Mavs Assignments Benefiting

By: Bobby Karalla...@BobbyKaralla

The benefits of a one-to-one affiliation were on display for all to see last week as the Legends beat the LA D-Fenders 121-103, snapping a losing skid.

Three players from the Dallas Mavericks — second-year players Jae Crowder and Bernard James, and rookie Shane Larkin — joined the Legends for a quick assignment after the trio had recently struggled to find consistent playing time.

The players were there to get some run and hopefully regain any confidence they might have lost, and they certainly found whatever it was they were looking for.

James scored 38 points on 18-of-20 shooting, also grabbing 18 rebounds and swatting four shots. Crowder, meanwhile, finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists, a triple-double. Larkin added nine points, nine assists, and five boards, but his biggest weapons —speed and quickness — do not show up in the box score. The players passed whatever test they were given last night.

“It’s something new for me,” Crowder said of his first D-League assignment. “I played (in the NBA) all last year. I’ve been benched here lately. I’ve been taking it kind of hard, but it’s a business. I gotta do what I gotta do. I gotta come in and go to work every day, and I look forward to getting back on the court.”

Added James, also known as “Sarge,” after having spent six years in the Air Force: “I’ve been working really hard, just practicing every day, working on my game, lifting weights — I gained 15 pounds this season, in muscle — so to go out there and put it to use is a good feeling, and just kind of a reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, and to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

The Mavericks have made good use this season of its affiliation with the Legends. Mavericks rookie Ricky Ledo has appeared in 18 D-League games, averaging 13.9 points per contest. Larkin played in his second D-League game last night, the first coming on Feb. 1 against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. After Larkin’s Legends debut, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said Dallas is fortunate to have its affiliate nearby.

“I wouldn’t want to trade it. I really wouldn’t,” he said. “The proximity does give you more benefits than if it was in some other kind of place. Being able to send Larkin there to play a game one night and come back to practice the next day is a really good thing — without having to get on a plane to do it.” Fourteen of the 17 D-League franchises have single affiliations with NBA teams, including the Legends, but no affiliate is closer to its NBA squad than Texas, which makes quick assignments such as last night’s that much easier. After Thursday’s game, all the trio of Mavs had to do was hop in their cars and make the short drive home. For squads such as the Iowa Energy or Fort Wayne Mad Ants, each affiliated with five or more teams in different parts of the country, there is no such luxury. In addition, an NBA team that shares an affiliate often cannot send down three players at once as the Mavericks did, as the D-League roster is already filled with players under contract with all the other affiliates.

Lack of proximity could cause multiple problems for teams hoping to send players on assignment. Most importantly, an NBA team often makes the decision to assign a player late in the day. For example, Crowder, James, and Larkin did not find out until around noon that they’d be playing with the Legends that night, but because Frisco is just a 25-minute drive from the American Airlines Center, the journey was a short one.

As the league continues to explore expansion options and affiliate opportunities — the Orlando Magic, for example, have begun investigating a hybrid partnership with a D-League squad — more and more NBA players have spent time in the minors. Currently, 135 NBA players, about one-third of them, have D-League experience.

And as the Mavericks and Legends showed last night, the partnership can be mutually beneficial. The Dallas prospects got some much-needed minutes, and they led the Legends to a win in the process. Ledo, meanwhile, continues to get playing time, the most important ingredient in every player’s development.

Crowder, for one, said he felt a big boost after putting up his first triple-double in the pros. After a quick stop with the Legends, he said he’s ready to get back to playing with same type of confidence and aggression that got him to the NBA in the first place.

“I’ve not been able to play the way I’m capable of playing downtown (with the Mavericks),” he said, “but getting the triple-double tonight really gives me the confidence that I need, and knowing that I still haven’t lost it and that I can still play this game of basketball even though my confidence might sway downtown. It feels good.”