Lots of players enjoy strutting their stuff for NBA executives by hitting the D-League hardwood. But sometimes, these same top prospects have to fight for that very chance, as breaking through is often hard to do.
Such has been the case for James Nunnally, the Bakersfield Jam swingman who's getting more exposure towards season's end. Perhaps no one ever doubted the young gun's talent level, but with veterans like Damion James and Renaldo Major also occupying minutes at his position, Nunnally was forced to stay focused and learn what he could in the meantime while essentially waiting his turn.
But Jerel McNeal's call-up to the Jazz (his contract is set to expire this coming Saturday, and it's unknown whether or not he'll be retained just yet), opened the door Nunnally and others, as Jam coach Will Voigt was forced to mix and match his lineups a bit, altering his rotation and searching for some other strong winning combinations.
His number called more often over the past two weeks, Nunnally hasn't failed to deliver. It's unfortunate for Bakersfield (no matter how nice it is to see a player get called up) to feel the absence of their best player as they look to propel themselves towards the postseason. Nevertheless, such a void doesn't go unfilled for too long when a player like Nunnally steps up in the clutch.
Over his last five games (all starts), Nunnally has been as efficient as they come, pouring in 14.4 points, (on 45% from the field and 48% from deep), 5.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per contest.
Even in the early months of season, such as November and December, Nunnally could be seen filling it up offensively off the bench. He was able to provide a boost when given the opportunity, but in the months to follow, those same minutes ended up being difficult to come by.
The swingman may not have gotten a lot of time on the hardwood during the NBADL Showcase, but following a steady defensive performance, he found time to speak with RidiculousUpside.com in Reno. Conservatively comparing his skill set to that of Bruce Bowen, Nunnally also said he was hopeful for playing time that would hopefully soon follow.
Bowen's undoubtedly the type of player one would like to model himself after defensively, but perhaps Nunnally is even more versatile offensively, too. Earlier in the season, his consistent spot-up shooting could've easily been compared to Bowen. In the flow of Bakersfield's offense, Nunnally could be found waiting on the wings, primed to knock down long range jumpers on a nightly basis.
But with McNeal out of town, Nunnally has been asked to do even more. As his game has developed and he's been given a chance, the UC Santa Barbara product has been effectively driving to the basket more often, moving the ball well, etc. He's stepped up accordingly, helping ensure that the Jam don't miss a beat during McNeal's absence.
Even before McNeal's departure, Nunnally could still be found pouring in double-figure points off the bench during the month of March. Before stepping in to a starting role, the swingman had still managed to steadily emerge as the team's sixth man. Bakersfield has been trusting him with more playing time as the weeks go on, and Nunnally's made sure to reap the benefits while making sure to reward his coaching staff.
The first place Jam will take on the Santa Cruz Warriors twice this coming weekend, with the Warriors (coincidentally enough) sitting two games behind them for the top seed in the league. Bakersfield will need to win at least one of these games to hold on to its place in the standings.
With the NBA season ending in just a few weeks too, Nunnally's focus can simply be on helping the Jam win. Big league executives value winners, and though his time to shine has still come later in the season, Nunnally's continued success as a starter and key player to Bakersfield's playoff run will undoubtedly bolster the swingman's credibility heading into the offseason, when NBA executives will look to take chances on young guns during Summer League and training camp.