With the 2016 NBA D-League Elite Mini-Camp getting underway in Chicago this week, it's important to realize that the grind for some of the minor league's most promising prospects never truly ends. Fresh off putting the finishing touches on yet another campaign, plenty of these respective youngsters are back at it.
After working hard to impress all season long, prospects will now have yet another special opportunity to strut their stuff. With NBA and D-League executives alike in town for the NBA Draft combine, the minor league hosts its own little showcase of sorts. It's a really interesting and opportune time to compare different talent, because big league decision-makers can get a grasp on which of the D-League's better players may be stronger fits for their NBA Summer League teams (and/or a training camp invite later in the fall, too) than perhaps a player who will likely go underrated, but probably needs a bit more seasoning to his game. The D-League gets their players prepared, arguably giving them a leg up on some of the expected second-round and/or undrafted prospects that still may need some time.
The Elite Mini-Camp isn't for everybody. Though the D-League obviously aims to feature some of its most notable players, the fact of the matter is not all prefer to participate. The harsh reality is that some turn down invitations to the camp, believing they are above having to perform --- they did enough during the season to prove their worth. Unfortunately, if that were truly the case, they'd have gone on to the NBA already. Others have already gone on to cash in on more lucrative offers overseas, and are no longer stateside. Though the camp does increase the likelihood of receiving a Summer League invite, certain players with already secured invites from NBA teams bow out to avoid injury.
Still, there's plenty of talent on display during this celebration of the D-League's best of the best. Taking part in this camp are NBA alumni, D-League all-stars and respective award winners, and sometimes even potential NBA draftees as well.
Last year, current San Antonio Spurs' guard Jonathon Simmons was considered a top performer. Even after a stellar season in Austin, Simmons still had to head to Chicago and make sure that he opened the eyes of NBA executives everywhere. Luckily for him, he did just that, playing like a man amongst boys. Perhaps realizing that the rest of the league was learning about one its best kept D-League affiliated secrets, San Antonio made sure to scoop him up. Going from shining at the mini-camp, to playing a nice role off the bench for a championship contender, is really something.
But things don't work out as easily and/or conveniently for everybody. It's safe to say Simmons had a decent amount of notoriety heading into the camp as well. The camp itself provides all prospects with a clean slate, so to speak. Those who play the best two days of basketball of their entire lives certainly turn heads; garnering praise and consideration that they would not have had, simply from playing during the regular season. This can lead to a Summer League and/or training camp invitation, in addition to perhaps an international offer later in the offseason. Shock value (with regard to giving executives and coaches something they haven't seen before) leaves a very positive lasting impression.
Perhaps a player like Legends' guard Patrick Miller will step up in similar fashion this year.
And like most things the D-League does, such an opportunity to be seen isn't just about the players. Over the course of the mini-camp, players will be guided through drills and coached during five-on-five competition by some of the best coaches the minor league has to offer. In addition to helping such youngsters shine on the court, such coaches and minor league executives are even sought out by the "big dogs" of the NBA, who want to hear their opinion about certain players after watching them all season long. There are draft experts --- those around the minor league are D-League experts. With the quality of the league's players increasing each and every year (and the minor league becoming more and more prevalent because of it), there's value in knowing about the D-League's players in and out.
The D-League continues to provide its personnel with great opportunities, and this is certainly one of them. Keeping up on this camp is a chance for fans to get a first glimpse and/or hear about players who could be flying under the radar to make NBA teams in the coming months.
**For a list of attendees, click here**