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Prospect Watch: And The Proscar Goes To...
The Academy Awards are coming up...but which NBA D-Leaguers are the next ones to be called up to the podium?
Idaho's Mikki Moore -- a veteran of 12 NBA seasons -- has put himself in the spotlight for a return to The Show.
Otto Kitsinger/NBAE via Getty Images
This is where the DVR comes in handy.
When the 84th Academy Awards air from L.A. on Sunday night – and for as much as we want to support Undefeated in this cold, vacant, Friday Night Lights-less world – we’re going to be otherwise occupied.
With the 61st annual NBA All-Star Game set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday night, the Oscars are going to have to wait until Monday.
But who are we kidding – in all things paparazzi and Prospects, projection’s the fun part. So, in honor of our friend Oscar, we found that we could break down the NBA D-League’s Top Prospects pretty neatly with a sampling of the year’s Best Pictures candidates. And with that, we present to you...the first annual Proscars.
An Oscar darling from the time of its conception, The Descendants – like Up in the Air, Syriana, O Brother Where Art Thou and an extended guest spot as Booker Books on Roseanne before it – showed George Clooney at his best. These are the biggest names, at least as the NBA D-League’s concerned, at the very top of their game.
Guard, L.A. D-Fenders
After Manny Harris got the call-up to the Cavaliers on Tuesday afternoon, Green became our unanimous No. 1 Prospect in the NBA D-League. A more mature and balanced player than he was during his four years in the NBA, Green’s still scoring plenty (25.1 ppg in February), but he’s also contributing on the boards and the defensive end like never before. He’s proven that he can earn a spot in the Show, but now, Green’s ready for his close-up.
Guard, Austin Toros (Washington)
Dentmon’s in a holding pattern right now. He might be the most explosive combo guard in the entire league but he’s also a little undersized, and has a propensity for making plays for his opponents, too. But, like we wrote last week, Dentmon’s gotten better at holding on to the ball, although his scoring and distribution numbers have fallen off a little lately. At the moment, he’s just waiting for a team that’s got a hole to fill at 1 and a GM willing to take a risk.
Guard, Springfield Armor (Oklahoma State)
We’re living through the Era of the Point Guard, and the trend is trickling through the NBA D-League as well. Curry’s skill set – quick, smart with the ball, good vision, consistency hitting open shots off the pick & roll – could have him backing up virtually any NBA point guard, and possibly even starting in some cities. He’s got a back story that’s often worked against him, but inside the NBA D-League, he’s done nothing but turn coaches, teammates and opponents into fans. Well, that, and average 9.3 assists over the past three games, and a 15.7 ppg that’s just a hair shy of his 16.9 season average.
Guard, Reno Bighorns (Missouri State)
If Dentmon’s in a holding pattern, Ahearn’s in purgatory. The NBA D-League all-time scoring leader’s done nothing but shred the league all year, but he still faces the same stigmas that have kept him from his first taste of the NBA since 2008 – that he’s too small, too slow and more of a 2-guard than a point-guard, at which point he’s much too small. But Ahearn hasn’t relented, putting up 27 or more points in four of his last seven games and averaging 6.2 assists per game in that stretch.
Forward, Dakota Wizards (Siena)
Ubiles’ production lagged a little bit last week, but, in fairness, he was following up a 27.0-points, 5.7-rebound-per-game run a week prior. Scouts (and teams) know what they’re getting from Ubiles now: a guy who, like New Orleans’ Lance Thomas, can defend multiple positions and create separation on the offensive end with an NBA-ready frame. His jumper can still use work – and so could his consistency – but in some of his better games, he’s looked like a guy who could spend the rest of his career in the NBA.
Forward, Los Angeles D-Fenders (Alabama-Birmingham)
Millsap recently worked out for the Phoenix Suns, joining Michael Finley, Jermaine Taylor and Al Thornton in front of Suns scouts, largely to see which one of the four swing men would best fit with Phoenix in case of an injury or specific need down the stretch. While his minutes have suffered lately, Millsap’s spent a season showing himself strong and quick enough to play in the league, though he’ll need a little more polish defensively and in his mid-range game to stick.
In Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, whose use of Sabermetrics in analyzing players helped to change the way the baseball world evaluated talent. Beane prized a few characteristics in a player that the market undervalued, so he could get production at a bargain. Without cap space for stars, he went after guys who did a few things very well. These are the guys with one specific, extraordinary skill that could get them to the next level.
Forward, Tulsa 66ers (Oral Roberts)
Lewis rebounds. A lot. Far better than anyone else in the league, including recent call-up Eric Dawson, of Austin, who pulled down 10.1 a game – more than three fewer per game than Lewis (13.1). In his 31 games this year, he’s hit double-digit boards in 27 of them.
Guard, Tulsa 66ers (Connecticut)
Dyson’s not yet a great creator on offense. But defensively, there are few people better in the D-League. The Knicks’ struggles with Deron Williams on Monday night showed the importance of perimeter defense, and the hyper-athletic Dyson could be a stopper at the next level.
Midnight in Paris
In Woody Allen’s most recent masterwork, a world-weary screenwriter (Owen Wilson) in Paris is convinced that Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s Paris, in the 20’s, was culture’s high point. That is, until some late-night time traveling shows him otherwise – turns out every generation’s been nostalgic for the one before it, and that life, in the present, can be pretty damn tasty, too. These are the men of yesteryear, the former NBA players who’ve savored their own golden age but are looking for one last chance to taste their la Belle Epoque.
Guard, Maine Red Claws (Rice)
Almond can hang with über-Prospects (check the umlaut) Manny Harris and Gerald Green on the offensive end, so it’s really just a matter of finding the right fit for the 6-foot-5, hyper-accurate (he’s shooting 57 percent from the field) guard who played 34 games in the NBA from 2007-2009.
Center, Maine Red Claws (Rice)
The 7-footer cracked into the NBA in 1999, then spent parts – scattered parts, as in 8-games-a-season-parts – of the next 12 years in the Show. But he started seven games averaged 6.9 points per game as recently as the 2008-09 season and last played in the league in 2010. There’s still some life in these legs, which could come in especially handy as a grinding NBA season saps the juice out of everyone else’s.
Guard, Erie BayHawks (Bowling Green)
McLeod, who played 200 games – and started 88 of them – in the NBA between 2003 and 2007, has flourished in Erie. After coming to the BayHawks in a trade with Canton on Jan. 25, he’s averaged close to seven assists and 16.8 points per game while running Mike D’Antoni’s point-guard-driven system for the Knicks’ D-League affiliate. McLeod doesn’t have the quite the same quickness of former BayHawks guard Mike James, who’s now up with the Bulls, but he does present the same sort of veteran, calming influence at the point that an NBA team could use down the stretch.
In honor of the story that conquered hearts without a single word, these are the guys who we haven’t written much about (not yet at least), but who’ve quietly crept their way into the upper tiers of prospectdom.
Forward, Austin Toros (Missouri)
Lyons got off to a late start this year, after an injury kept him from taking up an invite to the Pan American Games and then, in turn, knocked off the first part of the NBA D-League season for him. But he’s up to speed now, quietly creeping up into the upper echelon of Prospects with a blistering series of performances over the past two weeks, including five double-doubles in his last six games (with three of those games featuring 16 boards or more, and the only non-double-double on a night he scored 27).
Center, Springfield Armor (Cornell)
When Foote came back from Trail Blazers camp, the rap on him was that he had the height to play in the NBA and the game to play on his couch. But then he turned a corner. He’s shown more ferocity on the low block day-by-day, and his able hands and agility are shining through, too. Foote’s looking to become a lawyer if this basketball thing doesn’t work out, but right now, it looks like he’s got a shot to make it to basketball’s version of the Supreme Court.
OTHERS: Darnell Lazare, Jerry Smith, Tyrell Biggs, Marqus Blakely, Mike Efevberha
War Horse killed on Broadway. So much that it convinced Steven Spielberg to move it to the silver screen. These are the guys who’ve already seen a stint in the NBA this year, and now find themselves playing on a different stage.
Guard, L.A. D-Fenders (Arkansas)
The Clippers loved what they saw from Fortson in training camp enough to call him up earlier this year. And though the former Razorback point guard doesn’t have size on his side (he’s 5-11), he makes up for that with raw energy and ball control. He’s lit up the scoreboards in February, averaging 17.5 points and 6.3 assists per game for the month.
Forward, Rio Grande Valley (Washington)
If Ben Uzoh, whose 10-day contract with the Cavaliers just expired, comes back to Rio Grande Valley, he may have a hard time dislodging Conroy from the point. Conroy, who started the year as the second all-time leading scorer in NBA D-League history, also started the year in Turkey. But in the 12 games he’s played with the Vipers since debuting on Jan. 25, he’s erupted. He started slowly, picking up more and more minutes, but he’s turned into one of the league’s top performers in February, racking up 10 or more assists in six of eight games, with a 16-point, 16.3-assist average in three games last week.
Tree of Life
The indie darling of the year, Tree of Life was more popular at Cannes than free drinks. Here’s the NBA D-League’s version of the year’s biggest cinematic success story.
Forward, Springfield Armor (N.C. State)
Horner’s selection to the Nets’ opening day roster out of training camp drew some attention, largely because he was only selected to the NBA D-League because he paid his way to a national tryout in the summer. He didn’t stick with Jersey, but after a so-so college career at N.C. State, he’s shown himself to be bursting with potential, and already skilled at using his 6-9, 230-pound frame to get rebounds in traffic. He just posted big double-doubles in consecutive games, and as long as his shot keeps improving, he could have a long run in the big time.
The NBA D-League's Top 10 Prospects
With Manny Harris now a Cavalier, who's next in line for a trip to the NBA?
No. 1: Gerald Green, G, L.A. D-Fenders
No. 2: Justin Dentmon, G, Austin Toros
No. 3: Edwin Ubiles, F, Dakota Wizards
No. 4: Morris Almond, G, Maine Red Claws
No. 5: Marcus Lewis, F, Tulsa 66ers
No. 6: JamesOn Curry, G, Springfield Armor
No. 7: Will Conroy, G, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
No. 8: Elijah Millsap, F, L.A. D-Fenders
No. 9: Leo Lyons, F, Austin Toros
No. 10: Dennis Horner, F, Springfield Armor