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Educating The Uninformed On The NBA Development League

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If you follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed a myriad of tweets devoted to me being perturbed about the use of the phrase 'There's a reason they're in the D-League.'  If you don't follow me on Twitter, you should.  Regardless, I'm able to give the average NBA fan a pass as they're not paid for their opinion and thus have the right to be as uninformed as they see fit. 

I get a bit more perturbed, however, when someone from the largest sports media brand in the world is so uninformed.  As a case in point, I'd like to focus this morning on Jeff Caplan, Mavericks beat writer for ESPN Dallas.

On Tuesday Caplan decided to lede one of his recent blog entries on the Dwayne Jones tryout Tuesday with quite the hyperbole:

Apparently the gap between NBA talent and the NBADL is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

First, the most interesting part of Caplan's post is that he ignored the following quote from Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson (given to Caplan's ESPN colleague Marc Stein), even though he linked to the article:

"The workout was great," Nelson said. "[Dwayne Jones] looked really good. For right now, we're going with a shooter and after 10 days we'll re-evaluate. Anything is possible."

Apparently the talent gap isn't as broad as Caplan makes it seem, at least to somebody who actually makes basketball decisions and follows the D-League (Note: I don't know for sure that Nelson follows the D-League, but since he's bought a team(!) that will begin play in Frisco, Texas, next season, I'm going to assume he knows a bit about the talent currently in the league and obviously holds it in high enough regard to invest a decent sum of money).

Caplan's article then goes on to talk about the depth that newly acquired Von Wafer will give the Mavericks.  Interestingly enough, Caplan didn't do his homework or conveniently ignores the fact that Wafer, like Jones, is a D-League alum.

When Wafer was unable to stick with the Lakers as a rookie, he joined the Colorado 14ers for the 2006-07 season and played 42 games before being called-up by the Clippers.  Since Wafer's season of D-League seasoning, he's been able to carve out a niche as a decent role player for both the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets.  Last season, Wafer started11 games for Houston during the regular season before appearing in 13 playoff games.

If you're still under the impression that the talent gap is as wide as the Grand Canyon between the two leagues, I implore you to look at further analysis on how D-League play translates to the NBA - and yes, it does translate.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  Although I used Caplan's uninformed writing as an example in this case, there are all too many people that write off D-League players simply because they play in the D-League.  D-League players aren't necessarily where they are because they're so terrible that they can't play in the NBA, but because they haven't been given a recent opportunity to prove what they can do in the NBA.

For a more tangible look at things, here a few D-League players have been given opportunities in the NBA:

  • Kelenna Azubuike, who was called-up as a rookie from the Fort Worth Flyers, got off to a pretty good start this season with the Golden State Warriors, averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in seven games as a starter before getting injured.
  • Will Bynum went undrafted, but parlayed a good solid rookie season in the D-League with the Roanoke Dazzle into a call-up and eventually into his current niche as the change-of-pace guard for the Detroit Pistons.  On the season, he's averaging 10.4 points and 4.4 assists in 25 minutes off the bench.
  • Devin Brown started 37 games for the New Orleans Hornets this season, even though he is a former D-League call-up.
  • As far as players playing well from the current D-League season, look no further than the recent play of Chris Hunter, this memorable performance of Sundiata Gaines or the fact that Anthony Tolliver has started nine of his 18 games with the Golden State Warriors and even outplayed the Suns' Amare Stoudemire.

Keep in mind that's just a smattering of players that weren't assigned to the D-League, but actually started and developed in the D-League.  In all actuality, 20% of NBA players have played in the D-League at some point in their careers - leading me to believe that the talent gap isn't as wide as it's been reported.

As far as I'm concerned, it's, at best, a bit irresponsible for Caplan to lay such a claim seeing as ESPN is probably the one-stop most of his readers will make.  Why give a league that's still up-and-coming such a poor reputation based on such a small sample size?

(Oh, and if anyone was wondering, Dallas beat the Lakers last night ... without Jones.)