On Thursday, sixty individual prospects were given reason to celebrate as they drafted into the NBA. To be selected and welcomed into The Association is quite the accomplishment for each respective young gun. There's no doubt about that.
But this year was an especially unique one, as basketball's minor league happened to gain some well-deserved kudos, respect, and perhaps even in a tad bit more credibility along the way as well.
That's because when the dust cleared on Thursday evening, two of the D-League's more popular and intriguing prospects were drafted into the NBA.
Drafted by the Miami Heat at 26th overall, Texas Legends' swingman PJ Hairston is expected to return to familiar stomping grounds. The former UNC Tar Heel will instead don a Charlotte Hornets' uniform following a trade. All of this housekeeping aside, it's well worth noting that Hairston made history by becoming the D-League all-time first 1st round draft pick in the NBA.
And with good reason too. Hairston was an absolute stud in the minor league after leaving North Carolina. In addition to competing in the Three-Point Contest during All-Star Weekend, the swingman was a rather dominant player from there on out. He averaged 21.8 points on 45% shooting from the field for Legends all season long.
As Hairston made history, Thanasis Antetokounmpo just hoped to continue the trend of minor league athletes getting drafted. And that he did. The elder Greek Freak (brother of Giannis) was nabbed by the New York Knicks as the 51st overall selection. Unlike Hairston, Antetokounmpo didn't exactly take the D-League by storm; at least not with any scoring prowess. Instead, the swingman was known for his effort and took care of the intangibles on the court. Someone who does all of the little things well, the young gun is a versatile player who doesn't appear to have one specific skill that he happens to depend on.
In 50 games for Delaware, Antetokounmpo averaged a well-balanced helping of 12 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals. Whereas Hairston will likely become known for pouring in the points, Antetokounmpo could undoubtedly stand to emerge as a lockdown defender who knows how to pester opponents.
In any event, each player (or their subsequent selections, rather) further prove the credibility of the D-League as a whole. The process works. The minor league continues to progress as it offers more and more value to teams on the NBA level.
Talents like Hairston and Antetokounmpo should help The Association realize this, especially as many teams look for alternative ways to find talent, or ponder how to further developing their existing young guns.