No Chris Wright. No Fab Melo. No Kris Joseph.
Such absences proved to be no problem for the Maine Red Claws, who closed out the year 2012 on a high note, defeating the Springfield Armor by a commanding score of 104-85.
Despite being forced to take the court without its top three prospects, Maine still managed to sail to victory without hesitation. After watching top NBADL talent (and not to mention, their leading scorer) Shelvin Mack move on to greener pastures in the NBA just last week, the Red Claws were already used to making adjustments and staying competitive all the while.
On New Year's Eve, the team did so with the help of Micah Downs, who undeniably has big league hopes of his own. Hitting the hardwood without his talented teammates, Down picked up the slack on offense, leading Maine in scoring with a game-typing high of 23 points.
But that's not all the forward did to help his team earn the W. Downs also paced the Red Claws' efforts defensively, grabbing a season-high 7 steals. 23 points and 7 steals would have been a solid enough outing, but the first-year NBADL product only continued to fill up the stat-sheet throughout the contest, also pulling down 6 rebounds as well.
Such a versatile effort is one that the Red Claws have become accustomed to receiving from the 26 year old as he aims to prove his worth. Through thirteen games, Downs was averaging 16 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2 steals, and 1.2 steals.
Versatility is the name of the game in The Association. After putting up such numbers, all the while sharing the court with the likes of two NBA assignees (Melo and Joseph), a recent call-up (Mack), and the D-League's current highest-rated prospect (Wright), Downs is showing a knack for being able to contribute alongside other very talented players. His unselfish nature, coupled with his ability to fit right in no matter the circumstance, arguably makes him a sound candidate to fill a void for a bevy of NBA squads.
If his team needs it, there's no doubt Downs can score the basketball. That said, it's truly the other things the forward does on the court that he should be given more credit for. At 6'8" and 200 pounds, he can defend an array of opponents, able to use his agility to keep up with opposing players of all shapes and sizes.
Despite having a rather slim and lengthy frame, Downs never backs down from an imposing challenge, either. His quick hands allow him to poke the ball away from others, while his long wingspan helps him climb up and block opposing shots as well. He's actually managed to put on fifteen pounds since college, but even so, the forward is playing within his means this season, and has made it work to his advantage.
Downs spent training camp with the Boston Celtics this past fall, but still understood he was on the outside looking in with regard to making the contender. Still, Boston executives liked what they saw enough to warrant keeping an eye on him in the D-League with their respective affiliate.
Such an opportunity may seem like a no-brainer to some, but Downs' situation is different than most. In addition to having played overseas the past couple of seasons, he's also a married man who recently became a father. Continuing to play international ball may have enabled Downs to cash in on a more lucrative contract and earn a good living, while trying to raise a family.
As fate would have it, the NBADL rookie is taking the high road. After impressing a team like the Celtics in what was his first big league training camp, it's clear Downs has legitimate talent. What's more, he knows how to utilize the tools available to him to make a steady impact for his squad.
Whether or not there be difficult times ahead, Downs should rest assured in the belief that he's closer to breaking in than he's ever been. The D-League provides the freakish-athlete with the biggest, brightest, and most familiar (for NBA teams) stage to strut his stuff. With that in mind, hopefully it's just a matter of time until someone else takes notice.