D-League Season Preview: Part One

D-League Season Preview:  Part One
Nov 10, 2007, 03:11 am
More D-League Content:

CJ Watson Blog
D-League Draft Recap
D-League Draft Preview

With the draft complete and training camp roster assembled, we take a look at the players and potential of each D-League team this season, as well as potentially players who might be assigned by NBA teams. In part one of our preview, we take a look at the Iowa Energy, Anaheim Arsenal, Utah Flash, Bakersfield Jam, Los Angeles D-Fenders, and Tulsa 66ers.

In other D-League News, the Utah Jazz have assigned rookie center Kyrylo Fesenko to the Utah Flash of the D-League. Fesenko becomes the second NBA player assigned this season, next to Ramon Sessions of the Bucks who will play with the Tulsa 66ers.

Iowa Energy

Mike Schmidt

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Jeff Horner/DeAnthony Bowden/Ian Young
SG: Dwayne Mitchell/Mike Efevberha/Nedu Onyeuku/Larry House
SF: Jahsha Bluntt/Luke Whitehead/Alfred Neale
PF: Nick Lewis/Doug Thomas/Fabricio Vay/Keith Gayden
C: Deji Akindele/Rob Summers/James Beasley

Roster Outlook: At point guard, Horner will be relied upon to run the show, though he lacks the athleticism possessed by many of the other point guards in the D-League. He does shoot the ball well, however, and can use screens to free himself up. At the 2, Dwayne Mitchell will be looked to as the go-to scorer, but turnovers may be a problem for him unless strides have been made with his ball-handling. Their back-up shooting guard spot is up for grabs among 2 draft picks in Mike Efevberha and Larry House, and open tryout guard Nedu Onyeuku. Jahsha Bluntt has the tools to become a solid scorer in the D-League, and Luke Whitehead has the makings of a good backup swingman. At power-forward, Nick Lewis played well in the D-League last season, and was a great value in the middle rounds of the D-League draft. Deji Akindele brings 2 years of D-League experience to the center spot. He’s not the smartest player in the world, but does bring rebounding and shot-blocking to the table as well as some easy baskets inside. Rob Summers was inconsistent throughout his career at Virginia, but has the physical tools to produce this season.

NBA Affiliates: Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat

Potentials Assignment Candidates: JamesOn Curry will likely be sent down right away by the Bulls to gain more experience at the point guard position. A pair of Heat rookies in shooting guard Daequan Cook and big man Joel Anthony could also see time in Des Moines this season. Second year players Alexander Johnson and Chris Quinn of Miami are also eligible for the D-League. Johnson spent some time on assignment with the Arkansas Rimrockers last season. For the Bulls, rookie shooter Thomas Gardner might see some time with the Energy this season, especially considering the Bulls current depth at the 2 and 3 spots. Rookies Joakim Noah and Aaron Gray are less likely to see minutes in the D-League. Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha have D-League eligibility this season, but are virtual locks to stay part of the Bulls rotation all season.

Season Outlook: The Energy will have the first waiver position, meaning they have the first pick of players who decide to sign a general D-League contract and enter the free agent pool. Former Creighton power-forward Anthony Tolliver has been mentioned as a possibility to join Iowa. Other interesting names like Justin Reed, Luke Jackson, Rawle Marshall, and Kris Lang have been mentioned as possible players for the D-League. Head coach Nick Nurse has vast coaching experience around the world, and is said to be a great X’s and O’s coach, but will be in his first season of coaching in the NBADL. The city of Des Moines appears to be quite excited about the inaugural season of the Energy, with season ticket sales doing quite well already. If a market like Des Moines succeeds, similar or larger markets such as St. Louis, Reno, Kansas City, Omaha or Cincinnati could all become interesting places for future expansion of the D-League.

Some potential struggles for the Energy may come in the half court offense, where their point guard lacks the athleticism to create with the shot clock running down, and their wing players will be limited by ball-handling ability. Interior defense also may present itself as a problem for Iowa this season.

Anaheim Arsenal

Jim Hlavac

Record in 2006-2007: 23-27, Missed Playoffs

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Guillermo Diaz/Anthony Harris/Davin White
SG: Tyrone Anderson/Clarence Sanders/Lorenzo Williams
SF: Kedrick Brown/Lodrick Stewart/Jamaal Thomas/
PF: Noel Felix/Derrick Franklin/Ivan Johnson/B.J. Walker
C: Steven Smith/Bryson McKenzie/Bruce Brown

Roster Outlook: Anaheim looks to have a nice inside-out game set up this season. Inside, the Arsenal will look to Steven Smith to duplicate his numbers from last season. Smith played in 22 games for the Arsenal last year after starting the season with the Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game before leaving for Europe.

On the perimeter, the Arsenal will be counting on rookie Guillermo Diaz to provide points. Diaz was a 2nd round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers this season after leaving Miami after his junior season. Diaz scored 17.2 points per game at Miami, but at 6’2” his future in the NBA will be at point guard and it will be interesting to see if he is asked to make the switch and if he can handle it.

The Arsenal’s first round draft pick this year was former Boston Celtic lottery pick, Kedrick Brown. The question here is which version of Kedrick Brown will arrive in Anaheim? The phenom who was a lottery pick or the bust who averaged just 3.6 points per game in 4 seasons in the NBA. Furthermore, will Brown be this year’s version of Corsley Edwards? Edwards was Anaheim’s top pick last year and showed up banged up and overweight. With similar weight problems in his past, Brown remains a looming question mark despite his talent.

Other than Smith, the returning players for Anaheim were mostly reserves last year. PG Davin White played in 45 games (11 starts) averaging 9.8ppg and 3.7apg. SF Jamaal Thomas played in 27 contests (0 starts) and averaged 8.7ppg and 3.6rpg. C Bryson McKenzie started 18 of 23 games and averaged 4.5ppg & 4.8rpg.

NBA Affiliates: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando Magic

Potentials Assignment Cadidates: PF Solomon Jones saw action in 58 games for the Hawks last season, but has only entered one game this year. Defensive specialist Mario West made the Hawks as an undrafted free agent, but has not seen much playing time in Atlanta. The only two Clippers eligible for assignment are seeing a fair amount of minutes so far - rookie PF Al Thornton (14th overall pick in 2007) is getting 19 minutes per game and 2nd year center Paul Davis is getting 10 minutes per game. Second year PF James Augustine was the lone assignee to Anaheim last year and could rejoin the team this year. In 8 games with the Arsenal last year, Augustine averaged 10.1ppg and 8.9rpg. Polish Center Marcin Gortat has yet to see action with the Magic and will likely spend time in Anaheim. The talented center had a very solid showing in Orlando over the summer, and could become the presence up front that the Arsenal clearly lack at this point. Another outside possibility from Orlando is shooting guard J.J. Reddick. Reddick's playing time has decreased significantly with Orlando this season (14.5mpg to 6.5mpg) but some of that may be due to some nagging injuries.

Season Outlook: The Arsenal look much better at this point than they did last season, both in terms of player personnel wise and organizationally. Their biggest weakness at this point appears to be a gaping hole at the center position, but their athleticism will allow them to run and gun without a true 5. Combo-forwards Steven Smith and Noel Felix could both see time filling in as a ’center’. Felix, Diaz, Stewart and Brown can all be considered elite athletes in the D-League, and the combination of these four players should indicate the style that the Arsenal will seek on the court. The lack of an interior presence on the defensive end may haunt Anaheim throughout the season, particularly against half-court oriented teams. Consistent outside shooting also may be an area that this team looks to improve, though they do have a few players capable of knocking down the long ball. The big problem in Anaheim is attracting a minor league fan base with major league teams nearby. After a shaky start last season, the Arsenal appear to be on their way up, and have fielded an exciting roster with a number of NBA prospects.

Utah Flash

Mike Schmidt

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Kevin Kruger/Aleksandar Ugrinoski//Dwayne Shackelford/Steve Barnes/Tyree Jones
SG: Michael Cuffee/John Millsap/Andre Ingram/Gary Hill-Thomas
SF: Lamar Rice/Brian Hamilton/Kevin Johnson/Tayvon Lathan
PF: Brian Jackson/Isma'il Muhammad
C: Kyrylo Fesenko/James Lang/Jeff Hagen

Roster Outlook: The Flash loaded up on point guards during the draft, selecting Kevin Kruger in the first round, followed by Croatian Aleksandar Ugrinoski in the third round. Kruger runs a team like a veteran and can shoot the three, and thus will likely be one of the better point guards in the D-League this season. Ugrinoski is only 19 years of age and has all the physical tools to play in the NBA, but must prove he can mature with his decision making and consistency. At shooting guard, Michael Cuffee has a decent shooting stroke and can get to the free throw line. John Millsap, the younger brother of Paul, played well in the summer league this year, and could become a solid rotation player. Lamar Rice played well in Switzerland last season at the 3, and Brian Hamilton has all the makings of a serviceable D-League player, primarily due to his outstanding athleticism. Power forward Brian Jackson has 3 years of D-League experience, and has a nice set of offensive skills, despite being a little soft. James Lang and Jeff Hagen both have experience, and will be a formidable duo up front. Lang must play harder and improve his conditioning to make it back up to the NBA, however.

NBA Affiliates: Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics

Potential Assignment Candidates: The Jazz have assigned rookie center Kyrylo Fesenko to the Flash. The Jazz thought highly enough of the rookie to give him a 3 year deal using small portion of the mid-level exception rather than signing him to a standard 2-year contract that most promising second rounders receive. Fesenko impressed the coaching staff during limited pre-season minutes and even drew praise from head coach Jerry Sloan, whose praise of rookies is about as common as a look at Halley’s Comet. The Ukrainian center has a nice set of moves on the low block and could end up being the best center in the league by the end of the year. Rookie shooting guard Morris Almond from Rice had a couple of solid showings in the pre-season, but looks to be out of the rotation of the Jazz this year. Some time in the D-League could help him focus on defensive improvement this season, as well as help him become more versatile offensively.

In Boston, rookie combo-guard Gabe Pruitt could benefit from some time in Utah, particularly considering his youth, lack of big-time collegiate experience, and the fact that he’s still making the transition to playing the point full time. Glen Davis has appeared in 2 games so far this year, but in limited minutes. He could benefit from the minutes in the D-League, but Boston may keep him around just so they can rest their regular rotation players during blowouts. Undrafted rookie Brandon Wallace is the most likely D-League candidate on the Celtics roster. The athletic forward has the athleticism and raw skills for the NBA, but has a long way to go before becoming a rotation player as a small forward—which Boston believes is his NBA position.

Season Outlook: The Flash did an excellent job filling the most important positions in the draft and expansion draft. Quality point guards and centers can be hard to come by in the D-League, and Utah has depth at both positions. Their success will depend on the play of their wing players, who are not as proven as many of the other starters in the D-League. Another potential issue exists with Kyrylo Fesenko, who plays the same position as James Lang, who may be the best talent already on the team. The Flash seem to have a very good grasp on how to assemble a D-League team, and could make the playoffs this year if they can grab a quality wing from the available player pool.

Tulsa 66ers

Mike Schmidt

Record in 2006-2007: 21-29, Missed Playoffs

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Ramon Sessions/Jeremy Kelley/Abe Badmus/Dwight Jones
SG: Adam Harrington/Dwight Brewington/DeAndre Rice
SF: Mike Hall/Michael Peeples/Schea Cotton
PF: Glen McGowan/Chris Ellis/Mustafa Al-Syyad
C: Scott Merritt/Keith Closs/Rashid Byrd

Roster Outlook: The assignment of Ramon Sessions to Tulsa from the Milwaukee Bucks provides the 66ers with good roster balance and depth to start the season. At center, Scott Merritt brings 3 seasons of D-League experience, and he should again be one of the more steady bigs in the league, with former Los Angeles Clipper Keith Closs as his backup. Power-forward Glen McGowan has a chance to be one of the better scorers in the league this season, and will have 2 returning players from previous seasons backing him up. Former Washington Wizard Mike Hall brings great versatility to the court, and is a great glue guy to have. In addition to great range on his shot, Hall plays solid defense and has a team-first attitude. Adam Harrington is an excellent perimeter shooter and could become a potent scoring threat at the two for Tulsa this season. Sessions has a chance to show off his distributing skills with this roster, but will need to improve the range on his shot.

NBA Affiliates: Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks

Potential Assignment Candidates: A number of NBA players could potentially join Ramon Sessions in Tulsa this season. The Dallas Mavericks have used the D-League as much as any NBA team over the past couple of seasons. Rookie big man Nick Fazekas has only played 1 game for the Mavs thus far, and could find himself on assignment as early as December. Former first rounder Maurice Ager finds himself out of the rotation in Dallas for a second season in a row, and could find himself on assignment once again. Second year guard Jose Juan Barea has impressed Dallas with his early play, and will likely not see the D-League at all this year.

The Bucks have two players in addition to Sessions eligible for the D-League, including second year guard David Noel, who has yet to appear in a game this season, and has been mentioned in the local media as a potential send-down candidate. Rookie Yi Jianlian will stay with the Bucks throughout the season.

The Knicks have used an 8 man rotation thus far this season, and have 4 players eligible to spend time with the 66ers. Rookie Wilson Chandler has yet to appear in an NBA game, and could benefit from some playing time in the D-League to develop his small forward skills. Center Randolph Morris and guard Mardy Collins are in the same situation. Second year forward Renaldo Balkman has been a key part of the Knicks rotation this season, and will receive regular playing time with the Knicks throughout the season.

Season Outlook: The 66ers have balance and depth on their roster, though they may look for another point guard in the free agent pool in case Sessions is recalled to Milwaukee. They have an experienced coach and many players with D-League experience. After missing the playoffs last year, it appears that the 66ers will be back in the thick of things this year, barring injuries or other changes to their roster. Chemistry will be important to build with this team, and could potentially create issues if there aren’t enough shots to go around. Rebounding will also be an important factor to the success of Tulsa, and interior defense could also create issues.

Bakersfield Jam

Jonathan Givony

Record in 2006-2007: 19-31, Missed Playoffs

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Yuta Tabuse/Donell Williams
SG: Jamison Brewer/ Richard Andrews/ Jovan Harris/ Jason Harris
SF: Brian Wethers/ Anthony Wilkins/ Lemar Gayle
PF: Brandon Bowman/ George Williams/O'Neal Mims/ James Peters/ Wayne Oliver
C: Roderick Riley/ Lorenzo Davis

Roster Outlook: Bakersfield has what might be considered the weakest training camp roster of any team in the D-League. To start with, they returned very little from last year—their backup point guard Yuta Tabuse, who will now be thrust into a starting role; Brandon Bowman, an athletic but inconsistent combo forward, and their backup center Roderick Riley. They were slated to pick second to last in the draft, but miscommunication (their coach did not realize that the televised broadcast of the draft lagged far behind the live action) saw them forfeit their first round pick. In the second round they took a gamble on a former NBA player in Jamison Brewer who played in the ABA after being cut from Belgium last season. It’s been a few years since he did
anything. Their next pick was a player-coach in Luxembourg last season…and so on and so forth.

NBA Affiliates: Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings

Potentials Assignment Candidates: The Warriors have four rookies on their roster, three of which (Stephane Lasme, Kosta Perovic, Brandan Wright) are out of the rotation right now. Lasme and Perovic seem like especially solid candidates to send down to Bakersfield, as neither seem particularly close to being NBA ready. Brandan Wright won’t be playing much either (“I don't play anybody who wears braces," Nelson joked), but it’s unclear if Chris Mullin will be willing to send him down. Marco Belinelli most likely stays with the big boys all season long. From their second year players, the Warriors still have Patrick O’Bryant, who they did not pick up their option on for next season. It’s unclear how that decision will factor into whether or not O’Bryant gets sent down for an extensive D-League stint, like he was last season.

The Kings have two rookies on their roster, one of whom (Darryl Watkins) would likely be an excellent candidate to send down to Bakersfield. Their other rookie, Spencer Hawes, is recovering from an injury and will probably see decent playing time this season, if only to develop him for the future. Amongst the second year players, Quincy Douby is a rotation player and not really a send-down candidate, while Justin Williams was initially brought up from the D-League, where he impressed mightily, and based off his lack of playing time so far, could very well see some time in Bakersfield this season.

Season Outlook: This is going to be a long year for Jim Harrick unless he can bring in some legit reinforcements from the available player pool. There are still many players who could still sign with the D-League, so all is not lost yet. In the interim, it will be very
interesting to see what Brian Whethers can do for the Jam. He’s an experienced wing with a scorer’s mentality, and could benefit greatly from the lack of depth on the roster. Sacramento and Golden State both have numerous players on their roster who could benefit greatly from playing in the D-League, so their generosity could play a large part in
the type of season the Jam have.

Los Angeles D-Fenders

Richard Walker

Record in 2006-2007: 23-27, Missed Playoffs

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Brian Chase/Errick Craven/Forrest Fisher
SG: Devin Green/Brian Morrison/Cecil Brown/Darren Cooper
SF: Sean Banks/Andre Patterson/Damond Williams/Martane Freeman
PF: Robert Whaley/Wendell White/Marcus White
C: Jelani McCoy/Abdoulaye N'Diaye

Roster Outlook: Returning All-Star point guard Brian Chase is expected to lend his on-the-court leadership and deadly outside shooting to a very solid D-League roster. Also returning is Devin Green, who left for Europe after only 14 games, Sean Banks, a player with undeniable ability who just needs to get his head straight, and Andre Patterson, whom the Los Angeles Lakers like immensely as evidenced by his stints on their summer league team and training camp roster. Chase, Green and Banks will all start and Patterson could see starting minutes at the PF position due to his length and activity level around the basket, despite his 6’7”, 215lb frame. The likely starter at center heading into training camp is former NBA veteran, and Los Angeles Laker, Jelani McCoy, who is fresh off brief stints playing in Italy, Spain and the Ukraine as well as for the IBL’s Santa Barbara Breakers, before training camp this season with the Denver Nuggets. McCoy, who was picked in the first round by the D-Fenders, has all the tools to be a very solid big man in the D-League, and strong play may bode well for a mid-season call-up to a team searching for depth at the center position. Challenging McCoy for minutes at center and power forward is former Utah Jazz second round pick Robert Whaley. A player, much like Banks, that has a lot of physical tools, but has yet to put it all together. Other likely candidates to make the roster are former UCLA sharp shooter Brian Morrison, USC alums Errick Craven and Abdoulaye N’Diaye, Cecil Brown out of UC Santa Barbara, and Marcus White, who averaged just under 18 points and 14 rebounds last year for Antranik Beirut.

NBA Affiliates: The D-Fenders are exclusively owned by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Potentials Assignment Candidates: The Lakers are the only team able to send players down for development to the D-Fenders. Last year Laker guard Jordan Farmar did double duty playing for both the D-Fenders in the afternoon and the Lakers in the evening, however while Farmar is still technically eligible to be sent down, he is expected to spend the entire season backing up Derek Fisher with the big club. Lakers first round draft pick Javaris Crittenton could see some minutes with the D-Fenders in a similar situation to Farmar, and an extended stretch with the team is certainly possible. The player that would appear to most benefit from being sent down is undrafted rookie Coby Karl. After a very strong Orlando Pre-Draft camp the Lakers looked very seriously at drafting the 6’5” guard, and when he went undrafted they seized the opportunity to sign him to their summer league team, training camp roster, and eventually for the season. Karl is a sweet shooting, high basketball IQ guard, with a deceptively long wingspan, who needs minutes to mature his game – something hard to come by on the Lakers – and he may very well be the perfect candidate to exemplify why the Lakers bought their own D-League team in the first place: to develop role-players that are triangle ready and able to step right in and solidly contribute in limited minutes.

Season Outlook: Small in stature, but big in heart, Chase is surrounded by talented players with something to prove. Former Los Angeles Laker Devin Green was a leading call-up candidate last year for the D-Fenders before a falling out with D-Fenders head coach Dan Panaggio causing him to pay his $20,000 buyout and go overseas to play with RheinEnergie Cologne (Köln) in Germany. Green’s motivations for returning at this point are unclear, but what is clear is that Green makes Los Angeles a vastly better team, and a real playoff contender over the course of the season. Sean Banks and Robert Whaley are both players with a lot of talent, and Jelani McCoy is an NBA veteran. Effectively returning four starting-caliber players, and adding a legitimate big man in McCoy, makes the starting five for LA one of the strongest in the league, and if Lakers such as Coby Karl or Javaris Crittenton get sent down for long stretches, the D-Fenders could be a team to watch out for in the 2007-2008 season. The 5 players starting for the D-Fenders all have NBA experience, so the potential for chemistry problems will exist from day one. To compound this further, many of these players had shaky relationships with Panaggio last season. The talent exists for Los Angeles to win the championship this season, but there is nearly the same potential for a massive implosion.

Recent articles

Twitter @DraftExpress

DraftExpress Shop