With the 2012-13 NBA D-League season inching closer, the NBADL Warriors are looking to make their mark in what will be the squad's inaugural campaign in Santa Cruz.
Previously known as the Dakota Wizards, the re-organized Warriors are now the direct minor league affiliate of, who else, but the NBA team that goes by the same name.
With big league squads beginning to work even closer with their respective affiliates as of late, the NBA Warriors are sure to embrace the Santa Cruz squad whole heartedly. Look for the organization to not only develop their already existing talent down there, but also keep an eye out as they look to discover new promising prospects as well.
They certainly has a good starting point when it comes to the skilled players set to don Santa Cruz Warriors' practice jerseys during training camp.
Pulling the trigger on perhaps a more underrated deal in has been a busy month on the D-League trade front, the Warriors recently acquired Cameron Jones (cousin of NBA guard Landry Fields) from the Mad Ants.
Jones is a very promising player who is able to shoot the lights out with ease. Draining 43% of his daggers from long range, the young gun was also named to last season's NBADL "All Rookie" first team after averaging 14 points per contest. When it comes to potential, the athletic Jones has a ton. Having the experience of not only a season in the minors, but a previous NBA training camp under his belt, it would seem likely that Jones is only set to build on his already present success.
But it appears as though Jones will have some friendly competition for the starting shooting guard position. With their first selection in this year's draft, the Warriors selected fellow two-guard Travis Leslie. As an NBA rookie last season, Leslie spent the campaign mostly warming the bench for the Clippers.
That said, the Georgia product did have an opportunity to log minutes on the court during a stint with L.A.'s D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam. Leslie made the most of his time in the minors, providing a spark for the Jam off the bench. In ten contests (3 starts), the guard averaged 10.3 points on 51% shooting from the field in just 20.4 minutes per game.
After spending last year in the NBA, assumedly taking mental notes from stellar guards like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and even swingman Caron Butler, it's safe to say Leslie just wants a chance to strut his stuff a bit more. After getting waived by Los Angeles in training camp last month, he'll have that chance in Santa Cruz.
But Leslie wasn't the only player the Warriors drafted earlier this month that was full of promise. Among their later selections was Filipino big man Japeth Aguilar, who made quite the impression during open workouts this offseason. Displaying versatility, Aguilar shows abilities that make it easy for him to play either forward or the center position. The Filipino has good hands, can score around the basket, and defends a variation of opponents quite well.
Also taken by Santa Cruz in this month's draft was Vanderbilt's own Steve Tchiengang. The forward is a tough big man who likes to his strength to muscle his way inside against defenders, and on the flip side, intimidate opponents when they try to score as well. Already familiar with how to do the little things well, Tchiengang spent the offseason working on his jumper to give him more value as a stretch-four, ala New Orleans Hornets' forward Ryan Anderson.
Despite the abundance of talent they reeled in this offseason, one can't overlook a couple of "returning" players for the Warriors as well. Fresh off winning the 2012 "Defensive Player of the Year" award, Stefhon Hannah will have to be the man who connects the dots for his new multiple of offensively skilled teammates. After averaging 18.4 points, but only 4.8 assits per game last season, look for Hannah to embrace more of a playmaking role. Taylor Griffin (Blake's brother) was also retained by the squad and will look to build upon his strong season as a steady rotation player.
The Santa Cruz Warriors are looking to make a great first impression on the D-League. With all the talent in place, they're in the best position to do so. With so much promise in Santa Cruz, look out for the NBA Warriors to utilize and explore the immense amount of talent and resources available to them too.