Sure, the 40% shooting percentage is troubling for a forward, but he’s never really been known as a great shooter. Where he does excel is the boards with 7.4 RPG.
Fellow Jam member Jerel McNeal on the other hand ranks up there with Marcus Landry and Jeremy Lamb as one of the best sharpshooters in the league. The former Marquette Golden Eagle guard is currently the leader of the ever-changing Jam backcourt with his simple yet smooth jump shot and his 45% field goal percentage. McNeal won’t really impress people with his athletic ability, but his jump shot will abuse more teams than the average high-flyer.
Andrew Goudelock has come a long way since Kobe Bryant himself nicknamed him the “Baby Mamba,” but is still making waves with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He showed promise last season with the Lakers when it came to scoring, and he has made improvements this season by averaging 19.3 on a combined 45% shooting with both Sioux Falls and Rio Grande Valley. He plays a different style of basketball than the original “Black Mamba” but you can kind of see the similarities because they both play a cerebral brand of ball. Goudelock is definitely one of the reasons why the Vipers are the 2nd best team in the D-League, but there has also been a German force who has been as important if not more.
That force is of course Tim Ohlbrecht who has surprised a lot of people around the league with how well he’s played in his debut season in not only the D-League but in the U.S. Tim was quietly having a great season, but his real showcase game was ironically during the D-League Showcase last month against the Mad Ants. His 22-point, 9-rebound performance really wasn’t surprising to people who have been watching him, but this game was on the biggest stage he’s played until now. The All-Star game will now be the game where Ohlbrecht will be able to show off to the world, and I do believe that he’ll have a pretty solid game against Jerome Jordan not because of his 13.5 PPG and 7 RPG but also because he’s used to surprising people.
A man who’ll be trying to give Ohlbrecht some competition for that starting center spot will be Henry Sims. The former Georgetown Hoya big man is one of the driving forces to an Erie Bayhawks team that’s in the thick of the playoff race. Sims’ averages of 16.7 PPG and 9 RPG are actually better than Jerome Jordan. I’ve only had the opportunity to watch a few BayHawks games, but Sims is one of those players that immediately jumps out at you when he see him work in the paint with his multiple post moves and how he just works around the basket better than anyone else in the D-League.
When you speak about a guy who works best around the rim you have to talk about Sims’ teammate D.J Kennedy who’s probably the best when it comes to getting to the free throw line. Kennedy currently averages a league high 6.4 FT attempts per game, a result of his ballhandling ability. His relentless pursuit of the basket reminds me of Corey Maggette. Now driving to the hoop isn’t the only thing that Kennedy can do thanks to a developing jump shot, but he still makes his living around the rim and on the boards (averaging 8.8 RPG).
Neither Demetris Nichols (Sioux Falls) or James Mays (Springfield) are the youngest players in the world, but they’re finally making an All-Star type impact for both of their teams. Nichols entered the season as an afterthought on a Skyforce team that featured the likes of Jarvis Varnado, Troy Hudson and Andrew Goudelock, but he has slowly become the veteran leader of the team after all three of those players left for different teams or ventures. Nichols and guard Donald Sloan have recently helped keep the Skyforce to a 5th seed, but Nichols has been producing throughout the season with 17.8 PPG and 5.0 RPG. Now those numbers shouldn’t surprise people who’ve been following the D-League for a while because he was that solid with the Iowa Energy from ’07-’09 while with the Bulls, but this is the year where he’s finally getting his praise as a player.
James Mays is the real definition of a well-traveled veteran because he’s played in countries like Australia, China, Turkey and Puerto Rico, but it appears he’s finally made it home with the Springfield Armor. The duo of Mays and guard Ben Uzoh haven’t been enough to take the team out of the cellar of the D-League standings but they’re making an impact on the league, especially Mays, who’s averaging a double-double with 16.8 PPG and 10.8 RPG. While Mays could be categorized as an finesse player because he’s 6’9″ and 235 pounds, he’s still one of the best rebounders at his position and is a threat to anybody who tries to compete with him on the boards.
The last two players on this team are both NBA players (Terrence Jones with Houston/Rio Grande and Cory Joseph with Austin/San Antonio). They’ve each made their biggest impacts this season while being assigned in the D-League. Rockets first round pick Terrence Jones has taken a backseat with the NBA club because of depth at PF which has allowed him to play a majority of the season with the Vipers. Jones has run with that opportunity by looking like an absolute monster with 19.4 PPG and 9.6 RPG. Jones has been compared to players like Al Harrington which makes perfect sense because they both have solid mid-range shots yet can still crash the boards. D-League fans complain about how NBA players like Jones are going to be in the All-Star game, but Jones has had a great season so far and he’s spent most of his time in the D-League.
Joseph is another player who’s mainly in the D-League because his NBA club is just way too deep at his position. Joseph has been stuck to the Spurs bench or in the D-League for his first two seasons because of guys like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but he’s making the most of his opportunity this season with the Toros. Cory Joseph is one of those players that you have to see play because he’s just an electrifying player every time he touches the ball. His 19.8 PPG and 5.2 RPG really do tell the story of how good he’s actually been in his time with Austin.
There are some other notable players from the season like Luke Harangody, Donald Sloan and Travis Leslie that won’t be participating, but the rules are that a player needs to play at least half of their teams games to be eligible. Sure Leslie is having a terrific season, but there will always be players snubbed in All-Star games and Leslie is unfortunately one of those players. While I would like to see the game be more represented by actual D-League talent, I’m really not angered by the selections and I can’t wait until the All-Star game tips off.