Rookies are a vital component of NBA Development League rosters as each team is required to carry at least one first-year professional basketball player at all times. Considering nine of the 16 D-League teams are being ran by an NBA front office this season, getting the first extended look at undrafted free agents is probably just as important for D-League teams' parent franchises as is it is for the minor league team itself.
The 2011 NBA Development League Draft will be held via conference call on Thursday evening with quite a few rookies having signed contracts to be eligible to be selected. Among the top candidates, at least as identified as such by your's truly, are Michigan State guard Durrell Summers, Mustapha Farrakhan of the Virginia Cavaliers and Cory Higgins, a former standout at Colorado and the son of Charlotte Bobcats' president of basketball operations Rod Higgins.
Other notable rookie names in Thursday night's draft include South Florida big man Jarrid Famous, Dayton wing Chris Wright, Iowa transfer Jake Kelly, Kansas shooter Brady Morningstar, Seton Hall's Eniel Polynice, Mychel Thompson (son of the former NBA player and brother of draft pick Klay Thompson) and two players who played their college basketball in North Dakota -- NDSU's Michael Tveidt and the University of Mary's Anthony Moody.
Summers is probably the best rookie prospect included in this year's D-League Draft considering some expected he could hear his named called in the NBA Draft after a couple of solid seasons for the Spartans. That didn't happen, however, and he apparently decided that playing in the D-League -- at least until the lockout is complete -- is the best way to start his pro career.
According to the experts over at Draft Express, Summers' game seems to be well-suited for D-League play:
Looking forward, Summers will have an uphill battle to make it in the league if he continues to play the way he has recently. Another strong performance in March as he had last season could definitely help himself and potentially sway teams making late decisions. The expected relative weakness of this draft class should help him get into consideration more easily, and his shooting, physical tools, and defensive ability gives him a chance of making it as a role player. Going into a situation where he can stick to his strengths in a running, open system with an emphasis on open jumpers would be best for him, and may be critical to his chances.
Of note to any Michigan State fans finding this story, Travis Walton will also be included in this year's D-League Draft. Walton's claim to fame is probably being named the 2009 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Next up on the stroll through the best rookies in this year's draft is Farrakhan, who has a last name that might sound familiar even for those that aren't fans of college college basketball because his grandfather is Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The 6-foot-4 guard had pre-draft workouts with the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz, New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets.
Farrakhan averaged 14.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in ACC play last season, good enough for him to be recognized as an All-ACC Honorable Mention player. The off-guard doesn't do anything great, but his dunk over a North Carolina State player was quite great.
Last but not least on the interesting rookies list is Higgins, the former Buffaloes guard with the familiar name. The 6-foot-5 combo guard was probably overlooked a bit considering teammate Alec Burks ended up being selected in the lottery, but he likely won't be overlooked on Thursday night.
Higgins had pre-draft workouts with the Bobcats, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets, but apparently wasn't able to stand out enough to warrant a late selection. He did rack up the accolates at Colorado, though, becoming the only player in school history with at least 2,000 points (2,001), 500 rebounds (547), 300 assists (320), 150 steals (192).
It remains to be seen where these players will wind up this season, but all should garner interest from NBA decision makers as the lockout wears on.
Further 2011 D-League Draft reading available here: