With Linsanity on the brain, NBA scouts eagerly watched the 2012 NBA D-League All-Star Game in hopes of finding the next Jeremy Lin. The D-League All-Stars didn’t disappoint. They delivered an exciting game with a number of great performances from league stars such as Gerald Green, JamesOn Curry, Jerry Smith, Darnell Lazare, Blake Ahearn and Marqus Blakely.
"My guess is in the just concluded NBA D-League All-Star Game there were more NBA scouts there than ever in the history of that game," NBA Commissioner David Stern said during the All-Star press conference.
If the commissioner is correct, the D-League All-Star Game is now a true opportunity for prospects to show off their skills to NBA teams looking to fill roster spots. If history holds true, in fact, over 50 percent of the players in the D-League All-Star Game will have played in the NBA before their career is finished.
Many of the D-League All-Stars have been covered very well in other places, but what about the overlooked prospects who are putting up impressive numbers without getting much attention?
Will Conroy, 29, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
For the past seven years, Conroy split his time between the NBA D-League and European teams with a few 10-day contracts in the NBA. He is a true journeyman point guard and has developed his skills as a game manager and play creator.
As the leader of the Viper’s fast-paced offense, he averages a double-double per game with 11.9 points and 10.2 assists. His assist percentage of 46.44 is best in the D-League and further evidence of his play-making ability. Conroy’s 0.96 assist-to-field goal attempt ratio confirms his exceptionally unselfish play and pass first mentality.
In his last five games, Conroy is averaging well above his usually numbers with 15 points and 14 assists per game against talented teams while coming off the bench.
Jeremy Wise, 25, Bakersfield Jam
Wise is a fast point guard with a quick first step, skills in the pick and roll and the ability to finish strong at the rim. He was invited to the Miami Heat training camp last year, but was waived before the start of the NBA season.
In the D-League he’s averaged 14.5 points and 6.3 assists per game while pulling down four rebounds per game -- including a recent 13 rebound outing against the Canton charge. A key criticism of his game is his lack of "court vision" and "pass-first mentality." However, his 35.32 assist percentage is third best in the D-League and demonstrates his improvement in distribution skills. Wise’s 2.78 assist-to-turnover ratio helps make the case for improved court vision and the ability to take care of the basketball.
MORRIS ALMOND, 27, MAINE RED CLAWS
Almond is one of many former NBA players taking the D-League route to get back on to an NBA roster. He’s a talented shooter with a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 66 percent, and has been effective behind the 3-point line shooting 46 percent. Almond is averaging 22 points per game along with 5 rebounds.
While the pull-up jumper is Almonds main weapon, he effectively uses his solid frame (6’6" – 210lbs.) and a good first step to drive to the basket and draw contact from defenders. His 0.46 free-throw to field goal attempt ratio means that he gets quite a few trips to the free throw line while drawing fouls on his opponents.
Almond moves well off the ball, gets open and knocks down jumpers with alarming frequency. Combine that with his aggressiveness when driving the lane and you have a player that has developed well in the D-League and is worthy of a 10-day contract.
MIKE EFEVBERHA, 27, IOWA ENERGY
After an impressive showing in the NBA summer league, Efevberha came back to the Iowa Energy for his fourth season in the NBA D-League. While playing only 28 minutes per game this season, Efevberha has averaged 18.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. His exceptional true shooting percentage of 59 percent falls short of Almond’s, but it still puts him among the league’s top shooters. Efevberha is also a deep threat, shooting 47.7 percent behind the 3-point line.
The 6-foot-4 wing has explosive scoring potential as the Fort Wayne Mad Ants learned during last week's two game home stand. Efevberha scored a combined 57 points, pulled down 22 rebounds and blocked 4 shots to help the Energy sweep the series. Clearly, Efevberha is playing at high level and deserves more looks from NBA teams than he is currently getting.
DERRICK BYARS, 27, BAKERSFIELD JAM
Whether shooting off the dribble, pulling up for a jumper or fading away to hit a post shot, Byars is talented scorer with multiple weapons to put points on the board. His true shooting percentage of 59 percent and his 18.4 points per game shows his ability to get good looks and knock them down.
Byars has a number of things working in his favor including the ability to defend most players in the two and three spots, along with being a strong wing player who has a natural role player mentality. His rebounding is a little low at an average of 5 per game, but he has shown improvement in this area in recent games.
In a recent game against the Canton Charge, Byars has 27 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks further highlighting his defensive skill and his capability of having big games.
RENALDO MAJOR, 29, BAKERSFIELD JAM
Open heart surgery kept Major on the sidelines in 2007 and he’s been fighting to get back to the NBA ever since. With a true shooting percentage of 61 percent and 15.8 points per game, the 6-foot-6 swingman puts points on the board. His ability to block shots, get steals and pull down five rebounds per game means that he contributes on the defensive end as well.
With his numbers climbing back to where they were pre-surgery and his defense still solid along with a Pan-American Games bronze medal now on his resume, Major should get some looks from NBA scouts. He’s added aggressiveness to his game by driving more the basket, drawing more fouls and getting more free throw attempts (0.77 FT/FGA ratio).
Major is playing solid basketball with an efficiency of 18.44 and is consistently productive on both ends of the floor.
DENNIS HORNER, 24, SPRINGFIELD ARMOR
It costs $650 to participate in the D-League’s national try out. After spending last year playing ball in Europe, Horner showed up with $650 in hand and gave it a shot. He impressed the scouts and the Springfield Armor drafted him in the third round. Six months later, the 6-foot-9 forward made his NBA debut as a New Jersey Net after having a successful invite to their training camp.
In mid-January he was waived by the Nets and reacquired by the Springfield Armor where he is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. Recently he has come on as a 3-point threat, shooting 50 percent (6-12) from behind the arc. He is easily one of the most talented forwards in the D-League and arguably should have been the fourth Armor player invited to the 2012 D-League All-Star game.
Horner's ability to play hard in the paint, knock down outside shots and make good passing decisions means that he will get another shot in the NBA in the near future.
MARCUS DOVE, 26, DAKOTA WIZARDS
Those who say that defense is dead in the D-League have not been paying attention to Marcus Dove. He is a shut-down defender averaging 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He’s also the sixth best shot blocker in the D-League with 1.7 blocks per game. During his time in the D-League Dove has also developed his game on the offensive end of the floor and is averaging 11.6 points per game with an outstanding true shooting percentage of 62 percent. By the way, he’s doing all of this while only playing an average of 27 minutes per game.
This week Dove had an impressive performance against the Sioux Falls Skyforce with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots to help the Wizards win 117-98. Dove plays hard at both ends of the floor and would make a great addition to a playoff bound team looking for strong defense and solid scoring ability off the bench.
KEITH BENSON, 23, SIOUX FALLS SKYFORCE
Last year’s second round pick by the Atlanta Hawks, two-time Summit League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as an Oakland Golden Grizzly is a true development prospect. At 6-foot-11 220 pounds, Benson is slightly undersized for his position but is growing and developing well in the D-League. He’s averaging 12 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes per game. Over the next few season, Benson is expected to develop into one of the top big man prospects in the D-League.