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Prospect Watch: Week Five
With the NBA season now underway, 51 of the 62 NBA Development League players invited to NBA training camp are headed back to their NBA D-League teams. Who's heading up next?
After making it to final cuts for the Hornets, Justin Dentmon's back in Austin. But for how long?
NBAE via Getty Images
We know, we know. We miss them, too.
But to the 11 guys who now find themselves on NBA rosters after opening the year in the NBA Development League – part of a record 88 total players with NBA D-League experience on NBA teams – we wish them well, and want you to know one thing.
There’s more to come.
With all the madness of the past month, it’s easy to forget that the NBA D-League season is really just starting. And just because a player didn’t get a call-up to the NBA out of camp – or even an invite to camp altogether – doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to take scouts by storm in the comings weeks and months.
So today, with the year’s first wave of NBA D-Leaguers up in the NBA and the Showcase less than two weeks away, these are the second-wavers. The reinforcements. The five guys from each position that, in other words, you need to keep an eye on.
Guards for hire
Guard, Reno BighornsRight now, Ahearn’s in rarefied air in the NBA D-League. In addition to the fact that he doesn’t miss foul shots (the .954 career shooter from the line is at .934 this year, including making 16 of his last 16), he’s also become as consistent a scorer as the league has, putting up 23, 24 and 35 points in his last three games to return to the No. 1 spot in NBA D-League scoring average. He’s also averaging a career-high 6.8 assists per game. Ahearn’s played parts of two seasons in the NBA – first with the Heat in 2007-08, then with the Spurs a season later – and, as long as he keeps this up, one of these days he’ll be back up there.
WALKER RUSSELL, JR.
Guard, Fort Wayne Mad AntsThe league’s Performer of the Week in Week 1 made the Pistons’ final 16 in training camp, but was part of a trio of players waived to allow Detroit to get down to 13. But Russell’s a gifted distributor, and when he gets back on the court for the Mad Ants for the first time since Dec. 7, don’t expect him to do much differently – just a whole lot more of it.
Guard, Austin TorosAfter watching teammate and four-year NBA D-League vet Squeaky Johnson earn the spot on the Hornets that he was going for, Dentmon’s liable to have a constant fire burning under him for the rest of the year. Going into New Orleans camp, Dentmon had worked his way into the top echelon of NBA D-League point guards, playing a combo game that saw him average 23.25 ppg and 3.75 assists per game. Then, in his first game back with Austin after being waived, he came out with his best game of the year, with 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds to put the league – and NBA scouts – on notice.
Guard, Canton ChargeMcLeod was part of the best all-D-League battle in any training camp this year, fighting for the backup point guard spot in Utah with Jamaal Tinsley. The reason why McLeod’s in this article is, as you can guess, because the 10-year-NBA-vet Tinsley won the spot. But McLeod impressed, and if he can show that he can still defend the point in addition to running the Charge offense, he’ll get a ticket back to the NBA before long.
Guard, Tulsa 66ersDyson, too, found himself in competition with Johnson for the third-string point guard job in New Orleans, and was the last player cut from Hornet camp to get the roster down to 15. The player that Russell called the best defender in the NBA D-League still needs to work on his shooting (he’s at 38.9 percent this year) and creation ability, but he looks to be a viable NBA backup at this point.
Big-bodied, shot-blocking board-crashers
Forward, Iowa EnergyAfter going on a three-week rampage to open his first NBA D-League season, Famous wasn’t NBA-ready enough to land a spot with the Pacers, needing to work on his defense to land a full-time gig in the Show. However, he was the Pacers’ final cut, so as long as he goes out and continues to make everybody else he plays against look like a JV squad player, he’ll get his shot in 2011-12. If you happen to be in Reno for Showcase this year, pay attention to two things: Famous, and the number of people monitoring his every move.
Center, Bakersfield JamButch can seem at times like a character from the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s a 7-footer (well, 6-11er) who can rebound, but he also spends most of his time floating around the perimeter. He’s a dangerous jump-shooter, and presents a constellation of matchup problems for teams, but he hasn’t shown the defensive ability that his stunt double, Greg Stiemsma, showed en route to a spot on the Celtics’ roster. It’s a dangerous game that Butch plays, popping from the outside – when he’s on, he’s lethal, but when he cools down, so does NBA interest.
Center, Texas LegendsSampson’s year got off to as good a start as he could’ve imagined. It’s just that everything else hasn’t gone the same way. He opened up with a 20-rebound effort on opening night, then came back with a 14-point, 10-rebound game a night later. Then he injured his ankle and hasn’t played a game for the Legends since. He did get an invite to Celtics training camp to compete for the spot that Stiemsma eventually won, but didn’t see enough court time to stick. He does have 72 games of NBA experience, however, and can get himself a better chance by showing that he can stay healthy and fit.
Center, Erie BayHawksErie’s 7-foot center was part of the final cut that brought the Lakers down to 15 players, but the big man out of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has put together an enticing line so far in his first season in the NBA D-League: 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.2 assists in five games. If you’re a 7-footer who can get to the ball, see the court and avoid coughing it up, you’ll have a job somewhere. If Daniels can get better on his footwork and positioning, he’ll have one in the NBA this season.
Center, Springfield ArmorThe former Cornell giant had a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) in his first game back with the Armor after attending Trail Blazer camp, then followed up with two so-so games. But Foote’s got a long history of defensive dominance, honored with two Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year nods while with the Big Red, and honed with years in Europe. Quality defensive big men are in demand right now, and Foote looks up to answering the call.
'Tweeners' who can do it all
Guard, Dakota WizardsUbiles was a late cut from Mark Jackson’s Warriors squad, ending up on the losing end of a battle with No. 2 pick Chris Wright. But Ubiles, who came to the NBA D-League after pushing Siena from cellar to Cinderella, has done nothing but impress so far. Expect more of the same.
Forward, L.A. D-FendersMillsap found an earlier exit out of Lakers camp than many would have thought, given the fact that he was basically unguardable in six games with Rio Grande Valley. But if he improves his already solid rebounding totals and makes sure to bring it on both sides of the floor, Millsap’s a top candidate for a call-up in the not-too-distant-future.
Forward, Fort Wayne Mad AntsLazare struggled in his time on the court during the Pacers’ preseason this year, logging 10 minutes, no points and a minus-17 rating in Indy’s opener against Detroit, then sitting out entirely for Game Two. But still, that’s a pretty small sample size. Lazare’s off to the best start of his NBA D-League career, with 19.3 points and eight rebounds a game. And now that he’s seen what it takes to play defense against NBA players, look for those block and steal numbers to go up, too.
Forward, Bakersfield JamMajor was part of the final trio of players cut from the Clippers, alongside Ahearn and Adam Koch. Major’s a Renaissance Man, able to do a lot of everything (15 points, five rebounds, four assists per game), but he’ll have to do one thing particularly well – namely, defend the point and the wing – to finally get back into the NBA for the first time since 2007.
Forward, Tulsa 66ersLewis attacks the boards with the best of ‘em. At 6-foot-8, he’s not the ideal size for a ball hawk, but he plays the angles and uses his quickness to beat out everybody else. He made it to final cuts for the Bucks, but now finds himself back in Tulsa, where he shouldn’t be for too long, if he can manage some more of those 18-rebound efforts he had against Austin in his last game, on Dec. 7.