Note: This piece was written by Blog A Bull and 16 Wins A Ring contributor Vijay Vemu. You can find Vijay on Twitter at @VJVemu
Ever since its inception in 2001, the NBA D-League has slowly begun to gain a reputation as an environment where teams can develop its players. Teams such as the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder were some of the first teams to do this and now we are four teams away from having a D-League affiliate for every team.
The league has always been seen as a land of opportunity for many fringe players who are looking to get a shot in the NBA. The D-League is also now a place where many players who used to play in Association go to look for a second chance in the league. Especially with events such as the NBA D-League Elite Mini Camp, some guys can prove to one of the 30 teams why they deserve another opportunity. The event this year was once again held in Chicago and it featured some of the D-League’s most promising prospects.
Players like Chicago native Alfonso McKinnie were in attendance to display their skills to scouts. But the event also had the likes of Darius Morris, Russ Smith, and John Jenkins. They were guys who already had NBA experience that entered the NBADL Elite Mini Camp to show what had got them in the league in the first place. This camp was the perfect opportunity for these types of players to use as a starting point in their path back to the NBA. All three of them recognized this was an important moment in their basketball careers.
“Any time you get the chance to showcase your talents in front of NBA personnel, you got to always take up that opportunity,” said Morris, who played point guard for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season.
Morris spent four seasons in the NBA with two of them with Los Angeles Lakers and also spent time with the Clippers, Grizzlies, and Nets before playing the entire 2016-17 season with RGV. Known for his play-making skills, Morris was one of the players to watch for in this camp and he did not disappoint, creating shots for himself along with his teammates.
After struggling with an injury the past year, Morris is ready for another shot in the NBA and knows that the D-League and this mini-camp is the way to achieve that dream.
“This is a gateway”, Morris said when asked if this camp can be used as a stepping-stone to the next level.
“You have these 30 teams and all you need is one team to take a chance on you” he later added.
Russ Smith was also someone to watch heading into this mini-camp. The former Louisville point guard spent some time last year in Europe with Galatasary before being reacquired by the Delaware 87ers for this closing stages of this past season. Smith’s main strength is his offensive firepower, which is something he felt he displayed during the camp.
“I’m just trying to get better but I really feel like I did a really job here sticking to my niche: scoring the basketball, getting to the free throw line, and making plays for others as well”, said Smith when asked about his experience in the game.
Like Morris, Smith is a guard who is just looking for another chance and even is willing to change up his style of play to make it happen.
“It was kind of my first time really playing off the ball a lot more professionally but that’s what I wanted to do coming in”, Smith added.
He also added that he was also guarding a lot bigger players at the wing spots during the scrimmages, which is not an easy thing to do for a guy who has played point guard during whole career. For players like Smith, they have to show that they are versatile and can be useful in multiple spots on the floor, even if it means stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new.
John Jenkins was another name at the camp that was familiar to a lot of the NBA scouts. He spent three years in Atlanta before landing on the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns before most recently playing for the Westchester Knicks this past season. Jenkins also echoed the sentiments about this camp being used as a way to get back into the league.
“You are not going to get this anywhere else”, said Jenkins when asked about the overall importance of this camp.
Although this was only a two-day camp, this was a very key time for many NBADL players. With the rise of salary caps and the introduction of two-way contracts, many teams will be willing to take a flier on a D-League guy if he shows some promise.
Especially now with the likes of Jonathan Simmons and Hassan Whiteside flourishing in the league after starting out their careers with D-League tryouts. The mini- camp was a great time for young players to show their name and for veterans like the trio mentioned above, to remind people of who they are.