Prospect Watch 2012-13: Week Six

To reach the NBA, an NBA D-League player often needs one elite skill. One reason to enter a game. These are the guys who are best at what they do.
Well that was fast.

After just four NBA D-League players earned Call-Ups in the first seven weeks of the season (dating back to Draft on Nov. 2), four more just went up over Christmas Weekend. Chris Douglas-Roberts, the league's clear No. 1 Prospect for pretty much every second he played in the NBA D-League this year, started the run, heading up to the Mavericks on Nov. 23.

The Big Board
1Chris WrightFMaine
2Ben UzohGSpringfield
3Travis LeslieGSanta Cruz
4Andrew GoudelockGSioux Falls
5Chris WrightGIowa
6D.J. KennedyG/FErie
7Arinze OnuakuFCanton
8Courtney FortsonGL.A.
9JaJuan JohnsonFFort Wayne
10Micah DownsFMaine
11Henry SimsCErie
12Christian EyengaG/FTexas
13Justin DentmonGAustin
14Darnell JacksonFReno
15James MaysFSpringfield
16James AndersonGRGV
17Mychel ThompsonGErie
18Vernon MacklinCRGV
19Tyler WilkersonFAustin
20Gary FlowersFL.A.
21Damion JamesGBakersfield
22Justin HarperFIdaho
23Tim OhlbrechtC/FRGV
24Durrell SummersGIdaho
25Morris AlmondGIowa
26Chris RobertsGTexas
27Paul HarrisGIowa
28Demetris NicholsFSioux Falls
29Keith BensonC/FErie
30Marcus LandryGReno
Jarvis Varnado, the league's No. 3 Prospect and leading shot-blocker went next, going to the Celtics on Christmas Eve.

Then came Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple, two point guards in the overall Top 30 Prospects -- and two of the league's best distributors -- who went to the Washington Wizards on Christmas.

And what did they have in common? Seven of the eight Call-Ups have appeared somewhere in the Top-30 Big Board this year (though, in our defense -- because it is the season for forgiveness -- Daniel Orton went to OKC before the 2012-13 board debuted). But that's too general. Some of the greatest performers in the history of the league don't have an NBA minute to their name.

So why'd they go up? The eight players went to the NBA because of at least one NBA-caliber skill that fit a need. The C's needed an inside presence, so they Called-Up the league's resident swat-specialist, just like they did last year with Greg Stiemsma. The injury-marred Wiz needed point guards to run the offense, and got two of 'em.

Now, with the four Top Prospects gone, who are the next guys in line at each skill? Find out below.

Overall Scoring
NBA teams look for scoring in the NBA D-League like people look for bargains at Tiffany's. The National Basketball Association has plenty of scorers, not to mention hundreds of players on the bench up for proving that they can do it, too. But in Douglas-Roberts' case, he presented a proven package -- someone who's scored with relative efficiency at the NBA level before. In 156 career NBA games, CDR shot better than 44 percent from the field. So his 22-plus points per game in the NBA D-League, on 49.4-percent shooting, meant something.

A few other names could make the leap based purely on their abilities to put the ball in the hoop. But not many. And these, friends, are those:
  • Andrew Goudelock, G, Sioux Falls Skyforce: You don't get a nickname like 'Mini Mamba' from Kobe Bryant himself without the ability to make the scoreboard short-circuit. Goudelock showed a capacity for high-level production in short bursts with the Lakers last year, and now leads the NBA D-League in scoring after CDR's departure.

    A note, though: Goudelock's shooting just 43 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from 3-point range. He'll get a chance before season's end, but only a consistent touch will keep him in the NBA.
  • Justin Dentmon, G, Austin Toros: Last year's NBA D-League MVP has spent the season slipping gears, shooting wayyyy below his lifetime mark, at 40.4 percent from the field (compared to 46.9-percent for his NBA D-League career). But Dentmon -- who scored 5.5 ppg in a four-game stint with Toronto last year -- still gets into the lane (and the line) when he pleases, and if his efficiency improves he'll start putting up those 30- and 40-point nights again soon. In the meantime, his free throw rate has kept him an elite scorer in the league, with Dentmon going to the line 8.7 times a night over his last three.
  • Morris Almond, G, Iowa Energy: The owner of two of the three highest-scoring games in NBA D-League history just came back from playing overseas. In his first five games he, too, has struggled to hit shots at a rate anywhere close to what he's done in the past (he's a lifetime 49.1-percent shooter in the NBA D-League), but Almond's enough of a spark off the bench to nearly guarantee a 10-day at some point.
Outside Shooting
Steve Novak turned himself into a sniper from the outside in the NBA D-League and parlayed his play there into a steady gig behind the arc for the Knicks. Sustained accuracy turns heads. These are the guys who can best stretch the floor.
  • Andy Rautins, G, Tulsa 66ers: The former New York Knick and Syracuse guard can drill from outside, hitting 42.9 percent of his attempts from distance this year.
  • Marcus Landry, F, Reno Bighorns: Like Rautins -- and actually, by the stats, better than Rautins at the moment -- Landry brings a ton of sneaky value on the perimeter. At 6-foot-7, the former Knicks and Celtics forward has the height to still get shots off at the NBA level, and at 48.5-percent from 3-point range this year on 7.3 attempts a game, he's shown he can make 'em.
  • Courtney Fortson, G, L.A. D-Fenders: The blink-quick Fortson has hit 47 percent of his treys this year, drawing his defender to the perimeter and opening up the lane while he's at it. More on him later.
Inside Efficiency
Before he became a full-time Houston Rocket, Greg Smith shot just under 67 percent from the floor in 22 NBA D-League games. He's kept it going in the NBA, at 64.5 percent in The Show. These are the guys on the inside who bring the most value with every shot attempt.
  • Tim Ohlbrecht, C/F, Rio Grande Valley Vipers: Ohlbreht's exploded of late. A near-7-footer out of Germany once thought to be the heir to Dirk's legacy, Ohlbrecht's rarely shown the ability to perform at his best for extended periods. But with an expanded focus in Rio Grande Valley (after playing 14.5 minutes in his first four games, he's played 33.5 a game in his last six), he's showing off a polished skill set that makes him a threat anywhere from the lane to mid-range. In 10 games, he's shot better than 58 percent and needed just 8.4 shots a night to record his 14.1-point average. Though, outside of a 15-board night against Reno, he could rebound more.
  • Henry Sims, C, Erie BayHawks: The leading scorer among all NBA D-League centers (shooting 49.2 percent) uses his quickness and power -- both of which he has in abundance -- to finish at the basket. He can hit free throws, too, going 73 percent from the line this year. While he could stand to rebound better, that part of his game has improved.
  • Hassan Whiteside, C, Sioux Falls Skyforce: The former Kings center has made 66.7 percent of his shots over four games this year, scoring 13.3 points in just 17.7 minutes a game.
Rebounding
As our Sam Farber wrote earlier in the month, three of the season's first four NBA Call-Ups came from the Top 20 in Rebounding Percentage. Varnado's Call-Up made it four of the first eight. As advanced metrics take hold and rebounds take on an importance along the line of fumbles in the NBA, big-league teams have found more and more spots for gifted rebounders.

  • Arinze Onuaku, F/C, Canton Charge: The league's second-leading rebounder, Onuaku's averaging 10.7 boards a game. Ahem. He's averaging 10.7 rebounds in less than half a game. Playing 22 minutes a night for a Canton team stacked with frontcourt talent, Onuaku's made his time count as much as anyone in the NBA D-League. When an NBA team comes looking for an instant injection of energy every time he steps on the floor, Onuaku's the answer in the post. Plus, he's also making nearly 58 percent of his shots.
  • Hassan Whiteside, C, Sioux Falls Skyforce: With just four games to his name this year (he joined the league late), he doesn't have a big sample size, but right now, the only player with a per-48 rebounding average better than Onuaku is Whiteside, who's ripping down 25.3 boards per full game.
  • James Mays, F, Springfield Armor: Mays' offensive game has all the polish of your first car in high school, but nobody's grabbed more rebounds per game than the 6-foot-9 big man out of Clemson, who's racked up 12.2 a night -- including 40 combined boards in back-to-back nights against Canton and Fort Wayne, while taking on Top 10 Prospects in the lane, on Dec. 14 and 15.
  • Rick Jackson, F, Austin Toros: Specializing in offensive boards (38.6 of his total rebounds have come on the offensive end), the former 'Cuse forward stands at 17.6 rebounds per 48 -- fifth in the league.
  • Brian Butch, C, Bakersfield Jam: In a season where his long-distance abilities have abandoned him (with career-worsts in field goal and 3-point percentages), Butch has still logged 10.1 rebounds per game. He had NBA interest two years ago, before a string of injuries set him back, and he's pulling down rebounds as effectively as he ever has.
  • Others: Rebounding tends to translate better than most other skills from level-to-level, so look for these guys to get a look for their ability to keep the ball in their teams' hands: Paul Harris, Iowa Energy; Jerome Jordah, Reno Bighorns; Michael Eric, Canton Charge; Sean Evans, Idaho Stampede.
Shot-Blocking
An elite shot-swatter will get a job in the NBA. Call it the Stiemsma Theory. These are the other guys to watch.
  • Hassan Whiteside, C, Sioux Falls Skyforce: At 2.4 blocks per game for his NBA D-League career and with 1.8 in 17 mpg (4.92 blocks/48) this year, Whiteside should provide a pretty seamless transition in Sioux Falls' post-Varnado era. Unless he, too, heads back up soon.
  • Chris Johnson, C, Santa Cruz Warriors: The former NBA D-League Defensive Player of the Year doesn't have much weight to stand up for himself in the lane, but he does have the hops, timing and length to steer shots clear at the last second.
  • Christian Eyenga, G/F, Texas Legends: Texas' swingman -- not to mention former Laker and Cavalier -- can stay in front of nearly anyone from the perimeter to the post, while his leaping ability's made him the 13th-best shot-blocker per 48 minutes (while playing on the wing, remember) in the league.
  • Others: JaJuan Johnson, Fort Wayne Mad Ants; Travis Hyman, Tulsa 66ers; Mickell Gladness, Santa Cruz Warriors; Michael Eric, Canton Charge; Gary Flowers, L.A. D-Fenders; Jamario Moon, L.A. D-Fenders.
Overall Defense
While there's some D in the NBA D-League, the league's still a pretty open one. Which means that defenders like the players below get a chance to stand out.
  • Chris Wright, F, Maine Red Claws: Big and explosive, Wright got run with the Golden State Warriors last year because he fit with Mark Jackson's emphasis on the defensive end of the game. It didn't hurt that he could probably jump over the Bay Bridge. In 11 games this year, he's posted 2.4 steals and 1.6 blocks a night, to go along with a 15.8-point, 8.8-board average and .500 shooting percentage.
  • Ben Uzoh, G, Springfield Armor: Built more like a free safety than a point guard, Uzoh's already shown a knack for shutting down players in the NBA.
  • Jerel McNeal, G, Bakersfield Jam: Among players with 10 or more appearances, the former Marquette star leads the league in steals per 48 (4.08). He's always ticking down toward the next turnover -- the only real issue is that, with 3.3 a game of his own, he oftens off-sets the gains he makes on the defensive end by giving his opponent easy buckets.
  • Chris Roberts, G, Texas Legends: The Mavericks gave Roberts serious work at the NBA Summer League in July. All athleticism and energy, Roberts has shown off his offensive abilities this year without sacrificing his job on the defensive end.
  • Mychel Thompson, G, Erie BayHawks: Springy and in ultra-marathon-runner-shape, Thompson's paid to be a pest. His outside shot needs to come along, but when it does, he could have a job in the NBA for a long time.
  • Dominique Sutton, G, Tulsa 66ers: With legs like catapults and a 6-foot-5 frame, Sutton casts a sizable shadow over anybody he's guarding. He can match up anywhere from the 1 to the 3 and stands at eighth in the leauge in steals per 48, although he does get himself in foul trouble a little too frequently.
  • Others: Defense pays the ticket toward the NBA. These are the guys who might soon punch theirs: Sadiel Rojas, Fort Wayne Mad Ants; Jorge Gutierrez, Canton Charge; Jamario Moon, L.A. D-Fenders.
Playmaking/Distribution
Shelvin Mack's transition from a shooting guard at Butler to NBA-quality point guard hasn't finished yet, but he's progressed far enough for the Wizards to invite him to grow under their watch. Meanwhile, the NBA D-League still plays host to dozens of 2-guards out to show they can create for their teammates, too. These are the guys that are best at it.
  • Chris Wright, G, Iowa Energy: The league's leader in assists per game features the most complete point guard game in the NBA D-League. Able to hit from outside as well as get to the bucket, Wright excels in creating passing lanes for -- and then finding -- teammates. Meanwhile, he also boasts one of the 10 best assist-to-turnover ratios, with a mark of 2.69.
  • Courtney Fortson, G, L.A. D-Fenders: Fortson spent time with the Clippers last year, where he trained under Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups -- an on-court seminar that Fortson said he still carries with him today. Second among NBA D-League Prospects in apg, Fortson had two runs in the NBA last year and shouldn't have to wait much more to get his third.
  • Sean Singletary, G, Texas Legends: The league's leader in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.67) plays like a series of controlled explosions. Cut. Dish. Bucket. Cut. Dish. Bucket. With 9.2 assists per 48, too, he'll have an opportunity to show how he can run a team when its best weapon leaves, now that CDR's up in Dallas.
  • Walker Russell, G, Fort Wayne Mad Ants: Russell averaged 9.9 assists per game in Fort Wayne last year before spending most of the season in Detroit. His numbers have fallen this year, but Russell showed that he can contribute in a reserve role last year.
  • Others: Troy Hudson, Sioux Falls Skyforce; Maurice Baker, Santa Cruz Warriors; Ben Uzoh, Springfield Armor.
Versatility
To NBA scouts, 'Versatile' often means 'tweener,' when it comes to NBA D-League players. Undersized forwards. Guards with shaky jumpers. Centers with the dimensions of shower rods. However, a few players have put together complete packages good enough to ship to The Association as they are.
  • D.J. Kennedy, F/G, Erie BayHawks: At this pace, the BayHawks' lefty swingman could earn NBA D-League MVP honors this year. Putting up the kinds of numbers reserved for assignments and, well, CDR, he's added averages of 8.9 boards, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals to his 19.5 points-per-game mark. More apt to drive and force contact than wait on the perimeter (where he's shooting just 26.5 percent from behind the arc), Kennedy offers adaptability and impact in the 2-guard or small forward range.
  • Gary Flowers, F, L.A. D-Fenders: An outright star for the D-Fenders this year, Flowers has flooded the stat sheet, with 17.2 points (on 52-percent shooting), 7.8 rebounds per game, 1.9 steals and 2.7 blocks. His main obstacle remains his height. The 6-foot-8 range has accrued notoriety in the NBA D-League as a little too short to impact the NBA -- unless a player has the bounce to make up for it. Then again, did we mention that Flowers is shooting 44 percent from behind the arc?
  • Travis Leslie, G, Santa Cruz Warriors: The former L.A. Clipper has looked like an NBA player all year, chewing up -- but mainly leaping over -- anybody in his path. He's made 34 of his last 51 shots (66.7 percent) with rebounding (8.8 rpg) and defense adding to his value.
  • Tyler Wilkerson, F, Austin Toros: Wilkerson plays a lot like Flowers (16.1 points, 9.5 boards, 2.1 blocks a night). With the same 6-foot-8 problem. But the blocks certainly help.
  • Micah Downs, F, Maine Red Claws: Active, tall and efficient (and 6-foot-8), Downs has a distribution game that's alien to most of his peers in the NBA D-League (3.5 assists a game), not to mention quick hands good for 1.7 steals a night. The turnover totals (3.4) stand a little too tall, but Downs could get a shot even before 10-days start.
  • Others: Darnell Jackson, Reno Bighorns; Henry Sims, Erie BayHawks; Ron Howard, Fort Wayne Mad Ants; Damion James, Bakersfield Jam; Durrell Summers, Idaho Stampede.