The path to the NBA is a hazy and difficult road for potential pro prospects who weren't featured talent on a world-renowned college team. While the Stephen Curry's or Damian Lillard's of the world shine brightly as those eight-karat diamonds in the rough, a vast majority of talented, mid-major players ultimately fall through the proverbial crack of the NBA scouting circles.
One of the biggest examples of a player escaping through the cracks would be current Maine Red Claw guard and IPFW alum Frank Gaines. In the world of mid-majors, IPFW (Indiana- Purdue Ft. Wayne) sits in relative mystery as they play in the extremely obscure Summit League. In addition to the relative obscurity of playing in the Summit League, Gaines' IPFW stood as a mediocre team during his four-year stint with the team, which didn't exactly help boost his overall value.
Despite his team's lack of success, Gaines stood out as a premier scorer during his stint with IPFW. The 6'3 guard averaged around 20 points per game on 48 percent shooting during his junior and senior seasons. Those impressive numbers helped push Gaines to a spot on the All-Summit League First Team during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
Despite his previous accomplishments at IPFW, Gaines' initial transition to the pro game wasn't nearly as smooth. After his departure from college, the 6'3 guard was unsurprisingly bypassed in the 2013 NBA Draft. More startlingly was the fact that Gaines made it through the offseason without getting a look in Summer League which has always been a haven from the unknown college prospect.
Following a summer where he was overlooked by all 30 NBA squads, Gaines finally received an opportunity to showcase his mysterious talent as he was an early 2nd round selection by the Maine Red Claws in last year's D-League draft.
Five months later, Gaines has quickly transitioned himself from a genuine unknown to one of the best all-around guards in the NBA Development League.
Before Gaines was able to become one of the best offensive guards in the NBADL, he was slated to one of the team's top reserve guards. However, those plans quickly changed as NBA alum and perennial D-League All-Star Jermaine Taylor suffered a season-ending injury in an early-September matchup against the Erie Bayhawks.
With Taylor out of the picture, Gaines quickly emerged as one of Maine's more consistent options on offense.
Even though he was slowly turning into an extremely solid player before the All-Star break, his overall level of play has drastically improved (even more so) since mid-February. Since that period, Gaines has been on an absolute offensive tear. Thanks in part to his crisp shooting touch, Gaines has averaged around 26 points per game on 48% shooting, which would put him 3rd in the league after Idaho's Kevin Murphy and Toros' guard Ronald "Flip" Murray.
While that continued upward swing can be contributed to the season-ending injuries to Romero Osby and Jermaine Taylor, Gaines has continued to be an extremely efficient offensive weapon as his overall role with the team has continued to grow.
In a league filled with solid, perimeter marksmen, Frank Gaines has continued to stand out as one of the most effective. Since February 15th (NBADL's All-Star game), the IPFW alum has shot an extremely efficient 42% from beyond the arc. While his smooth shooting stroke has definitely elevated Gaines to D-League prominence, I really don't know if he'd be in this particular position without the recent additions of Tyshawn Taylor and Daniel Orton.
With the ultra-quick Tyshawn Taylor leading the Red Claws' attack, Maine has become an extremely open, fast-paced offense. As Taylor leads that high-energy approach, Gaines has definitely been the main beneficiary. While his perimeter skills has continued to be his main point of attack, the young gun has turned into the complete fast break weapon, as he's continued to showcase an extremely solid ability to cut to the rim. That all-around offensive approach has helped lead Gaines to an extremely impressive 59% True Shooting Percentage, which would put him above the likes of Kevin Murphy, Othyus Jeffers, Ron Howard and Cameron Jones
One of the biggest positive factors behind teams using that high-paced, fast break style of offense is how it's able to showcase the strengths, and hide the weaknesses. While that may not exactly be the case for Gaines, that approach has still allowed Gaines to shine as one of the top guards in the NBADL.
As the 2013-14 season comes to the close, the future for Frank Gaines remains a mystery. A year after not receiving a look in Summer League or on an NBA preseason roster, the 6'3 guard still stands on the cusp on a possible opportunity in the Association.