Omari Johnson - With Maine Red Claws from 2014-2016
One of the more reoccurring characters in the ongoing saga that is the D/G League over the six seasons or so has been the talented 6’9 forward known as Omari Johnson. Despite a forgettable run with Oregon State and three seasons playing in Canada and Spanish ACB league, Johnson entered the D-League during the 2014-15 season and was immediately able to shine as one of the best league’s best forwards.
While being on the depth chart with Romero Osby gave him limited time, he was still able to make the most of it as he averaged 15.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on 44% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc on 7.5 attempts in only 26 minutes per game.
Although the per-game numbers didn’t improve from one season to the next, the young forward worked successfully to become a more efficient player for the 2015-16 campaign. Now part of the starting lineup for all 50 games, he was able to shine as a key player for the 31-20 Claws by putting up 15.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists on 45% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc on 7.7 attempts per game. Those numbers boosted his True Shooting Percentage from 56% to 58%.
In the five seasons since that campaign, he’s shared time between playing in Lithuania and the G League with clubs like the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Memphis Hustle. Although he’s only played a total of 75 minutes in the NBA over the course of his career, it’s clear that the forward has been able to use his soft perimeter stroke to anchor a successful professional career.
Coty Clarke - With Maine Red Claws in 2015-16 season
At the same time that Johnson firmly established himself as one of the best forwards in the league during the 2015-16 season, a former Arkansas forward was trying to make his own name in the dog-eat-dog world of the NBA D-League. In a similar vein to Johnson, Clarke’s minutes were limited due to the presence of James Young and Malcolm Miller.
Despite that, he was able to shine as one of the league’s best rookies through averaging 16.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals on 51% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc on 4.2 attempts in only 26 minutes per game. Weirdly enough, those numbers were good enough to be part of the All-D-League 2nd team but not on any of the All-Rookie teams.
The 6’7 forward’s path towards being one of the best young forwards in the league during that season was due a diverse skill-set which allowed him to drive to the rim with both his left and right hand, pushing it up the court in transition, snagging offensive rebounds, and being an efficient perimeter shooter. Those skills have allowed him to have a successful career in the four subsequent seasons as he’s been able to shine in Russia, Puerto Rico, the Adriatic League, and Euroleague.
Although Clarke is now well removed from his brief stint in the D-League, Red Claws should always remember him for his great run for the team back in 2016.
Frank Gaines - With Maine Red Claws in 2013-14 season
A few seasons before Johnson and Clarke were able to use their perimeter prowess to be able to shine in the D-League, there was a man named Frnak Gaines. Unlike that duo, he entered the league as an under-the-radar prospect through spending his college career with the University of Fort Wayne, which stood as a mediocre team in the Summit League during his run in the school.
While a lot of folks around the D-League may not have known much about him when he made his way to Maine, they were forced to learn about him through how he was able to grow through the year and establish himself as one of the league’s best scorers. In 48 games, the 6’3 guard averaged 22.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.3 steals on 46% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc.
Those efficient numbers allowed him to maintain a 59% True Shooting Percentage, which stood as his best TS% until his 2018-19 campaign with Italy’s Red October Cantu. Gaines’ efficient play led to plenty of accolades which include: Most Improved Player of the Year, All-NBA D-League Homorable Mention and a spot on the All-Rookie 1st Team, where he joined current NBA veterans Robert Covington and Seth Curry.
Chris Wright - With Maine Red Claws from 2011-2014
Although it was eight years ago, I vividly remember the first D-League game that I watched. Sitting in a bed at a Howard Johnson’s in La Crosse, the mediocre hotel wi-fi was good enough to allow me to watch a YouTube stream of a game between the Canton Charge and Maine Red Claws. While I came in the game excited to watch top rookie prospects Kevin Jones and Kris Joseph, there was a certain forward that had the type of energy and athleticism that I didn’t really expect to see in a minor league. That man was Chris Wright, who put up 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists on 10-14 from the field, 2-3 from 3, and 2-2 from the free throw line in a 123-114 victory over that team.
Over the rest of the season, Wright continued to wow an 18-year-old version of myself through being one of the finest two-way players in the D-League. During that season, he averaged 18.3 points, 2 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.5 blocks on 51% from the field. Although the league awarded him with being part of the All-Defensive 1st Team and All-NBA D-League 3rd Team, I felt like that wasn’t enough given how spectacular he was for Maine during that season.
In the following year, Wright was able to recapture that magic. For a Red Claws team that finished the year with a lackluster 19-31 record, the athletic forward shined through averaging 19.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.4 blocks on 47% from the field. Although his offensive efficiency definitely took a minor step in the wrong direction, he was still rightfully looked at as one of the league’s best through being part of the All-NBA D-League 2nd Team and All-Defensive 2nd Team.
That 2013-14 season represented the end of Wright’s tenure with the Red Claws as he would make the trek to Turkey during the following season. In the six years since his last run in Portland, Maine, Wright has traded off between time in the G League with the OKC Blue and runs with overseas squads like Maccabi Rishon LeZion in Israel and Turow Zgorzelec in Poland.