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After Historic Season in NBA D-League, Alumni Carry Torch in NBA Playoffs
Heat teammates Dexter Pittman and Terrel Harris, both NBA D-League alums, pose with Bill Russell after winning the NBA title.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
Four years ago – a full four years before he held up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in American Airlines Arena on Thursday night and two years before LeBron James started all of this by taking his talents southward – Joel Anthony missed the playoffs twice in one year.
He missed them with the Heat, who’d re-tooled after their 2006 title and finished the 2007-08 season with the then-worst record in league history. And he also missed them with the Iowa Energy, a new addition to the NBA Development League that managed more wins than their parent club in Miami (22 to 17), but still missed the postseason all the same.
Together, they accounted for two of the 60 players with NBA D-League experience in the 2011-12 NBA postseason. Some, like Anthony, played minor roles – after averaging 20 minutes a game during the Playoffs, the big man played a total of two in the Finals. Others, like Danny Green in San Antonio or Ramon Sessions in L.A. or Brandon Bass in Boston, factored in a little bit more. Well, a lot more.
But all told, they all represent the current state of the NBA D-League alumni network. How, even though all roads lead to the NBA, for many NBA players – more than a quarter of them, to be exact – that road’s made a stop in the NBA D-League.
Some, yes, still round out rosters, adding bulk to the practice squad and are willing gobblers of garbage time. But more find themselves playing key roles on good teams. Of the 13 players on the Lakers’ postseason active list, six of them had NBA D-League experience.
Some, on truly great teams. Together, the Spurs, Celtics, Thunder and Heat brought 12 NBA D-League alums into the Conference Finals, with seven of them playing significant minutes.
A few have even turned into minor stars, such as Fort Worth Flyers alum Lou Williams, who led the 76ers in scoring during the regular season and finished third on the team in the Playoffs, in a year that saw the Sixers drop the top-seeded Bulls in the first round to become just the fifth No. 8 seed to take down the No. 1 team. Or Jeremy Lin, who you might’ve heard of. Or even Lin’s teammate (and fellow D-League alumnus) Steve Novak, who turned himself into the most dangerous catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter of the 2011-12 season, and, had injuries not felled the Knicks before the Playoffs even began, might have had a chance to re-write history in a first-round series with the eventual champs.
And as we wrap up the most successful season in the history of the NBA D-League, we can’t turn the page to summer without taking a look at how far its grads have come.
Most Outstanding Alum in the Playoffs
Bass’s offensive game still needs a coat of polish, but his size and power made him good for 10 points a night in the Eastern Conference Finals – and an 11.1 ppg clip for the Playoffs. It was his defense, though, that mattered most to the C’s. Going without the injured Avery Bradley, the Celtics needed someone – anyone – to match up with the quicker, more athletic Heat. Playing against LeBron James for much of the series, Bass did about as well as anyone in the entirety of the 2011-12 postseason, putting a body on the league MVP and bolstering the Celtics defense from perimeter to the paint, where he grabbed 5.6 rebounds a game.
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs – Green started all but two of San Antonio’s 14 games in the Playoffs, plugging his D-and-3’s game perfectly into the Spurs’ system, as San Antonio marauded through 20 straight games – including 10 straight to open the Playoffs. Through two rounds, he was averaging close to 11 points, with four rebounds and a block per game to go with it. But as the Spurs cooled in the final four games of the Western Conference Finals, so did Green. His minutes fell from 25 a game to 15, his rate from downtown plummeted from 57.9 percent in the second round to just 17.4 in the Conference Finals and his scoring hit just 3.3 ppg, after 12.3 a round prior.
For the season, though, Green established himself as one of the premier – and almost certainly one of the most versatile – long-distance threats in the league, with the veteran of 19 NBA D-League games able to impact the game all over the floor.
Earl Clark, Orlando Magic – Clark, who played for the Iowa Energy in 2009-10, gave the Magic 6.6 rebounds in only 17.6 minutes a night during Orlando’s first-round loss to Indiana, which projects to 13.5 if he were to play 36 minutes. Playing without Dwight Howard, the Magic were looking for answers on the inside. Clark gave them one.
Eric Bledsoe, Clippers: Bledsoe’s role grew throughout the Playoffs, with his minutes shooting up by nearly 10 a game between the first and second rounds (13.9 vs. 23.0 mpg). Unfortunately for Bledsoe – who started the year on assignment with the Bakersfield Jam to get him back into playing shape after an injury delayed his start to the season – the Clippers didn’t last too long, falling in four straight games to San Antonio in the conference semis. In that series, though, Bledsoe averaged 11.5 points, 2.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals, including a 23-point, 5-rebound, 4-assist night in the opener.
Avery Bradley, Celtics: Until undergoing surgery to repair an injured shoulder during the conference semis, Bradley had continued to endear himself to the Celtics faithful, showing off his elite defensive game and hinting at a budding offensive ability that C’s fans hope – with entropy ahead in the offseason – comes to fruition in 2012-13.
Daequan Cook, Thunder: Cook didn’t see a ton of time in the Playoffs – the numbers fell from 11 mpg in the first round to 3.7 in the Finals – but he made himself known when he did hit the floor. Providing OKC’s first flight of guards with some much-needed breathers, his quickness on defense made him a pest, but his stroke from outside – including a Game 5 against the Spurs that saw him score eight points in three minutes – made him lethal if left alone.
Greg Stiemsma, Celtics: The former Sioux Falls Skyforce sultan of swat (the basketball kind) saw his minutes dwindle over the course of the postseason, going from 10 per game in the first to 8.1 in the second to 5 in the Conference Finals, but that’s mainly due to the fact that Kevin Garnett went partial-cyborg as the Playoffs wore on. For his part, Stiemsma still gave the Celtics a big body in the middle, and one able to alter shots from anywhere around the paint. He’ll need to add strength in the offseason to compete in the lane, but he walks out of his first year in the NBA – after more than two full years in the NBA D-League – with some promise.
Ian Mahinmi, Mavericks: A year after coming to the Mavericks in time for a championship run, Manhinmi rolled through an up-and-down year with the Mavs, though he finished with a flourish – even if the Mavs didn’t. In 17.5 minutes per game in Dallas’ first-round loss to Oklahoma City, the France native and veteran of 46 NBA D-League games put up 7.3 points with 4.5 rebounds.