There still seems to be a whiff of negativity whenever the NBA D-League is discussed, but the model is clearly working and paying dividends when used correctly. The upcoming NBA Finals features a rematch from last year's riveting series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat -- who are looking for their third title in a row.
Lost in the shuffle, are four NBADL alums who will certainly have an impact on the outcome of this series. Their D-League experience ranges from three games played all the way up to 40 games played. Three of them play for the challenging Spurs, while Chris "Birdman" Andersen is the lone representative for the Heat (Joel Anthony and Justin Hamilton also have NBADL experience but are not getting any minutes so far in these playoffs).
Let's start with Andersen -- he only played three games in the D-League way back in 2001/02 before getting his shot with the Denver Nuggets and his boundless energy and hustle have kept him in the league since that time (with a couple speed bumps along the way). Andersen is second on the Heat in rebounding for the playoffs averaging 6.1 per game, while only playing 17.5 minutes. By comparison Chris Bosh is playing 33.6 minutes a night and pulling down 5.7 rebounds, so Andersen's importance as a rim protector and rebounder cannot be undersold.
Andersen has missed two games in these playoffs due to injury, so hopefully that doesn't come back and rear its ugly head because he will be vital in helping the Heat stop Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in this series. He has only averaged 6.1 points and 6.1 rebounds so far in his 13 games played, but again he's the only interior presence the Heat have on defense and his play will tell us a lot about how the series will play out.
San Antonio Spurs
On the Spurs side they have three players with NBADL experience and one of them even starts. Danny Green has carved himself a niche in this league as a dead-eye three-point shooter and though he stats aren't eye-popping so far in these playoffs he has done well in his role. He's averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 rebounds but he's shooting 48 percent from the land of plenty and has already hit 39 threes in their 18 games played. Miami will surely remember how he lit them up for 27 threes made (NBA Finals record) in last year's epic series and that added attention will help the other Spurs on the court as well.
Green last played in the D-League during the 2010/11 season but has not made himself into a fixture in the Spurs' lineup moving forward. His NBADL career lasted 19 games and he averaged 20.6 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Patty Mills and Cory Joseph's importance might be paramount to the Spurs' success, especially if Tony Parker has to miss any period of time due to injury. Parker hurt his ankle in the last game of the Western Conference Finals and during the first round had some hamstring issues as well. There aren't too many who believe that the Spurs can win without Parker, but they have two experienced backups to run out there just in case.
Mills has been stellar this year off the bench and that play has continued into the playoffs. He has appeared in all 18 games averaging 15.3 minutes, while scoring 6.5 points a night. Mills brings an added scoring punch that the Spurs sometimes desperately need off the bench -- he and Manu Ginobili are an exciting back court to watch when they spell Parker and Green off the bench. Mills isn't the distributor that Parker is, but the Spurs' offense does not revolve heavily around the ball being in Parker's hands so that might not be as big of an issue as some would assume.
Mills last played in the D-League during his rookie season of 2009/10. He only played in five games but he showed he was a cut above the rest averaging 25.6 points and 5.4 assists in those games.
Cory Joseph has the most NBADL experience in this series at 40 games played. Joseph did not spend any time this season in the D-League but has been utilized there off and on a lot over the previous two seasons. Joseph hasn't found many minutes this postseason and he's only averaged 5.7 minutes played, but if Parker goes down Joseph immediately turns into the backup point guard and will most likely split minutes with the aforementioned Mills.
Joseph is more of a distributor so he is the ying to Mills' yang in that regard. He can score as well, but his niche is tough, on-ball defense along with starting the offense for the Spurs. Joseph last played in the D-League during the 2012/13 season and his career averages there are 17.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
The NBADL has come a long way since it's inception and while some teams and fans still aren't grasping the full benefit of the league it's clear that it is quickly becoming a beneficial avenue for players and franchises alike.