Brad Jones: Coaching The Assigned Players
by Matthew Brennan, D-League.com
When a D-League team receives an assigned player from one of their NBA affiliates, it can be both a blessing and challenge to a D-League coach. While NBA-assigned players and their talents can help a team get better, they also need to be added to the rotation of their D-League team, often at the expense of other players.
Utah Flash head coach Brad Jones is no stranger to the issue of assigned players, as the Jazz and the Celtics have each sent two players to the Flash during the 2007-08 season. Jones feels that communication with their NBA affiliates plays a crucial role in the success the Flash have enjoyed with players such as Morris Almond, Gabe Pruitt, and Kyrylo Fesenko.
"First of all, in one way it is a challenge and in another way it's not," said Jones after Utah defeated Bakersfield on Wednesday. "Our two affiliates, the Celtics and Utah Jazz, we have very open lines of communication, especially since our GM David Fredman used to work for the Jazz. We know what they want and then we go do it."
While the Flash have enjoyed success with their assigned players, other players on the roster were missing out on playing time. This factor led the Flash to make a roster move last week when they traded Michael Cuffee, a promising young player who missed out on playing time when the likes of Almond and Pruitt were in town.
"We have already had a ton of guys come down, two Celtic guys and two Jazz guys, and its part of the reason why we traded Michael Cuffee," says Jones. "I think he's a good D-League player, but we have these NBA guys like Morris Almond and Gabe Pruitt who have to have minutes. I feel that Micheal has NBA potential, and he's a good kid, but he's only getting 10-12 minutes when guys like that come down to the Flash and the opportunity came to trade him and add a local guy in Britton Johnsen. On the flip side, you have a guy like Andre Ingram. For the first ten games of the season he was playing mop-up minutes, but I knew he would be fine once he got the opportunity. It's definitely a challenge, but we have good guys and they understand it. We come to work, we dont know who is gonna be here, the D-League changes rapidly, but we just have to work hard."
One other aspect that D-League coaches take into account with assigned players is how ready they are for game situations. Assigned players who were not getting a lot of playing time with their NBA teams need to adjust to playing major minutes once they head to the D-League.
"When we had Gabe Pruitt or Morris Almond, they hadnt played at all and hadn't gone through training camp with us like Fesenko and Almond had," said Jones. "It was ironic, both guys came in their first game, and played very well, and they probably thought hey this is easy. But both of their next games were terrible, so it's a great process for players. Another thing that is good for the NBA teams is that we can give those guys the attention that they need to get better. We give our NBA guys a whole lot of attention for them to get better, and once due to the communication level with Kevin O'Connor and Danny Ainge, they tell us exactly what they want and we go and do it. That's a beautiful thing about the D-League in my opinion."
The Flash are now down to only one assigned player in Fesenko, who enjoyed an excellent outing at the Showcase on Monday. Jones was quick to praise Fesenko's attitude and hard work that have led to his success in the D-League. The rooke center from Ukraine is averaging 11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds for Utah and forms one of the league's top center tandems with veteran James Lang.
"To his credit, he has worked really really hard," says Jones about Fesenko. "You hear sometimes that guys have a bad attitude about being sent to the D-League, but every guy that has been sent to the Flash has had a really good attitude about being here. Kyrylo was really excited to be here, and when he got called up one time he was getting ready to go on a road trip and he called us to apologize. He was getting confidence and playing time, and young bigs need to be ont he court playing to get better. He doesn't like it sometime because we get on him, but I tell him you might not like it now but when you get back to the NBA you are going to appreciate it."