By: Zachariah Blott
A lot of NBA franchises feel that they are one piece away from contending, or at least one piece away from building toward respectability. And although fans want to wheel and deal half their team for Chris Bosh to make it happen (and may even think it’s possible), clubs often need to make subtle, simpler acquisitions that add a new wrinkle to their system or philosophy. Enter the NBA D-League, which we’ve recently featured on ETB in a two-part interview D-League Digest’s Steve Weinman. (In case you missed them, catch up first with Part I, then Part II.)
The NBA Development League pits hundreds of “minor leaguers” against each other for a shot at the big leagues. A lot of these guys have played out a few 10-day contracts in the NBA, but they all want to return and get some stories to tell their grandchildren, like Sundiata Gaines has. Some of them have the skills to do just that.
Here are five D-League players who could make an impact for the right club right now. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on this league, but I’ve looked at information about numerous players such as size, production, efficiency, how they faired in the NBA if they had previous call-ups, opinions of D-League experts like Weinman, and considerations for transferable skills beyond scoring, which none of these guys will be asked to do at the next level anyway.
– Kurt Looby, C: Teams that need a defensive presence in the middle should sign Kurt Looby. The 6-10, 230-pound center gets after every shoot, swatting away 3.1 per game in only 25 minutes. When opponents do get their shots off cleanly, Looby is there to clean up misses, collecting 7.9 rebounds. He has the size and attitude to be aggressive around the hoop, something several NBA teams could use.
Additionally, he doesn’t demand the ball on offense—which he wouldn’t get in the NBA—but he hits the ones he takes (6.2 career ppg, 56% FG). He’d fit in well with a team like Portland that has lost both of their centers for the year and are currently starting the 37-year-old Juwan Howard, a 6-9 power forward, in the middle. The Trail Blazers have enough scorers, but LaMarcus Aldridge and Howard aren’t exactly prolific defenders or rebounders; they could clearly use some help.
– Dwayne Jones, FC: Jones is absolutely annihilating the D-League with a ridiculous 15.4 rebounds per, including 6.2 offensive. Nobody can hang with this guy’s talent underneath at that level, and he’s also done well in his time up in the league. In 80 career NBA games, Jones has averaged 2.4 rebounds in 7.9 minutes (3.3 min/reb, 17.4 Rebound%), and he’s connected on 33 of his 65 shots, good for 51%.
Jones is 6-11 and 250, so he could definitely handle the pounding in the paint at the next level. A team such as Golden State could use the inside presence of Jones because they’re a terrible rebounding team, and Andris Biedrins has had nagging back problems that are limiting his production. Jones could provide valuable minutes to most teams’ frontcourts, and definitely to the Warriors’.
Three more NBA Development League players highlighted after the break…
– Mike Harris, F: Harris is built like a small forward (6-6, 235), but plays like a power forward. He’s blowing up the minors right now, putting up 26.9 and 10.2 per, plus he’s shooting 58%, and he’s stepping outside for almost 1 trifecta per game. You want to know what dominance looks like? How about point-rebound game pairs like 25-18, 35-12, and 48-24. Yes, forty-eight and twenty-four.
He’s played in 19 career games with the Rockets, doing just fine in his mixed-forward role in shooting 51% and grabbing 3 rebounds in 9 minutes per. Detroit could definitely find a place for Harris, who has the instincts and swagger to hang with the big boys. SF Tayshaun Prince has faced injury problems all year, and though rookie Jonas Jerebko is contending for All-Rookie First Team honors, the rest of their forwards have been underwhelming at best. Similar to Jerebko, Harris could provide the energy and attacking mentality to become a fan favorite off the Pistons’ bench. (This is probably the best Ukranian league highlights video you’ll ever see).
– Antonio Anderson, G: A number of teams are now depending on defensive-minded wings who are also capable of playing smart offense without scoring. Anderson fits this mold perfectly. He makes good decisions at both guard positions (6-3 A-TO rate, 48% FG, 16 ppg), but he doesn’t possess enough of a shot or handle to be a scorer in the NBA. Anderson was named MVP of the 2008 Conference USA Tournament over fellow Memphis teammates Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, so the guy can impress, even next to legit talent. And he is one hell of a defender.
He’s quick, has a great wingspan, and he hustles his tail off. So who needs a defensive stopper willing to take on any and all top-scoring wings? Other than everyone, the Los Angeles Clippers have bad perimeter defenders, most of whom are much smaller and weaker than Anderson (6-6, 215). Their Defensive Rating is only in the vicinity of the league average right now because of their frontcourt, so Anderson could provide a lot of value to this club.
– Maurice Baker, PG: The 30-year-old won’t be winning any foot races, but his basketball IQ is high enough to have a place in the league. He knows how to flat out orchestrate an offense. His A-TO rate is always in the 2:1 neighborhood, and he is a crafty scorer with a decent outside jumper that allows him to have the occasional 20-plus-points outburst (think Derron Williams: he can shoot, and he continually smarts his way to the rim against more athletic opponents).
New Orleans would be wise to sign Baker as soon as possible. Chris Paul is out for a while, rookie Darren Collison can’t play the point 48 minutes a game, and James Posey is not a backup PG, even in a pinch. Baker is probably a better shooter than Collison, and he’d be more than capable of playing 15 minutes off the bench and keeping the Hornets offense running smoothly. I know the temptation is to go with a flashy youngster, but sometimes you need a steadying hand to play it smart.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.
Antonio Anderson Photo Credit: Icon SMI