Very few players have been able to rise up from the ashes quite like Hassan Whiteside. Three years ago, he was playing basketball for Al Mouttahed Tripoli in Lebanon. Two years ago, he was a member of the Iowa Energy. Fast-forward to 2016, and Whiteside is now he is in line for a max-deal in this upcoming free agency period.
There's no denying his rise to stardom has been meteoric. Due to the growing trend of collegiate athletes prematurely declaring for the draft and subsequently failing to make the NBA, there is a very large pool of untapped talent in the D-League waiting to be developed and discovered, much like Whiteside was by the Miami Heat. Here's a look at some of the more promising athletes who have graced the D-League hardwood, but still could be on the cusp of following in Whiteside's footsteps.
Tim Frazier, Guard, New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Maine Red Claws)
The reigning D-League MVP is already on his way to being an impact player at the next level, thanks to his recent acquisition by the injury-plagued New Orleans Pelicans. Last season, Frazier averaged 16.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 9.5 assists in 41 games for the Maine Red Claws, on his way to be selected as a D-League All Star, Rookie of the Year, and league M.V.P. Later in the campaign, he was signed by the Blazers. It was in Portland where he developed a friendship with Damian Lillard.
"I've kind of been like a fly, like a gnat," Frazier told The Oregonian. "I've been around him all day everyday; I guess he was stuck with me. I told him that — that I'm going to be stuck with you as long as I'm here. We just hit it off and became friends in the process."
Anyone that spends that much time around a natural born hard worker like Lillard is bound to pick things up, and he definitely has. Since being released by the Trail Blazers, Frazier has only continued to thrive. He returned to Maine and appeared in eight games, logging two triple-doubles and helping the team to an 7-1 record.
In four games with the Pellicans, Frazier has averaged an impressive 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals in just over 25 minutes of action per game. He could not be in a better situation to earn a large role in the future.
Jarnell Stokes, Forward, Sioux Falls Skyforce
Few players have been more impressive in the D-League than Jarnell Stokes this year. After bouncing earlier in the year, Stokes has gone on to average 20.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.2 steals-per-game with Sioux Falls. He was named a D-League All Star this season, and while he's a favorite for D-League MVP, is still shockingly without an NBA contract after an incredible season.
"I had a couple overseas offers," Stokes said to the Argus Leader. "I had a Puetro Rican offer that kind of sparked my interest. But I knew from the get-go that if I wasn't playing in the NBA, I wanted to finish out what I had done (in Sioux Falls)."
In 24 games played, Stokes has scored 14 or more points and grabbed seven or more rebounds 22 times while shooting over 65 percent from the floor — during that stretch the Skyforce went 22-2.
Vander Blue, Guard, Los Angeles D-Fenders
If Vander Blue is half as effective in the NBA as he has been in the D-League then he will be welcome on just about any squad. There has not been a player that has been nearly as consistent a scorer as Blue this season. He is currently in the middle of one of the greatest scoring stretches in D-League history, netting 20 or more points in 28 of the past 30 games and topping 28 points in 20 of the 28 games.
There are so many ways Blue can punish defenders, because he is so polished offensively. He has excellent ball-handling skills that make him deadly on the drive. He has confidence in his three-point shot and shoots a decent 33 percent from deep, but most importantly, Blue understands how to move without the basketball to get in position to get a good shot in the flow of the offense. His supreme confidence and swagger will help him once he gets in the right situation.
Russ Smith, Guard, Deleware 87ers
If there is a player that could steal NBADL MVP away from Jarnell Stokes it is number one ranked prospect Russ Smith. There is no questioning his place as top prospect after setting the D-League record for scoring on Wednesday with 65 points. He has been getting it done in Delaware all season, averaging 27.9 points, five rebounds, and 7.9 assists-per-game. It is clear that Smith has been playing with a chip on his shoulder since being waived by the Memphis Grizzlies to make room for Ryan Hollins.
Memphis Grizzlies are waiving guard Russ Smith and signing free agent Ryan Hollins, league sources tell Yahoo. Smith had contract guarantee.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 29, 2015
Ima win..— Russ Mata Mata Smith (@Sir_Saudade) December 29, 2015
Ima be successful..
Ima be successful..
I believe n myself..
I believe n myself..
Using a setback to fuel his fiery play is helping the former Louisville star. It is clear that he not only belongs on an NBA roster, but is also ready for a real role with a team. Teams are looking for guys that can come in cold off the bench and hold down the fort until the starters get back. Smith has shown that he is more than just a scorer but a well rounded guard that can facilitate an offense and be competitive on the boards. There is no questioning that he is the most complete guard in the D-League. His drive and determination to succeed paired with all of his talent will serve him well at the next level.