The Dev Report: Week Three

This time, in our weekly look at the top trends, stories and Prospects in the NBA D-League, we seek the edge and offer 10 predictions for the 2012-13 season.

You down with OBP?

Well.

Then you're not getting the whole story.

Over here at NBADLeague.com, we're as fond of well-goateed White Sox (and former Red Sox) star Kevin Youkilis as you are. Assuming, of course, that you're not Bobby Valentine. Same goes for Miguel Montero, Edwin Encarnacion, Ben Zobrist and the rest of the lose-em-in-a-crowd contingent of Major League Baseball generics who make stats geeks' hearts palpitate.

It's just that, despite the popular misconception that arose out of Moneyball, which assumes that the whole thing is a system purely founded on on-base percentage - instead of batting average, the century-old standard - there's much more to the story. Apologies due to the Greek God of Walks.

The argument that Moneyball makes - the reason it's even called Moneyball - is that, in any system, there's always a way to compete with the big guys without having to spend like them: you just have to find the market's blind spot. The inefficiency.

In other words, you have to change the game. Beat back against the herd. Everybody's going left? You go right. Way right. The Miami Heat go small? The Memphis Grizzlies go big. After all, it's a filthy mix of fear and greed and imitation that governs most movements in a market - that's how bubbles arise, inflate and, invariably, implode.

And if the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement's done anything, it's popped the free agent bubble. Max contracts designed to improve competitive balance de-incentivize - on a general level - teams from just loading cash into crates to bring in big players.

So, just like smaller film budgets tend to breed more creativity in shooting, NBA teams have gone in search of another edge.

So now, in the year 2012 - the 66th in the history of the National Basketball Association - if you go in search of that inefficiency, you'll have to look in places like Sioux Falls, S.D. and Des Moines, Iowa.

It turns out that the new edge in the NBA isn't even in the NBA.

"I think the potential in the NBA D-League's really great," said Santa Cruz Warriors GM and Golden State Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob. "If you want to compare it to Moneyball, the simplest thing is we're trying to improve statistics. It's clear statistics related to the NBA Draft and player development. You can tout whatever you want about your own personal Draft record and free-agent signings, but the truth is that there's a league average, and over time things do regress to the mean.

"We wanted to improve our chances of our draft picks and free agents beings successful. We're not out there trying to say that every player we sign or draft is gonna make it. It's just not possible. But if we get a guy in the mid-20's [of the Draft], historically he has a 15 percent chance of being a rotation player. What can we do to make it a 30 percent chance? Our goal is to continue to boost our odds."

With the new CBA regulations, if you can't invest in players financially, it makes sense to invest in the structure around them. To invest in their development. To invest in them as projects as much as prospects.

And the word, more and more, is getting out. Heading into the 2012-13 NBA D-League season, a record 11 teams have single-affiliation partnerships to an NBA club, after two more (the Maine Red Claws with the Celtics and the Idaho Stampede with the Blazers) joined in the fun this summer.

"Teams that don't have a one-to-one partnership don't feel like they're getting the full value with their partnership because they're split with other NBA teams," said Houston Rockets executive VP of player personnel and Rio Grande Valley Vipers GM Gersson Rosas.

And now, in a year that begins with the NBA D-League influencing the NBA more than ever before - not to mention a year that features nearly 100 NBA players with NBA D-League experience - it's our job to bring you the stories that matter. The ones that matter to you as an NBA fan and the ones that matter to you as an appreciator of livin' on the edge.

And with the 2012-13 season tipping off on Friday, here are the 10 predictions we're confident in making over the next 12 months.

The 2012-13 Season in Bold Predictions
No. 1: More single-affiliates are on the way

By next year, we'll see at least two more single-affiliates (surpassing this year's record-setting mark of 11), as NBA teams continue their scramble to claim remaining NBA D-League real estate

In its 11-plus-year history, the league's swelled and shrunk like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon. But this time, the expansion's different. Where once teams came into - and fell out of - existence due to management on the local level, this time, the league will be forced to expand because of top-down motivation.

The league's still a good ways away from a 30-for-30, Minor League Baseball-style affiliation network, but the crucial transformation's taken place: instead of expansion in isolation, growth's coming more and more from demand at the NBA level. And it's no coincidence that last year's two NBA D-League Finalists both came from single-affiliate systems.

No. 2: At least one of these players picked higher than Fab Melo will play in the NBA D-League this year
Melo, the 22st overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, headlined a class of seven assignments last week that also included Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas out of Houston and Summer League All-Star Cory Joseph out of San Antonio.
  • Jeremy Lamb (No. 12): On crowded Thunder team populated by some of the best athletes in the league, Lamb (3.3 mpg) could use some work in a guard-heavy NBA D-League with OKC's single-affiliate Tulsa.
  • Terrence Jones (No. 18) - Playing for a team (Rockets) that's only separated from its affiliate by mileage, not mentality. If he's stuck in warmups for a few weeks, he'll throw them off in RGV.
  • Evan Fournier (No. 20) - Precocious French scorer still needs to adjust to American pace of play, and may have a tough time getting onto the court for the blistering Nuggets.
No. 3: One of these NBA fixtures will play in the NBA D-League this year
  • Ricky Rubio: As laid out here
  • Avery Bradley: NBA D-League alum whose value bubbles up from his defense will use Maine Red Claws to get him back into basketball shape.
  • Iman Shumpert: Likewise. If Knicks are still playing this way when Shump comes back in January (as targeted), he could use conditioning work/time to shake off rust in affiliate Erie, where Jeremy Lin spent a game last year.
No. 4: The 2012-13 season won't break last year's NBA Call-Up record

Like what a rainy summer does for a harvest or fresh heartbreak does for an album, the climate around the 2011-12 season was perfectly suited to a bumper crop of Call-Ups. A compacted NBA season meant more grind on players' bodies. Expanded active rosters left more spots to test-drive NBA D-League players. A late NBA training camp that started after the NBA D-League had opened up brought a dozen Call-Ups before the NBA regular season even got going.

And so, a record 42 players went to the NBA from the NBA D-League a record 60 times.

This year, although the roster changes went permanent (teams can now have 15 players under contract and 13 on the active roster), and the investment in the NBA D-League's grown, too (two more teams came on as single-affiliates in the offseason), that number's still going to be hard to reach. By Christmas last year, 11 players who started in the NBA D-League had already cracked the NBA - all out of NBA training camp.

Now, it's the other way around. Of the 134 players cut from NBA training camp, 67 of them signed contracts to play in the NBA D-League. Expect at least 60 of them to appear on final NBA D-League rosters when they lock in at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

We're not saying that this year won't be good for Call-Ups. The top tier of Prospects aren't just spare parts for NBA teams looking for injury help - they're players that could potentially slide into a rotation within weeks. But it's just tough to match the surroundings that created last year's breakthrough year in the league. We'll still see a Call-Up or two a week once things really get going, and still have a decent shot at breaking last year's individual players record (42), but the 60 total mark might be tough.

And the reason we're making a big deal about the Call-Ups is that...

No. 5: The 2012-13 season will obliterate last year's Assignments record.

A fundamental change is afoot.

As NBA teams continue turning their eyes and resources - for instance, how the Santa Cruz Warriors took their affiliate in North Dakota and moved it 90 miles away to the South Bay - toward what's going on the NBA D-League, they've recognized the power in cultivating dormant NBA players in the NBA D-League.

In the past, teams harbored some concern that it was better to just run their young players around in practice - often as stationary bodies - as opposed to sending them down.

No longer.

"From an NBA level, the most anecdotal evidence is [Warriors VP of player personnel] Travis Schlenk, who said that four years ago, he started going to NBA D-League games and there were times he'd be the only NBA personnel at games," Lacob said. "Now you go to any game - and specifically the NBA D-League Showcase - you see 20 GMs and another dozen assistant GMs."

Meanwhile, rule changes have made it possible to assign all sorts of players. As laid out in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, NBA players with three or fewer years of NBA experience can now be assigned an unlimited amount of times. Meanwhile, the big news out of last year's CBA is that veterans, too, can now be assigned to the NBA D-League with their consent - whether to rehab an injury, get more work or just because they love the tamales in the Rio Grande Valley.

And finally, the ability for an NBA team to install its sytem on a minor league level allows GMs and coaches to basically simulate what NBA D-League players would look like in the NBA.

"We're firm believers in it," Rosas said. "Whether it's assigning our players or finding Houston Rockets in the NBA D-League."

The league's already had eight players come from the NBA to the NBA D-League in the first three weeks of this NBA season, including Melo (Celtics) and two players who look like fixtures in the Rockets lineup in a year or two - Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas. Expect a ton more.

No. 6: There'll be another Jeremy Lin story out of the league this year

There was even another one last year. Sort of.

If you distill out the minor details about Linsanity - like how Lin's two-week ascent from a couch to the front cover of Time magazine (Asian edition) gave life to a Knicks team that looked like extras on the Walking Dead, solved a cable dispute and made the world feel a whole lot smaller - Lester Hudson did something pretty similar.

During a four-game stretch between April 6-11 last Spring, Hudson - who'd played five games for the Austin Toros and 25 total in the NBA D-League - went off for 23.3 points a night. Some people even called it Hudsanity. But because it was all for a Cavs team a few weeks from a team-wide date with the driving range, it didn't stick quite as much.

But the point is that these performances are a Call-Up - and some court time - away. The NBA D-League's never boasted an overall talent pool with the quality and depth of this one, and it's never featured an upper crust of Prospects as ready for the NBA.

No. 7: Fab Melo wil play at least 30 games for the Maine Red Claws

The No. 21 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft started playing basketball right around the same time you first heard Call Me Maybe.

In actuality, it's been more like six years of experience for Melo, whose combination of athleticism and a growth spurt with a broken ON/OFF switch basically forced him into the game. He's progressed at a rate far faster than most would expect from somebody who's had to re-adjust to a few more inches every couple months. At Syracuse, he impacted the game the way a baby disrupts a red-eye flight - he was incapable of not doing it. But, as the Celtics coaching and front office staffs have noted, it's a whole different game in the NBA.

To that end - and as long as health smiles on the Celtics' frontcourt - the Boston brass will be able to keep Melo in Maine so he can learn to play in the flow of the professional game. It's a luxury that many teams wouldn't have, but it's one that, if done correctly, could put Melo on a track to start in the NBA in two years.

No. 8: The Rio Grande Valley Vipers will be your NBA D-League champs

The Royce White situation's still hanging in the air, but the assignments of Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas injected the Vipers with an infusion of pure talent. Both players would have seen more time in other NBA markets, but because of circumstance, will now rip up the NBA D-League for a while.

A few other teams - the Austin Toros/San Antonio Spurs and Texas Legends/Dallas Mavericks - have relations just as close as the one the Rockets and Vipers share, but a packed house in Houston will keep on benefitting RGV.

No. 9: Reggie Theus will win Coach of the Year

The new D-Fenders coach took the gig in large part because it was close to his home in L.A. So, unless he gets an NBA head coaching offer during the season, expect him to stick around the City of Angels and oversee another great run for one of the league's premier single-affiliates.

Tulsa's Darko Rajakovic would be in the running for this if we didn't think - in strong Tulsa tradition - that he'd be in the NBA before the end of the year.

No. 10: We'll see many of last year's Top Prospects back by the winter thaw

While last year saw nearly four-dozen players make the jump from the NBA D-League into the NBA, a few players went conspicuously missing. Elijah Millsap, who could take over games as few other players in the league could, never made it out of L.A. Most Improved Player Kenny Hayes scored 53 in a game, but saw teammate Xavier Silas go up to the 76ers late in the year.

And even for the players who did, like Jerry Smith and Summer League standout Malcolm Thomas, guaranteed NBA contracts weren't waiting.So they took international contracts - Smith in Italy, Thomas in Israel. But, once those seasons are done, expect to see some familiar faces return.



First Impressions

Fort Wayne's JaJuan Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA D-League Draft Live Via Cisco WebEx, nearly had a triple-double in the Mad Ants' preseason opener against the Canton Charge on Saturday. Too bad he only had eight blocked shots instead of 10.

In that same game, Canton's first-round Draft pick Kevin Jones -- who we're expecting to see in the NBA in the first wave of Call-Ups -- showed everybody exactly why, as the BIG EAST's leader in scoring and rebounding in 2011-12 pulled down 21 boards.

The performance of the weekend, though, belonged to Chris Douglas-Roberts, who scored 49 points for Texas in the Legends' triple-OT win on Sunday.

The Top 10 Point Guards
Top 10 Point Guards

When Cory Joseph and Scott Machado took assignments from the Spurs and Rockets, respectively, last week, the NBA D-League's premier position got even better.

The league sent players to the NBA at every position last year, but nowhere does it harbor the same team-by-team talent as it does at the 1. Granted, a great number of those point guards are players who played shooting guard for most of their lives, but whose height keeps them from doing the same in the NBA, but if you're looking for Call-Ups, the point's a great place to start.

Check out our gallery here.




Videos of the Week

From bloopers at Springfield Media Day to the first practices under Texas Legends coach Eddie Najera (the first Mexican-born coach under the NBA umbrella) and Tulsa�s Darko Rajakovic (the first European-born one), the first week of training camp kept the footage flowing from coast to coast.

Alumni Report
Ramon Sessions leads all NBA D-League alums in scoring, at 15.8 ppg in 27 minutes a night, but his contributions go beyond his nightly stat lines (though, with 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds, the stats are pretty good by themselves). Giving the Bobcats some much-needed grit and composure as a floor leader, he's been a key reason why Charlotte's off to a 4-4 start after an historically gory 2011-12.

Alonzo Gee was twice our NBA D-League Alum Stat Line of the Night winner last week.

Marcin Gortat continues his three-week, one-man protest against anyone getting to the hoop, averaging three blocks and 9.8 rebounds through 11 games for Phoenix.