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Prospect Watch: What We've Learned

A few days removed from the 2012 Showcase, we shine some light on the NBA D-League Prospect scene.
Updated: Jan. 18, 3:18 p.m. ET

Despite some early rust, Canton's Manny Harris still sits at or near the top of our charts for NBA Prospects.
David Calvert/NBAE via Getty Images

Sometimes you just need a little time to digest.

The NBA D-League Showcase is made for gluttons. For scouts, executives, coaches, fans, players and people from all around the basketball world (including some evaluators from Korea who spent the week sitting in the stands), the four days and 16 games offer a rare chance to feast their eyes (and notebooks) on the best collection of non-NBA players in the world, all in one place.

But it’s a lot to take in at once. And after our Top 15 Prospects to Watch at Showcase wrapped, we've had a few days to reflect – to marinade, if you will. Here is what we’ve learned:

Point guards are at the front of the line…

With the sheer volume of NBA games crammed into each week, we’re seeing rosters run far deeper than usual: instead of going 1-through-8, teams have tended more toward 1-through-12 (and 13, 14, 15). Meanwhile, minor injuries that would have held players out of practice in the past are keeping them out of multiple games, as coaches fear that a tweak could become a tear – and a week could become two months – with overuse.

And nobody’s more susceptible than point guards, many of whom pound up and down the court for close to 40 minutes a game and have more than 500 pounds of big men crash on them every time they go to the lane.

Fortunately for teams, the NBA D-League specializes in point guards. In the past week, Derrick Rose’s turf toe brought Erie’s Mike James to the Bulls. Then Chris Paul’s hamstring injury led the Clippers to call up the L.A. D-Fenders’ Courtney Fortson, who was up with the Clips in training camp.

And with the season not even a month old yet, expect many more of the NBA D-League’s best floor generals to be marching into the NBA sooner than later.

1 – Justin Dentmon, Austin Toros

After electrifying the Reno Events Center at Showcase, Dentmon came back with 21-point, seven-assist and 31-point, eight-assist performances in consecutive games against Bakersfield and Reno on Friday and Sunday, respectively, en route to being named NBA D-League Performer of the Week. Fortson’s call-up wasn’t a shock – many thought he’d be drafted last June – but he certainly benefited from his training camp team needing a PG. Dentmon, who was in New Orleans camp, just needs the right opening. A call-up looks imminent.

2 – Keith McLeod, Canton Charge

McLeod, who played 200 games (and started 88 of them) in the NBA between 2003 and 2007, offers a different value than Dentmon. Having been there before, he’ll provide a guiding, calming influence as a back-up. But turn him loose – as the Charge did in his 32-point, six-assist, five-rebound, six-steal night against Tulsa on Monday – and he can show just how much his offense has improved since his days of shooting below 40 percent in the NBA.

3 – Ben Uzoh, Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Uzoh came to Showcase looking like he was ready for a return trip to the NBA, where he played 42 games with the Nets in 2010-11. Looking quick and cut, he did struggle getting into the flow in his first game with the Vipers (16 points, 4 rebounds against Springfield on Thursday), but blew up in his second – a 109-98 win over Canton on Saturday, in which he scored 21 with 12 rebounds and five assists. Physically, the man who earned a spot on John Hollinger’s All-Defensive Team in 2010-11 looks like an NBA point guard, and could blossom if given more of a chance to play.

4 – JamesOn Curry, Springfield Armor

Curry hasn’t played since Showcase, when he jumped into the Top Prospects list by closing off with a nine-assist night that finished with him setting up the game-winning shot on an injured ankle. But Curry’s slowly shaking off the ‘character issues’ that dogged him for years and showing himself to be exactly what he is: a prototypical point guard who can distribute and score a little bit who’s earned himself some hard-won maturity.

5 – Blake Ahearn, Reno Bighorns

Ahearn shone at Showcase, and then picked up 50 points over his next two games. However, his assist numbers plummeted (just three between the two games). His turnovers stayed low, though, and Ahearn gave another solid, controlled effort.

The question dogging Ahearn is the same ones he’s always heard: ‘Who’s he gonna guard?’ Offensively, Ahearn looks like someone who not only could play, but could impact the game in the NBA – especially from 3-point range and the line, late in games (he’s a career .957 free-throw shooter). But can he match up on D, and will anybody give him a chance?

Keep an eye on: Jerome Dyson, Tulsa 66ers; Jeremy Wise, Bakersfield Jam; Devin Green, Erie BayHawks; Maurice Baker, Dakota Wizards

Swing men are next…

The NBA D-League’s also home to a number of top-flight athletes who can help fill up an NBA team’s lineup with their defensive, rebounding or playmaking abilities. Whether they’re up in The Show to keep the team’s energy level high while exhausted starters rest or to weave themselves into the lineup for good, these are the four guys at the top of our list.

1 – Elijah Millsap, L.A. D-Fenders

The Lakers, after they cut Millsap from training camp, told Paul’s little brother to keep on doing what he’s doing. For most of the NBA D-League season, that’s meant completely take over the game. And though the D-Fenders’ explosive forward had a so-so Showcase, he’s averaged 19.5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal in the two games since. He’s enduring a big of a shooting slump – and his main area in need of improvement is his jump shot – but it’s promising to see the other numbers standing up.

2 – Lance Thomas, Austin Toros

With 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the two contests since Showcase, Thomas has kept up the plodding, professional pace he’s had all season long. He’s also struggling with his shot at the moment, but his defense on the interior and on the wing, along with his rebounding skills, should have him back up in the NBA sooner than later.

3 – Edwin Ubiles, Dakota Wizards

Ubiles scored 27 points against Fort Wayne on Sunday, but it took 25 shots to get there. This happened after a Thursday game in which he went 5-of-14 from the floor for 16 points against Tulsa. Ubiles has an outstanding ability to create space on the inside, and should be using it more.

4 – Larry Owens, Tulsa 66ers

Owens, who played in short stints for the Wizards and Spurs last year, showed a bounty of bounce at Showcase, turning in two impressive and consistent efforts in scoring and rebounding (18-7 in Game 1, against Texas; 19-7 in Game 2, against Fort Wayne). Then he really turned it on. First, he showed that he’s in mid-season shape, playing 48 minutes and scoring 17 points (with no turnovers) against Dakota on Friday. Then he showed a promising defensive prowess, nabbing five steals and three blocks against Iowa on Sunday. And on Monday, he showed he can do it all. Finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, a steal, five blocks and one fried statistician, Owens climbed into the Prospect Watch.

Update: Owens was called up to the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday, Jan. 17, becoming the 16th GATORADE Call-Up of the 2011-12 NBA D-League season. Read more about it here.

Centers have a way to go …

Even in the NBA, there’s a shortage of prototypical ‘big men.’ The huge bodies who banged down low, scored from above the rim, blocked shots and spent their day menacing you away from the paint have given way to forwards playing the No. 5 position, as lineups have gotten more athletic. And when you look into the NBA D-League for replacements, there aren’t too many men ready to make the leap.

But, in many cases, the raw materials are there – it’s just a matter of refinement.

1 – Chris Daniels, Erie BayHawks

Daniels has shown signs he can play at the next level, but he has not put it together consistently. After recording a 17-point, 12-rebound, 4-block night against Austin at Showcase, he picked up just five rebounds combined in his next two games. He’s a good shot-blocker, but he’ll need to get more comfortable playing inside.

Update: Daniels is no longer part of the NBA D-League, after signing with a team in South Korea, where he averaged 15.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game last year. Read more about it here.

2 – Greg Smith, Rio Grand Valley Vipers

Smith followed up a solid Showcase with a 12-point, 14-rebound, two-block affair against Canton on Saturday – a game in which he played only 25 minutes. If you expand those stats to a 35-minute game, we’re looking at almost 17 points and 20 rebounds. Smith still needs to learn how to play the game at the pro level, but the body and potential are there.

3 – Eric Dawson, Austin Toros

Dawson’s put up double-digit rebounds in 10 of 12 games this year, while averaging 16.2 points per game. He’s been playing a lot of center for Austin, although, at 6-9, he’s more built for the power forward position.

Manny Harris Still Has Some Rust…

Harris, the Charge’s tweener guard, Cavs alumnus from the 2010-11 season and our No. 1 Prospect, hasn’t quite found his stride yet in the NBA D-League. After starting the season late due to a foot injury, he’s shown signs of the brilliance that earned him some steady minutes with the Cavaliers in 2010, but his 7-for-18 combined shooting performances in the two games since Showcase show that he’s still got a way to go to get back to the level which he’s accustomed. On a promising note, he did chip in seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in Canton’s win over Tulsa on Monday, and he’s averaging 6.75 rebounds per game in only 27.25 minutes per game so far.

Andre Emmett’s stock is rising…

Emmett gave one of the top 5 breakout performances at Showcase – which sounds strange at first, given that he’d already played three prior seasons in the NBA D-League (and a few games in the NBA). But this was – and is – a different Andre Emmett, as the formerly one-dimensional scorer still dominated on the offensive end, but also stood strong on the defensive end for the Reno Bighorns and attacked the boards with a ferocity he’d rarely shown before. Over the weekend, he came back with a 34-point, 10-rebound, three-steal performance (on 13-of-18 shooting) against Sioux Falls, then a 16-point, three-block, two-steal night against Austin.

Nobody can keep Marcus Lewis off the boards…

Lewis stands alone among NBA D-League players for his commitment to rebounding.

From the opening tip, he’s glued to the glass on both ends of the floor, and hasn’t been held to single-digit rebounds since Dec. 2 – giving him a stretch of 13 straight games with 10 rebounds or more (and a 14.2 rpg average during that run).

Meanwhile, he’s also posted a double-double in all but one of those games, including going 11-11, 24-14 (with 11 of those 14 coming on the offensive glass) and 13-12 since Showcase. Lewis’ rebounding totals would most likely take a hit against more athletic big men in the NBA, but who knows – like Kevin Love, Lewis works to get himself in position constantly, snaring rebounds other forwards don’t even try to get.

And it’s a good bet that turning him loose for 15-20 minutes in a game would go a long way toward wearing out opposing post players.

A couple other forwards have picked up the boarding bug…

Rebounding and defense are often the tickets to the next level, and a few more guys have stood out of late. Austin’s Leo Lyons, who started the season with an injury, has looked more like himself lately, going 17-13 and 27-16 over his last two games. Meanwhile, Canton’s Tyrell Biggs has averaged 10 rebounds a game over his past three (including 4.33 on the offensive glass), to go along with 17.7 scoring averaged.

There’s Room for Scorers, But…

They gotta do something else. NBA teams might be after guys who can play roles – ones that don’t include scoring 20 a night – but many scouts said that it’s tough to overlook a player who can get to the hoop and finish with regularity. That just can’t be all they do.

Brandon Costner’s a perfect example. He scored 29 points in his first game at Showcase, but he’s gone cold ever since, going 16-for-42 over his last three games. Meanwhile, he hasn’t done quite enough in any other category to offset the off shooting nights, averaging just six rebounds a game. There’s always room for a big man who can shoot, said an NBA scout at Showcase, but the door to that room starts closing when the scorer doesn’t contribute anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Costner’s teammate (and four-year NBA player) Gerald Green has faired even worse after a dazzling 34-point performance at Showcase that rocketed him onto the Showcase Prospect Watch. He’s made only eight of 21 shots in his past two games, with only two assists and four rebounds total to balance out the shooting woes.

It’s All About Right Place, Right Time

Players won’t be called-up based on their talent level compared to the rest of the NBA D-League, per se, but more because of what hole they can fill on an NBA team. Beyond immediate needs, there’s a benefit to having played with a team in training camp. The Clippers clearly liked Fortson, and the first chance they got, they called him up. Meanwhile, other players like Daniels, Lewis and Jerome Randle made it to final cuts with their clubs, giving the big-league GMs a great look at the talent on the farm.

So, from here, let’s take a look at what players suit what needs.

Veteran Point Guard
Keith McLeod

Point Guard, Passing
Walker Russell

Young Point Guard, Combo
Justin Dentmon

Young Point Guard, Rebounding (or NBA Experience)
Ben Uzoh

Young Point Guard, Defense
Jerome Dyson

Guard, 3-Point Threat
Antoine Agudio

Forward, Bruiser/Rebounder
Marcus Lewis

Swingman, High Upside
Edwin Ubiles

Swingman, Defense
Lance Thomas

Center, Shot-Blocker
Chris Daniels

Center, High-Upside
Greg Smith