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January 12, 2011
Showcase Statistics
The D-League's Best

by Kevin Pelton

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The NBA Development League has gathered on South Padre Island just off the coast of Texas for the 2011 D-League Showcase, which means it is time for something of a Basketball Prospectus tradition: Glancing at the advanced statistics of players in the NBA's official minor league. Last year at this time, we introduced a system for translating D-League performance to its NBA equivalent. Once again, we'll use these adjusted numbers to look at some of the best prospects from a statistical perspective.

Before getting to this year's top players, it's worth pausing to note that a more robust perspective can often take the air out of seemingly impressive D-League performances. This year's best example might be Joe Alexander. The one-time lottery selection of the Milwaukee Bucks is averaging 20.0 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, which sounds remarkable until you find out that he is playing 43 minutes a night for Texas Legends coach Nancy Lieberman. Advanced statistics show Alexander doing nothing special at the D-League level. Who does stand out?

Player               Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
----------------------------------------------------------------
Marvin Phillips     fwm   .578   .548   .149   18.1   0.03   6.3
Marqus Blakely      bak   .538   .495   .200   13.1   0.07   7.0
Antonio Daniels     tex   .520   .592   .137    7.1   4.23   1.8
Chris Kramer        fwm   .513   .584   .133    8.1   0.15   5.8
Brandon Wallace     bak   .505   .446   .121   11.1   0.22   5.8
Aaron Miles         ren   .502   .503   .159    6.1   5.05   4.1
Luke Jackson        ida   .490   .484   .176    9.1   0.71   3.7
Latavious Williams  tul   .490   .595   .147   16.1   0.00   4.4
Patrick Ewing       ren   .486   .469   .185   13.1   0.25   5.3
Sean Williams       tex   .485   .559   .156   16.1   0.01   6.7

In terms of our per-minute numbers, the D-League's best player has been an obscure 27-year-old power forward from the basketball powerhouse that is D-II Claflin University. Marvin Phillips was a reserve the last two seasons in Iowa City, but Fort Wayne traded for him in large part because of his strong per-minute statistics. Phillips has responded to a starting role by averaging a double-double while shooting 58.7 percent on two-pointers and contributing at the defensive end. Because Phillips is a slight 6'7", he would be challenged to maintain his level of play against NBA competition, but he deserves credit for what he's doing in the D-League.

Marqus Blakely is much closer to the NBA. Undrafted out of Vermont, he got some guaranteed money to join the Los Angeles Clippers for training camp before being waived. Blakely's athleticism shows up throughout his stat line. His average of 2.2 steals in just 23.2 minutes per game (Bakersfield is crowded on the wings, with D-League leading scorer Trey Johnson as well as at times Lakers rookie Devin Ebanks) translates into what would be the NBA's best steal rate, while Blakely has also been excellent on the glass. He must improve as a shooter, having made just one three-pointer all season, but Blakely has some real upside.

Antonio Daniels is a unique case--a long-time NBA player who has gone to the D-League to try to get back in the league rather than seeking out big money overseas. (Antoine Walker, the other example of this budding trend, has done nothing of note.) Before suffering a hand injury that required surgery, Daniels was playing excellent basketball. As usual, his ability to get to the free throw line has propped up Daniels' scoring efficiency, which might be difficult to maintain in the NBA. However, Daniels also demonstrated that he can thrive as a pass-first point guard, something that would represent an evolution in his career. When Daniels gets back in the lineup, he might be headed for a callup.

The next two players on the list probably aren't NBA prospects. Chris Kramer, the hard-nosed defensive specialist out of Purdue, is basically playing the same game that made him an ideal role player at the NCAA level. Kramer shoots a high percentage on infrequent two-point attempts, which guarantees a solid True Shooting Percentage, and is outstanding at the defensive end. However, he'd likely be an offensive liability in the NBA. Brandon Wallace shows up on this list largely because of the adjustment we make to credit three-point shooters. The D-League breeds one-dimensional specialists even more dependent on the three than almost anyone in the NBA save Steve Novak, and Wallace benefits from taking triples on 53 percent of his plays.

Former Kansas guard Aaron Miles has 19 NBA games to his credit, all played for the Golden State Warriors in 2005-06. The numbers suggest that he'd be an ideal choice for a 10-day contract in case of an injury at the point. The heady Miles leads the D-League with 8.8 assists per game and is enough of a scoring threat to keep defenses honest.

Luke Jackson has been kicking around with the Idaho Stampede for parts of four seasons. Jackson has not shot the ball as well as normal thus far, making just 45.2 percent of his three-point attempts, but he has provided typically balanced production from the wing. While his NBA potential is nil at this point, Jackson could step into a lineup without embarrassing himself.

The second player ever drafted out of the D-League, Latavious Williams is back for another stint with the Tulsa 66ers while the big club (the Oklahoma City Thunder) retains his rights. Williams has made major strides over his solid debut season and is shooting 66.9 percent from the field. With several roster spots likely to open up, look for Williams at the Ford Center starting in October.

Patrick Ewing, Jr. came ever so close to making the Knicks out of training camp. As it turned out, there was no shame in losing a roster battle to Shawne Williams, who has emerged as a regular for New York. Back in the D-League, Ewing has continued to play solid basketball. Though he will never be much of a scorer, Ewing does most everything else well and looks like a strong defender capable of battling NBA wings.

The big reclamation success for the Legends isn't Alexander but instead Sean Williams, the first-round pick of the New Jersey Nets who flamed out amid off-the-court troubles. When the Nets shipped Williams to the D-League, he was a disaster, but this time around he's taking the experience seriously. Williams can rebound, block shots and finish at the rim, which are three critical skills for an NBA big man.

To broaden our perspective on D-League prospects, let's take a look at some of the top specialists.

Best Shooters

Player               Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass Shoot
----------------------------------------------------------------
Kyle Spain          eri   .468   .560   .142   8.1   0.09   1.71
Kenny Taylor        bak   .401   .442   .163   5.1   0.21   1.55
Andre Ingram        uta   .397   .519   .148   6.1   0.19   1.54
Chris Lofton        iow   .470   .529   .134   5.1   0.16   1.51
Booker Woodfox      tex   .393   .520   .186   4.1   0.04   1.48

Generally, this is the province of undersized shooting guards. Of them, Chris Lofton probably has the most legitimate aspirations of reaching the NBA. He's far and away the best all-around player in this group and was once considered a likely draft pick before battling testicular cancer. Andre Ingram is another high scorer who won last year's D-League Three-Point Shootout, but his lack of defensive value holds him back in terms of overall productivity. Of the other players, San Diego State product Kyle Spain has enough size to play in the NBA (he's listed at 6'5"), but his hot shooting thus far (51.1 percent from three-point range) is surely a bit of a fluke.

Best Passers

Player               Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
----------------------------------------------------------------
Aaron Miles         ren   .502   .503   .159    6.1   5.05   4.1
Antonio Daniels     tex   .520   .592   .137    7.1   4.23   1.8
Cedric Jackson      ida   .461   .409   .176    8.1   2.66   4.4
Walker Russell      fwm   .379   .465   .182    5.1   2.49   2.7
Squeaky Johnson     aus   .422   .473   .152    8.1   1.67   2.3

From a different perspective, the verdict is clear: Daniels and Miles have been the D-League's top two point guards. Cedric Jackson is another player who merits a look at the NBA level. He saw action for three different teams a year ago and remains an excellent passer with defensive potential, though his shooting has tanked (39.6 percent on twos). Walker Russell and Squeaky Johnson are D-League vets hampered by their small size.

Best Rebounders

Player               Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
----------------------------------------------------------------
Marvin Phillips     fwm   .578   .548   .149   18.1   0.03   6.3
Jeff Adrien         rgv   .479   .546   .183   18.1   0.03   5.0
Marcus Cousin       aus   .414   .517   .164   16.1   0.00   3.3
Latavious Williams  tul   .490   .595   .147   16.1   0.00   4.4
Sean Williams       tex   .485   .559   .156   16.1   0.01   5.7

Jeff Adrien has to be considered one of the D-League's top prospects, having held his own with the Warriors earlier this season before being waived to make room for the addition of another point guard (Acie Law). Adrien has done nothing to disappoint since heading back to the minor leagues and could comfortably play 10-15 minutes a night in the NBA. Marcus (don't call me DeMarcus) Cousin is a lanky rebounder-defender who was in camp with the Spurs. If he improves his offensive game, Cousin has a chance to play in the league. If you want another name, since three of the top five are repeats, former Nevada star Nick Fazekas ranks sixth in translated rebounding. He's playing well this season despite not shooting the ball as efficiently as usual.

Best Shot Blockers

Player               Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass  Blk%
----------------------------------------------------------------
Chris Johnson       dak   .387   .479   .192   14.1   0.01   5.9
Sean Williams       tex   .485   .559   .156   16.1   0.01   5.7
Drew Naymick        bak   .326   .521   .087   12.1   0.01   5.4
Raymond Sykes       sfs   .309   .483   .170   10.1   0.00   4.8
Matt Rogers         tex   .334   .492   .183   12.1   0.00   4.6

Outside of Williams, a lot of skinny, one-dimensional shot blockers. Except in rare cases, just blocking shots isn't enough to stick in the NBA. You've got to be able to do something else well, whether it's finish or rebound or whatever. None of these guys meet that test.

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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