Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE
More than a handful of former Syracuse players have been succeeding in the NBA D-League this season. The NBADL is generally filled with players from various different backgrounds, but the specific correlation regarding Syracuse alum, and the top talent in the league is especially noticeable at this point in the season.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim recorded his 903rd win January 3rd, the win placed Boeheim second on the NCAA's all-time win list. Some of the players who were apart of some of those memorable teams for Boeheim are now lighting it up in the NBA Development League. Browsing through the top statistical categories in the D-League, it is almost impossible not to find a former Orange player on any list.
The most recent former Cuse' player to notch significant numbers in the NBA D-League is the reigning D-League Showcase 3-point champion, Andy Rautins. Rautins shot 8-for-11 from downtown, and scored 28 points leading all scorers in Tulsa's 105-95 victory over the Erie BayHawks on Monday. It was Rautins' second straight impressive statistical showing in as many games. Against the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Rautins dropped in 27 points on 7-for-11 3-point shooting.
Rautins is averaging 13.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists so far this season. But Rautins' undeniable marksmanship from beyond the arc is the key for him to land another shot in the Association again. Whether Rautins manages to work his way back to an NBA roster or not, the 6-4, 190 pound guard is representing the Orange proudly in the NBA D-League along with some other former Cuse' members.
The most notable former Syracuse player currently in the NBA D-League is a member of the Maine Red Claws. Fab Melo is on assignment with the Red Claws sent by the Boston Celtics. Melo has developed his game steadily while with the Red Claws this season, and is atop the D-League in blocks with 69 total blocks and averaging 3.6 a contest.
It remains to be seen just how long Melo will spend with the Red Claws now that Rajon Rondo is out for the season with an ACL injury. The direction in which the Celtics' season will take over the course of the next few weeks may affect Melo's time in the NBADL. But the progress Melo has made despite his little court time even at Syracuse and in the NBA D-League is very promising, as the Brazilian-born big man continues to evolve into an NBA center prospect.
Despite only playing in 16 games, Arinze Onuaku is also atop a statistical category in the D-League. Before getting injured, Onuaku was dominating the glass in the D-League, and on the season is averaging a league best 11.2 for the Canton Charge. Onuaku suffered a knee injury in a practice just a week before the D-League Showcase, unfortunate timing for the powerful and efficient low post player. Onuaku is also third overall in field goal percentage.
In Onuaku's last outing for the Charge, he put up 9 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in limited time, as he continues to make progress coming back from his injury, look for Onuaku to establish his dominant work on the glass for the Charge going forward.
Perhaps the most underrated, or least discussed impact player hailing from the Cuse', is Demetris Nichols. Nichols has been a solid player for the Sioux Falls Skyforce this year, and was named NBA D-League Performer of the Week January 14-20. During that stretch Nichols helped guide the Skyforce to back-to-back victories over the Texas Legends while averaging 25.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. Nichols has tremendous versatility for a player his size, and has been a stable force for Sioux Falls.
Two other former Syracuse players have also been playing solid ball for their respective D-League teams. Paul Harris (Iowa Energy) and Rick Jackson (Austin Toros) have added to the success in which former Orange players are enjoying in this NBADL season.
Harris is averaging 13.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists, and is coming off one of his more impressive games this season in a loss against the Canton Charge. Harris scored 25 points, his highest total outside of his back-to-back 30-plus point games earlier in the year, during wins against the Los Angeles D-Fenders, and Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Jackson exhibited his fantastic rebounding skills during his latest game for the Austin Toros, Jackson pulled down 25 rebounds in 40 minutes of work. Jackson had to battle the height and skill of Rio Grande Valley's interior line which consisted of Tim Ohlbrecht, Donatas Montiejunas, and Vernon Macklin. Jackson is a bruiser, and will likely continue to be a terror on the boards for the Toros.
It's no real surprise that one of the most storied basketball factories in the country is supplying the NBA D-League with some of it's top talent, however, some of the aforementioned names might just translate their noteworthy play in the NBADL, to a stint in the NBA. Until then, their exciting brand of basketball will continue to be enjoyed by fans and respected by their peers in the NBA D-League.