Another Look at D-League Call-Ups: Does Winning Matter?

Garrett Temple received three call-ups this season. Was that because of his play, or because the Vipers were winning?

Back in January, D-League Digest's Steve Weinman spoke with Idaho Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon about the pace at which his teams (including last year's Colorado 14ers) play.  MacKinnon answered that he wanted to keep the number of possessions high in order to increase his players' points, rebounds and assists.  Then he said this:

"We've done a little research on it," MacKinnon said. "Over the past three seasons, 87 percent of players who were called up were on teams that were winning 55 percent of their games or better, so winning does matter. I think that's another thing we're trying to impress on our players. Teams don't want you from a losing situation; they want you from a winning situation."

We here at RU have been thinking about that quote for the last few months as the D-League set a new record for call-ups this season.  27 different players scored a total of 40 NBA contracts (some players were called-up multiple times), and many of them received positive notice for their play both from coaches and the media.  Now that both the D-League and NBA regular seasons are over, I thought I'd test MacKinnon's numbers as they apply to this record-breaking season.  Here is a list of every player called up this year, his D-League team, and that team's final winning percentage:

Player Team Winning %
Chris Hunter Fort Wayne Mad Ants .440
Anthony Tolliver Idaho Stampede .500
Mike Harris Rio Grande Valley Vipers .680
Sundiata Gaines Idaho Stampede .500
Cartier Martin Iowa Energy .740
Mario West Maine Red Claws .540
JamesOn Curry Springfield Armor .140
Cedric Jackson Erie BayHawks .420
Will Conroy Rio Grande Valley Vipers .680
Coby Karl Idaho Stampede .500
Chris Richard Tulsa 66ers .540
Garrett Temple Rio Grande Valley Vipers .680
Antonio Anderson Rio Grande Valley Vipers .680
Reggie Williams Sioux Falls Skyforce .640
Othyus Jeffers Iowa Energy .740
Alonzo Gee Austin Toros .640
Mustafa Shakur Tulsa 66ers .540
Kenny Hasbrouck Rio Grande Valley Vipers .680
Curtis Jerrells Austin Toros .640
Alade Aminu Bakersfield Jam .340
Earl Barron Iowa Energy .740
Dwayne Jones Austin Toros .640
Rob Kurz Fort Wayne Mad Ants .440
Alexander Johnson Sioux Falls Skyforce .640
Brian Butch Bakersfield Jam .340
Greg Stiemsma Sioux Falls Skyforce .640
Oliver Lafayette Fort Wayne Mad Ants .440

 

Seventeen of the players called-up this season came from teams who finished with records better than .500, or 63 percent.  If we want to use MacKinnon's example and look at teams who won 55 percent or more of their games, the number drops to 14, or 52 percent.  Those are much lower figures than the 87 percent MacKinnon cited, but it's possible that he was referring to a team's record at the time of the call-up.  I'll look at those numbers below the jump, as well as some possible reasons why more players may have been called-up from less successful teams this year.

Player D-League Team Date of Call-up Winning % NBA Team Stick for season?
Chris Hunter Fort Wayne Mad Ants November 20 N/A Golden State Warriors Yes
Anthony Tolliver Idaho Stampede December 17 .571 Portland Trail Blazers No
Mike Harris Rio Grande Valley Vipers December 23 .700 Houston Rockets No
Sundiata Gaines Idaho Stampede January 5 .642 Utah Jazz Yes
Cartier Martin Iowa Energy January 10 .883 Golden State Warriors No
Mario West Maine Red Claws January 12 .800 Atlanta Hawks Yes
Anthony Tolliver Idaho Stampede January 17 .579 Golden State Warriors Yes
JamesOn Curry Springfield Armor January 22 .250 Los Angeles Clippers No
Cedric Jackson Erie BayHawks January 23 .417 Cleveland Cavaliers No
Will Conroy Rio Grande Valley Vipers January 28 .750 Houston Rockets No
Coby Karl Idaho Stampede January 31 .542 Golden State Warriors No
Chris Richard Tulsa 66ers February 5 .500 Chicago Bulls No
Garrett Temple Rio Grande Valley Vipers February 8 .733 Houston Rockets No
Antonio Anderson Rio Grande Valley Vipers February 22 .727 Oklahoma City Thunder No
Mike Harris Rio Grande Valley Vipers February 24 .727 Washington Wizards No
Reggie Williams Sioux Falls Skyforce March 2 .583 Golden State Warriors Yes
Will Conroy Rio Grande Valley Vipers March 2 .722 Houston Rockets No
Chris Richard Tulsa 66ers March 3 .543 Chicago Bulls Yes
Garrett Temple Rio Grande Valley Vipers March 3 .722 Sacramento Kings No
Othyus Jeffers Iowa Energy March 3 .769 Utah Jazz Yes
Alonzo Gee Austin Toros March 7 .639 Washington Wizards No
Cedric Jackson Erie BayHawks March 10 .375 San Antonio Spurs No
Garrett Temple Rio Grande Valley Vipers March 13 .707 San Antonio Spurs Yes
Mustafa Shakur Tulsa 66ers March 16 .561 Oklahoma City Thunder No
Kenny Hasbrouck Rio Grande Valley Vipers March 16 .714 Miami Heat Yes
Mike Harris Rio Grande Valley Vipers March 24 .705 Houston Rockets Yes
Curtis Jerrells Austin Toros March 24 .636 San Antonio Spurs Yes
Alade Aminu Bakersfield Jam March 27 .370 Miami Heat No
Alonzo Gee Austin Toros March 29 .652 San Antonio Spurs Yes
Cartier Martin Iowa Energy March 30 .720 Washington Wizards Yes
Mustafa Shakur Tulsa 66ers March 31 .553 Oklahoma City Thunder Yes
Cedric Jackson Erie BayHawks March 31 .396 Washington Wizards Yes
Earl Barron Iowa Energy April 2 .720 New York Knicks Yes
Dwayne Jones Austin Toros April 5 .640 Phoenix Suns Yes
Rob Kurz Fort Wayne Mad Ants April 9 .440 Chicago Bulls Yes
Alexander Johnson Sioux Falls Skyforce April 9 .640 Houston Rockets Yes
Coby Karl Idaho Stampede April 11 .500 Denver Nuggets Yes
Brian Butch Bakersfield Jam April 11 .340 Denver Nuggets Yes
Greg Stiemsma Sioux Falls Skyforce April 13 .640 Minnesota Timberwolves Yes
Oliver Lafayette Fort Wayne Mad Ants April 14 .440 Boston Celtics Yes


From this list, 29 out of 40 call-ups played for teams who had records above .500 at the time of the call-up, good for 72.5 percent.  27 of those call-ups came from teams with .550 records or better, or 67.5 percent of the total.  Those are better figures than when using each D-League team's final record, but still not quite the 87 percent MacKinnon cited from previous years.  Here are some possible reasons why this year's call-ups came from less-successful teams more often:

NBA teams also care about prior NBA experience: Five of the ten players called-up from D-League teams that finished with .500 records or lower have played in the NBA before this season: Rob Kurz, JamesOn Curry, Coby Karl, Anthony Tolliver and Chris Hunter.  That's also true of four of the eleven players called-up from teams that had .500 or worse records at the time of the call-up (Hunter, Curry, Kurz and Chris Richard).  If we expand out to records of .550 or lower, those numbers become six out of 14 (add Richard and Mario West) for teams' final records and nine out of 13.  (I counted each call-up as a separate event, just as the league did, so while Cedric Jackson wasn't counted as having NBA experience on his first call-up, he was for his second and third.)  Of the 40 total call-ups, I counted 26 as involving players with previous NBA experience (again using the same system as I did for Jackson).  That's only one fewer than when looking at call-ups who came from teams winning at least 55 percent of their games.

NBA teams also care about players they're directly familiar with: Of the 13 players called-up from teams who finished with records below .550, we find the following examples: Mario West was called-up by the Hawks, who he played for last season; Chris Richard was called-up by the Chicago Bulls, for whom he played in the preseason; Alade Aminu was called-up by the Miami Heat, for whom he played in the preseason; Coby Karl was called-up by the Denver Nuggets, who are coached by his father.  While not a majority in this instance, if you add these to the nine different players who were called-up by their NBA affiliate at some point this season and Kenny Hasbrouck, who was called-up by the Miami Heat (for whom he played at mini-camp last year), 17 of the 40 total call-ups involved teams and players who were very familiar with one another.  That's equal to the number of call-ups who came from teams that finished with winning D-League records.

My takeaway from this is that, while MacKinnon may be correct that D-League winning percentage can be important for getting a call-up, some NBA teams are willing to overlook that if they know a player's name.  I would speculate that players like Will Conroy, Mike Harris and Garrett Temple would've received call-ups from their NBA affiliate (the Houston Rockets) this season regardless of the Vipers' record.  The call-ups of Alonzo Gee and Curtis Jerrells by their NBA affiliate (the San Antonio Spurs) had less to do with the Toros' record at the time and more to do with keeping both of those players away from other NBA teams - Gee's Spurs call-up came after his second 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards expired, but before the Wizards could sign him for the rest of the season.

In either instance, I come to the conclusion that some, but not all, NBA teams remain somewhat lazy when calling up players, and only look at names they recognize or players on winning teams rather than looking at every player who might be able to help them.  It's hard to think otherwise when players such as JamesOn Curry, Mario West and Kenny Hasbrouck got NBA contracts this season while players with similar skill-sets who either played for losing teams or didn't have an NBA pedigree did not.  I'm not really sure what the solution to this problem is other than NBA teams increasing their attention to and knowledge of the D-League and its players.  40 call-ups in a season and the positive notice that many of them received is a good start.

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