Jerel McNeal Playing His Way Into NBA D-League M.V.P. Consideration?

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Plenty of NBADL athletes have been making positive impressions all season long, but it's Jerel McNeal's ability to succeed while leading the Bakersfield Jam to victories as of late that should start to garner him M.V.P. award consideration.

Coming off a rookie season with the Lakers, Andrew Goudelock was well known as he entered the D-League this season. His ability to make an impact on two teams, now leading the way as the RGV Vipers attempt to rise from second place in the league to take over the top spot, makes him a worthy M.V.P. candidate.

The L.A. D-Fenders' own Courtney Fortson has proven himself capable of single-handedly leading his teams to more than a few victories this season. The point guard held the number one spot on the NBADL's official Prospect List for nearly a month as he filled up the stat-sheet again and again to start off the new year. As one of the league's top talents, he belongs in conversations regarding the league's top player as well.

D.J. Kennedy's elevated efforts this season might as well earn him the name "Mr. Versatility," and players like Donald Sloan and Shelvin Mack have been seen dominating the competition for their respective teams when they aren't playing out NBA contracts.

This players in this group have collectively been some of the NBA D-League's best performers all season long, undeniably earning them the right to be considered for the league's M.V.P. trophy as we charge into All-Star break, and better you know it, the postseason too. But as these notable names continue to make headlines, one player is steam-rolling as he breaks through while garnering serious consideration of his own.

While some minor league prospects impressed by having eye-popping months of November and December to start off the season hot, Bakersfield Jam guard Jerel McNeal is having himself quite the year of 2013.

The guard has averaged 21.9 points (while shooting 49% from the field and 36% from deep), 5.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game over his last ten contests. Not only have the Jam gone 8-2 over that same stretch, but they've furthermore earned a 12-3 record so far to start the new year. There's no denying that McNeal has been the complete and utter catalyst as his team has risen up as the NBA D-League's best team.

In December, the Phoenix Suns assigned rookie Kendall Marshall to the Jam (their D-League affiliate) for an extended stay in Bakersfield. With the development of an already resident NBA prospect taking priority, McNeal instead came off the bench and filled a sixth man role for his team. Though he still managed to average 10.4 points and 1.9 steals as a player in the team's second unit, his shooting percentages suffered throughout Marshall's stay.

McNeal is the type of player who thrives under pressure and enjoys being looked upon by his squad as a leader and/or go-to-guy. He's able to take charge when he's running the floor with the ball in his hands.

Thus, since Marshall's departure, McNeal has emerged as just that. Becoming the ultimate leader, the former Marquette stud is not only commanding the offense by learning how and when to effectively get his teammates involved, but he's also accepting the challenge of knowing when to flip the switch and take over the game himself.

McNeal's explosive offensive ability and deadly attack towards the basket allows him to do that. There are an abundance of players in the D-League that can score---he's certainly one of them. But what has made even more special as of late is his ability to utilize his other existent skills to hit opposing defenses with. McNeal keeps defenses guessing by serving as a threat to succeed by doing any number of things on the court. With that in mind, he becomes difficult to stop.

The 25 year old's play as of late has made him one of the more impressive prospects to hit the NBADL hardwood in the year 2013. But rising up as the best individual player isn't always enough to get noticed. Winning games often means much more, and it's important to consider what kind of impact a player has on his team's success. He may indeed be a baller, but is he in fact a winner?

Luckily for McNeal, his better efforts recently have translated into wins for the Jam. The guard may not be number one overall in any specific category, but his collection of contributions (and what they've meant for Bakersfield) should automatically thrust him into the most recent M.V.P. award conversations. He's earned the right to be considered, and has proven results to show for it all around.

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