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Why The Versatility of Grant Hill Holds Key For NBA D-League Prospects

An exploration into D-League players who have gotten called up to the NBA has led to a simple conclusion for NBA hopefuls to strive towards.

Sean Dougherty-USA TODAY Sports

Now in its 15th year of existence, the NBA D-League has continued to gain legitimacy amongst the basketball community. Once regarded as being on par with many of the other United States leagues that existed, such as the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association, the NBADL has grown into a direct feeder system to the NBA, one that continues to provide talent that can make an impact right away.

With over 400 call-ups throughout its history, the D-League has had stars like Hassan Whiteside, Reggie Jackson and Rudy Gobert all call it home for a period of time. Given my own personal interest in the reasons behind each of these call-ups, I took it upon myself to research whether or not there were any trends or patterns regarding which types of players get called up.

After gathering more than 300 stat lines (if a player was called up more than once during a single season, their season would only be counted once), the average D-League call-up produced as follows:

MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% RPG APG STL BLK TO PF eFG% TS% T/O% PTS
37.4 6.1 12.5 0.478 1.1 2.9 0.378 3.5 4.6 0.760 6.2 3.3 1.2 0.7 2.8 2.5 0.532 0.575 14.70% 16.7

This level of production stands out, and after some further digging, these numbers were strikingly similar to former first-round pick and seven-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill:

MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% RPG APG STL BLK TO PF eFG% TS% T/O% PTS
33.9 6.2 12.8 0.483 0.2 0.7 0.314 4.1 5.4 0.769 6.0 4.1 1.2 0.6 2.4 2.3 0.492 0.551 13.66% 16.7

While the overall similarity is pretty stunning on its own, it speaks to what kind of production is necessary to earn an NBA call-up. Many players come into the league with the mindset that they will stand out through their scoring, but as the statistics show it takes much more than that to grab the attention of NBA teams.

Advanced statistics and analytics are beginning to take a stronger hold over NBA front offices and with that, the role of the one-dimensional scorer is on the downturn. Teams will continually pass over players whose only NBA-ready skill is their scoring as they more than likely already have someone, or multiple players, on the roster that can shoulder the scoring load. What teams are looking for are guys that can fill a certain role, such as a tough perimeter defender or a lights-out three-point shooter.

With the NBA shifting to a faster-paced style of play with an increased emphasis on floor spacing, this need for versatility (a trait Grant Hill was known for) is even more important for D-Leaguers to earn their spot at the next level. Being able to defend multiple positions and hit outside shots like former Iowa Energy forward Anthony Tolliver will catch the eye of scouts, as will being a ball-hawk on the perimeter and out-rebounding everyone else at your position like former Westchester Knicks guard Langston Galloway.

It's safe to say that neither of those players are at the level that Grant Hill played at during his prime and no one expects a D-League call-up to be, but the fact that they put in the work to develop other portions of their game is what ultimately made them stand out.

Versatility is king and according to the numbers, it's the key for D-Leaguers to get the call to the NBA.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.