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Hasheem Thabeet's D-League Endeavor: Not An Easy Assignment

My alternate title for this post was "it's the Development League, not the death knell."

Thursday, a 7-foot-3 Tanzanian oozing with upside was assigned to the NBA's Development League.  This evening, he'll embark on what he has to hope will be a momentous rebirthing of his professional career, something of which well respected journalists had high hopes.

D-League Digest's Steve Weinman was very optimistic this morning that the Hasheem Thabeet assignment would be good for Thabeet, the D-League and everyone else involved.

Hardwood Paroxysm's Matt Moore is a bit less positive, opining that it will just be 10 days in the D-League before returning to the bench in Memphis, waiting for his NBA career to come to a fizzling stop.

If you're looking for my opinion, I'm reserving judgment until the assignment is complete.  Since I'm not able to see into the future, I can't say whether this assignment will be great for the D-League, terrible for Thabeet or anything else - we've never seen such a high draft pick in the D-League, and therefore, I don't feel comfortable guessing how it's going to turn out.  If you've read my work for any amount of time, you'd notice the one thing I hate to be is wrong.

I do know that Hamed Haddadi, after being assigned to the Dakota Wizards last season, developed quite well from the time of his first game in Bismarck to the player that was recently moved ahead of Thabeet on the Grizzlies depth chart - so I have relatively high hopes.

Still, it took me until this afternoon to actually sit down and write this post because I don't honestly know how this is going to end up - If Thabeet looks amazing, we'll be subjected to the same tired 'well, it was against D-League players' and if he looks terrible it'll simply be 'well, Thabeet's terrible. I've said that since he was drafted. Thabust. You know the drill!'

The caliber of big men Thabeet will face while on assignment isn't going to give him an easy path to domination, especially with a target on his back.  The easiest way for his opponents over the next week to make a name for themselves is going to via dominating the second overall draft pick -  Thabeet will have to earn every point, rebound and blocked shot that comes his way while on assignment.

After the jump, I've previewed each of his potential assignments.

Tonight in Erie, he'll face the duo of 6-foot-11, 300 pound behemoth John Bryant and former Georgia Tech bigman Alade Aminu, both of which are on NBA radars and also have a considerable amount of upside (Aminu's could even be described as 'ridiculous').  If Thabeet dominates offensively, it'll shock me, and not just because I know Thabeet's what some call 'terrible' when it comes to his 'offense'.  Erie is ranked second in the D-League in least points allowed per team defensive possession (1.029 pts/poss allowed) and first in the D-League in lowest 2-point FG% allowed on defense at just 47.0%. 

Sunday in Fort Wayne he'll be matched-up inside with former NBAer's Jared Reiner and Rob Kurz.  Reiner's been very close to becoming a full-time NBA player for what seems like the past five years and if it weren't for the occasional injury setback, Kurz would already be back in the NBA.  For what it's worth, according to Synergy, Thabeet's ranked in just the 17th percentile as a defender in the NBA, meaning it might not be as polished as many think.  Both Reiner and Kruz are known more for their offense than their defense, so this game will give us a good barometer of Thabeet's NBA-caliber defense.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, he'll be matched-up against Albuquerque's Kurt Looby.  Essentially, Looby is the Thabeet of the D-League - a late bloomer and raw offensive player who can rebound and block shots.  With Albuquerque, Looby is averaging 7.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in just over 30 minutes of action.  I actually think they're both playing at about the same skill level at this time in their careers, so if either is able to standout, it'll really mean something - to me at least.  I'll be in attendance for both of these games, so expect detailed reports.

Friday, he'll head to Tulsa, Oklahoma to face a couple more NBA-caliber big men in Chris Richard, Steven Hill and DeVon Hardin.  All three bring different challenges to Thabeet.  Richard's a bruising big man who's already had a couple of 10-day's with the Bulls this season and, like Thabeet, had considerably more success at the college level than he has in the NBA.  Hill is, and this isn't meant to be racist, a white version of Thabeet, save for the first round pick hype with the addition of a ridiculous beard. Hardin (last draft pick of the Seattle Supersonics) has still not reached his full potential, though his athleticism could definitely pose a threat to Thabeet.  This might be the best game to gauge Thabeet's skill level, as he's facing a diverse group of NBA-caliber big men.

The last game of his D-League assignment will feature a trip to Los Angeles and a matchup with former UCLA Bruin Michael Fey.  Fey was in camp with the Lakers this Fall and is a legit 7-foot, 270 pounds so Thabeet shouldn't be able to dominate him.  That said, this will be Thabeet's sixth game of playing considerable minutes - he should potentially be hitting his stride and come into this game with confidence, leaving me to believe if he's going to have a standout game while in the D-League, this will be it.