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Hasheem Thabeet's NBA D-League Dominance Begins

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My review of Hasheem Thabeet's first foray into the D-League wasn't very positive.  I honestly didn't think he played poorly in that game, however - his low numbers could pretty much be explained because he didn't play much due to foul trouble and my only concern was how inactive he seemed - particularly when it came too hauling in rebounds.

Sunday afternoon was a much better game for the Memphis Grizzlies second overall pick in this year's NBA Draft.  Thabeet cleaned up on the offensive glass to give himself easy buckets and swatted shots like it was his job.  And at this point in his career, that should be his job - make it tough to score in the lane and at least make an effort for every rebound.

Thabeet's final line, while ultimately unimportant -- it's not as if Memphis is going to look at what he averages in the D-league and decide to give him minutes based on that -- was impressive: 19 points, 16 rebounds (four offensive) and six blocked shots 38 minutes of action. His D-League team, the Dakota Wizards, also beat the Fort Wayne Mad Ants 94-85, putting them at 2-0 during the early stages of the Thabeet era. (Full box here)

Before I hear the 'it was just the D-League' excuse, his primary matchup was Jared Reiner - a solid 6-foot-11, 255 pound big man who has been in the NBA with both the Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks as well as making numerous appearances on NBA Summer League and preseason rosters.  He's not outstanding, obviously, but Reiner is about the most polished big man you'll find playing outside of the NBA right now.  For the record, Reiner finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting and added 11 rebounds.

Offensively, Thabeet wasn't really overly impressive, despite what his 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting would lead you to believe.  As far as I can remember, he converted all four of his offensive rebounds into points, either with an easy put-back or at the free-throw line - that's six points from the field.  He converted another bucket on what I probably would've scored as an offensive rebound tip-dunk, but the official box scores said it was an alley-oop - now we're up to eight points.  He had another four points on alley-oops from Memphis teammate Lester Hudson and two more points from the field came via the pick-and-roll to give us a total of fourteen.  According to my notes, the remaining two points came from a nice little lefty hook shot from the block, something I didn't expect to see.  He hit 3-of-4 from the free-throw line to bring his point total to 19.

I hate to discount what he did on offense, because obviously, scoring 19 points in the D-League isn't easy - only one other player in this game scored at least as much (Fort Wayne's Oliver Lafayette had 21).  It's also exactly what I'd like out of Thabeet.  Don't try doing too much on offense, but get the easy buckets when they're available.

On defense, he did some good things and struggled with some things.  The good things obviously allude to his six blocks - I think he had at least one more and he clearly altered at least another six shots as well from penetrating guards. 

The struggles came mainly from issues outside of the paint.  He did well at holding his own when Fort Wayne would pass it into the post, but Fort Wayne often uses their big men in the pinch post or from about 12 feet on the baseline.  When Thabeet's man would be in either one of those positions, he'd help on penetration too soon, giving his man an easy jumper when the guard would dish.  Reiner and Sean Sonderleiter both had off-shooting days, so it didn't really hurt Dakota in the long run, but he has to be smarter defensively to succeed in the NBA.

The other thing I noted in this game is that it doesn't really seem like Dakota trusts Thabeet yet - at least not early in this game.  There were a few instances where Thabeet would have good position in the block or would make a nice cut to the basket in transition only for the guards to pull up for a shot attempt.  This can be the problem with NBA-assigned guys, but it seemed like it got a bit better as the game went on.

Takeaways from this game: It's NBA translatable.  All he did was convert easy buckets and alley-oop passes on offense (save for the random lefty hook) and he can swat six shots in 38 minutes of NBA play just as well as he can do it in the D-League.  The rebounding was a bit much, but it was more right place, right time than anything he was necessarily doing to grab the boards - I had in my notes that "he's not Rodman when it comes to projecting where the ball is going to come off the glass."  Plus, when there are 96 misses shots in a game, grabbing just 16 of those rebounds doesn't seem all that amazing.

Thabeet's next D-League game will come in a series with Albuquerque in Bismarck on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'll be in attendance for at least one of the games, if not both.

Other quick player notes in this game:

  • Romel Beck had 18 points.  His jump shot was on, but he was one of the biggest culprits when it came to looking for his own offense instead of deferring to Thabeet.  I can't fault him since he made most of the attempts, but I'd prefer he looked more for the big man rather than taking a jump shot early in the shot clock.
  • Lester Hudson, the newly assigned combo-guard from the Memphis Grizzlies, had 9 points, six assists and five rebounds in 23 minutes for his D-League debut.  While he looked good in throwing Thabeet alley-oops, his offense needs a lot of fine-tuning.  As great of a scorer as he was in college, his 3-of-12 from the field performance left me looking for a whole lot more offense.
  • While he'll never be an NBA prospect, Darren Cooper had 13 points for the Wizards on an uber-efficient three shot attempts.  He hit the dagger in this game and made a clutch steal to close the Wizards last game out in Erie.  I know there are people that question why Dakota puts him in when the game is on the line, but I'm not one of them.
  • Dan Dickau's road back to the NBA is as a pass-first point guard.  You know it, I know it and I'm under the assumption even he knows it.  This makes me wonder why he took 15 shots in Sunday's game, especially when he only made five of them.  The worst was a corner 3-point attempt that careened off the side of the backboard. Yuck.  That said, he also contributed eight assists and makes Fort Wayne's offense much better than it was with Kyle McAlarney or Oliver Lafayette running the show.
  • The aforementioned Oliver Lafayette can score.  It comes in streaks and is typically inefficient, but he played well in this game - 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and four steals.  Boom.
  • Former Wizard Jason Straight had a great game - 11 points by shooting 4-of-5 from the field including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.  He got less than 15 minutes of playing time because Dickau's obviously a better point guard than him and Lafayette was playing well, but I think Fort Wayne should've found a way to use his scoring acumen a bit more once they started slumping in the second half.  Plus, I'm a big believer in giving a player that was cut by the opposition their chance to prove why they shouldn't have been released.  Regardless, he still outplayed his replacement, Cheyne Gadson, in this game.