For the casual NBA fan, paying attention to the D-League means staying on top of which of the league's most promising young guns are closest to receiving GATORADE call-ups to The Association.
But beyond that, the minor league has organizations that care immensely about winning games and putting on a good show on a nightly basis for the local communities filled with fans who crave competitive basketball.
In Santa Cruz, the Warriors continue to ensure their (still) new home feels like a mini-Oracle arena, complete with roaring fun and lively excitement. While there's plenty that goes into capturing such an atmosphere behind the scenes as well, Kiwi Gardner has undoubtedly continued to do his part on the NBADL hardwood in the meantime.
Drafted by the Warriors in one of the later rounds of last month's D-League Draft, the YouTube sensation has emerged as an instant fan-favorite in Santa Cruz. A little fireball of fun, Gardner is a potential instant spark plug off the bench at any moment.
The 20 year old has certainly played into his team's early success to start off the season. To date, Gardner has averaged 6.2 points (on 56% from the field and 43% from deep) in just 8.2 minutes per contest. While his numbers may not appear all too imposing or overwhelming, he's otherwise as efficient as they come. What's more, standing at just 5'7" and weighing in at about 155 pounds, it's hard not to root for a player of Gardner's stature.
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As efficient as they may be, Gardner's numbers may be a tad deceiving as well. Alas, he's not simply one to pour in six points during a given contest and then just sit down for the night. Instead, the Warriors have used the young gun in a unique way (a la Nate Robinson, coincidentally) throughout the year.
Coach Casey Hill and his staff seem to understand quite well the exact dosage of Gardner their team needs at a given moment. When it's time, they know exactly how to light the match under the guard, allowing him to explode onto the court and fill it up offensively to provide Santa Cruz with a much needed boost.
As perfect evidence, Gardner's top three individual performances this season have come in rather exciting fashion. The guard scored 18 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists through 27 minutes in his team's December 22nd win. In an earlier contest on December 12th, Gardner scored a season-high 23 points on 9 of 10 shooting in just an astonishing nine minutes of play. A week prior (December 6th), the youngster bounced off the bench to score 8 points in only five minutes of play, but managed to get to the charity stripe six times, remaining perfect and sinking each shot.
Needless to say, though Gardner may not be at the top of the list for the next potential NBA call-up, he's been making the most of the minutes he does receive, and knows all too well just how to excite the home crowd at the same time.