Why Red Claws' Guard Frank Gaines Deserves NBA D-League "Rookie of the Year" Award

USA TODAY Sports

Following a stellar first season as a pro, Red Claws' guard Frank Gaines deserves the NBA D-League "Rookie of the Year" award.

Despite earning themselves a playoff berth and having five prospects represent them in the NBA D-League All-Star game during the 2012-13 season, the Maine Red Claws followed up such a campaign by racking up just 19 victories in 2013-14.

Though their overall record was less than stellar, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the minor league affiliate of the Boston Celtics. The team's opening night roster was disrupted in wake of subsequent injuries to quality players like Jermaine Taylor and Romero Osby in the weeks that followed.

Still, where one door may close, another door eventually opens. With that in mind, a promising and budding D-League star began emerging in Maine.

Such a promising young gun was none other than two-guard Frank Gaines. Admittedly, a notable role was thrust upon the rookie as his team looked to find a potential solution to their injury woes. As fate would have it, however, the 23 year old took it in stride.

Gaines is a raw prospect who needs to gain even more confidence as he continues to progress. Though he has confidence to begin with, the guards needs to further understand and realize what others see in him, and the type of player he can be: a clutch youngster who can undoubtedly score in bunches.

As Maine looked for answers on offense, Gaines slowly but surely stole the show and turned heads as the season went on. By the end of the year, he'd been consistently recognized as Maine's go-to-guy. As a result, he boasted an average of 22.4 points (on 46% from the field and 40% from deep) through 48 contests to go along with 3.7 boards and 1.3 steals by season's end.

As an offensive player, Gaines is quick, efficient, and most of all, quite clutch.

"I thought I was going to have a pretty good year, but I didn't think I would have a year like this. I just got better throughout the year, and Coach (Mike) Taylor helped me a lot," Gaines told RidiculousUpside.com about his first year in the D-League. "He recognized things I could improve upon, and encouraged me to improve upon my strengths, too. He helped put me in the right situation."

Further addressing the impact of having such a dedicated coaching staff, the guard added, "It's definitely a benefit. There's no language barrier or anything like that, so I can talk to Coach and voice any concerns I have."

As a rookie, even a player as talented as Gaines needs guidance. To ensure he gets the most out of such an experience, he leans on his teammates for advice. "A big guy that I've probably leaned on a lot has been Chris Wright," the 23 year old said. "He's been helping me out since I met him. He's shown me a lot as I've continued to get better."

Despite playing in his first professional season, the young gun is widely looked at as one of the minor league's most talented and versatile scorers. Still, Gaines insisted that such a role with Maine is not one he tries to think about or expect to have.

"I try not to think about it. I want to play my game," he said. "If the ball comes back to me, it does. But regardless, I try and do what I can to help the team win."

Gaines may be modest, but there's no doubt that for his continued impressive efforts, he arguably stands tall as one of the D-League's most talented and productive first-year players. For this, he undoubtedly deserves the league's "Rookie of the Year" award.

Following a season during which he continued to make noise, it's safe to say NBA executives around the league are beginning to take notice. So with that in mind, what lies next for Gaines?

Whatever that may be, he insists it's better to focus on the types of things one can actually control on their own in the meantime. "I try to go out and do the things I do best, and not try and be a player I'm not," he said. "I like to hit open shots and play good defense, but frankly, I'll do whatever my team needs me to do."

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