The NBA Development League might not be doing the best job its ever done as far as helping players develop their skills, but the NBA is definitely benefiting from the ability to sign players that have stayed in shape while showcasing their talents in the D-League this season.
By the time everyone reads this, there will likely be 44 call-ups already in the D-League this season (Alan Anderson, Malcolm Thomas, Ben Uzoh and Cartier Martin being the latest). 31 players had been called up by the close of business on Monday night and there's a good chance that number continues to grow throughout the next couple of weeks.
It would seem with the top 31 players out of the league, the pickings are going to be slim. That isn't exactly the case, however, as ten of them find themselves either back in the D-League or currently unsigned (sorry, Ryan Reid) ... and the NBA hasn't always picked the top prospect, anyway.
Since my last rendition of this column just two weeks ago, two of my top prospects at their respective positions have been called up as Donald Sloan is with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Edwin Ubiles is just returning from a 10-day with the Washington Wizards. That, combined with the fact there have been numerous comings and goings related to the remainder of the list, mean that it's time for a new version.
Point guards in the D-League are often converted shooting guards, a role very few players embrace. When they do, though, it works out: recent call-up Justin Dentmon worked on making the switch with the Austin Toros this season, developing more of a point guard's mentality on his way to earning a contract with the San Antonio Spurs (and leaving at least one other offer on the table, according to my sources).
Top Player: There are a lot of options in the D-League when it comes to the point guard position, but the player that seems best-suited to make the jump, at least in the opinion of your's truly, is Will Conroy of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
The 29-year-old has plenty of professional experience, but is still improving as he's dishing out more assists and committing less turnovers on his way to averages of 12.7 points and 9.2 assists while being used primarily off the bench since returning to the league this season. He isn't a shooter, but there are very few players in the D-League with the ability to run an offense like he can.
The off-guard guard crop is interesting and, basically, it all depends on if teams are looking for when filling that position. The problem with this position, though, is that the majority of the players playing the '2' in the D-League probably aren't big enough to do the same upon a jump to the NBA.
Top Player: Bakersfield Jam wing Derrick Byars was listed in this spot last week and, since he hasn't faltered and no top prospects have entered the league ablaze since that report -- though teammate Trey Johnson is certainly an NBA talent -- Byars will remain here once again.
Byars' shooting percentages aren't as good as they typically are, but the 6-foot-7 swingman is showing signs of what made him an NBA Draft pick not all that long ago. His talent has never been put into question, but it seemed in the past he may have been caught up in putting up big numbers in order to stand out. This season, though, he's focused on being a better basketball player ... and it's shown, too, as Bakersfield is 12-6 with him in the starting lineup as the 27-year-old focuses on picking his spots on offense while using his NBA body to play solid defense.
At a glance, the small forward class is loaded with players that have experienced a modicum of success at the NBA level. There are no longer any can't-miss NBA players in the crop considering Gerald Green is now in the NBA, but there are quite a few players capable of contributing if teams are willing to deal with their weaknesses as well.
Top Player: It's a tough call to choose just one ... so I won't. It seems that both Marqus Blakely and Elijah Millsap are probably deserving of a look considering age is on their side and they've both yet to be given a chance to prove what they're capable of doing at the next level.
Neither player is playing the position he played in college as both have transitioned from more inside-oriented players to the wing where their shorter stature isn't such a hindrance. That doesn't mean they aren't playing in the post in the D-League, but adding perimeter skills is important for 6-foot-5ish former power forwards.
Blakely has been filling up the box score since moving from the Iowa Energy to the Sioux Falls Skyforce, averaging 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, two steals and more than a block per game despite averaging just 32 minutes per game (as a result of foul trouble, for the most part). Millsap is doing his part, too, with averages of 19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and nearly two steals while improving his three-point jumper.
Youngish prospects: D.J. Kennedy
Bigs aren't the big thing in the D-League and most NBA scouts will make that clear. There are still some players that deserve a look, however -- If, for nothing else, just to show that they don't belong in the NBA after clearly being better than their D-League brethren.
Top Player: Let's continue to give credit to Tulsa 66ers power forward Marcus Lewis, one of the few good stories in the D-League considering he's actually used it to develop. In 41 games this season, the 6-foot-8 power forward is averaging 15.4 points and 12.7 rebounds while showing the willingness to do the dirty work that doesn't show up in the box score like setting screens and taking charges, too.
He doesn't have an NBA body or an NBA-type resume -- the Oral Roberts graduate began his D-League career with an open tryout -- but there's no doubt he has the right attitude (along with hustle and rebounding instincts) to contribute on an NBA roster.
s that could fill in quick: Eric Dawson
There's a good chance if an NBA team needs a man in the middle to come in and play, they'll probably look elsewhere. There are still some 7-footers left, though, if teams are interested in making sure their call-up is already in playing shape.
Top Player: This spot belonged to Mikki Moore last time we did this, but things have changed now that Jeff Foote returned from his call-up to the New Orleans Hornets. The 7-footer is obviously still developing, but considering he already has a go-to move in the post and is averaging 15.2 points and 8.7 rebounds for one of the best teams in the D-League, there are a lot of things to like about the 24-year-old Cornell alum.
Foote has what many describe as the best hands in the D-League, a hook shot that nobody can stop in the D-League and a wingspan long enough to alter shots from all around the post. He could be a much better rebounder if he'd work on developing his lower body -- and it wouldn't hurt to improve his footwork, either, considering he gets frustrated whenever the hook shot isn't falling.
Youngish prospects: Hamady Ndiaye