The nature of the D-League and what it stands for lends itself to change, so when teams lose players seemingly out of nowhere it tends to be business as usual. Players are called up to the NBA for opportunities and sometimes -- as in the case here -- they obtain international deals that allow them to play on a larger stage. Earlier this week, the Santa Cruz Warriors announced that they had indeed lost a player to international waters.
Official: Forward Mitchell Watt has left the Santa Cruz Warriors to pursue other career opportunities.
— Santa Cruz Warriors (@DLeagueWarriors) December 22, 2014
Watt was averaging 4.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in nine games with the Warriors this year, and though he was only playing 14.4 minutes a night, his presence will surely be missed.
Then, on Christmas morning, another bombshell dropped involving the Santa Cruz Warriors and this time it was about a much more instrumental piece of the roster.
Hearing that Joe Alexander, once a promising Milwaukee Bucks draftee, signing with Maccabi for $110k.
— David Pick (@IAmDPick) December 25, 2014
Alexander is a massive loss for this team which has started the NBADL season at 9-4. Alexander has seemingly resurrected his career now that he's back to full health, all the while averaging 21.7 points and 8.0 rebounds for the Warriors through 13 games. Not only was he putting up big numbers, but the big man was very efficient shooting 55.3 percent from the floor and 86.3 percent from the charity stripe.
Again, D-League teams are used to things like this going down at any point during the season and they understand that their players are not only auditioning for NBA teams, but all professional teams around the world. Clearly Euroleague power Maccabi felt that Alexander was worth a nice contract and Joe couldn't pass it up especially since he was making $19K for the Warriors.
The question now is, how does Santa Cruz move on and who is going to get the minutes that are now available?
Size is gold in the D-League. The league is very guard-heavy but quality bigs are very difficult to come by, so the Warriors don't just have a spare starter-quality power forward lying around on their bench. They do, however, have plenty of talent to plug into the gaping hole Alexander has left. The most logical choice is Taylor Griffin. Griffin stands at 6'7 so he's an undersized power forward in NBA terms, but in the D-League he can fill the role.
Griffin has averaged 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game as a reserve this season. He's shooting 50 percent from the floor and 88.2 percent from the line, and he adds the threat of an outside shooter as well as he's shooting 50 percent (10-20) from deep this year. More than that, Griffin has been a starter before in Santa Cruz. He started 44 of 48 contests during the 2012-13 season and averaged 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.
The other option to go with an even smaller lineup and role Mychel Thompson out as their power forward. Thompson stands 6'6 and has been great for the Warriors this year averaging 10.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 23 minutes as a reserve and starter (he has four starts). Thompson adds the versatility of another outside shooter for Santa Cruz, but could definitely have some trouble on the defense end guarding other power forwards around the league.
One thing is clear, the Warriors do not have an easy replacement for the size and skill lost with Alexander (6'8) or Watt (6'10). Multiple players are going to have to step up and help fill the scoring void and that includes Aaron Craft who has been an excellent facilitator so far this year but has struggled to score only averaging 6.7 points a night on 38 percent shooting (20 percent from deep).
The only consistent thing you can count on in the D-League is that there will be change. Other than that, the players that are left can't fret over lost teammates because now is their opportunity to step up and prove their worth.