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January 24, 2008
D-League Dominators
Notes From the Showcase

by Kevin Pelton

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Last week was the biggest of the year for the NBA Development League. The D-League Showcase brought all 14 teams to Boise, Idaho for 14 games running from Monday through Thursday. For D-Leaguers, it was a huge opportunity. NBA scouts and other front-office personnel gathered in Boise to watch and evaluate dozens of players. After having the opportunity to see four games over two days in Boise, I wanted to add a statistical layer to the other scouting that's out there and take a look at what the numbers say about the D-League.

Looking at the players at the Showcase and not those now in the NBA, like most recent call-ups Guillermo Diaz and C.J. Watson, I decided to look at the D-League leaders in overall value and several key "skill" statistics. Let's start with the players I have rated as the best in the D-League, both overall versus replacement player and on a per-minute basis, using my WARP system.

Player            Team  WARP     Player            Team  Win%

Andre Barrett      BAK   3.6     Kyrylo Fesenko     UTA  .716
Lance Allred       IDA   3.6     Ian Mahinmi        AUS  .712
Ramon Sessions     TUL   3.2     Lance Allred       IDA  .703
Rod Benson         DAK   3.1     Stephane Lasme     LAD  .692
Ian Mahinmi        AUS   3.1     Alando Tucker      ALB  .683
Earl Calloway       FW   2.8     James Lang         UTA  .662
Nick Fazekas       TUL   2.6     Ramon Sessions     TUL  .662
Randy Livingston   IDA   2.4     Nick Fazekas       TUL  .647
Sean Banks         LAD   2.4     Andre Barrett      BAK  .645
Devin Green        LAD   2.4     Eddie Gill         COL  .640

If I were picking a D-League Most Valuable Player out of this group, it would be Allred. That's probably a surprise, given there are much bigger names out there. Allred finished third in the nation in rebounding during a strong senior season at Weber State, but barely got on the NBA's radar. He's been impressive for the Stampede, rating as co-most valuable despite splitting minutes with a couple of assigned players (Portland's Josh McRoberts and Seattle's Mouhamed Sene). Allred isn't much of a shot-blocker, but he's a capable rebounder and a skilled offensive player with legit size.

Barrett is a much more familiar name, having played 63 games over the last three NBA seasons. At 5'10", his size is much less of an issue down in the D-League. I've always liked Barrett's game dating back to his days at Seton Hall.

Sessions and Fazekas were teammates at Nevada and second-round picks who have both spent the entire season in Tulsa. While Fazekas wouldn't be seeing much action in Dallas, he's hardly a classic D-League project, bringing a relatively polished game to the NBA. I'm sure Sessions is happy to have Fazekas on the receiving end of many of his 6.9 assists a night. It's his 6.2 boards from the point, however, that make the 6'3" Sessions stand out. He might be able to help Milwaukee off the bench right now.

The "Boom Tho" movement comes with the statistical seal of approval; Benson hasn't been quite as impressive as some of the top players on a per-minute basis, but he's been doing a great job of rebounding the basketball and is surely the D-League's most valuable blogger.

Mahinmi has been as good as anyone on a per-minute basis in large part because of his soft touch; he's shooting 65.1% from the field. The Spurs operate their own D-League team in Austin, which is allowing Mahinmi to get accustomed to their system as he develops. Mahinmi has an NBA body but is still getting the experience he needs. Still just 21, the Spurs hope he can become Tim Duncan's sidekick down the line.

I was certainly surprised to see Calloway's name on this list; he averaged just 9.6 points and 4.3 assists as a senior at Indiana but has pushed those averages to 15.4 and 5.1 for Fort Wayne, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals a night. Calloway's 51.2% shooting from the field is impressive; I'm not sure it's legit.

Livingston was the D-League's Most Valuable Player last year, earning a call-up for the seventh straight season. On determination and intelligent play, Livingston has managed to play 11 NBA seasons, and there's only one reason to believe there won't be a 12th--last year's call-up to the Sonics forced Livingston to miss the D-League playoffs, and his Stampede was knocked out of the one-and-done playoffs after earning a bye into the semifinals. Idaho is contending again, having won 10 straight games, and Livingston might not want to miss another postseason run.

Banks and Green give the league-leading D-Fenders a strong duo on the wings. Ironically, the team named D-Fenders is in fact the D-League's best offensive team, though above average on defense as well. Banks and Green, who average a combined 39.1 points and 7.5 assists, are the keys to that offense. Both spent time in the NBA in 2005-06, though Banks never got in a game.

The per-minute list highlights the D-League's most bizarre duo: Utah Flash centers Kyrylo Fesenko (the Jazz's second-round pick) and James Lang. One legit center with size is a rarity in the D-League; to have two of them is an embarrassment of riches, but also a bit of a problem because the Flash has yet to use Fesenko and Lang together, limiting their minutes. Fesenko is putting up 19.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per 40 minutes and has been impressive in his chances with the Jazz. He's not long for the D-League; this is his third and final assignment. Lang, a mountain of a man who was taken in the second round by New Orleans in 2003 and spent part of last year with Washington, has some skills. He is always going to be limited by his mobility and foul trouble.

Lasme started the year in Golden State before being cut to make room on the roster for D.J. Mbenga. What I like about Lasme is he's an elite shot-blocker who does more than just block shots, contributing on the glass as well. His size--a listed 6'8"--works against him.

Tucker rounds out the assigned players, and shows up on the list almost purely on the strength of his scoring: 27.2 points a night. He hasn't sacrificed efficiency to do it, shooting 52.7% from the field and 37.8% from downtown. Despite a poor game Tuesday (six points on 2-for-10 shooting with five rebounds), last year's Big Ten Player of the Year is too good for this level. Like Fazekas, while he won't play a lot for his veteran-laden NBA squad, this experience probably isn't doing much for him.

We round out the group with another guy with plenty of NBA experience in Gill, who played 13 games for New Jersey earlier this season. He's proven himself competent in a limited role.

Moving on, let's look at some other statistics to see what other D-League players might fit an NBA team looking for a particular skill. As with the per-minute winning percentage above, I'm using a 150-minute minimum.

Per-Minute Scoring (Pace Adjusted)

Player            Team  P100

Alando Tucker      ALB  39.4
Kaniel Dickens     COL  34.5
Lance Allred       IDA  32.7
Sean Banks         LAD  32.3
James Lang         UTA  31.7
Nick Fazekas       TUL  30.2
Blake Ahearn       DAK  29.6
Keith Langford     AUS  28.9
Dwayne Mitchell    IOW  28.7

(Technically, this is points per 100 team possessions, which is a little higher than the league average of 94.9 possessions per 48 minutes.)

For the most part, this list mirrors players we've seen before. There are some surprises, however. The most notable is Ahearn, a backup guard for the Wizards best known for his free-throw shooting. While at Missouri State, Ahearn led the nation in free-throw shooting each of his first three years. Ahearn is making 93.8% from the charity stripe this year along with 38.4% from downtown. Free throws down the stretch have probably helped pad Ahearn's numbers a little, but you don't average 13.2 points a game on free throws alone.

Dickens is putting up points and doing so with strong efficiency (as our next list will demonstrate); mediocre rebounding is the only thing keeping Dickens out of the ranks of the most valuable D-League players. Kansas product Keith Langford got a chance with the Spurs on a 10-day contract, as did Austin teammate Dermarr Johnson, and is averaging 23.7 points on 53.7% shooting. Mitchell, out of Louisiana-Lafayette, is not a household name. However, he and Chicago assignee JamesOn Curry are sharing the scoring load for the Iowa Energy.

True Shooting Percentage

Player            Team   TS%

Anthony Fuqua      AUS  .728
Ian Mahinmi        AUS  .704
Andre Ingram       UTA  .664
Abodoulaye N'Diaye LAD  .661
Justin Cage        COL  .661
Ron Howard         FW   .655
Kaniel Dickens     COL  .630
Blake Ahearn       DAK  .627
Marcus Campbell    ANA  .624
Lance Allred       IDA  .620

This list is a mix of role players seeing limited action, some guys we've already discussed, and a few players in between. Xavier rookie Justin Cage is unlikely to keep up his 58.6% shooting, but his scrappy play could find him a place in the NBA--he opened some eyes in training camp in Chicago. Campbell is a legit seven-footer who was stuck behind Allred in Idaho before going to Anaheim, where he's gotten more minutes. His biggest problem is a 1-to-28 assist-to-turnover ratio. Yes, you read that right. 1-to-28.

Rebound Percentage

Player            Team  Reb%

Marcus Campbell    ANA  21.1
James Lang         UTA  20.7
Lance Allred       IDA  20.1
Kyrylo Fesenko     UTA  19.3
Rod Benson         DAK  19.0
Mouhamed Sene      IDA  18.7
Nate Gerwig         FW  18.5
Elton Brown        COL  17.4
Nick Fazekas       AUS  17.3
Chris Alexander     SF  16.6

Well, then again, maybe it is worth keeping an eye on Campbell....

Gerwig is a Kent State product whose primary strength at the D-League level has been rebounding. Brown was a force for Colorado last season en route to an appearance in the D-League championship game. He has actually improved his scoring and rebounding averages this year, though that's a function of increased minutes. I'm a little surprised he doesn't rate higher overall; his defensive numbers aren't great and he isn't quite good enough as a scorer to make up for it. He's got an NBA body. Alexander's size (and a 24-rebound effort) caught my eye in Boise, but his lack of athleticism would work against him at the NBA level.

Pass Rating

Player            Team  Pass

Andre Barrett      BAK  8.05
Randy Livingston   IDA  7.58
Carldell Johnson   AUS  3.79
Kevin Kruger       UTA  3.61
Ramon Sessions     TUL  2.98
David Bailey        SF  2.92
Cheyne Gadson      AUS  2.55
Jason Fontenet     TUL  2.55
Eddie Gill         COL  2.55
Ali Berdiel        ALB  2.19

(The formula is assists/minute squared times assists/turnover times 40. Yes, I know this is something of a junk stat, but so is most everything else devised to measure passing.)

Clearly, Barrett and Livingston stand out from the pack when it comes to distributing in the D-League. Both of Austin's point guards show up on this list; Johnson backs up Gadson, and together they've averaged 9.4 assists. Gadson never did much at Oklahoma State but has developed into a solid pro; Johnson is a total non-scorer. Incidentally, while he's listed as Carldell, if you watched him at UAB you know him only as "Squeaky."

Kruger has done pretty well for himself in his first year out of UNLV, averaging 7.4 assists per game. I'm not sure why he is rated lowly overall, though the fact that just two players are weaker on the glass surely doesn't help. I didn't know Loyola of Chicago product Bailey before the Showcase. He's put up decent numbers, but at 5'8" he doesn't project to the next level at all.

Block Percentage

Player            Team  Blk%

Keith Closs        TUL  11.6
Kyrylo Fesenko     UTA   8.1
Chris Alexander     SF   7.2
Stephane Lasme     LAD   7.1
Mouhamed Sene      IDA   6.3
Larry Turner        FW   4.7
Marcus Campbell    ANA   4.4
Brent Petway       IDA   4.3
Abdoulaye N'Diaye  LAD   3.8
Kevin Lyde         DAK   3.8

(Like my esteemed colleague Ken Pomeroy, I'm using percentage of two-point attempts while on the floor blocked by the player.)

Yes, it's the Keith Closs, the gangly 7'3" center who got a five-year contract from the Clippers back in the late '90s. I'd assumed Closs was long gone by now, but lo and behold he's still kicking around in the D-League. He's still really good at blocking shots but doesn't offer much beyond that.

The other interesting name on the list is Petway. Why? In a group of big men, a 6'8" swingman stands out. The high-flying Michigan product (aka "Air Georgia" because of his native state) needs to put in work improving his jumper and polishing his offensive game, but has the potential to be a lockdown defender thanks to his athleticism. Either way, he's a highlight waiting to happen.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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