Love – not to mention call-ups, assignments, trades, waivers, signings, international transfers and the NBA D-League Affiliate Rule – is in the air.
So, in the spirit of the season, we give you NBA D-League Prospects: Something old, Something new, Something borrowed and Something blue.
A quick glance at the familiar faces at the front of the pack
For a deeper look at the 15 players – five big men, five small men, five swingmen – that started the year in the NBA D-League with the best shot of NBA call-ups (but didn’t make teams out of training camp), take a look at last week’s Prospect Watch. For now, let’s focus on the guys who kept themselves at the front of the line last week.
Guard, Reno Bighorns
The Reno Bighorns’ star guard, who’s climbed into elite status in the league, shared Performer of the Week honors with Bighorns teammate Andre Emmett this week, after averaging 30.0 points on 64 percent shooting to go with 5.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds. While he’s limited in his athleticism and his defensive ability, nobody in the NBA D-League has shown the ability to contribute every single night the way that the former NBA player has. Keep your eye on him at Showcase, because you’ll be in good company. So will a couple dozen scouts.
Center, Erie BayHawks
Daniels was the last player cut from Los Angeles Lakers camp. On Dec. 29, he took it out on the Lakers’ NBA D-League affiliate. Going on a rampage against the L.A. D-Fenders, Daniels scored 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting (including 1-for-1 from behind the arc), pulled down nine rebounds and chipped in three assists. His rebounding numbers took a bit of a dive this week, as he didn’t crack into double-digits once in three games (after four straight double-digit games before it). He did, however, block a season-high five shots against Canton on Dec. 31, and could very soon be on the way out.
Forward, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
In three games last week, Lazare put up a 21.7 points per game average and pulled down seven rebounds a game, all the while averaging 40.7 minutes per contest. If he’s looking to prove that he can apply the sort of relentless pressure that’ll get him a spot on an NBA team, sitting for only seven minutes a night (and turning the ball over fewer than three times a game) is a good place to start.
Forward, Tulsa 66ers
Lewis had an off night from the field against the Texas Legends on Dec. 30, shooting only 4-of-14 from the field for 12 points. But he can be forgiven. He was busy pulling down 25 rebounds (and dishing out six assists). Combined with his 14-rebound effort a night before in Idaho, and you’ve got a 19.5 rpg average over two straight nights. Left off the Milwaukee Bucks roster after training camp final cuts, Lewis has absolutely maxed out his 6-foot-8 frame over the past two weeks, beating out guys three or four inches taller to loose balls all over the court.
Guard, Austin Toros
Dentmon’s been fighting through a shooting slump of late, with the 47.7-percent career shooter’s field goal percentage dropping to 41.3 percent, but he’s still doing what got him to the final stage of New Orleans Hornets training camp: in short, everything. The combo guard averaged 6.5 rebounds a game in two contests against Springfield this week, to go along with 3.5 assists and 20.0 points per game. Dentmon’s as good a playmaker as the NBA D-League has, and he’ll be a main attraction in Reno.
The 16 new players now in the NBA D-League via the Affiliate Player rule
Forward, Austin Toros
It’s easy to forget just how good the two-time Big East First Teamer was at West Virginia, helping lead the Mountaineers to the Final Four in 2010 – including an upset of John Wall’s top-seeded Kentucky team in the Elite Eight – and picking up second-team All-American honors, to go along with the Lowe’s Senior Class Award to cap off his senior year. And it’s easy to forget how good he was because a catastrophic knee injury in the second half of that Final Four game (against Duke) has defined his career ever since. After falling to the Heat in the second round of the 2010 Draft and being waived soon after, he’s played internationally, and found his way into Spurs camp this year, but didn’t stick too long. His knee’s still a question mark, but if he can get back to full strength, here’s your dark horse.
Guard, Bakersfield Jam
Hazell joined the 2,000-point club during his senior season at Seton Hall, finding his way onto the Big East Third Team that same year. A born shooter, he shot better than 50 percent from the floor (and 40 percent from behind the arc) for his Spanish League club last year, after going undrafted in 2010. He was cut from Suns camp on Dec. 19.
Guard, Canton Charge
Harris averaged more than 17 minutes for the Cavaliers last year
, but missed most of Cleveland camp this year – opening up a spot for former NBA D-Leaguer Mychel Thompson – when he suffered a freak burn on his foot. But the Cavaliers encouraged him to sign with the Charge so that they could “keep an eye on him,” coach Byron Scott said
. Which means you should, too.
Forward, Dakota Wizards
The former Arizona State shot-blocking artist averaged 11.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 32 games with the Bulls – the team that drafted him back in 2003. At 6-10, he’s got a long reach, which should go a way toward replacing the NBA-bound Mickell Gladness, but at 210 pounds, he may have trouble clogging the middle.
Guard, Erie BayHawks
Green, who played for the Lakers in 2005-06 before playing abroad in in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Puerto Rico, China and Bulgaria, saw some quality minutes for the Knicks in their final exhibition game of the 2011 preseason, but was among the ‘bockers’ final cuts. He did get some high praise from GM Allan Houston, though, who told The Erie Times-News
, "He really played hard. He was versatile. Could defend multiple positions. (He was a) good passer, and I just want him to continue to work on keep being aggressive because he's a natural leader."
For more on Green, check out the four-part documentary “Devin Green: The Journey,” now available at your friendly neighborhood YouTube.
Guard, Idaho Stampede
The Pistons’ didn’t retain White’s rights this year, after their second-round pick in the 2010 Draft suffered an injury during the 2010 preseason then didn’t see the floor during the regular season. He linked up with the Hornets for 2011 camp and hung around until the final day, but finally took his walking papers
. He’s not a prototypical point guard, but regardless of whether he’s playing in the NBA or the NBA D-League, White’s one of the most athletic – and, as these dunk clips from Rookie Orientation
show, entertaining -- players on the floor. If he can show the work ethic and consistency that some accused him of lacking last year – and maintain the pace that he showed in his 16-point Idaho debut on Dec. 30 – he’ll be up in the Show before the winter thaws.
Forward, Idaho Stampede
Carter, whose father Ron played 59 games in the NBA in the early 80’s, joins White in Idaho after falling out of Utah Jazz camp. After starring in his senior year at Illinois-Chicago in 2010-11 (following a transfer from Minnesota) and playing briefly abroad, Carter showed the same tenacity that made him a Horizon Conference All-Newcomer player, picking up a team-high 10 rebounds in his first game with the Stampede.
Guard, L.A. D-Fenders (acquired from Iowa)
The 29th pick in the 2006 NBA Draft started nine games for the Knicks during his first year in the league, and averaged nearly 15 minutes per game (including 31 total starts) over a four-year NBA stint
between New York and the Clippers (after going to L.A. as part of the same trade that shipped Zach Randolph out to the West Coast). The Temple product has long been known for his defense, which should keep him high on NBA scouts’ lists – and make him a one-man dynamo at Showcase.
Forward, L.A. D-Fenders
Thomas was a notable no-call in the NBA Draft last June, after helping to make San Diego State an NCAA juggernaut in 2010-11 alongside current Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard. But the Lakers liked him enough to give him an invite to training camp and keep him around until Dec. 22. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward finished his two-year career at SDSU as the school’s second-leading all-time shot-blocker, so expect to see more of the same on Eric Musselman’s club – at least until an NBA team decides his services could be better used up in the bigs.
Guard, L.A. D-Fenders
By now, it’s safe to call Green a journeyman, with the 18th pick in the 2005 Draft having played for the Celtics, Timberwolves, Rockets and Mavericks; the Lokomotiv Kuban, BC Krasnye Krylya Samara and the Foshan Dralions; and even a stint with the now-defunct Fayetteville Patriots of the NBA D-League. He’s never had trouble scoring, putting up 7.5 points while averaging 16 minutes a game during his NBA career, but the 2007 NBA Slam Dunk champ (and 2008 runner-up) will need to further develop his all-around game to keep NBA teams hungry – because you can only do The Birthday Cake
Guard, Maine Red Claws (acquired from Texas)
The 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year had a storied run at Cal, where he finished his career as the Golden Bears’ all-time leading scorer and the driving force behind back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, along with Cal’s first Pac-10 title since 1960 in 2010. He spent the 2010-11 season in Turkey, getting beaten up, as American players are apt to do, and made it until Dec. 22 in Dallas Mavericks camp this year. Randle will have to do more than score in the NBA D-League, but he certainly impressed in the preseason, averaging 11.0 points and 18 minutes per game in two preseason games with the Mavs. But Dallas, as we’ve seen, didn’t need more backcourt help – although someone else, sooner rather than later, will.
Guard, Maine Red Claws
The son of former NBA player James Silas averaged 22.6 points per game for Northern Illinois in his senior season of 2010-11, finishing sixth in the nation in scoring. Overlooked in the NBA Draft – despite working out for the Philadelphia 76ers and looking like a potential second-round pick – he played overseas in France before accepting an invite to Sixers camp and ultimately staying with the team until final cuts. He still looks like a great fit for Doug Collins’ team, though, and just needs to put his quickness to work on the defensive side of the floor to prove he can play at the two-way pace that’s transformed the 76ers. For more, check out his great interview on LibertyBallers.com
Center/Forward, Rio Grande Valley
The 6-10, 250-pound Smith left Fresno State (where he averaged 11.7 points and 8 rebounds a game) after his sophomore year in favor of the NBA Draft, where he was promptly passed over. But he groomed his game by playing ball in Mexico during the NBA lockout and made it to Dec. 23 with the Rockets, getting cut a day before final rosters were due. Few players in the NBA D-League – or NBA, for that matter – have the raw tools that Smith has, not to mention the upside. But that’s the problem: the knock on Smith coming out of Fresno State was that he didn’t pick up his game much between freshman and sophomore year, so the man who projects to be a player along the lines of Bismack Biyombo will have to show the work ethic Biyombo’s shown if he wants to crack into the bigtime. However, his 16-point, 9.7-rebound average last week is a good start.
Forward, Rio Grande Valley
The only player in NCAA history to post 250 assists, steals and blocks in his career, Saunders was a force at Duquesne, earning Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors twice. All the while, he was playing more or less out of position at center, the Pitt Stop writes
. At 6-8, 203, he looks – and plays – a lot like former Austin forward Lance Thomas, who also played up a position at Duke and now finds himself playing up a level, with the New Orleans Hornets. With Saunders already averaging three blocks a game in three games in the NBA D-League, this might be a short stay.
Guard, Reno Bighorns
Oliver blew everybody away in his time with San Jose State, earning First Team All-WAC honors in 2010 and 2011 and finishing in the top five nationally in scoring average twice (22.5 ppg in 2010, 24.0 in ’11). Expect him to keep lighting up the scoreboard with Reno, especially paired in the backcourt with Blake Ahearn. But what should really attract attention is the 6-4, 210-pound guard’s propensity for grabbing rebounds – he picked up 5.3 of them per game during his final two seasons in the Bay Area.
Guard, Texas Legends
Neitzel made it to final cuts with Randle, although his preseason numbers (3.5 ppg, 1.0 apg in 9.0 minutes per game) weren’t quite as gaudy as Randle’s. The former Michigan State point guard – who finished fourth all-time in MSU history in assists and helped lead the Spartans to the Final Four in 2005 – can distribute the ball given the opportunity, though, and he’ll have a good chance with a solid cast of big men in Texas.