After being traded from the Houston Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder, rookie Jeremy Lamb played 21 games for the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA D-League last season. Lamb was the highest draft pick (12th overall) to spend time during his rookie season in the D-League last year. Looking at this year's draft class, can we predict who will be the highest first round draft pick assigned this season?
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, NBA teams are utilizing the unlimited amount of assignments in which they can hand out to players with three years or less service. In fact, Lamb was assigned ten times last season. It helps that OKC has a single affiliate relationship with Tulsa, which allows a higher number of assignments to take place more conveniently. Lamb's rookie season will likely be duplicated by future first rounders, but where will the latest D-League dividing line be in this year's draft class?
Prior to the 2012 NBA Draft, the highest first rounder since the 2009 NBA draft to record a stint during their rookie season in the NBADL, was Cole Aldrich (11th overall, 2010). Aldrich, acquired by the Thunder in a draft day swap with New Orleans, was assigned later in his rookie season to the 66ers. He played in 21 games and averaged 10.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 29.3 minutes.
Since 2009, the other two highest first round selections that played a portion of their rookie season in the NBADL, were Earl Clark (14th overall,2009), and Marcus Morris (14th overall, 2011). As a member of the Phoenix Suns, Clark logged just three games with the Iowa Energy, but averaged 34.4 minutes. Morris played 11 games for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets single affiliate), and averaged 30.0 minutes.
With the thirteenth overall selection being the rough average in the past four NBA drafts, this year's thirteenth pick should be used as a guide for predicting the highest first rounder this upcoming season,. Also, with the exception of Anthony Bennett to Cleveland, the remaining top eight draft picks were selected by teams without a NBADL single affiliate. Thus, ascending from Portland's 10th overall pick C.J. McCollum, we can potentially decipher which first rounder will indeed end up in the NBADL this season, and establish this year's D-League Divide line.
Michael Carter-Williams (11th overall, Philadelphia), Steven Adams (12th overall, Oklahoma City), and Kelly Olynyk (13th overall, traded to Boston), seem like possibilities as well judging from where they were taken in the draft, and also due to their respective NBA teams having single NBADL affiliates.
Without seeing any of these rookies actually play against NBA talent (which will change very soon due to NBA Summer League), its difficult to project D-League assignments for the aforementioned players. However, based on the trends and similarities from the previous four drafts, the NBA D-League will surely witness some first round talent this upcoming season.