The Dev Report: Week Five

This time, in our weekly look at the top trends, stories and Prospects in the NBA D-League, we look at the changes in the NBA's relationship with its minor league that have allowed for a flood of assignments this year.

Names to Know

The creatures known as human beings, history tells us, havenít changed a whole lot over time.

We may look different. We may go with salads over mammoth meat, and wear jeans instead of, say, loin cloths and limited-edition leaves. And sure, the modern man spends half the day poking at his own reflection in an iPhone, but it doesnít take much science or imagination to assume that if two prehistoric hunters went out looking for dinner, texting would have come in pretty handy.

In other words, the core impulses remain.

The stuff that changes -- the things that give rise to the differences between eras -- are the structures in place. Things like technology. Laws. Et cetera. Without those advancements, politicians would still settle things with duels and you'd have a good excuse for why you can't fly home for a distant cousin's wedding.

Namely, that planes aren't things.

So when it comes to explaining just how -- nine days into the regular season and less than a month since the start of training camps -- the NBA Development League already has more than 50 percent of the NBA Assignments it had all of last year, it helps to examine the changes that made it all possible.

Just 29 days since training camps tipped off, 25 players have already made their way from the NBA to the NBA D-League a total of 34 times (players like Darius Johnson-Odom, Fab Melo and Scott Machado have had multiple assignments). Last year, the final number came to rest at 67 total and 44 individual players.

So, to help us explain why it took 11 years for the NBA D-League to reach 67 assigned players in a season and why that might happen again before January, letís talk structures.

The New Collective Bargaining Agreement

When the owners and players union signed off on the new CBA last winter, the provisions around the NBA D-League looked like throw-ins. You buy the steak and a bottle of wine, you get a free house salad. It was easy to overlook them, given that when the CBA was ratfied it meant that the NBA was finally coming back.

But it ainít so easy now.

As a refresher, these were the parts that fundamentally altered the prospect landscape:

  • Teams can now assign players with three or fewer years of NBA experience an unlimited number of times across a season. Before, those players could only go to the NBA D-League a maximum of three times a year.
  • Veterans (players with more than three years of NBA experience) can now go to the NBA D-League with their consent.

Already, the L.A. D-Fenders have assigned Darius Johnson-Odom four times, largely because of the first provision (and a little because the Lakers can assign players to the D-Fenders pretty much just by asking them to stay late at practice -- the teams share a facility). The Celtics have assigned Kris Joseph three times and Fab Melo twice.

The veterans havenít come down yet, but expect to see a few this year, as teams look to coax stars back into health by letting them chip off some rust in the NBA D-League. Weíre not saying this is gonna happen, but picture Dirk -- playing for an organization that became the first one under the NBA umbrella to hire a female coach (Nancy Lieberman), a Mexican-born one (Eduardo Najera, the current Legends coach) and assign a veteran to the NBA D-League (Yi Jianlian, last year) -- yakking it up in Frisco and getting back into basketball shape with his old teammate, Eddie Najera.

All in all, the new CBA just gives teams flexibility. It means that, as the NBA D-League continues to grow, comparing total numbers of assignments wonít make a whole lot of sense -- sort of like comparing scoring numbers pre- and post-shot-clock. The league and its proponents will have to use individual players assigned -- not to mention their Draft position -- as the barometer of succcess.

Finally, thereís one other provision to note. Plucked directly from last yearís post-CBA release Ö

  • The NBA and NBPA have agreed to form a committee to discuss issues related to the NBA Draft and NBA D-League, including Draft eligibility rules, the Draft combine, the number of rounds in the Draft and rules related to the assignment of NBA players to the D-League.

Single-Affiliations

A record 11 NBA D-League teams came into the 2012-13 with a one-on-one partnership with an NBA club. Those partnerships come in three flavors:

  • Total ownership: The NBA team owns and operates all parts of the NBA D-League affiliate, from the product on the court to the pretzels sold off of it. The Warriors, Lakers, Cavaliers, Thunder and Spurs use this model.
  • Hybrid Affiliation: The most popular model for new clubs over the past few years, the hybrid model means that the NBA team runs the basketball operations side of the NBA D-League affiliate, but leaves the business, marketing and gameday ops stuff to the NBA D-League team. The Rockets, Nets, Knicks, Blazers and Celtics do things this way.
  • One-to-One Affiliation: A special case for the Dallas Mavericks (at the moment, at least), where Mavs GM Donnie Nelson owns the Texas Legends as a private citizen, not, technically, as the GM of the Mavs. But because he is the Mavericks GM, the Legends were basically spoken for.

And the perks are many.

  • Single-affiliates implement their coaching staffs and offensive/defensive systems on the NBA D-League level, so players run the same exact thing in the D-League as they do in the NBA.
  • Assignments often go down with teammates, easing the adjustment process. Kris Joseph and Fab Melo have done so together. Same with Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins in Oklahoma City/Tulsa. Nando de Colo and Cory Joseph were both in Austin over the weekend.
  • Not only do single-affiliates get to run their system with their affiliatesí players, they also get constant feedback from their basketball ops staff on the minor league level, with information flowing.
Neighborly Ties

We wrote about this whole bit once before, when the Warriors announced theyíd be moving their affiliate from Dakota to Santa Cruz. But itís wroth re-mentioning.

Not only have NBA D-League teams and their NBA affiliates grown closer in their daily operations, theyíve grown closer on the map. This summer, the Warriors lopped off about 1,500 miles from their commute to their affiliateís home base, when they moved the Dakota Wizards to Santa Cruz, Calif. And slapped the Warriors brand on them.

The Maine Red Claws play in Portland, Maine, about 90 minutes north of their NBA affiliate in Boston. Springfield, Mass -- home of the NBA D-Leagueís Armor, the Netsí affiliate -- sits on a few hours away from Brooklyn. San Antonioís just about 17 oil refineries away from Austin. Frisco, where the Legends play, hangs out in the Dallas suburbs. Tulsa to Oklahoma City takes about an hour and a half, no matter how long it seems.

Even Fort Wayne (a multiple-affiliate with four teams) is a manageable commute for the Bobcats, Pistons, Pacers and Bucks . And though Rio Grande Valley and Houston arenít exactly roommates, the 350 miles separating them rivals the distance from Philly to Boston.

But nobodyís closer than the Lakers and D-Fenders, which both call the Toyota Center in L.A.ís El Segundo neighborhood -- a part of town youíve heard of because itís where LAX is and because Cake used its name in one of their many songs about nothing -- home.

A Better NBA D-League

Last year, the NBA D-League rolled out a general level of talent far above where it had ever been. Scouts, GMs, coaches and anybody whoíd spent time around the league raved about how many NBA-ready players played every night, and how much that level dwarfed anything prior.

And if youíre looking for quantification, the 60 NBA Call-Ups last year helped to prove it, as more players (42 of them, individually) made their way to the NBA than ever before, showing just how blurred the border between NBA Player and NBA D-League Player had had become.

And the talentís even better this year.

From people like former Laker Andrew Goudelock -- nicknamed ĎThe Mini Mambaí by Kobe Bryant himself -- to JaJuan Johnson to Jarvis Varnado -- the reigning NBA D-League Performer of the Week and the all-time blocks leader in NCAA history -- the level of competitionís only a small drop from the NBA. Which is why, when assignments come down, the days of them going off for 50 points just to prove they can are largely over.

So when NBA teams send players to the NBA D-League to work on their skills -- a much more common trend than in the past, when teams would send players down without much guidance, Reno coach Paul Mokeski said -- they do so with the confidence that the players wonít have the luxury of cheating on his own development, because heíll be going up against people who not only want -- but are capable of taking -- his spot.

ďI think it's good as a competition level,Ē Johnson-Odom said. ďItís good to finally get some playing time, because I get to play against guys who've been in and out of the NBA who have talent, so itís been a good transition.Ē

Success Stories

Ok so maybe the one game Jeremy Lin played with the Erie BayHawks before briefly taking over the world last year didnít fully pave the way for Linsanity. But the 20 games in Reno the year before probably helped.

The NBA now features more than 100 players with NBA D-League experience, including the 22 players assigned this year who hadnít spent time in the NBA D-League before. And among them are names like these:

  • Larry Sanders, the Bucks big who just got a triple-double in points, rebounds and BLOCKS.
  • Gerald Green, the insert-coin-here dunk machine who got washed out of the NBA his first time around, and then worked his way back with the L.A. D-Fenders
  • Marcin Gortat, the Sunsí walking double-double.
  • JJ Barea, the T-Wolves point guard who spent time in now-defunct Fort Worth proving to everybody that size wouldnít stop him -- and then guarded LeBron in the 2011 Finals.

All of those names and more served to prove that a player can both prove himself and, just as importantly, develop in the NBAís feeder league.

Evaluation and Value-Creation

Some players just donít fit on an NBA squad. But thereís not really a way to build up a playerís trade value if heís sitting on the bench, unless a teamís looking for somebody with good taste in suits.

And because of the new CBA, itís harder for teams to go out and shower a free agent in cash. So, existing assets matter.

To that end, the NBA D-League also provides teams the opportunity to show off their assets as a way of establishing their value for another club. If an assignment beats up on the NBA D-League and doesnít really have an avenue for more playing time with his NBA club in the long-term, look for him to end up somewhere else, in exchange for an immediate need -- especially if heís on a contender.

The Top 10 Performances of the Weekend (Double-Time)

With 14 games over the weekend, big performances werenít hard to find. These are the 10 best of Ďem, as far as NBA Prospects are concerned.

Top 10 Performances from Opening weekend

And for the very best from the NBA players down on assignment, CLICK HERE!

The Rest of Robert Sacre

New L.A. D-Fenders center Robert Sacre has picked up fans wherever heís played, from high school in Canada to college hoops at Gonzaga. A personality big enough for his body, Sacreís also, it turns out, quite the dancer. So even though he played just 19 minutes across eight games with the LA Lakers, he spent just as much quality time on the bench, turning into a YouTube star last week when a Believe The Hype compiliation video fo Sacreís best moves blew around the internet.

>> CHECK OUT HIS THOUGHTS ON HIS NEWFOUND FAME HERE

And keep on reading for some actual thoughts on his basketball career.

Kevin Scheitrum, NBADLeague.com: Howís the adjustment been to playing for the D-Fenders after opening up with the Lakers?

Itís basketball. At the end of the day, weíre all just playing basketball. You can only enjoy that. The style of play [in the NBA D-League] is very fast and high-scoring, but I have no problem with it.

Do you think thatíll help you with the transition back to the NBA in coach DíAntoniís system?

Itís a great transition for me, just for the fact that DíAntoni has a very high-paced offense. The type of play, itís all transition.

Howís the level of competition been so far?

It was good. It was a good game for me. I felt the competition was good, and everybody was competing, and trying to win. Thatís all that matters.

Was it nice to go up against somebody not named Pau or Dwight for a change?

No question. I thought in the first half, I was getting all the cobwebs off, and the rust, but everything felt good in the second half.

How tough is it, going from being a featured player at pretty much all other times in your life to sitting on the end of the bench?

Thatís part of the business. I gotta be professional and understand that this is a job, and even though Iím not playing, I gotta make sure Iím ready and always able to play.

What do you tell yourself to keep yourself ready to go in at a momentís notice?

Any minute could be my chance. Thatís always in the back of my mind. You always gotta be focused during the game. Take it one minute and one game at a time, really.

What are you trying to work on in the D-League?

I really am just trying to focus on just playing; just getting all the cobwebs out of my game because I really havenít played in an actual game with significant minutes. Iím looking at just trying to play, not really think about it too much, run our offense and do what I do best.

What is it that you do best?

Just be active. Energetic. Play defense. And just play hard.

Videos of the Week

If you watch just one of these -- and we're not saying you should, because one of the perks of the up-and-down style of transition ball in the NBA D-League is that every game comes packed with highlights -- just check out the one in the top-left, with Maine taking on LA in Celtics and Lakers jerseys and showstoppers galore. GALORE.