Mustafa Shakur, among others, is playing very well in the D-League this season.
According to a throw-in at the bottom of a recent Marc Spears story, "Several NBA executives and scouts said that the talent at the NBA Development League's Showcase was the worst it has been since the event began in 2005."
While overall, he may be right, I think the top talent is very, very good. And really, that's all that matters to the NBA in-season.
So, even though we'll have the next rendition of the Randy Livingston Memorial On the Edge Call-Up Rankings out tomorrow, they're not all-telling as far as top NBA talent goes. It doesn't account for if a team needs a 13th man it can develop and keep around for Summer League or if the back-up point guard just went down and they need someone to step in immediately. Yes, sometimes a great prospect could also come in and contribute immediately, but I think there's something to be said for ranking them separately.
Basically, the following is my rankings of potential NBA call-ups. I also wanted to get my thoughts out there on some guys that I don't typically talk about and didn't want to think about the horrible Packers game.
"Quick Fix" - Maurice Baker, Dakota Wizards (13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.6 apg) - Baker had a pretty impressive Showcase, showing he can still score when called upon when he scored 29 points on 20 shots and added 12 rebounds in an overtime victory over the Reno Bighorns. In that game, he was forced to play a bit off the ball, which didn't seem to hurt. The next game, it seemed like he struggled as he shot just 3-for-7 from the field, but he still finished the game with an all-around 11 points, eight assists and seven boards. While not having the explosiveness he did that earned him two call-up's during the 2004-05 season due to what amounted to a three-year ankle injury, he now makes up for it by being one of the smartest players in the D-League. He also may be the best at actually doing what a point guard is supposed to do - running a team. Honorable Mention: Curtis Stinson, Iowa Energy; Will Conroy, Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
"Prospect" - Mustafa Shakur, Tulsa 66ers (19.1 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.8 rpg) - This was really hard for me to do because I love Dontell Jefferson, but Shakur really impressed me in his two games in Idaho (Plus, looking at Jefferson's numbers, they're not as mind-blowing as you'd think). Anyway, back to
Mufasa Mustafa - he just plays a good, smooth game of basketball. He really sees the court well, but I'd actually prefer him to drive more often than he does because his team doesn't have much for legit scoring options. He's also not great at shooting off of the dribble, but I don't think I saw him miss off the catch-and-shoot, so that helps - a lot. Defensively, he's actually a lot better than what I expected, having the speed and size to play at the NBA level. Honorable Mention: Curtis Jerrells, Austin Toros; Dontell Jefferson, Utah Flash.
"Quick Fix" - Reggie Williams, Sioux Falls Skyforce (25.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.1 apg, 59% FG) - I know, I probably like him too much, but if you sit down and watch him play, he's really impressive. He's like Morris Almond, except he tries doing things other than scoring. He's like Desmon Farmer, but his teammates don't seem to want to kill him. I'll also admit that his defense could get much better, but honestly, it's not as bad as people say it is either. He's not quick enough to guard an elite D-League slasher, I'll give you that, but he can keep the ball out of the hands of the best catch-and-shoot guys in the D-League, and I'll count that for something. If you're questioning why I made him a "quick fix", it's because he has a man beard and he scores so efficiently that I think he could be inserted into a lineup right away. Honorable Mention: Billy Thomas, Maine Red Claws; Tony Bobbitt, Maine Red Claws.
"Prospect" - Garrett Temple, Rio Grande Valley Vipers (16.6 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 rpg, 40% 3pt) - Oddly enough, I've recently decided that I really like Garrett Temple. It probably doesn't have anything to do with his numbers being up, across the board, in January. He's just a weapon offensively and he's not the biggest defensive liability I've ever watched, mostly due to his long frame and quickness. If I were to correct something offensively, it'd be his mid-range game, because his long-range shooting is actually quite impressive and he can drive, and absorb, well enough. He has recently had a bout with the turnovers, but that's why he's in the prospect section. In the next couple of years, Temple could be really good. Honorable Mention: Mario West; Maine Red Claws; Antonio Anderson, Rio Grande Valley Vipers; Joe Crawford, Los Angeles D-Fenders.
"Quick Fix" - Carlos Powell, Albuquerque Thunderbirds (22.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.8 apg) - It's tough not to be impressed with Powell this season. Of course, he had a very similar statistical season in 2007-08 with the Dakota Wizards and didn't get a call-up, but his attitude is altogether this time around. It could go down hill if he doesn't get a call-up soon, however, and I'd actually understand - There's really not much more that he can do on the basketball court. He's absolutely taken over for the Thunderbirds over their past five games, all of which they've won, sans starting point guard and former NBAer Keith McLeod - he just has a will to win. The best facet of his game is his body because he uses it so well to get to the basket. Honorable Mention: Donnell Taylor, Idaho Stampede; Romel Beck, Dakota Wizards; Morris Almond, Springfield Armor; Desmon Farmer, Reno Bighorns;
"Prospect" - Alonzo Gee, Austin Toros (21.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 spg, 50% FG) - Gee can flat-out play basketball. I don't think he's NBA-caliber quite yet, but I think it's due to him being a rookie, and therefore more susceptible to rookie mistakes, moreso than anything else. His shooting is also semi-atrocious, but he makes up for that by getting to the basket better than most. Defensively, he's big enough and physical enough that guys don't really attempt to go around him all that often. When guys do attempt to beat him off the ball, though, he's pretty inconsistent on whether he cares enough to stop them - that, or he just forgets what he's doing. Still, if he were to give it his all every game and develop a semblance of a long-range jump shot, he'd be an NBA player. Honorable Mention: Trey Gilder, Maine Red Claws
"Quick Fix" - Anthony Tolliver, Idaho Stampede (21.7 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.2 bpg) - Tolliver's a stud, there's no way around it. If I'm going to pick out something to complain about, it's that he can't really defend the perimeter as well as he can shoot from the perimeter, but he's shooting very well from the perimeter. His back-to-the-basket game leaves a bit to be desired, but is adequate enough to get by on once a team switches to putting a player that can defend him on the perimeter. Essentially, he's a hustle player and a matchup problem. He's also been very active on the defensive glass. I'd also like to note that if a team isn't looking for a Tolliver-type, Benson ranks very highly as well. Honorable Mention: Benson, Reno Bighorns; Rob Kurz, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
"Prospect" - Diamon Simpson, Los Angeles D-Fenders (16.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg) - I'm really hoping Simpson's game can translate to the NBA - because you'll love watching him do what he does, which is a little bit of everything. Since I'm infatuated with Kevin Pelton's scouting report of him, I'll let KP tell you the rest: "He rates here as the best player in the D-League. The big issue is Simpson's size. As a 6'7" power forward, he might not be able to compete in the NBA. Even his numbers show some red flags, as his translated True Shooting Percentage would make him an extremely inefficient scorer in the NBA. Still, there are some things to really like. Simpson has been a beast on the offensive glass; his translated 14.7 percent offensive rebound percentage would put him sixth in the league, just behind DeJuan Blair. His steal percentage is also phenomenal for a big man, and Simpson blocks plenty of shots too. Oddly, Simpson's statistics last year as a senior at St. Mary's were nowhere near this impressive." Honorable Mention: Alade Aminu, Erie Bayhawks; Raymond Sykes, Sioux Falls Skyforce
"Quick Fix" - Dwayne Jones, Austin Toros (17.4 ppg, 15.1 rpg (6.2 Orpg), 62% FG) - Umm, yeah. He's dominating the D-League. Look at the numbers. Also, I often wonder to myself if he's actually trying, because it doesn't look like it. And if he isn't trying, that scares me. I don't feel like telling you what he does well, but it's basically put-backs, rebounding, and being really big. Honorable Mention: Jared Reiner, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
"Prospect" - Greg Stiemsma, Sioux Falls Skyforce (8.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.4 bpg) - He just played his first game last night in about two weeks after injuring his foot on New Year's Eve, so the averages are skewed due to his playing 20 minutes in the past two games combined. Still, if a guy can average 4.4 blocks in 27 minutes per game, he's obviously a huge prospect and at 6'11", 260, he's literally a huge prospect. He's actually played pretty well offensively this season, which is surprising considering he's really got no game outside of about 12 feet - but, he knows his role. He does most of his work off of the left block and has a developing back-to-the-basket game. Defensively, obviously, he doesn't suck. Honorable Mention: John Bryant, Erie Bayhawks