D-League guard and two time All-Star Jerel McNeal was one of the most solid and consistent guards in all of NBADL with his ability to be a shutdown defender and knock down the open three. Those skills allowed McNeal to emerge as one of the hidden treasures of the league, that was until last week, when the Utah Jazz signed McNeal to a ten-day contract.
The 25 year old former Marquette Golden Eagle was one of the leaders on a Bakersfield Jam team that's currently sitting at the top of the D-League with a 34-14 record. McNeal did a terrific job transitioning to a team's main distributor at the point guard spot after being a shooting guard in his days with Marquette. Even though the team had former NBA players like Brian Butch and Damion James, McNeal was the piece that kept that Bakersfield puzzle in place. That means that his replacement will have some pretty big shoes to fill.
The man to fill those shoes seems to be Stephen Dennis, who's currently in the middle of his 2nd stint with the Bakersfield Jam. Dennis was a member of a solid Jam team that landed a spot in the D-League playoffs back in the 2010-11 season. Even though Dennis was not a starter on that team, he was still used in a key spot as an athletic wing coming off the bench who could play solid defense and penetrate to the basket.
Two years later, and Dennis has been utilized in that same capacity under head coach Will Voight. For most of the season, Dennis has been used mainly as a backup wing to step in for Damion James, Renaldo Major or McNeal. Now with McNeal gone, Dennis will be inserted into that floor general spot once again.
Dennis has adjusted pretty well as a recent starter, averaging 15.6 points, 8.3 assists and 3.6 steals over his last handful of games. People around the D-League knew what Dennis could do as a scorer, but he's really shined as the orchestrator of an offense that includes solid players like Butch, Major and James. Unlike McNeal, Dennis won't be asked to be the top player on a nightly basis, but rather just make the rest of the guys around him perform better as they look forward to the upcoming D-League playoffs.