This weekend,the basketball world's attention will be centered around Indianapolis for the Final Four. While the majority of that focus will be on which teams head to the National Championship game on the following Monday, NBA fans will use the opportunity to scout the future stars of the league. Between the final four teams (Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky) there are a bevy of lottery-bound prospects, which includes Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky's Karl Towns, who are both looked at as viable first overall picks.
Nevertheless, there's still a slew of talented players who were never provided that same opportunity. Despite this, those unknown, small school players are able to keep their NBA dreams alive through the D-League. In this piece, we're going to take a look at a handful of small school talents that have made their marks in both the D-League and as potential NBA prospects.
Jerrelle Benimon- Towson
Since Jerrelle Benimon stepped foot in Towson during the summer of 2012, he's always maintained that reputations as a "big fish in a small pond". Despite being there for only two seasons, Benimon etched his name as one of the best players in conference history, as he was named CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Player of the Year in both seasons. In those two seasons, Benimon averaged 18 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
As will be a theme throughout this piece, Benimon was able to carry over those lofty numbers to the NBA D-League. After an unsuccessful training camp stint with the Denver Nuggets, Jerrelle Benimon made his way to the Idaho Stampede. While Idaho stumbled out of the gate (and never really got its footing), Benimon immediately made his mark as one of the best players in the entire league. During November, Benimon averaged 17.8 points, 15.3 boards and 6 assists per game. And from that point until now, Benimon was able to maintain that high level of play.
From an offensive standpoint, Benimon might be the most well-rounded player in the entire league. Within the grand scheme of the offensive game, there really isn't anything that Benimon doesn't excel in. As a pick-and-roll partner for the bevy of guards that have manned Idaho's back court, Benimon has stood as an extremely dangerous player. For a 6'8 forward, Benimon looks extremely comfortable with handling the ball. As he cuts to the paint, Benimon is reminiscent of a charging bull, as he remains focused on the rim even when there's one or two defenders in his way. That aggressive mindset has led to Benimon shooting an impressive 68% from inside the paint.
Sticking with his work from inside the paint, the 6'8 Benimon has used that aggression to be one of the best offensive rebounders in the D-League, by averaging 3.1 offensive boards per game.
Perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of Benimon's all-around offensive game would be his natural passing instincts. For somebody that can be so aggressive, it's strange, but yet awesome to see him make those tight reads that you normally see from point guards. Because of that, Benimon becomes extremely difficult to guard because he can either drive to the paint or dish it off to a guard. That facilitating ability is showcased by Benimon averaging 4.4 assists per game.
Shawn Jones - Middle Tennessee State
When it comes to Middle Tennessee State within the wide scope of college basketball, even the most knowledgeable insider probably wouldn't know much about the inner-goings of the team. While it usually wouldn't be much of an issue, that lack of knowledge prevented the basketball world from knowing much about power forward Shawn Jones.
Coming off a four-year career at Middle Tennessee State, Jones made his way to the Sioux Falls Skyforce as an affiliate player. While Jones wasn't able to make as smooth a transition to the D-League as Jerrelle Benimon, he was eventually able to become comfortable with playing alongside top prospect Khem Birch.
Once he became comfortable, Jones was able to truly showcase the level of play that led to him being named Conference USA Player of the Year in 2014. In a similar way to Benimon, the majority of Jones' offense comes in pick-and-rolls. Jones displays an impressive amount of quickness, as he consistently barrels his way to the paint. While his 6'8, 240 pound frame might not sound too imposing, he's able to combine quickness with an underestimated level of strength.
That strength is mostly showcased with his work on the offensive glass. Jones is able to use his muscular frame to box out, get in position, and ultimately grab the board. Those traits has led him to averaging 4.3 offensive boards per 36 minutes.
Although it isn't a huge part of his offensive repertoire, Jones does improved as a mid-range shooter over the course of the season. That improvement is evident by Jones shooting 42% from between 16-24 feet during March. While it isn't a sample size, it's a pretty good example of him potentially being able to be an efficient mid-range shooter in the future.
Willie Reed - St. Louis
If you're a follower of the @RidicUpside Twitter account (which you should be), you'd probably know that we're pretty big fans of Willie Reed. And why shouldn't we be? During his three year stint with the D-League, he's continued to be one of the most consistently solid players in the entire league.
Prior to the start of his D-League stint, Willie Reed spent two seasons with the University of Saint Louis. However, Reed's career with the school was struck short before the start of his junior year, as he was dismissed from the school.
In the years that followed that incident, Reed has done a fantastic of both redeeming his reputation, and growing as a player. As far as his on-court work, Reed has slowly evolved into one of the best all-around players in the the D-League.
During his initial two seasons in the D-League with the Springfield Armor, Reed was mainly looked at as a defensive specialist with a limited offensive game. During that time, Reed averaged nearly two blocks per game, while also helping the Armor be one of the best defensive teams in the entire league.
However, his transformation as an all-around player reached its plateau during the current season. With both Grand Rapids and Iowa, Willie Reed has started to make his name as a pretty well-rounded offensive weapon. Among the offensive improvements that Reed has made, perhaps the most impressive would be his work as a post-up scorer. Working mainly from the right block, Reed utilizes a wide array of post-up moves, which include a left-handed hook, turnaround jumper, and a drop step that gives him an easier look at the rim.
Eric Griffin - Campbell
Just a few days ago, RU featured a piece looking at the NBA potential of Texas Legends forward Eric Griffin. Here's a look at more of what he can do, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Similar to the other players that we've profiled so far, a lot of Eric Griffin's progression as a player has actually happened after his college career wrapped up. Following a college career, which featured separate stints at Hiwassee and Garden City Community College before heading to Campbell, where he was named to the First-Team All-Big South during his senior season. Following that unusual college career, Griffin embarked on an overseas excursion, where he made his way to Italy, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
After that worldwide journey, Griffin made his way back to the US by making his way to the Mavs' Summer League roster. And as will be common from Griffin, the forward was able to utilize that Summer League opportunity, which is evident by this massive dunk.
Griffin has used this opportunity with the Texas Legends to showcase himself as an all-around talent. While his athletic feats amazes the Legends faithful, Griffin has showed himself to be effective away from the rim. On 5.4 perimeter attempts per game, Griffin is shooting an impressive 37%.
Jarvis Threatt - Delaware
Among the five players that have been profiled in this piece, former Delaware guard Jarvis Threatt might be the most familiar name to fans of the college game, as he's the only player to have appeared in an NCAA Tournament game. However, shortly after leading Delaware to its first NCAA Tournament game in 15 years, Threatt was removed from the team due to "violations of team rules".
While it took until late-February and an NBADL Dunk Contest performance until Threatt was able to have a consistent role with the RGV Vipers, Threatt never looked back once he got that opportunity. In March, Threatt exploded on the scene, as he averaged 20.1 points and 8.7 assists. Alongside that assist total, Threatt possessed an incredible 3.43 AST/TO ratio.
For a 21-year-old prospect, Threatt does an incredible job of controlling the high-powered RGV Vipers offense. While the team and Jarvis Threatt does tend to play at a fast pace, the young guard doesn't really to force any play to happen. Rather, Threatt waits for the perfect opportunity to work it to an open teammate or drive to the rim.
Threatt is one of the rare players that can combine speed with tremendous handles. He's able to use that combo to be an extremely dangerous cutter. While he does need to improve with being able to score around the basket with more consistency, Threatt is able to get to the free throw line on a consistent basis. In March, Threatt averaged 8.5 free throw attempts per game, where he shot 75% from the charity stripe.