D-League Showcase Coverage:
Interviews, Part One
Interviews, Part Two
Dexter Pittman, 6-11, Center, Sioux Falls Skyforce
15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.4 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 57% FG, 55% FT
Definitely the most dominant physical player we saw at the Showcase, Dexter Pittman is quite clearly in the best shape of his career, now having some noticeable definition to his build. Despite losing an enormous amount of weight over the past few years, Pittman appears to have lost none of his brute strength, he looks excellent moving around the floor, and it appears he still may have another 10-15 pounds to lose or at least convert to more muscle down the road.
On the offensive end, Pittman has a simple but highly effective game, as he establishes dominant post position frequently, showing excellent understanding of leverage and no problem throwing his body around in the lane. He backs his man down consistently and finishes with simple lay-ups and hook shots around the basket, showing good touch and getting more than enough separation to get his shots off cleanly. He'll occasionally mix in some fakes and countermoves but never has to get too creative, though this could change if he starts seeing minutes at the next level.
When catching passes around the rim, Pittman goes up strong and assertively, usually finishing with a quick and powerful dunk, something the Miami Heat scouts in attendance had to love seeing considering the opportunities he'd have to score in a similar fashion with their roster's current makeup. Pittman's incredibly long arms obviously help a great deal, as do his huge and exceptionally soft hands, and he'd be far more effective converting simple catch and finish opportunities for Miami than Joel Anthony would for example.
While Pittman is outstanding operating inside the paint, that really is the extent of his offensive game at this stage, as aside from doing a good job crashing the offensive glass, there's not much else he contributes.
The most pressing thing Pittman could do to improve his game is developing a respectable mid-range jumper. Improving his free-throw shooting would be highly beneficial as well, as he's leaving a ton of points at the line by shooting just 55% despite taking nearly one free throw for every field goal he attempts.
Defensively, Pittman does a solid job in the post where he's physical and has decent fundamentals, but he could do more to help on the weakside with shot blocking, still not fully realizing his potential there. His ability to defend pick-and-rolls and step out on the perimeter is also not a strong point, something he can work on with all the minutes he's seeing here. This might be the part of his game that is holding him back the most currently, as his lack of lateral quickness trying to stay in front of attacking opponents was noticeable even at this level.
Pittman is in a nice situation where he can get a ton of minutes at this level and work on his weak points, hopefully eventually setting himself up to get into the Miami Heat's rotation, which currently employ some questionable bigs in their rotation. While the chances of that happening this season may not be high, he can play himself into a great situation down the road if he keeps developing, and given the outstanding work ethic he's shown in transforming his body over the past few years, it's probably a good bet he'll do everything he can to reach his potential. If Pittman's rights weren't owned by a championship contending team, it's safe to say that he would already be seeing minutes at the NBA level based on what we saw here.
Cole Aldrich, 6-10, Center, Tulsa 66ers
9.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 0.8 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 55% FG, 81% FT
Drafted in the late lottery to one of the deepest and most talented teams in the NBA, Cole Aldrich has spent a good amount of time on assignment in the D-League so far this season. This makes sense when considering the close proximity and relationship Oklahoma City enjoys with its affiliate in Tulsa, a team the Thunder both own and operate.
Aldrich isn't being spoon-fed minutes or touches the way you normally see allocated NBA players in the D-League, as he's averaging less field goal attempts per minute than he did in college and is playing just 27 minutes (of 48) per game. It appears that Tulsa is trying to more closely replicate the role he'll be expected to grow into on Oklahoma City eventually, which is that of a gritty role-player rather than a go-to guy. Aldrich's offensive numbers thus aren't impressive at all relative to other far less talented players in this league at 9 points per contest, as foul trouble and injuries have also held him back somewhat this year.
Largely the same player we profiled not too long ago in college, Aldrich has a bright future in the NBA thanks to his excellent combination of size, length, smarts and toughness. Capable of doing some damage in the post with simple, fundamentally sound post-moves, he does a nice job of passing out of double teams, moving to open spaces in the paint for drop-off passes, and finishing strong when the situation calls for it. He knocks down his free throws at an excellent clip (81% in the D-League), crashes the offensive glass effectively, and keeps mistakes to a minimum.
Defensively, he's a major presence inside the paint with his 7-5 wingspan and excellent body. Nothing about Aldrich's game is particularly flashy and no one really expects him to develop into more than a lunch-pail type role-playing hustle guy. With that said, players in his mold aren't easy to come by, which makes him a good investment for Oklahoma City to work with, especially since they have the ability to speed up his development on their D-League team.
Jeremy Lin, 6-3, Point Guard, Reno Bighorns
26.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5 assists, 4.6 turnovers, 2.3 steals, 53% FG, 40% 3P, 71% FT
One of the few players here on assignment from a NBA franchise, Jeremy Lin flashed the same deceptive quickness and assertiveness off the dribble that we grew to expect from him at Harvard. Often bringing the ball up the floor for Reno, Lin was constantly looking for opportunities to knife into the lane. Using his quick first step and hesitation moves to get into the paint consistently, Lin was highly efficient over the two games we saw him thanks to his ability to create easy shots for himself around the rim and get to the foul line.
A combo guard in the Ivy League making the steep transition to playing the point full time in the NBA, Lin's ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, handle the ball under pressure and cut down on turnovers will dictate his chances of sticking in the NBA. With that said, his performance in the NBADL has been impressive. He has done a fine job translating the things he did well in the college game to a higher level of competition, seemingly unfazed by the bigger, more athletic players he's routinely matched up with. Lin's basketball IQ, competitiveness and overall savvy were underrated factors in his professional evaluation, and it's clear that NBA teams value them quite a bit.
Extremely tough around the basket and showing a very good understanding of his how to use screens and subtle changes of direction to turn the corner off the dribble, Lin won't land on a highlight reel any time soon, but he gets the job done in the D-League. Knocking down a couple of jumpers over the course of the week at the Showcase, it will be important for Lin to improve his ability to make shots from beyond the arc, especially with his unorthodox shooting mechanics.
The biggest knock on Lin from a NBA perspective is his lack of ideal physical tools for the defensive end. He fared well in the two games we saw on South Padre Island, but his below average wingspan and lateral quickness will be bigger concerns against the more athletic and talented offensive players he'd come across on a nightly basis in NBA play.
Shooting just 31.6% in limited action with the Warriors this season, Lin has had a much easier time scoring in the D-League, averaging nearly 20 points per-game and shooting 53% from the field. While Lin is clearly going to benefit from this experience when he returns to Golden State, he'll need to become a reliable set shooter to give himself more staying power in the NBA since he faces an uphill battle defensively. Regardless of the obstacles he faces in becoming a long-term NBA player, Lin was very very good here and left a strong impression.
Latavious Williams, 6-9, Power Forward, Tulsa 66ers
19.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, .8 Steals, 1.7 Blocks, 66% FG, 67% FT
At this time two years ago, Latavious Williams would have been suiting up for a high school game. After being selected in the second round of the NBA Draft last year and in his second season with the Tulsa 66ers, the 22 year-old power forward continues to make strides. Coming on strong late last season while learning on the job, Williams has gone from an unseasoned high-school prospect to one of the most efficient role-players in the D-League, making many of the strides we mentioned in our feature on him last spring.
Much of Williams' success has to do with the fact that he's stuck to what he does well. A physical specimen with his excellent strength, long arms and solid athleticism, Williams has added some weight to his frame, only adding to his ability to clean the glass at a high rate. Still becoming more polished on both ends of the floor, Williams has continued to pull down rebounds at an exceptionally high rate, ranking amongst the most prolific per-40 rebounders in the NBADL for the second straight year.
Offensively, Williams has shown marked improvement, looking significantly more under control and clearly understanding his role much more thoroughly. He's converting 65.8% of his field goals this season, good for the top spot in the NBADL and up from just 52.8% last year. An excellent finisher thanks to his length and leaping ability, Williams gets most of his touches in catch and finish situations. Though he's become more adept at converting shots around the rim, he'll need to become more versatile offensively by developing a post repertoire and midrange jump shot to take the next step offensively.
On the other side of the ball, Williams has continued to grow as well. Depending on which of Oklahoma City's young 7-footers is assigned to the 66ers, Williams has had opportunities to defend both power forwards and centers. Showing solid lateral quickness in defending the perimeter, Williams has the capacity to effectively defend stretch-fours and face-up scorers alike at this level. He still needs to add lower body strength to improve his ability to fight for position on the block, and has a lot to learn in terms of fundamentals, but the tools are there for him to be a solid NBA defender if he continues to improve.
Considering his age, Williams still has plenty of time to refine his game, and he's already made some clear strides that leave room for optimism. He has the makings of a fine role-player, but his ability to get stronger, improve his fundamentals defensively, and become a more versatile player offensively will dictate his potential at the NBA level.
Hamady N'Diaye, 6-11, Center, Dakota Wizards
3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 1.2 turnovers, 27% FG, 63% FT
Having played just five games in the D-League since the Washington Wizards assigned him and still making his way into the rotation as just 19 minutes per game off the bench, it's tough to evaluate N'Diaye beyond what we've already seen from him in college and at Portsmouth.
The best thing to take away from the limited action we saw from N'Diaye is the physical and vocal style he brings to the defensive end, doing a great job communicating with his teammates, stepping out to help on the perimeter in the lane, and really asserting his physical tools well all over the floor. He did a decent job when matched against Cole Aldrich in one game, bodying him up well and doing a solid job keeping him from establishing dominant position. His ability to block shots both in the post and helping from the weakside is a great strength, but cutting down on his fouls needs to be a priority.
Offensively, N'Diaye is still very much a work in progress, not being able to contribute much other than an occasional jump hook in the post and hitting just a poor 4-for-15 field goal attempts in his five games since being sent down. Finding better ways to impact the game off the ball should be his priority by getting open on cuts, pinning his man under the rim, crashing the offensive glass, and setting hard picks to get teammates open, as his post game is still very much a work in progress.
Looking forward, N'Diaye still has some work to do, but getting some minutes in the D-League should be pretty good for his development. Cutting down on the fouls and finding ways to contribute offensively should be his main priorities, while further developing his post game or becoming a more respectable mid-range shooter wouldn't hurt either.
N'Diaye is doing a nice job of showing teams what his role could be at the NBA level, as his combination of size, length, strength and toughness is difficult to come by, and the fact that he reportedly has outstanding intangibles will help him quite a bit in his goal of sticking around long-term.
Pape Sy, 6-6, SG/SF, Utah Flash (Allocated by Atlanta Hawks)
5 points, 3.7 rebounds,1.9 assists, 2.3 turnovers, .3 steals, 25% FG, 9% 3, 22 minutes
Not really looking anything like you'd expect an NBA assigned player tonot a surprise considering his stats in Europe and the fact that he has barely played in the past six monthsPape Sy had a difficult time standing out from the pack at the D-League Showcase.
Standing 6-6, with an excellent frame, long arms and solid athleticism, it's not difficult to see what intrigued the Atlanta Hawks so much from a physical standpoint in the mythical workout Sy had at their private facility that convinced them to ignore everything he had done up until that point in his career. He looks the part of an NBA wing player, even if he doesn't play anything like one.
Offensively, Sy is extremely limited, even in this environment. His shooting stroke looks slow and unnatural with his feet set, and even worse off the dribble, a big reason he's shot just 1-11 from beyond the arc this season and 10-40 from the field overall. Billed by the Hawks as a point guard coming into this event, Sy's ball-handling skills looked exceptionally poor here, to the point that he had a tough time bringing the ball up the court without turning around to protect it. While clearly a good enough athlete to get by his defender with a quick first step, Sy doesn't have the ability to change directions with the ball or execute any advanced moves, limiting his ability to drive all the way to the basket, and rendering him very turnover prone.
Defensively, Sy is very effective, as he has outstanding physical attributes with his size, length and strong frame, and brings excellent toughness and intensity to the table on top of that. He's capable of putting outstanding pressure on the ball, and can switch between positions seamlessly, giving him nice versatility. Off the ball, Sy's inexperience playing at a high level shows, as he can get lost on rotations and lacks great awareness.
Despite his defensive prowess, it's not difficult to see why Sy had a difficult time getting off the bench for a bad team in France last season. Considering his limitations and lack of experience, it's tough to envision a scenario in which could contribute enough offensively to earn him playing time at a high level.
The fact that a late 2nd round pick would fail to pan out for an NBA team is not a big surprise, as it happens every year. What's curious is that Atlanta decided to pay a few hundred thousand dollars to buy Sy out of his contract, rather than stashing him overseas. They spent a valuable roster spot and fully guaranteed NBA contract (worth almost $500,000)on him, and in the process hampered themselves from making a move to improve their team for the playoffs because of luxury tax concerns.
22-year old resume-less players like Sy can be found by the dozen all over the French league, and the Hawks likely should have had the talent-evaluation skills to distinguish that, rather than just allow themselves to be fooled so badly by a single private workout. Based on what we saw in South Padre, its unlikely that the Sy experiment will last very much longer.