When former Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe announced he would forego his senior season at Kansas to play in the D-League, it was a small step forward for the minor league of The Association. Tharpe's main reason for leaving Kansas was to be closer to his daughter Amara, who is 2-years-old. The D-League presented an unique opportunity to make a living playing basketball while being able to take care of his daughter, even though Tharpe was 22 credits away from graduating.
Regardless of the reasons, Tharpe's next stop is the D-League and it's time to see what he can bring to the table. He's hoping to follow in the footsteps of players like P.J. Hairston and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who made the successful jump from the D-League to being selected in the NBA Draft.
At Kansas, Tharpe was often overshadowed by stars. He was responsible for feeding the ball to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid last season, two of the three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. The season before that, it was Ben McLemore, who turned into a lottery selection by the Sacramento Kings. These players have ascended into the NBA as top flight rookies while Tharpe has been left at the crossroads.
The 170 pound guard had modest production at KU, with his minutes and production increasing as he grew older. In his sophomore season, Tharpe averaged 19.4 minutes per game while scoring 5.5 points and dishing out 3.1 assists. Last season, Tharpe saw his minutes bumped up to 29.4 minutes per game. The increase in minutes increased his production, and he averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 assists per game. More important, Tharpe started to shoot the ball better, increasing his field goal percentage from 34% to 44% from his junior to senior seasons.
His production increased as he grew older. In his sophomore season, Tharpe averaged 19.4 minutes per game while scoring 5.5 points and dishing out 3.1 assists. Last season, Tharpe saw his minutes bumped up to 29.4 minutes per game. The increase in minutes increased his production, and he averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 assists per game. More important, Tharpe started to shoot the ball better, increasing his field goal percentage from 34% to 44% from his junior to senior seasons.
But, this isn't to say that Tharpe didn't suffer from adversity along the way. Just last season, Tharpe lost his starting job to freshman Frank Mason in December, before gaining it back with productive spurts.
The next step for Tharpe is the D-League. Andrew Wiggins won't be present to throw lobs too, but this opportunity gives Tharpe something he didn't experience as a Jayhawk: the keys to a team. There was always someone above him at Kansas and the D-League can provide the opening to be the starring attraction.
He may be the smallest man on the court at all times, but Tharpe plays the point guard position well. Though the sample size was small, Tharpe had a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio his junior year and a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. Besides his distributing skills, playing a Division I basketball schedule proves that Tharpe can successfully run a team at a high level, which should bode well for his D-League career.
This season in the D-League will give Tharpe the opportunity to pen his own revenge story. After a rocky, up-and-down stint at KU, the odds are stacked against him. Though, Tharpe still has a chance to put together a full season as a lead player and prove his worth.
If Tharpe deserves to be on an NBA roster, he will thrive in the D-League. If he runs on the court and turns out an unsuccessful season, then the dreams of playing in the League are over. What Naadir Tharpe will show up this season? The player that showed up small during Kansas' biggest game of the season, or the guard who dropped 23 points, four assists and six rebounds on ninth ranked Iowa State, then 21 points and six assists on eight ranked Oklahoma State?
That remains to be seen.