Scrubs? Not So Fast: The Production of D-League Players in the NBA

From the Fan Posts, courtesy of my favorite Iceman.  It also brings a bit of sexy, which is what you should be used to with Iceman's posts, courtesy of one Louis Amundson.  Enjoy!  -- Scott

I don't usually do these kinds of things.  My usual posts are nothing more than a puppet show of bizarre characters lacking any discernible argument or thesis.  But in this case I felt compelled to toss aside the Kool-aid of callous humor and address this idea head on.  When it comes to the NBA Developmental League, the question on every GM's mind is: "How do I know the player I see in the D-League is the player I get in my locker room (or at the end of my bench, as the case may be)?"  Scott and I have been kicking around this question as well, namely, how do you evaluate players to ensure that the guy you saw windmill dunking on scrubs isn't the same guy turning the ball over every other possession once he hits the NBA?


Kelenna Azubuike throwing it down before his big break and Pops Mensah-Bonsu showing GMs his silky touch  

Well after a little statistical comparison, I have some conclusions about what numbers can transfer from the D-League to the NBA.  Granted, this is not an expansive report spanning several years of data and hundreds of players, but it is a selection of player data analysis that can be used to loosely determine what you the fan can expect when you get a new D-League guy on your bench mid-season.  (Here's looking at you Golden State - we all know Nellie loves him some player development).

Once again, I am not an expert in statistical analysis, nor have I much experience in this (my last fanpost was about a defunct dance squad).  But what I decided to do in exploring this topic was to find some of the more successful guys to make a jump from the D-League to the NBA, essentially guys that played either multiple seasons in both leagues or played a significant number of games in both leagues during the same season.  I figured at minimum 10 games or so would be enough to compare the averages and see what we came up with.  I then broke the players down into three categories: Point Guard, Wing, Forward/Center.  Once they were divided into their categories, I compared their D-League numbers to their NBA stats per 36 minutes, so as to gain some consistency to account for fluctuating playing time.

The other facet of the NBA/D-League statistical comparison was trying to catch guys on the upswing of their career, or during their development.  So, take Eddie Gill for instance, he played in the D during the 2002-03 season and then in 2003-04 he played for the Pacers.  You could make the case that his development and career was on the "upswing" at the point he signed with the Pacers.  Therefore comparing those two seasons of his career made sense from the standpoint that a GM in 2003 would look at Eddie Gill as a promising prospect and wonder how his numbers would transfer to the NBA.  Get it?  No, you still don't?  I mean, c'mon - I'm not friggin' John Hollinger here, that guy is confusing as hell.  Although did I mention that I did use his PER method for evaluating players in both league settings?  Yeah I'm that good.  But I digress...

Hit the jump for my conclusions...


A lot of NBA fans are of the mindset that the D-League is a big train-wreck of castoff talent, but Von Wafer would like you to know that you can't overlook some of the productive players the D has to offer.

Point Guards

So you made it through my intro and decided to keep reading eh?  Good for you, how intrepid.  Let's get started by analyzing the Point Guards.  For this category I've selected a couple players as examples whose statistics per 36 minutes you can see below:


Eddie Gill NBA 2003-04 22 0 157 0.417 0.375 0.9 3 3.9 3.7 2.1 0.2 2.8 3.7 11.5 13.2
DL 2002-03 35 34 1085 0.441 0.329 0.8 3.4 4.1 6 1.4 0.5 2.9 3.1 14.6 17.5
CJ Watson NBA 2007-08 32 0 368 0.426 0.346 1.3 1.9 3.1 3.4 1.5 0 1.8 1.9 11.5 11.0
DL 2007-08 16 12 607 0.504 0.4 1.1 4 5.2 5.5 1.7 0.2 3.3 3.1 24.9 26.2
Mike Taylor NBA 2008-09 51 5 771 0.412 0.325 1 3 4.1 4.9 1.7 0 3.4 3.9 13.5 10.1
DL 2007-08 39 6 1085 0.482 0.338 1.2 3.3 4.5 5.6 1.6 0.3 4.4 3.1 18.8 16.3
Will Bynum NBA 2005-06 15 0 162 0.404 0.222 0.7 2 2.7 4.2 1.6 0 3.1 2.2 12 8.7
DL 2005-06 29 28 1094 0.468 0.301 0.6 2.1 2.7 6.4 1.6 0.1 5.4 3.3 22.9 19.6
Shannon Brown NBA 2007-08 21 4 240 0.349 0.3 0.9 2.1 3 2.5 1.6 0.5 3.6 4.3 17.1 6.3
DL 2007-08 11 7 406 0.423 0.348 1.2 4.3 5.4 2.9 1.3 0.7 3.7 3.4 22.8 16.8


When looking at Point Guards you'd assume the most important stats would be Assists, Turnovers, Steals, and Points. You'll note that Shannon Brown is included with the Point Guards, although he's truly a SG.  I included him here because his current role with the Lakers both from 2007-08 and 2008-09 was one of pseudo-PG in the Triangle Offense (Thanks for screwing this thing up Phil Jackson.  What's next, you land a 6'9" Left-handed Chinese Point Guard?)  Anyway, here is a rundown of what I've gleaned from analyzing these players' numbers:

  •  Assists - Generally we see players assists go down by a little less than half, I imagine this can be accounted for by the speed of the game and the strength of NBA defenses.  Again, Brown does not jive with what is commonplace for the others.
  • Turnovers - Surprisingly, of the players I analyzed, the majority saw their turnovers either decrease or stay about the same per 36 minutes.  This is where the developmental "upswing" factor comes into play.  You would assume these fluctuations would be the result of more conservative play and positive development either between seasons or as the result of D-League development.
  • Steals- This is one instinctive skill that translates very well from the D-League to the NBA.  Granted, none of these guys are great pick-pockets ala Chris Paul, but on average they record 1.5 a game in both leagues.
  • Points - This is obviously one element of a Point Guard's game that will change from one league to the other.  In the D-League most of these guys were often one of the top three scoring options, but in the NBA they might be 4th or 5th in a given line-up.  But despite that, a safe assumption for the players analyzed here would be a drop of five to ten points per 36 minutes once they are in the NBA.  NBA defense also comprises some the fluctuations in these numbers, as nearly all of these Point Guards saw their FG% and 3P% drop by four to ten percentage points per 36 minutes.
  • PER - This is an imperfect metric, but one that is still useful.  On the whole, D-League Point Guards saw their PER average cut in half once they landed in the NBA, with most of them teetering around a PER of 10, which puts them below the league average of 15.


Now let's take a look at the Wing players who are essentially either Shooting Guards or Small Forwards.  I wanted to look at them as a group mainly because this is the type of player that NBA teams usually grab from the D-League.  PGs and PF/Cs are hard to come by and the good ones, or even just promising ones, get snapped up pretty quickly by NBA teams.  That's not to say that there aren't good PGs of PFs in the D-League, but they are just not as numerous as the quality wing players. 

Kasib Powell NBA 2007-08 11 4 304 0.368 0.242 0.9 4.3 5.2 2.1 1.1 0.2 0.6 2.1 9.9 9.0
DL 2007-08 40 38 1541 0.508 0.412 1.2 4.4 5.6 2.8 1.3 0.6 2.2 3.1 20.7 19.4
Kelenna Azubuike NBA 2006-07 41 9 669 0.445 0.43 1.4 3.7 5.1 1.5 1.2 0.5 2.1 2.6 15.7 13.4
DL 2006-07 12 12 503 0.514 0.485 0.6 3.7 4.3 2.7 1 0.5 2.3 1.9 22.3 20.9
Kedrick Brown NBA 2003-04 55 26 969 0.461 0.384 1.5 3.9 5.4 2.4 1.1 0.3 1.1 3 10.7 12.5
DL 2007-08 49 46 1714 0.447 0.29 1.7 4.3 6 1.8 1.4 0.4 1.7 2.7 15.7 15.0
Von Wafer NBA 2007-08 29 0 154 0.279 0.154 0.2 4.2 4.4 1.6 0.5 0.7 3 1.6 10.8 1.0
DL 2006-07 42 42 1351 0.486 0.453 0.5 2.7 3.3 3.7 0.9 0.4 2.5 2.4 23.6 20.6
Jawad Williams NBA 2008-09 10 0 20 0.417 0.333 1.8 1.8 3.6 0 1.8 0 1.8 3.6 21.6 14.1
DL 2008-09 19 18 691 0.453 0.418 1.1 3 4.1 2.3 0.9 0.4 2.3 2.4 25.4 18.9
Gerald Green NBA 2006-07 81 26 1779 0.419 0.368 1.4 2.8 4.2 1.7 0.8 0.5 2.4 4 17.1 12.0
DL 2005-06 9 5 226 0.434 0.455 2.4 4.6 7 2.2 1.9 0.5 4.5 3.7 17 12.7
Dahntay Jones NBA 2008-09 79 71 1426 0.458 0.647 1.5 2.8 4.2 2 1.2 0.5 1.7 5 10.8 9.0
DL 2007-08 10 10 372 0.524 0.333 0.9 3.6 4.5 2.3 0.8 1.1 2.7 3.7 23.6 20.0


So for your standard SG and SF I figured that scoring and defensive stats were the most important, since most teams are looking for two-way players to come off the bench.  So for Wings we'll examine Points, Shooting Percentages, Rebounds, Steals, and Turnovers. 

  • Points- Unlike the PGs, this ranges all over the place base on different guy's games.  Jawad Williams is a great scorer and doesn't bring a lot else to the table, so his scoring numbers remained pretty consistent from league to league.  Most of the other guys saw a considerable drop of nearly five to ten points worth of scoring, most of the time due to the same factors the PGs faced: namely better defense and more scoring options on NBA teams.
  • Shooting Percentages- I didn't dig very deep on these numbers, just the FG% and 3P% per 36 minutes.  Across the board we saw shooting percentages dip, for the obvious reasons stated above.  Even for guys like Williams and Von Wafer who are known as solid shooters, the numbers dipped at least four or five percentage points, and for other guys with a much better slashing game, like Gerald Green and Dahntay Jones, we still saw a drop in numbers of nearly four to ten percentage points per 36 minutes.  So in this case, it's best for GMs and fans to assume that the guys with the hottest hand in the D-League, on average, will lose a little fire when they jump to the NBA.
  • Rebounds - Everyone loves it when guards come into the paint and crash the boards, and there are many D-League wing players who do this effectively.  On the whole, D-League wing players maintained and in some cases exceeded their previous D-League rebounding numbers.  You may be able to chalk this up to D-League guys trying to find a role on an NBA team and make themselves "stick".   Nothing is better for your rebounding numbers than playing your butt off just trying to stay on the team.
  • Steals- Many NBA teams are looking into the D for their next "defensive stopper", and there are plenty of those to be had.  The steals numbers for this particular group over 36 minutes vary greatly.  For a guy like Dahntay Jones, who is known as the defensive stopper on the Nuggets, his steals actually increased in the NBA, whereas a guy like Gerald Green couldn't physically dominate offensive players at the next level like he had in the D and saw his steals average drop. 
  • Turnovers- In keeping with the D-League PGs, this set of wing players either maintained their turnover rate or lowered it upon entering the NBA.  Again, this may be because these players were not forced to carry as heavy an offensive burden and were perhaps less brazen in their scoring efforts because of that.  But this statistic generally bodes well for players in the D-League with already low turnover rates, as they can be predicted to turn the ball over even less upon entering the NBA.
  • PER - The changes between leagues definitely takes its toll on the PER numbers for this group.  There is a wild fluctuation in the amount of change, but it is safe to say that most D-League wing players upon entering the NBA will more than likely see a dip of 10 PER points or more.  The average for the players examined here was 10.1 after their stint in the NBA, which is once again under the league average.


The Power Forwards and Centers may be the most difficult group to measure and that's mainly because there aren't very many players that received a call-up or spent much time in the D-League.  But I did find a few gems that have risen from the D-League to a successful run in the NBA.  Usually teams are looking for a big body to come off the bench and either play sound defense, grab plenty of rebounds, and/or score a little bit.  Another key for big men is free throw shooting, which has been the Achilles Heel of even some of the great NBA players.  As an aside I would like to point out that I am using Patrick O'Bryant as one of the examples, please feel free to bask in the unintentional comedy.

Louis_ap_medium  Amundson_medium

Louis Amundson: Because everyone needs a white forward that looks and sounds like a Swiss physicist.  Didn't he invent gravity after running into a monstrous asteroid?

NBA 2006-07 12 0 71 0.647 9.1 0.389 4.6 6.1 10.6 0 0.5 0 4.6 4.1 14.7 11.6
Pops Mensah-Bosu DL 2006-07 26 23 797 0.56 7.8 0.601 5.4 6.8 12.2 0.7 0.9 1.5 3.3 4.5 18.6 19.7
NBA 2007-08 16 0 64 0.5 3.9 0.286 3.9 2.8 6.8 0 0.6 0.6 1.1 7.3 10.1 7.4
Louis Amundson DL 2006-07 25 25 631 0.563 5 0.489 4.7 6.1 10.8 1 1.1 3.5 2.2 4.5 15.8 19.6
NBA 2007-08 78 75 2166 0.485 1.4 0.741 1.5 6.5 8 1.5 1.3 1.8 0.8 2.5 11 15.0
Jamario Moon DL 2005-06 3 1 52 0.231 2.8 1 0.7 4.2 4.8 1.4 4.2 0.7 0.7 3.5 6.9 10.0
NBA 2007-08 62 0 764 0.558 2.6 0.673 4.1 7 11.1 1.4 1.1 3.9 1.8 6.6 10.4 17.5
Amir Johnson DL 2006-07 22 22 775 0.623 6.2 0.746 3.5 6.3 9.8 2.1 1.2 3.2 3.3 4.5 19.3 23.8
Patrick O'Bryant NBA 2006-07 16 0 119 0.313 5.1 0.647 2.1 4.2 6.4 2.7 1.8 2.4 2.4 7.9 9.4 7.3
DL 2006-07 25 23 746 0.515 3.5 0.792 2.7 8.9 11.6 1.7 0.7 3.5 2.4 4.3 14.5 18.0


Most NBA teams scour the globe looking for solid big men.  The D-League has had it's share of guys who weren't strictly assignees, but instead managed to play their way into the NBA.  For this group I decided to look at FT Attempts, FT%, Total Rebounds, Blocks, Fouls, and of course Points.

  •  Free Throw Attempts - This seems like a good indication of how often a big man gets to the line, and for this group it went down fairly steeply, by two or three attempts per 36 minutes in the NBA.  The only exceptions were Pops Mensah-Bonsu (who is a beast) and the Notorious POB, both of whom created two more attempts per 36 minutes.  Go figure.
  • Free Throw Percentage- Obviously, once a guy gets to the line you need him to finish.  Only Jamario Moon shot higher than 70%Amundson and Mensah-Bonsu finished with a dismal 28% and 38% respectively.  For most of these guys, they did not play enough minutes to possibly level out their poor FT shooting percentages.  There was, however, a noticeable dip in the overall percentages of most players, possibly due to not getting to the line as often.
  • Total Rebounds - There a few exceptions, but for most PF/Cs coming from the D-League, you can expect these numbers to drop anywhere from two to five rebounds per 36 minutes for most guys.  The reasoning here is that bigger, strong, more athletic, and more skilled bodies in the paint make it much tougher to snare rebounds in the NBA.
  • Blocks - An excellent measure of PF/Cs defensive ability.  NBA teams are constantly looking for a guy who can protect the rim.  Of the sample players, every single one dipped in blocks once in the NBA, although the drop was relatively small, measuring only 0.6 fewer blocks per 36 minutes on average.
  • Fouls - Teams need guys that can stay on the floor (here's looking at you Greg Oden).  For Moon and Pops this wouldn't be a problem as they seemed to maintain their fouling rate well.  But on the whole I think it's safe to assume that these big bodies would need to adjust to the NBA officiating, as most PF/Cs fouling rate jumped up nearly three more fouls per 36 minutes!
  • Points - Oh you mean you want them to score too?  Man, you are demanding NBA!  These guys scored at a relatively good rate, only dropping an average of four points per 36 minutes once in the NBA.  Their proximity to the hoop and ability to score on put-backs insulates this group of players more than some of the guards/wings who are very dependent on getting their shots to fall. 
  • PER- Once again this is an imperfect measure, but it does give us some idea of the overall picture here.   For the PF/Cs the drop in PER numbers is in line with the other two groups of players.  A drop of anywhere from five to ten PER points is to be expected in the jump from D-League to the NBA.  Bu with an average PER of 11.8, this group of big men is slightly higher than their counterparts in the D-League backcourt.

In conclusion... holy crap are you still reading this?  I thought you would have nodded off by now.  Well, excellent work on your part.  I think the point of this entire post is to identify the attributes of players in the D-League that transfer well into the NBA.  So think about that the next time you're watching a D-League game (if ever, but you should).   Just remember that for the most part the guy you see posting up 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals will probably be more along the lines of a 14/5/3/2 kind of a guy once he's in the NBA.  Once again, please remember that this is not a complete work, merely a sampling of some of the examples of guys to make the jump from the D-League to the NBA.  I hope fans of both leagues find this somewhat helpful and hopefully acknowledge that the level of competition in the D-League is not so far off from the NBA.

Now since you've been so's a little treat!!!


This is a FanPost, not the work of the author of Ridiculous Upside. The People speak! Questions or comments about this post should be addressed in the comments. To issue a complaint about this FanPost, please email ridiculousupside (at) gmail (dot) com.

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