The Draft and What Comes After

Many of the players who walk across the stage during Thursday night's NBA Draft will play at least part of their rookie season in the NBA D-League.

Last June, Marcus Morris and his twin brother Markieff sat together in the middle of New York with their lives about to alter. Behind them, a reign of terror at Kansas reminiscent of either Brook and Robin Lopez’ run at Stanford or Jesse and Frank James’ at Glendale. Ahead of them, the 2011 NBA Draft, which was set to make them very, very rich men and, in doing so, pull them apart for the first time since the seven minutes that separated them at birth.

Seated at the Westin Times Square, the two were virtually indistinguishable, down to their tattoos. But their resumes – and their projections – diverged. They were both All-Americans (Marcus, Second; Markieff, Honorable Mention) after leading the Jayhawks in points (Marcus first, Markieff second), rebounds and blocked shots (both Markieff). Marcus was coming off being named Big 12 Player of the Year. But, as the shorter of the two (at 6-foot-9, to Markieff’s 6-foot-10), doubts began to arise about his ability to scale into one of the five traditional NBA positions.

Then, on Draft night, after Marcus had been projected as high as the Top-5 with Markieff looking more like a mid-round pick, they went back to back. Marcus, at 14, to the Rockets. Markieff, a pick earlier, to the Suns.

Seven months later, Markieff was playing as many as 32 minutes a night for Phoenix. Marcus, meanwhile, was earning 39 himself.

For the NBA Development League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

The likely reasons for Marcus’ fall in the Draft – that he was a ‘tweener,’ in cruel basketball parlance – were the same ones that brought him to RGV. At 6-foot-9 without a particularly effective inside game against NBA players, he hadn’t yet found a role in the Rockets’ lineup. He’d scored 20 in a preseason game against the Spurs, but through his first three regular-season appearances, he racked up only a combined 17 minutes. So the Houston brass felt it’d be in his best interests to get some time on the farm to work on a skill-set that had him stuck between the 3 and the 4.

They were right. Morris dominated the NBA D-League, thrashing his way to a 20.7-point, 8.3-rebound average in 11 games in Rio Grande Valley. But although Morris was the highest-picked player from the 2011 Draft to end up in the NBA Development League in 2011-12, he certainly wasn’t alone. Of the 60 players taken in the 2011 Draft, 15 of them appeared in the NBA D-League at some point in the 2011-12 season, including one-third of players chosen in the second round.

But in a banner year for the NBA D-League, the 15-player mark may have been the only one that didn’t set a new record. It didn’t even come close to touching the 2010-11 clip, when 31 players chosen in the Draft (51.7 percent, for those scoring in their cubes) played in the NBA D-League at some point.

And what that all means is that, as assignment rules grow more and more flexible and the quality of play in the NBA D-League edges closer and closer to that in the NBA, pay attention on Thursday: for the next time you see some of the guys walking across the stage will come on an NBA D-League parquet.

So before five-dozen players hear their names in Newark’s Prudential Center on Thursday night, look back on the other guys from the 2011 Draft that sharpened their skills in the NBA D-League.

No. 24: Reggie Jackson (OKC Thunder)

Jackson played one game in Tulsa in 2011-12. And he did basically whatever he wanted while he was there, hoisting up 27 shots (and making 10 of them) to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds in 41 minutes in a win over the Iowa Energy on Mar. 24.

No. 26 Jordan Hamilton (Denver) and No. 29 Cory Joseph (San Antonio)

The University of Texas teammates both went to their NBA D-League affiliates to add some dimensions to games that weren’t quite ready for the NBA. Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 swingman, went down to work on his inside game and to improve his overall basketball IQ by playing the game at a professional pace. Joseph, a young guard, needed to work on his court vision and ability to run an NBA-style offense. Hamilton played six games in Idaho and Joseph played 21 in Austin, where he pushed the Toros to the Finals, averaged near 12-5-5 and immediately became one of the leagues’ best defenders.

No. 35: Tyler Honeycutt (Kings)

At 6-foot-8, Honeycutt’s body wasn’t fully ready for the NBA workload in 2010 (though he did see time in 15 games for the Kings), so he used a 10-game stint in Reno to work on his post game while adding some much-needed heft.

No. 36: Jordan Williams (Nets)

Looking for more of a mid-range game to complement a body type made for the lane, Williams played six games for the Springfield Armor in 2011-12, where he scored 10.5 points and grabbed 7.8 rebounds.

No. 39: Jeremy Tyler (Warriors)

Tyler finished his first season in the league on a tear, as the rookie center snared six or more rebounds in the final seven games of the Warriors’ season, including a double-double on April 11 and consecutive 13-8, 16-9 efforts to finish the year (while playing more than 40 minutes in both of those games). But before that, he had to answer some questions about consistency and mental makeup, after bailing on his senior year of high school to play in Israel and then bouncing around the Japanese leagues until he was Draft-eligible. He did so with the Dakota Wizards, where he played six games in March – shooting better than 50 percent in each of them – and averaged 15.6 points and 7.8 boards.

No. 41: Darius Morris (Lakers)

The Lakers’ guard played a game with the L.A. D-Fenders, scoring 21 points with four assists while on assignment.

No. 43: Malcolm Lee (Timberwolves)

Coming into the Draft, questions surrounded Lee’s ability to maintain control of the ball and create opportunities on the offensive end. He did average 2.4 turnovers in seven games in Sioux Falls, but still managed 5.9 assists to give himself a 2.5:1 ratio, in addition to 10 points and four rebounds a game.

No. 46: Andrew Goudelock (Lakers)

Goudelock, who came down for one game during NBA Training Camp before eventually appearing in 40 games for the Lakers in 2011-12, showed Mitch Kupchak – a frequent visitor to D-Fenders games – why he belongs with the big-league club, scoring 24 points with seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in 47 minutes. If the Lakers wanted to make sure Goudelock was in game shape, they had their answer.

No. 47: Travis Leslie (Clippers)

Leslie played 10 games in Los Angeles and 14 for Bakersfield in 2011-12. A premier athlete with room to grow as a basketball player, he went down to Bakersfield to get more seasoning in his game and develop a jump shot, and wound up shooting better than 50 percent for the year.

No. 48: Keith Benson (Hawks)

Benson didn’t play a game for the Hawks in 2011-12, but fell to the Sioux Falls Skyforce after being released from Atlanta. There, the size-rich, experience-poor center groomed himself into one of the NBA D-League’s very best big men. Over the course of 20 games in Sioux Falls, he averaged more than 15 points with close to eight rebounds a game and earned a GATORADE Call-Up to Golden State in late March. He still needs to pack on weight, but the talent’s starting to reveal itself.

No. 49: Josh Selby (Grizzlies)

Selby – the Morris twins’ teammate at Kansas – struggled for minutes in his first season in Memphis, appearing in 28 games at 8.5 minutes apiece for the Grizzlies. So, to help develop his game, Memphis sent him to Reno, where he blew up. He averaged 25 points with 20 points or more in six of his eight games, including a 32-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple-double on Mar. 30 and a 38-pointer in his final game with the Bighorns on April 7.

No. 52: Vernon Macklin (Pistons)

Over the course of a 10-game assignment in Fort Wayne from March into April, Macklin ruled over all the big men in the NBA D-League. He recorded double-doubles in nine of those 10 games, averaging 14.5 points and 14.3 rebounds during his stay. In his first game back in Detroit, on April 18, he very nearly notched another double-double, with eight points and nine boards in 23 minutes.

No. 56: Chukwudiebere Maduabum (Lakers)

Chukwudiebere Maduabum's stay in the NBA D-League in 2011-12 lasted just about as long as it took to write his name in the book. In three minutes for the Bakersfield Jam (after playing three games in Bakersfield in 2010-11 and, by doing so, jumping onto radars enough to earn a Draft selection), Maduabum blocked one shot and missed the lone shot he took. But, for a 6-foot-9, supernaturally athletic Nigerian native who's now finally able to concentrate fully on basketball, consider him a work in progress.