Prospect Watch: The Next Big Thing

It doesn't look like Gerald Green will be coming back to the NBA D-League anytime soon. Who are the next players to become regulars in NBA lineups?

Andre Emmett is at the top of his game -- and it looks like just a matter of time until he can make his mark in the NBA.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

We had a feeling this might happen.

When Gerald Green got a call-up to the New Jersey Nets a week after auditioning for Cirque du Soleil in the NBA D-League All-Star Game, we didn’t expect it to be a short stay. Beyond the dunks, Green had shown himself to be a far more capable scorer – inside and outside – than he was in his first go-round in the NBA, shooting 45.8 percent from behind the arc and scoring 19.1 points a game in 22 contests with the L.A. D-Fenders. And now...this.

Green’s windmill, alley-oop dunk against the Rockets on Mar. 4 now sits at No. 4 on the Dunk Ladder, an ever-changing look at the Top 10 in-game dunks of the year. It’d likely be in the top two, had Blake Griffin and LeBron James not leapt over other human beings (in the same week, no less) to get theirs – and in our opinion, Green’s beats out Paul George’s dunk at No. 3.

But, more importantly, Green’s also made as strong a bid as he could to stick around with the Nets after his current 10-day contract ends on March 18. This current 10-day is his second consecutive deal with the Nets, after he joined the team on Feb. 27. But, as the rules state, a team can’t offer a player a third straight 10-day. It’s either a guaranteed contract through the end of the year or a ticket back home.

We’re expecting the former.

Green’s 26 points against Houston were the most of any NBA D-League Call-Up in the NBA this year, breaking former Austin Toro (and current New Orleans Hornet) Lance Thomas’s mark of 18. He’s also put up other efforts of 11 points (twice) and eight points, as well as two six-rebound nights. He has certainly justified his minutes as he’s logged seven games of 18 minutes or more in the eight since he was first called-up.

But in this call-up-heavy season – just one more call-up will break the all-time, single-season record of 27 players going from the NBA D-League to the NBA – Green’s not alone in making the jump from stardom in the NBA D-League to an impact role in an NBA lineup.

So, instead of looking for the next Jeremy Lin, let’s set our sights on the next Lance Thomas or Gerald Green – future NBA regulars who’ve either used the NBA D-League as, basically, a post-grad program or a chance to refine a playing style that just didn’t last in the NBA.

These are your eight best bets.

Guard, Dakota Wizards (Siena)

On certain nights this year, Ubiles has looked like the NBA D-League’s most unstoppable player. Like on Feb. 28, when he scored 41 in 40 minutes (on 18-of-26 shooting) against East-leading Iowa. Or when he poured in 32 against Sioux Falls or 36 against Rio Grande Valley. As we wrote about earlier this year, Ubiles lost his shot at the NBA in the 2010 Draft, when an undiagnosed stress fracture in his leg became…well, a diagnosed stress fracture.

But now that he’s healthy, he’s turned into a consistent force for Dakota and a legitimate league MVP candidate. He plays a lot like Thomas, and although his game tends more toward the perimeter, he has the body type to create separation easily and the size/speed combination to make his mark in the NBA.

Guard/Forward, Reno Bighorns (Texas Tech)

Effectively, Green took Emmett’s spot in the Nets lineup. Emmett had ransacked the NBA D-League from the moment he touched the floor in Reno on Dec. 16 through his call-up to the Nets in mid-February. Then, after the Nets opted out of another 10-day contract because four of those days would have been over All-Star weekend, Emmett’s returned to more of the same in Reno. As the league’s second-leading scorer this year (behind only teammate Blake Ahearn) Green has scored 23.5 a game in his four contests since coming back to the Bighorns, nearly identical to his 23.6 ppg average on the year.

Defensively, this is a new Emmett, with the 6-foot-5, 225-pound swingman showing more intensity than ever on this side of the floor. But offensively, the leading scorer in Texas Tech history and man who holds the Chinese Basketball Association’s single-game scoring record has rarely looked better. He’s scored 20 or more points in 19 of 28 games and broken 30 five times – including a 39-point night against Bakersfield that saw him go 16-for-20 from the floor. Emmett’s shooting a career-best 52.3 percent from the field, and if he sees more time than he did in Jersey on an NBA team, he’s poised to blow up.

Forward, Erie BayHawks (St. John's)

The former St. John’s star is, like Ubiles, recovered from an injury that robbed him from a shot at going in the NBA Draft. In Kennedy’s case, it was a torn ACL suffered a year ago that ended a shining senior season in Queens right before the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s making good on all the promise that surrounded him at St. John’s, turning into a scoring, rebounding and distribution machine in Erie.

Guard, Austin Toros (Washington)

The premier combo guard in the NBA D-League’s been doing his thing for two years now. Fortunately, that thing involves stuff like 35-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist nights like the one he had against the Texas Legends on Mar. 11, or the 32-point, 8-assist night against defense-heavy Tulsa on Feb. 22. Unfortunately, that also involves lots and lots of turnovers. Of course, Jeremy Lin’s style involves the same sort of thing, but Lin’s TO’s have come at the NBA level. Dentmon’s loose game has chased away a number of scouts, but the born playmaker has the ability to light up unsuspecting defenses on the game’s highest stage, too.

Forward, Austin Toros (Missouri)

Lyons is a big dude (nearly 6-foot-10) with the kind of skills a guy a foot shorter wouldn’t mind having. He’s got a great face-up game, can create off the dribble, finish in traffic and hit the open jumper. He can also, from time to time, jump so high that he could probably dunk his face. He’s improved his rebounding to the point where he’s pulled down nine a game this year, with highs of 18 and 16 (three times). Lyons’ defensive abilities have some room to grow, but offensively, he could do a whole lot of damage in a size-depleted NBA.

Guards, Maine Red Claws

The Maine Red Claws guards, while they could both work on their defensive games, have turned into the best scoring tandem in the NBA D-League outside of the Emmett and Ahearn Show in Reno. Hayes’ 52 points against Springfield on Mar. 4 fell just one point shy of the all-time NBA D-League single-game scoring record of 53 – set by Almond four years ago. They’re both natural scorers, and while the 6-foot-5 Almond probably has a better chance of keeping up his scoring numbers in the NBA, Hayes has made himself one of the best all-around players – and, thus, prospects – in the league, with two triple-doubles on the year , including one on Mar. 12, when he went 26-12-12 against Iowa.

Forward, Rio Grande Valley Vipers (UTEP)

Caracter’s never had a shortage of potential. It’s just what he’s done with the potential that’s been questionable. But after a turbulent start to his college career, the former prodigy got himself back into shape, and played a small role on the Lakers in 2010-11. Caracter’s still got a long way to go to come close to matching his promise, but he couldn’t be in much more capable hands. Rio Grande Valley coach Nick Nurse is the reigning NBA D-League Coach of the Year, and his free-flowing system has long allowed players to showcase their strengths while learning how to change the game at the NBA pace.

Overall Top 15 NBA D-League Prospects

No. 1: Andre Emmett, SG, Reno Bighorns

No. 2: Edwin Ubiles, G/F, Dakota Wizards

No. 3: JamesOn Curry, PG, Springfield Armor

No. 4: D.J. Kennedy, G/F, Erie BayHawks

No. 5: Ben Uzoh, PG, Rio Grande Valley Vipers

No. 6: Eric Dawson, F, Austin Toros

No. 7: Justin Dentmon, PG, Austin Toros

No. 8: Marcus Lewis, F, Tulsa 66ers

No. 9: Morris Almond, G/F, Maine Red Claws

No. 10: Blake Ahearn, PG, Reno Bighorns

No. 11: Malcolm Thomas, F, L.A. D-Fenders

No. 12: Leo Lyons, F, Austin Toros

No. 13: Elijah Millsap, F, L.A. D-Fenders

No. 14: Dennis Horner, F, Springfield Armor

No. 15: Donald Sloan, PG, Erie BayHawks