The NBA D-League serves as the biggest and brightest stage for top prospects and big league hopefuls to strut their stuff on a nightly basis. The path to greener pastures in The Association often begins with breaking in to a minor league team rotation, and then sailing along as such athletes take advantage of the opportunity at hand.
But as talented as these young guns may be, the journey is still more difficult for some then others. A select talented few can't help but fall through the cracks a bit, still craving a shot to further put on display their respective immense amount of promise.
With the 2013 NBA D-League Showcase less than a week away, here are five minor leaguers who are deserving of (and would undoubtedly benefit from) more minutes on the hardwood.
James Nunnally, Bakersfield Jam
After garnering NBA consideration from teams like the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors this past summer, it's obvious Nunnally has the tools to be a pro. The swingman can score in bunches, and his offensive efforts are often propelled by his ability to shoot from all around the court.
While playing in Bakersfield this season, Nunnally has been a bold and fearless shot-taker, asserting himself whenever given the chance. Luckily, such aggressiveness has so far paid off for him. The UC Santa Barbara product is averaging an efficient 8.4 points on 46% from the field, in just 13.8 minutes per contest.
His minutes have been sporadic off the bench thus far, as the NBA assignees in town have gotten the benefit of the doubt over Nunnally again and again. That said, as he's gotten more playing time as of late, the 22 year old has scored double-digit points in his last four outings.
Phil Jones, Los Angeles D-Fenders
Jones is a player who has had quite the different journey towards the NBA, having spent previous seasons overseas. Perhaps a bit overshadowed by some of his other talented teammates whom are also close to reaching The Association, Jones has begun attempting to make his mark once again since returning from an injury that slowed him down earlier this month.
The big man is a finesse type player on offense with a jumper that extends further than most athletes his size. What's more, he enjoys using his long wingspan to swat away various opponent shots before they know what hit them. Needless to say, Jones' savvy skills on both sides of the court make him quite a versatile option.
In addition to averaging one block in just 10.4 minutes per contest this season, the 27 year old's latest performance was filled with promise. In just 13 minutes of play during his team's 105-102 loss to the Energy on Saturday, Jones made the most of his time. Playing efficiently, the big man added 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots.
Vance Cooksey, Iowa Energy
Before catching on with Rio Grande Valley Vipers last season, Cooksey served as starting point guard for the Texas Legends. In 32 games with Texas (25 starts), the floor general averaged 8.8 points, 5.3 assists, and 1.2 steals.
The promise Cooksey put on display with the Legends prompted the Bulls to take a chance on him during training camp. Though he failed to make the roster, Cooksey undoubtedly owns a steady enough skill set to serve as a playmaker off the bench for a number of NBA squads.
The Pikeville product's game revolves around finding his teammates in the right spots and running the floor. Clearly an unselfish player, Cooksey has received less minutes in Iowa due to the presence of highly-regarded prospect Chris Wright. It's tough to break in when playing behind one of the D-League's best, but should Wright earn a call-up following the Showcase, Cooksey may once again get his own time to shine.
Tony Taylor, Tulsa 66ers
Whereas fellow point guard prospect Cooksey was drafted in the later rounds of this season's NBADL Draft, Taylor was taken in the second round by the 66ers.
With the 66ers serving as the Thunder's minor league affiliate, it's obvious to see Taylor dons a uniform for an organization that appreciates quality production from the floor general position.
Taylor has been one of the better players from his draft class, having not only displayed a sweet shooting stroke from behind the arc, but also a knack for getting his bevy of NBA-assignee teammates the ball effectively.
The GWU alum has had to play second-fiddle to the likes of Reggie Jackson and Chris Quinn as of late, but if Tulsa really wants to give Taylor a chance to put on an impressive passing display, they'll continue giving him a shot to play alongside some of their more talented offensive weapons. The point guard is averaging 6.2 points and 3.5 assists this season, and is doing so while shooting 52% from the field (including 47% from deep).
Luther Head, Austin Toros
Like Nunnally, Head has been impressive with regard to providing his team with a boost off the bench this season. Head is averaging 9.3 points per contest on 49% from the field.
It's surprising, however, to learn that despite his success, Head as continued to come off the pine for the Toros, behind the likes of Cory Joseph and Justin Dentmon.
As it just so happens, the smaller swingman has an obvious leg up on his fellow NBADL competition attempting to snag a spot on an NBA roster. As a six-year veteran in The Association, Head has proven previously that can inject a squad with a bit of life whenever necessary.
With big league executives surely to be taking in the Showcase next week, Head will undoubtedly join fellow vet Troy Hudson as they try to follow in Mike James' past footsteps from a year ago.