The playoffs mark the culmination of the NBA season. After going through 82 games of battling injuries, fighting through shooting slumps, building on winning streaks and piecing the entire puzzle together, 16 wins is all that separates each and every team from achieving their all elusive goal: winning a championship.
While the recipe for success is far from straightforward, getting it done requires consistency. What separates the contenders from the pretenders is the ability to sustain a high level of performance over a two month period by adopting a laser-focused attention to detail and by building a team that has a lot of depth. The NBA season is a gruelling one and it undoubtably takes a toll on the bodies of even the most supreme of athletes. Not only that, but teams are too good nowadays to let one person beat them, hence the importance of being able to look to your bench for production.
A good example of that is the San Antonio Spurs, who have put together a championship contending team year after year. While Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan have been the corner stones of the franchise at some point over the last 14 years, it's the front offices ability to surround them with talent that they can trust that has separated themselves from others. Parker is only Spur this season who is averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Everyone else except for Aron Baynes and newly acquired Austin Daye is getting at least 10 minutes of burn every time the Spurs suit up. They have the deepest team in the league, leading the way in bench scoring, and it has allowed them to rest their stars without having to worry about the effect it will have on the team in the long term. With the playoffs just around the corner, they are peaking at the right time and most importantly, everyone is healthy. While getting out of the Western Conference will be a dogfight, the Spurs are better suited than anyone, and their depth has put them in that position.
How teams acquire these role players varies greatly, yet over the years, call-ups from the Development League has been a popular way of bringing in fresh legs. While a large percentage of those led to just 10 or 20 day stints, many have played their way into a guaranteed contract by carving out a niche for themselves. Just this season we've seen the Memphis Grizzlies sign James Johnson from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers because his style of play fit in perfectly with their grit-n-grind system.
As you look down at the rosters for each of the likely playoff teams, the impact the D-League has had on the NBA is made very clear. From the true contenders to the teams who are just happy to extend their season, there are an abundance of players who have spent time in the D-League over the years. And now, they're contributing on teams that are competing on basketball's brightest stage.
Below is a list of just some of those players.
|Name||NBA Team||2013-2014 Season Statistics||D-League Team||Career D-League Statistics|
|Chris Andersen||Miami Heat||19.4 minutes, 6.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks||Fayetteville Patriots||3 games, 4.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals|
|Amir Johnson||Toronto Raptors||29.6 minutes, 11.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks||Fayetteville Patriots, Sioux Falls Skyforce||40 games, 18.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.1 steals|
|Chris Douglas-Roberts||Charlotte Bobcats||18.7 minutes, 5.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists||Texas Legends||5 games, 27.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.0 steals|
|Shelvin Mack||Atlanta Hawks||19.9 minutes, 7.6 points, 3.8 assists, 2.1 rebounds||Maine Red Claws||4 games, 17.3 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals|
|Cory Joseph||San Antonio Spurs||13.3 minutes, 4.8 points, 1.5 assists, 1.4 rebounds||Austin Toros||40 games, 17.4 points, 5.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals|
|Danny Green||San Antonio Spurs||24.2 minutes, 8.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists||Erie BayHawks, Austin Toros, Reno Bighorns||19 games, 20.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks|
|Jeremy Lamb||Oklahoma City Thunder||20.2 minutes, 8.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists||Tulsa 66ers||21 games, 21.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals|
|Perry Jones III||Oklahoma City Thunder||12.9 minutes, 3.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists||Tulsa 66ers||15 games, 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals|
|Terrence Jones||Houston Rockets||27.5 minutes, 11.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.1 assists||Rio Grande Valley Vipers||24 games, 19.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks|
|Patrick Beverley||Houston Rockets||31.7 minutes, 10.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals||Rio Grande Valley Vipers||3 games, 13.7 points, 7.0 assists, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals|
|Jeremy Lin||Houston Rockets||28.9 minutes, 12.4 points, 4.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals||Reno Bighorns, Erie BayHawks||21 games, 18.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.0 steals|
|James Johnson||Memphis Grizzlies||18.9 minutes, 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.0 steals||Iowa Energy, Rio Grande Valley Vipers||18 games, 18.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.0 blocks, 1.5 steals|
|Gerald Green||Phoenix Suns||29.0 minutes, 15.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals||Fayetteville Patriots, Florida Flame, L.A. D-Fenders||31 games, 17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals|
Some will undoubtably be expected to shovel more of a load than others, but they will all play an integral role in their teams' success. The Rockets' Terrence Jones, who spent nearly his entire rookie season with the Vipers, propelled his way into the starting lineup early in the season. Not only can he battle down low with the big men, but he can step outside, get out in transition and put the ball on the floor, which has proven to be a nightmare for opposing fours to guard. James Harden and Dwight Howard are the two who will carry the team, but if they hope to make any real noise in the post-season, Jones will have to be on top form.
For the likes of Corey Joseph and Shelvin Mack, they'll be asked to do nothing more than weather the storm by sticking to their guns and playing within the system. Both play spot minutes off the bench, but have proven that they can be relied on to keep the team's head above water while the starters get some rest. As for Gerald Green, Patrick Beverley and Chris Andersen, they'll be counted on to do what they do best, whether that is play defense, clean up the glass or put points up on the board. While they might not make a huge impact every single game, they have the potential to come up big when their team needs them the most.
The road each of these aforementioned players took to get to this stage of their career is very different. Some spent their rookie season in the D-League not as a punishment, but as a way to hone their craft instead of sitting on the bench for 82 games. Others found themselves in the D-League in pursuit of another shot in the NBA after their contract expired, leaving them with nowhere else to go. But no matter how they've got here, two things link them all together: they're going to the playoffs and the D-League saved their careers.