Four combo guards who would be better off in Europe than the D-League

The D-League isn’t just a developmental league for the NBA, but it could also be an outlet for European clubs to find talent as well.

I am not going to lie, I got the idea for this piece from this article by Uros Bajovic of Eurobasket.com. However, while his piece was a little brief, and geared more toward European audiences, I wanted to go more in-depth into some of his choices, as I do watch some DLeague on YouTube (I plan to watch more next year, as I will give up my NBA League Pass and focus solely on the Euroleague and some D-League on this blog), and I decided to focus on five out of his “Top-Seven” point guards (though to be fair, some of these guys are more “combo” guards, not necessarily pure point guards). I found Bajovic’s piece quite timely, especially with guards such as “El Chacho” Sergio RodriguezLoko guard Malcolm Delaney, and Barcelona guard Tomas Satoransky all signing NBA contracts over the past week. So, with that trio gone, the demand for quality point guards in Europe is higher than ever, and the D-League could be a good resource for Europe’s top clubs to find some under-the-radar talent.

Before I go into further depth on the four guards, let’s take a brief look at the three I eliminated from Bajovic’s initial list:

  • Bryce Cotton: I eliminated Cotton as he really didn’t play all that much in the D-League and actually spent some time on the Grizzlies and China last season (he only played 6 games with the Austin Spurs). I actually see Cotton as a realistic bet to play somewhere overseas, and I don’t see him as a guy really debating between the D-League and a job in Europe. I think if he doesn’t make the Hawks’ roster out of Summer League, he’ll find somewhere lucrative to play, perhaps China again since he has experience there.
  • Xavier Munford: I would absolutely love to see Munford in the Euroleague or Eurocup, but I think he’s still a decent prospect who could latch onto a team either after Summer League or sometime during the season, making him a worthy candidate to start the year in the D-League. He averaged 20.4 ppg and 6.4 apg in 41 games with the Bakersfield Jam last season and he actually had a pretty good 14 game stint with the Grizzlies last year that merited him signing a multi-year deal at the end of the season (though the Grizzlies did not pick up his option for this year). Munford is on the Lakers’ Summer League team, and with a lot of roster-questions with that team at the backup point guard position, I could see him as a valuable reserve behind D’Angelo Russell next season.
  • Quinn Cook: Cook, a guard from Duke, is coming off a pretty solid 19.6 ppg and 5.4 apg campaign in 43 games with the Canton Charge a year ago. I find Cook still a pretty good NBA prospect, as he was rated as the D-League Rookie of the Year last season. I think he will wait it out at least another year before he seriously contemplates going to Europe or overseas, and I think he will be given a 10-day contract or two next season if he doesn’t make a NBA roster out of Summer League.

So with those three out of the way, let’s take a look at four combo guards who would benefit a move to Europe next year.

Marquis Teague (OKC Blue last season)

One of the top point guards from the class of 2011, Teague entered Kentucky as a potential lottery pick. Unfortunately, a lackluster freshman year in his lone season with the Wildcats sunk his stock in the 2012 draft, as he went 29th overall to the Chicago Bulls. Teague, a former McDonald’s All-American out of Indianapolis, was the No. 1 rated point guards in the class of 2011, but he struggled immensely with shooting and efficiency offensively, as he only averaged 10.0 ppg on 41 percent shooting in 40 games for the Wildcats, and had an adjusted offensive rating of 99.4, which is extremely poor for somebody of his talent and importance to the team (he led the Wildcats in minutes percentage at 81.4). Many people felt Teague could have benefited from another year in college, but as is the case with most John Calipari recruits, he was determined to be a “one and done” even if his “one” year didn’t live up to the hype.

Teague has struggled to find a spot in the NBA, as he struggled to find a role under head coach Tom Thibodeau, not necessarily the most gentle “developer” of rookies. Teague appeared in 48 games his rookie year, but he only averaged 8.2 mpg and 2.1 ppg while shooting a ghastly 38.2 percent from the field. The following season was even worse, as he only appeared in 19 games with the Bulls, and 21 games with the Brooklyn Nets after he was packaged in a trade for the rights to Tornike Shengelia. Neither campaign was very good though, as he averaged only 12.7 and 9.6 mpg with the Bulls and Nets, respectively.

In October of the 2014 season, Teague was traded to the Sixers for Casper Ware, and unfortunately was waived promptly three days after he was acquired. Not under contract by any team, he was eligible for the NBA Developmental Draft, which he was drafted ninth overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Teague has performed well with the Blue, the Thunder’s D-League club the past two seasons, averaging 14.8 and 5.6 apg in 2014-2015 in 44 appearance, and 15.7 and 5.9 apg in 50 games in 2015-2016. Unfortunately, his strong performances haven’t really gone noticed by the Thunder, as he has not seen the floor with the Thunder over the past two seasons. (Of course, with the Thunder being one of the best clubs in the NBA the past two years, it was difficult for Teague to find a spot with the Blue’s parent club).

Teague has proven to be a strong, physical guard who can use his speed and handles to blow by opposing guards and get to the rim with with ease (at least in the D-League). He also is strong when finishing around the rim, (though inconsistent, which I will go into more detail next paragraph). He has a nice floater, and he is able to position his body well against contact to prevent his shot from getting blocked against much bigger defenders. Furthermore, his vision off the drive is nice, as he is able to find cutting teammates or shooters in the corner off the dribble. Check out a 30-point performance he had against Rio Grande Valley last year, and it is easy to see Teague perhaps replicating that performance in the Euroleague or Eurocup next season.

Unfortunately, Teague’s shot and offensive game is still a work in progress. His eFG percentage was only 46.2 percent last year in OKC, and he shot only 47.5 percent around the rim, 31.1 percent in the paint outside the restricted area and 28.3 percent in the mid-range. So while his 38.9 3-point percentage was a bit of an improvement from his rookie season (he shot only 17.4 percent from beyond the arc in his first season with the Bulls) this shot chart below should be evidence of how flawed he is offensively.

Shotchart_1467769589478

Teague has a lot of the qualities of a Malcolm Delaney, and with the right freedom and club, I could see him blossom and perhaps raise his stock for a possible NBA return after a couple of years in Europe. Not many available players are out there that possess Teague’s combination of athleticism, ball handling and pedigree at the point guard position, and he would a substantial pay increase if he signed with a European club next season rather than stay in the D-League. A team like Lokomotiv Kuban or Laboral Kutxa Baskonia or Barcelona would benefit greatly from his service, and Baskonia and Loko have experience utilizing point guards like Teague properly as evidenced by Delaney and Darius Adams (Baskonia).

Phil Pressey (Idaho Stampede last year)

Pressey has seen some NBA time with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers but he has been unable to stick due to his small stature (5’11). A well-renowned player at Mizzou who earned 1st-team All SEC and honorable mention All-American honors his junior year, Pressey has the potential to come into a European club and be the kind of floor leader that could help a Euroleague or Eurocup club immediately.

Pressey is more of a traditional point guard, as he looks to distribute and pass first rather than score-first like Teague. He averaged 13.7 and 6.9 apg in 31 games with the Idaho Stampede a season ago. Though not big in stature, and a bit susceptible to being posted up by bigger guards, or exposed on switches in the pick and roll, Pressey demonstrates some good hands and speed on the defensive end, as he averaged 2.0 steals per game with the Stampede. Furthermore, he plays hard on the defensive end, as he sported a 104.6 defensive rating a year ago, a pretty good rating for a guard (in comparison Munford had a defensive rating of over 111 last year).

While a natural creator on offense, he is susceptible to some turnover issues as his 1.90 assist-to-turnover ratio still left some to be desired. And furthermore, his ability to generate offense for himself is a bit inconsistent, as he cannot really beat defenders off the dribble, especially bigger and more physical guards. That being said, when Pressey is on, he is fun to watch. He has a knack for making full court outlet passes, and has pretty exceptional vision in the half court as well. And furthermore, his instincts off the ball are pretty good as well, as he uses his speed and instincts to create open looks for himself at the rim. And he can get up to, as his athleticism may remind European fans of a Mike James when it comes to throwing it down in traffic. Check out some highlights of his from last year, and it’s easy to see why Pressey could fit in with a European club in 2016-2017.

He is not the kind of “offensive” threat that Teague is or some of the other names about to be listed. His 3-point shot was pretty awful last year at 33.3 percent and his effective field goal percentage wasn’t much better at 49.9 percent. But, the former Celtic offers a lot of intangibles at the point guard position, and at 25 years old, I don’t see him sticking with a NBA club after this Summer. And thus, I think the move to Europe for Pressey would be the best option for his professional career going forward.

Russ Smith (Delaware 87ers last year)

Smith has had a weird career in professional basketball. He is obviously too good for the D-League, as he made mincemeat of the competition last season with Delaware. In 25 games, he averaged a ridiculous 27.9 ppg and 7.9 apg on 46 percent shooting while averaging a little over 37 minutes per game. However, his diminutive stature, and lack of a 3-point shot (he’s a career 33.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc) has kept him from really having much of an impact in the NBA beyond a few cups of coffee here and there.

Let’s just analyze what Smith would bring a potential European club team:

  • Nobody can create offense for himself and others like Smith in the D-League. He has exceptional handles, and he is able to swerve through opposing defenses as if they were chairs in a drill during practice. He plays incredibly well in the pick and roll, as he has the speed and strength to get to rim and finish, while still maintaining good vision and instincts to hit the screener on the roll or pop if open. Smith doesn’t have the natural gifts to be an elite NBA point guard (doesn’t have the size or the shooting, two big no-no’s in the modern game). However, his skills are extremely polished for someone who has been a bit of a D-League journeyman.
  • Smith is a tough-as-nails competitor. From his college days at Louisville to his tenure in the D-League, Smith brings it energy-wise night in and night out. He plays flat out hard when he is on the floor, which is a reason why he posts some gaudy averages. While some players may have let the time in the D-League deflate them, Smith has used it as motivation, as he plays with a chip on his shoulder with something to prove every night, whether it’s Delaware, Westchester or even a call up in the NBA (which he had in Memphis last year). I believe European coaches would love and play him major minutes because Smith has the competitive fire that European basketball fans adore.

His defensive rating isn’t great (114.2), and at times, especially when he is on a hot scoring streak, Smith can seemed a bit more focused on putting up crazy bucket totals rather than playing a complete game. He is an emotional player, and that sometimes can get him out of his game, especially defensively, as he will have lapses at times when he is caught up too much in the moment of a close or hotly contested game. But Smith was a lot of fun last year, especially in those game where he put up “superhuman” scoring performances. Take a look at this 65 point game he had last year with Delaware against Canton on national TV.

Size-wise will always be a question with Smith going forward, even for European clubs, as he does look out of place when you watch him on film. However, Smith is the kind of fun, spark-plug player that would be a great asset for a European club. At the very least, he would be a great 6th/7th man off the bench that could help provide instant offense and energy.

Jimmer Fredette (Westchester Knicks last year)

Is Jimmer-time over in the USA? Unfortunately, after a failed 10-day contract with the New York Knicks, it looks like Jimmer would best be served from a change of scenery. And what better change than a club across the pond? (And I am not the only one to think this either.)

Fredette thankfully has rekindled some of the flair and confidence in the D-League that made him such a fan favorite while he was at BYU: he hits shots from long range in a variety of ways. He can do it off the dribble. He can do it while coming off of screens. He can do it in the pick and roll. He can do it from feet beyond the arc. When it comes to shooting the basketball, Jimmer isn’t quite Stephen Curry, but he isn’t all that far off when it comes to panache with the three point shot.

However, one of the biggest developments of Jimmer’s game has been his ability to not just solely be a three point threat. Yes, his best shot is still from beyond the arc, and yes, 31.9 percent of his shots are threes. But, he has proven that he can damage defenses with shots all over the floor and not just from three in his year in the D-League. Just take a look at his shot distribution last year with the Knicks’ developmental squad.

Shotchart_1467772395860

That’s pretty-well rounded and explains why he averaged 21.1 ppg for the Knicks in 40 appearances last year. Furthermore, he has also developed into a more polished playmaker as well as he averaged 5 assists per game last year, and looked comfortable handling the ball a lot more in the D-League than he did in NBA stints with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans. Now, I am not sure if Fredette will be a point guard long term. Defensively, he still struggles moving laterally, and he doesn’t have the kind of instincts to really make up for his athletic shortcomings on the defensive end. I could see clubs take advantage of him in the pick and roll as well as see faster, more explosive guards beat him off the dribble on a consistent basis. But offensively, Jimmer is versatile and can score with and off the ball, and that should give him enough value to entice a major European club to offer him a good 1-2 year contract. Watch his highlights below and you can see that he could be in the playing rotation of any club in Europe.

Jimmer is probably the most shocking name on this list because of his status as a College Player of the Year at BYU as well as being the 10th overall pick in the NBA Draft. But, Jimmer really isn’t going anywhere in the NBA. He has sort of delved into a Tim Tebow-like figure in the NBA, where the distractions of Jimmer-mania don’t necessarily match up with his talent.

That being said, Jimmer still has the potential to have a good professional basketball career. And I could see him doing it in Europe for a major club, not some second-tier club that only plays domestically. He could be a valuable asset for a Euroleague or Eurocup participant, and could turn into the main star of a European club team in a two to three years. He has developed that much since his rookie year. With the right team, role and coach, Jimmer could finally salvage a professional career that for the most part has been mostly a disappointment.

Let’s just hope he’s willing to take the risk of making such a jump to Europe. And let’s hope a major European club has the guts to take a flier on him.

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Can Quincy Miller Save the Season for Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (And Save His Career Too)?

Ryan Thompson (5, red) struggled immensely against Real Madrid in the wake of an injury to Luka Mitrovic; He and Red Star hope new addition Quincy Miller can get them back on track.

After a promising 81-59 opening day win at home against Strasbourg, times have gotten tough for Serbia’s Euorleague club, Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) Telekom Belgrade. Earlier in the week in domestic play, the team suffered a massive blow when it lost captain Luka Mitrovic to a left knee injury during a rare home loss to Union Olimpija. Mitrovic, in addition to his leadership role, has been a crucial building to Red Star and head coach Dejan Redonjic’s recent success the past couple years after making the jump to the Euroleague last year, and making the second round. Last season, Mitrovic averaged 8.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg in 24 games as a 21-year-old, which earned him a 3-year contract extension this off-season. This year appeared to be a breakout year for him, as he put up a stat line of 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in the season opener. Add that on top of a pre-season injury to forward Nemanja Dangubic that will keep him out a few more weeks, and it’s easy to see why things looked grim for Red Star as the entered yesterday’s road game against defending Euroleague Champion Real Madrid.

However, even the most pessimistic of Red Star and Serbian basketball fans didn’t quite foresee their 98-71 blowout loss to the Spanish powerhouse. The first half for Red Star was especially putrid, as they scored only 6 points in the first quarter and 14 in the second to find themselves down 56-20 at halftime. In the second half, they made the game a little bit more respectable, scoring 21 in the third quarter and 30 in the fourth, but it was obvious that Real had put in their replacements, and were simply trying to rest up after halftime to conserve their star players for the following week of games, both Domestic and Euroleague.

The biggest difference in the game was the play in the post, as Red Star couldn’t stop Real in the paint, and vice versa, they couldn’t score in the paint against the talented Spanish front line either. Real shot 57.8 percent on 45 2-pt shots, with Gustavo Ayon scoring 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting on 2-pt shots, and Willy Hernangomez, playing a lot of early minutes due to Felipe Reyes in foul trouble, scoring 11 points on 5 of 6 shooting. As for Red Star, they shot 33.3 percent on 48 2-pt shots, and while German Maik Zerbes tried to pick up the slack with a 15 point performance, almost half of his points (7) came from the free throw line and he shot 4 of 10 on 2-point shots, struggling to get position and shots on the active Real post players (Real blocked 6 Red Star shots). Furthermore, they also got little to nothing from other post players such as Stefan Nastic, who went 1 of 6 from the field  and played a little over 7 minutes, and recent off-season addition Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who went 1 of 5 from the field, had 1 rebound and was blocked 3 times in 13 minutes. Add those disappointing factors along with Israeli point guard Gal Mekel scoring 0 points and getting no assists (compounded even worse by Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull combining for 16 assists), and it makes sense why there was a difference in Total Player Index Rating between Real and Red Star (134-60).

While Mitrovic’s injury effect has already been felt by Red Star, there is help on the way. Earlier this week before their contest against Real, Red Star signed former NBA draft pick Quincy Miller, who has played for the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons, as well as the Reno Bighorns, Grand Rapids Drive and Iowa Energy of the D-League in his early 3-year professional career. Miller is an interesting pickup by Red Star, as he is still incredibly young (22 years old) and has so much raw potential, size (6-9, 210 pounds) and athleticism. However, this will be his first stint in Europe in general, let alone the Euroleague, and it will be interesting to see how Miller will adjust to the European (especially Eastern European) culture as well as the style of game from America.

What Miller Offers Red Star

Quincy Miller was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, but has struggled to find a place in the NBA. Will a year-long stint with Red Star Belgrade change that?

Miller probably left college earlier than he should’ve, as he declared for the draft after his freshman season at Baylor, where he played with future NBA and European professional players like Quincy Acy, Perry Jones and Brady Heslip. In college, Miller averaged 10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg in 24.4 mpg over a 37 game span and shot 44.7 percent from the field, as well as 34.8 percent from 3-point land during the Bears’ Elite-Eight season. Miller impressed teams and scouts during his time at Baylor with his raw athleticism and his inside-outside game, but his inconsistent shooting (48.5 percent eFG%), tame rebounding percentages for a big man (7.5 offensive rebounding rate; 16.1 defensive rebounding rate), and tendency to be a “ball-killer” (his 23.1 usage rate was second highest on the team) and get the Bears out of rhythm offensively at times, was a major reason why he fell to the second round, though he was projected as a mid-to-late first round pick going into the 2012 draft.

In his rookie year, Miller struggled to find the floor, as he played only 7 games, and spent most of his time in the D-League, as he appeared in 23 games with the Iowa Energy, and averaged 11.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg on 39.1 percent shooting. In his second season, Miller saw more time with the Nuggets, as new head coach Brian Shaw gave him some more time on the floor to prove if he was worth keeping around and could realize his potential. He appeared in 52 games and averaged 15.2 mpg, and Miller was known for making some impressive plays at times, as evidenced by the highlights below:

However, despite his “upside” and ability to create off-the-dribble for a player of his size, Miller’s youth and lack of experience was obvious, as he only averaged 4.9 ppg and 2.8 rpg and put up a PER of 8.6 (15 is average). Trying to build a more “playoff-ready” roster, the Nuggets let Miller walk in the off-season (as a second round pick, he didn’t have the kind of rookie deal that first round picks receive; second round picks go year-to-year after their initial contract), and in 2014-2015, Miller found himself bouncing around in the D-League and NBA.

Despite the lack of security and a stable team, Miller’s most promising stint in his early professional career happened last year in the D-League during a 15-game stint with Reno, where Miller was featured in first year head coach David Arsenault’s “System”.  For those who aren’t familiar, the “System” originates from Grinnell College and features constant full-court pressure defense, frequent waves of substitutions and a heavy reliance on 3-point shots (at least half of their total field goal attempts need to be from beyond the arc). Miller fit in this system like a glove, as he averaged 25.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg on 50.3 percent shooting. Miller constantly torched team from beyond the arc, but he also was able to beat slower defenders on the dribble drive to the rim, and meshed seamlessly in Reno’s fast break, consistently finishing break opportunities off of turnovers as well as made and missed baskets (Reno is always running the break, regardless of the result on defense). Take a look at a game during last year’s D-League Showcase in Santa Cruz where he scored 35 points against the Westchester Knicks.

His impressive stint in Reno earned him billing as the Top D-League Prospect by the D-League Web site last season, as well as short 10-day contracts with the Kings and Pistons and a spot on the Brooklyn Nets preseason roster. But, Miller didn’t do enough to make the Nets roster, and after being cut by Brooklyn, and the D-League not really a lucrative financial option, Miller opted to sign with Red Star for a much better payday as well as a bigger role on a team that is looking to stay competitive despite their rash of injuries.

The big question will be how Redonjic will utilize Miller with this roster. Miller isn’t a physical forward and he will not help much on the glass (they were outrebounded 51-33 against Real), but Mitrovic didn’t possess any of those qualities either, and he still was a productive player that Redonjic planned to build around this season. Furthermore, Red Star has those types anyways with Zerbes and Schortsanitis. What Redonjic needs from Miller is scoring and instant offense, which was painfully missing against Real, as it seemed like Red Star didn’t have the kind of go-to scorer to help them out of the various scoring slumps they suffered through in the first half of Thursday’s contest. Miller needs to be able to be “the guy” and carry this Red Star team on the offensive end, and considering Red Star likes to push the ball and play more up-tempo, it makes sense why Red Star signed Miller, who played his best basketball in an up-tempo system in Reno.

It will be interesting though how Miller responds to the European game, as well as how he fits chemistry-wise with this roster. As talented as Miller is, one of the biggest knocks on him is his attitude and focus, as this was stated about him in a pre-draft scouting article from Draft Express prior to the 2012 draft:

Additionally, his focus and energy level are inconsistent, as he doesn’t seem to bring the same intensity level from possession to possession, which was clearly an issue for him already in high school. He’ll need to improve his toughness, particularly in terms of fighting his way through screens, something that getting stronger will likely help with.

From DraftExpress.comhttp://www.draftexpress.com/#ixzz3pVFrH45N
http://www.draftexpress.com

This will be interesting considering Red Star’s passionate fan base as well as the annual circumstances Euroleague teams face with the threat of being regulated with a poor season, which puts additional pressure on players, especially imports, to perform and make an impact right away. Miller can come off as passive and uncaring at times on the court, and to the common European (or even American) fan, that can be a huge insult, and prevent them from supporting a player. Red Star fans though have showed in the past that they can really get behind their players though, as evidenced by their little “bus surprise”  put on by the fans for Schortsanitis when they signed him this off-season. If Miller can embrace them and the environment (which is one of the best home crowds in Europe), and be more consistent in terms of displaying his passion on the court, not only can he help Red Star win, but he can garner the kind of fan support he never really received in the States professionally or in college. And at the end of the day, when somebody is a fan favorite, they will get paid in one way or the other.

That being said, at the end of the day, this is most likely temporary. Miller solves an immediate need and has the potential to fill the role that Mitrovic would have had prior to his injury, which is as the team’s primary dynamic scorer. There is no questioning his skills, but how Miller adjusts to Redonjic, the Red Star team and European basketball will be key to whether Red Star rebounds after the early setback to Real, and Miller revitalizes his status as a prospect, or they continue to regress and Miller proves that he is another “athletic” talent who doesn’t have the makeup to put it all together at the professional level.

Let’s face it. Red Star needs Miller to continue their Euroleague success from 2014-2015, and Miller needs Red Star to find his way back to the NBA. Whether or not this “relationship” can or will be successful for both parties though is yet to be determined, and it will be interesting to see if Redonjic can be the “counselor” to make it work this season.

An Analysis of the D-League Call Ups from 2014-2015

The Reno Bighorns saw the most call-ups of any D-League team with 7 a year ago; what are the trends with D-League affiliates who have a lot of call-ups and those who do not?

The D-League continues to grow in both numbers (the Raptors 905, the affiliate of the Toronto Raptors, makes the number 19 for the year) as well as relevancy and last season, one could argue was one of the most successful years for the D-League yet. Once seen as a last resort for players, and simply a re-incarnation of the old Continental Basketball Association (CBA), the D-League has become somewhat of a R&D department for players as well as organizations. A couple of years ago, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers got nationwide attention for their “3’s or Layups” approach that was chronicled in a Grantland Short, and the Reno Bighorns also gained notoriety by hiring David Arsenault Jr., the son of the coach who created the “System” at Grinnell College (Arsenault was an assistant at Grinnell since graduating). The result? D-League scoring records obliterated, and some national publicity that steered basketball enthusiasts’ attention to Reno and its players, the Kings organization and the System (beyond the Jack Taylor 138 point game, which has garnered mostly negative attention, though somewhat inaccurate).

So, the D-League, the NBA’s de-facto minor league, has come a long way since it was first established in 2001-2002 (where it was mostly established to lower the bargaining power of the CBA, which was the NBA’s main minor-league pipeline; Isiah Thomas, who was running the CBA, was a main cog in this happening and is widely credited for destroying the CBA due to him misjudging the leverage the NBA had with the CBA at the time; though to be fair, his vision of every NBA team having an affiliate and being closer in structure to minor league baseball is starting to be realized). 18 of the D-League teams are single affiliates, and the only one that isn’t serves as a “general affiliate” to all the remaining organizations. The NBA isn’t quite to the point of having the kind of Minor League system that Major League Baseball or even the NHL has, but it’s obvious that the NBA wants that and is slowly building the foundation to create a robust developmental league that will benefit players and organizations in the long run.

(If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece by Arn Tellem about his solution to fix a lot of the current issues facing the D-League and make it a true “Minor League” to the NBA. He hits a lot of great points, but my favorite is the fact that the NBA outsources their player development to organizations (NCAA and Foreign Leagues) that they have no control over. With organizations relying more on analytics than ever when it comes to contract and drafting decisions, it is ludicrous that NBA organizations are relying on college interns and people halfway across the world to supply them this data.)

NBA’s reliance on the D-League is more crucial than ever and becomes more and more crucial every year as more teams gain affiliates. Last year, there were a total of 63 call ups and 47 players called up in total, both records in the history of the D-League (the previous high was 60 call ups and 43 players called up in 2011-2012). With success stories such as Jeremy Lin, Gerald Green, Danny Green, and Hassan Whiteside, just to name a few, it makes sense why teams are utilizing the D-League more for talent. They’re classic low-risk, high-reward transactions. If they perform, teams have a talented, cheap assets for at least a season or two. If they do not, it’s easy to cut ties (thanks to the 10-day contracts), and there is no harm, no foul both on the court or on their cap. Teams are starting to realize that the D-League is like a thrift store for talent: sure there may be some less-than-stellar items (i.e. players) in the store, but every once in a while there are gems on the cheap lurking that have been overlooked or mishandled by their previous owners. Maybe Macklemore knew more about the NBA than we think.

But what teams utilize the D-League the most? You can look at the complete list here on the D-League Site, or this Spreadsheet where you can organize it by D-League team or NBA team. Let’s take a look at the D-League teams who produced the most call-ups in this graph below:

As you can see, Reno led the league with 7, with Santa Cruz and Iowa coming up tied for second with 6, and Sioux Falls in third with 5. All four teams are single affiliates, with Reno affiliated with the Kings, Santa Cruz with the Warriors, Iowa with the Grizzlies, and Sioux Falls with the Heat. (Though it must be stated that not all their call ups came from their affiliates, as other teams can call up someone even if they are not affiliated as long as they have permission to do so from the team and with some kind of compensation; for example, though Jordan Hamilton was called up from Reno, he was not called up by the Kings, but the Clippers). The average call ups per team was 3.5, and other teams that were above that average were Austin (Spurs), Canton (Cavs), Delaware (76ers), Maine (Celtics) and Rio Grande (Rockets).

Some interesting trends occurred in D-League teams who got players called up. Surprisingly, the one with no affiliate (Fort Wayne) did not experience many call ups, as they only had 1 (Dahntay Jones, who is more or a journeyman and less a prospect). Also, the teams that had the most call ups tended to be affiliates of the most successful organizations last year, which is surprising because you would think bad teams would have utilized their affiliates more (a trend you see more in baseball, where losing teams tend to call up their prospects when a playoff berth seems out of reach). The Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, Rockets, Warriors, and Grizzlies were all playoff teams last year, but their D-League affiliates produced more call-ups than the average. The only ones that bucked that trend were the Heat, Kings and 76ers. The Heat probably called up more players due to the injury issues they faced throughout the year (especially when Bosh went out for the year shortly after the Dragic trade), while the Kings and 76ers utilized the D-League due to a combo of them being out of the playoff race early, as well as injuries.

Teams below the 3.5 average were Bakersfield (Suns) with 3, Erie (Magic) with 2, Fort Wayne (No Affiliate) with 1, Grand Rapids (Pistons) with 2, Idaho (Jazz) with 3, Los Angeles (Lakers) with 3, Oklahoma City (Thunder) with 2, Texas (Mavs) with 2 and Westchester (Knicks) with 1. Westchester had the fewest call ups of any team with an affiliate with only 1 call up (Langston Galloway on January 7th), a surprise considering the Knicks were the second-worst team in the league record-wise last season and probably could have afforded to take a risk on some of the prospects in their system, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the brother of Milwaukee’s Giannis, being the biggest example (though they did sign him to a two-year deal this off-season to prevent him from signing overseas in Europe).

Texas also had a low call up number (2), but the Mavs were an established roster with a mix of veterans and younger role players, so there wasn’t really much opportunity for a D-League prospect in Dallas throughout the year. Erie’s affiliate, the Magic, was a young-laden bunch, led by Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Tobias Harris, and there wasn’t much opportunity or need to utilize their affiliate for prospects when there were already so many on the Magic active roster.

Los Angeles wasn’t extremely active (3), but they were successful, as Jordan Clarkson, proved to be a callup who could have a good future with the Lakers as a role wing player, as he played 59 games and averaged 11.3 ppg and a 16.9 PER his rookie season after being drafted in the second round out Missouri a year ago (and he wasn’t even drafted by LA, but Washington). And lastly, Bakersfield and Idaho also had fewer call ups than average because their rosters (Suns and Jazz, respectively) are mostly compiled of younger players, thus, the organizations were a lot more patient and didn’t need reinforcements from the D-League often.

So what is the final analysis of the call ups from a year ago? Injuries plays a big part of it, especially when teams need to fill a guy temporarily. The NBA doesn’t have the clear-cut “Disabled Lists” like Major League Baseball, so a lot of call ups tend to be short term things to help a guy recover from injury. But, another trend seems to be that the more analytical the organization, the more call ups their affiliates get. Reno, Santa Cruz, Austin and Rio Grande Valley are affiliates of heavy analytics-based organizations (Sacramento, Golden State, San Antonio and Houston) and saw more call ups than average, while Westchester, Los Angeles and Grand Rapids (New York, Lakers and Detroit) are affiliates of more “traditional” organizations and thus, didn’t see many of their players called up by their parent organization or other NBA teams.

Whatever the main reasons are that fuel D-League call ups, it is obvious that the D-League is a valued resource among NBA organizations throughout the league. It’ll be interesting to see how more organizations will utilize it next season, especially with some talent going undrafted in the 2015 draft that could improve after a year or two in the D-League, similarly to Whiteside after being released by the Kings early in his carer (Cliff Alexander and Aaron Harrison being the biggest examples, as they also participated in Summer League and most likely will be taking a roster spot on a D-League team to start off the season).

The D-League is here to stay and worth following if you’re a die hard NBA fan in 2015-2016. It won’t be surprising to see the upward trend of call ups (2014-2015 was an improvement from 49 call ups in 2013-2014 which was an improvement from 36 in 2012-2013) continue next year, and with many D-League alums making noise in Summer League (Seth Curry and Kyle Anderson for example), organizations will be hard-pressed to ignore the D-League when it comes to filling out or improving their rosters throughout the season.

Why Kansas City Needs a D-League Basketball Team

Municipal Auditorium would be the perfect host for a potential D-League team

If you live in Kansas City (like I do), you are a bit in basketball wasteland. Since the Kings moved out after the 1984-1985 season, and with the demise of the Kansas City Knights of the ABA after the 2004-2005 season, professional basketball has remained dormant in the Kansas City-Metro area. For a professional basketball fan like myself, this has some benefits (I do not get any locally blacked out games on NBA League Pass), but it also has a lot of negatives for live professional basketball fixes. While there are a slew of college options (UMKC and Rockhurst, DII, in the city; Kansas University 45 minutes away in Lawrence), it just doesn’t match professional basketball. The quicker pace of the game, the higher scoring, the 48 minute games, the silly in-game promos…professional basketball just tops it for me, especially as college basketball continues to deteriorate due to overly-controlling coaches (hopefully the 30 second shot clock will change quite things quite a bit). And besides, with KU games regularly being sell outs (i.e. tough to get tickets), and UMKC and Rockhurst basketball being “dead energy” affairs, even if you do love college basketball in Kansas City, you may be disappointed or coughing up big bucks for quality basketball save for the Big 12 Tournament (though that can be hard to get tickets for, especially the deeper you get in the tournament) or the NAIA Tournament (which is the greatest event ever for basketball fans and also one of the best values, as you can buy all sessions of the tournament for $100).

So Kansas City needs another basketball alternative, and the D-League sounds like the most viable option (because let’s face it, with OKC so close, NBA Basketball is not coming to KC, even if the Sprint Center is a quality option). Of course, there are multiple benefits and pitfalls that would come with a professional sports team coming into a metro area. Zach Bennett of Hardwood Paroxysm wrote a good article about 5 potential places for D-League teams, and mentioned Kansas City as the No. 1 choice and looked and examined some of the positives and negative with D-League basketball coming into Kansas City (as well as Omaha and St. Louis, which were other cities listed). However, I wanted to expand on what Zach touched on in that article from a year ago, and go more into depth of why D-League basketball might work in Kansas City.

Let’s take a look at four reasons why the D-League would be successful should it move to Kansas City.

1. Municipal Auditorium would be a fantastic location to host D-League games

Zach mentioned Kemper Arena as a potential home for a future D-League team. I couldn’t disagree more. Municipal Auditorium is the obvious choice as the best destination for a D-League team. Municipal is in a great location, walking distance from Power and Light (though further than the Sprint Center), near the Convention Center and access to plenty of Parking Garages (including one right across the street) as well as highways (i.e. easy for suburban people to commute to and after games, unlike Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead). Municipal was remodeled in 2013, and now is complete with video boards and lower level seating, making it the perfect venue for basketball. UMKC and the NAIA Tournament have both benefited from Municipal as a venue, and I think a D-League team would benefit from the smaller (it seats about less than 10,000) but more intimate environment. Sprint Center would be the ideal, but that seems less likely since Sprint seems to make too much money from events other than sports, and a permanent tenant (like a sports team) such as a D-League team just wouldn’t be beneficial to their bottom line. But Municipal? Right now, their big money makers seem to be UMKC basketball and the NAIA Tournament, and I guarantee a D-League team would probably outdraw both of those in the long-run, especially with NBA basketball growing in popularity in the Sprint Center (the exhibition at the Sprint Center seems to draw near sell-out capacity every year) and the D-League being a more widely used option by NBA organizations (i.e. more familiar faces than before in Independent basketball).

2. D-League basketball is more important than ever

One of the best initiatives the NBA has made in the past five years or so has been emphasizing the D-League’s importance more. The league has done a great job promoting it, from televising all games free on YouTube to having more 1-1 teams (i.e. a D-League affiliate for every franchise). Furthermore, general managers are starting to see the benefits of the D-League, letting late round picks get valuable playing time in the D-League rather than rot at the end of the bench. And the D-League has had its share of success stories. Danny Granger reshaped his game into a 3-point specialist in the D-League. Jeremy Lin earned a shot in the NBA thanks to his strong performances in the D-League with the Reno Bighorns. And, NBA teams are utilizing the D-League as a place for strategy experimentation, as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (the affiliate of the Houston Rockets) and the Reno Bighorns (affiliate of the Sacramento Kings), famously showcased the past couple of seasons. D-League basketball is not just a holding ground for washed up veterans and failed rookies. It has been a legitimate lab for young players to hone their skills and organizations to test strategies and concepts that would be too risky to employ during the 82 games season.

So with that being said, the D-League is important. It’s important to players and more importantly, organizations. And with that being the case, the basketball has become better and more entertaining than what we have seen from independent basketball in the past (i.e. the CBA and ABA). Players getting called up is not a rare occurrence any more. Is it on the level on Minor League Baseball? Of course not, but it’s getting there, as evidenced by the more single-team D-League affiliates. Kansas City basketball fans will recognize this and show up, knowing that they have the potential to see the next Lin, the next Hassan Whiteside, the next Gerald Green hit the Municipal Auditorium floor, be it on their team or the opposing one.

3. Kansas City could spark a Midwest D-League Basketball Renaissance

Kansas City has loyal fans. I mean, look at the latest All-Star voting for chrissakes where the Royals almost got seven players in, including a second-baseman who was around replacement level. Heck, look at Sporting KC, which has become the standard for most MLS teams, as well as the Kansas City T-Bones, who remain a draw despite being an independent league team in a city that has Major League Baseball. Kansas City people love their sports, and with relatively few big-time basketball options beyond KU or K-State and Mizzou (if you’re willing to make the drives), it seems only natural that Kansas City would ardently get behind a D-League team.

But, in the big picture, Kansas City could be a trendsetter for a D-League Midwest Mecca. What do I mean? There are plenty of cities that could probably benefit from D-League teams in the Midwest. Omaha and St. Louis are two that come to mind, and Sioux Falls, and Des Moines have D-League teams that could further add to possible rivalry fire. Could you imagine a D-League Cup perhaps in the Midwest where KC, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Des Moines and St. Louis would all be involved? I can see the citizens of KC getting behind it, going for the bragging rights of being the best Midwest team in the D-League even if it only D-League. Midwest people like their bragging rights as the best Midwest city in any category. College football, beer, BBQ, thunderstorms, etc. D-League basketball would just be another venue to do so, and that would not just benefit the fans and people of these metro areas, but the D-League as well (as attendance and coverage would increase because of this quest for bragging rights).

4. A D-League Team Could Help Push the NBA Coming Back to Kansas City

Like I said, it’s probably a long shot, or at least a long shot in the immediate future. Seattle is the obvious front runner for a NBA team (after all, it seems owners use Seattle as ammunition to hold cities hostage over the construction of publicly funded arenas. Sacramento was in this situation years back, and it looks like Milwaukee is going through a similar issue. After Seattle, Vegas also seems to be a viable option due to the amount of money in Vegas, the night life, and the possibility of sports gambling becoming a more widely accepted thing.

However, the NBA lacks a serious presence in the Midwest to the west of Milwaukee and Chicago. Oklahoma City can be considered Midwest or Southwest depending on who you ask, but to me, it feels more closer to Texas in terms of lifestyle and culture than Missouri or Kansas or any other Midwest state. So, there needs to be a presence of professional basketball in this part of the country, since going to Denver or Chicago for a game requires an arduous journey of sorts, especially during Winter time.

Kansas City has the amenities. The Sprint Center is a NBA-quality arena. The Power and Light area around Kansas City would make it an attractive hangout for younger crowds before and after games. They are working on some streetcar systems that could make it easier for people to commute to and from games (or at least find different parking spots all over the city). Basically, Kansas City has now what Sacramento wants in a year. Maybe Kansas City doesn’t stick out like Seattle or Vegas, but Kansas City could host a NBA franchise and they could be successful with it. Unlike St. Louis, who has struggle to support three professional sports franchises (i.e. the Rams), Kansas City seems like it would thrive due to the fan loyalty and economic infrastructures (downtown arena) already in place that would correspond to a NBA franchise succeeding in a city.

But, Kansas City needs to prove that it can handle basketball, and what better way to do it than with a D-League team? We have already seen MLS franchises get established due to the minor league teams becoming such wild successes. It is easy to think that the same can happen in Kansas City, as fan support will catch the eye of Adam Silver and the NBA and they will realize that all the pieces are in place for a NBA team to relocate to Kansas City.

And if a successful D-League franchise doesn’t catch Silver’s eye? Well…at least there will be professional basketball again in Kansas City, and that would still be a win for basketball fans in Kansas City.