Twelve seasons ago, Trevor Ariza broke into the NBA as a second round draft pick of the New York Knicks. He certainly wasn't the player he is today, but then again, most players aren't. Instead, Ariza was as raw of a prospect as ever. He boasted some tremendous athleticism, but also a poor jump shot, and his instincts on both ends of the floor needed to be developed. Defensively, he needed to be more aggressive, and offensively, he needed to have better awareness off the ball.
Then Knicks' coach Larry Brown wasn't convinced, sporadically altering Ariza's minutes during his rookie campaign in 2004-05. It took Ariza arguably a few seasons to really coming his own, with a breakout season (coupled with a consistent and clearly defined role) came with the Lakers in 2008-09.
The D-League certainly wasn't as prevalent back then, but if NBA teams believed in the value as much as they do now, there's no doubt Ariza was the type of prospect that could've used some catered attention along with more game reps as he came into his own. Luckily, the minutes came his way, but such opportunities don't necessarily come along for everyone. Ariza is able to create good spacing on the court, can hit the occasional long range jumper, and has the confidence necessary to slash and attack the basket. It took him time to develop, but being a complementary player who does plenty of little things, it probably makes others wonder if such a player can be found still scratching the surface (much like Ariza was twelve years ago) in the D-League.
If scouts and/or executives opt to look around, Kadeem Jack certainly has a lot of the same tools and potential Ariza had at the time he came up. An affiliate player for the Mad Ants via the Indiana Pacers this year, Jack's athleticism challenges that of the best minor league prospects. He's aggressive around the basket, both when fighting for boards or utilizing his long frame to pester opponents on the defensive end. Jack often goes full speed on the court, which means the decisions he makes aren't always the most mature ones. But he has time to develop such instincts, much like Ariza did. The benefit here is that Jack has the flexibility to learn on the fly with more minutes coming his way in Fort Wayne.
Jack isn't the most polished offensive player, but his hustle on both ends of the floor clearly has a special impact for his team. Consistently a leader in plus/minus, the young gun currently boasts the second-highest NetRating on the Mad Ants. The NBA is full of players who can score the basketball, but such players often have difficulty putting forth a consistent attack for a 48 minute period. Teams are in need of energy guys, athletes who can pick their teammates up when there's a lull in the action and provide a necessary boost. Jack is averaging 5.3 points (on 44% from the field and a 40% clip from deep) and 3.3 rebounds in just under thirteen minutes of play. Such statistics aren't overwhelming, but projecting them out towards 24 or 36 minutes, there's reason to believe he has some Ariza in him.
That's exactly how Ariza began to make an impact, and Jack seemingly has similar capabilities. Whereas he's not starting and/or receiving the most minutes on his team, perhaps that's alright. The type of role Jack is playing for Fort Wayne off the bench is arguably similar to the one he would play in the NBA, making it easier for big league decision-makers to see how he would fit early on.
Developing NBA prospects into D-League stars isn't the objective for NBA teams, obviously. Jack is proving that a youngster can develop and hone the skills that need fine-tuning, all the while also displaying the type of impact he can have on the next level.