2009-2010 D-League Preview / Power Rankings (Part One)

2009-2010 D-League Preview / Power Rankings (Part One)
Nov 27, 2009, 08:06 pm
With the NBA D-League getting ready to tip-off it’s season this weekend, we offer a quick primer on who is playing in the league this season. Each team capsule includes a projected starting lineup, as well as a look at who might get called up to the NBA and who might get assigned to the D-League from the NBA.

There are still plenty of very good players hanging around on the free agent market, some of whom have their rights owned by D-League teams, and some who will get picked up as the season moves on, so consider this only a preliminary look at the talent available.

For more detailed analysis on the players mentioned, click on the links and read their profiles here on DraftExpress. Teams are sorted by overall power ranking.

*Call Up Candidates are marked with an asterisk.

Part One, teams 1-8

1. Dakota Wizards

Starting Lineup:

Maurice Baker
Renaldo Major
Romel Beck
Marcus Dove
Curtis Withers

While they probably won’t be the hottest scouting destination on the itinerary of most NBA teams, for location reasons and otherwise, Dakota returns four players who averaged double figures last year – Renaldo Major (16.9), Maurice Baker (16.0), Romel Beck (15.9) and David Bell (11.4)—something that no other team can even remotely say. On paper they have more chemistry and experience than any other squad in the D-League, which should count for quite a bit early on in the season. The one thing they do appear to lack, though, is a real star/standout call-up candidate.

Maurice Baker is a tough and extremely experienced scoring guard who has been in the D-League for what seems like ages now. He’s a wily veteran who simply knows how to get the job done.

Alongside him we find the athletic, versatile and defensive minded Renaldo Major, who might be a consistent jump-shot away from emerging as an intriguing NBA prospect. Romel Beck is the opposite, a scoring machine who struggles on defense and needs to show that he can be enough of an all-around role-player to play a niche in the League. Marcus Dove can lock-down any position 2-4 and will be intriguing to watch after an up and down rookie season in Belgium last year. He’s another guy who might be a consistent spot-up jump-shot away from making the NBA. Curtis Withers is an athletic rebounder whose struggles with Narcolepsy may have hurt his professional potential, but could still be a very productive player on a team with very little frontcourt size or depth. Jay Straight and David Bell bring big-time firepower off the bench, with Straight having real potential to emerge as a 20+ point per game scorer if given the minutes and the ball. He’s not a bashful guy to say the least.

The Wizards are affiliated with the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies with the most likely assignment coming from Hamed Haddadi who played in 18 games for Dakota last season. JaVale McGee is also a possibility, although he seems to be getting some occasional playing time for the Wizards, a team that hasn’t used the D-League that much, and might not be all that inclined to send someone all the way to North Dakota, where they’ll have limited access relative to others. Dakota could really use some size in the frontcourt, so they would be wise to explore any opportunity they can here.

2. Utah Flash

Starting Lineup:

Dontell Jefferson*
Orien Greene*/Andre Ingram
Lee Cummard* / Gavin Grant
Bennet Davis
Luke Nevill*/ Garrett Siler

Dontell Jefferson leads an experienced and talented bunch in Utah, a team that might have the best overall depth in the D-League. After earning a call-up with the Charlotte Bobcats last season, Jefferson looks to do the same this year. When/if the call comes will have a big impact on how the Flash fare this season.
Jefferson has used the D-League better than any player the past few years as he has gone from a raw, passive, pass-first point guard (3.2 ppg in college at Arkansas) to a legitimate offensive threat scoring 18.2 ppg last year with Utah. 6-5 and long-armed, defense is still his calling card, which is why Larry Brown liked him enough in Charlotte last season to keep him around until the end of the season. He must continue to work on his shooting range this season to garner legit NBA looks.

The Flash may opt to start experienced sharp-shooting combo guard Andre Ingram next to Jefferson, as his lack of height is not that much of an issue defensively playing next to a tall point guard like Jefferson. Orien Greene is a big time athlete and defender who needs the ball in his hands and struggles to shoot the ball from the perimeter, which makes him somewhat of a poor complement for Jefferson due to their clear-cut similarities. The two would be a menacing duo defensively on the perimeter, though, and could make up for the shortcomings of heady, pure playmaker but limited athlete Jason Richards coming in off the bench.

Local BYU product Lee Cummard was a huge pickup for the Flash, as his versatility and basketball IQ will be extremely valuable. The same can be said for the size, strength and back to the basket scoring ability of local Utah product Luke Nevill. Both are limited athletes, which may scare off some NBA suitors, but their contribution in the ticket sales department should be considerable being just a year removed from nearby college powerhouses with huge followings.

It will be interesting to see how many minutes are left over for Garrett Siler, a guy who could be massive presence inside the paint for pretty much any other team in the league. Unfortunately he’s far too immobile to pair with Nevill together in the same frontline. They may have to look into moving him for a more traditional power forward at some point.

The Flash is affiliated with the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks. The Jazz have used the Flash quite a bit in the past, as the two organizations seem to share a close relationship, not to mention proximity, and it would make sense to see Kosta Koufos with the Flash again this year. Koufos played 11 games with the Flash last season.

Othello Hunter could see some time on assignment from the Hawks when he returns from injury, which would be a huge pickup for the Flash since they lack talent at the power forward position and could really use his athleticism as a rebounder and weak-side shot-blocker next to the lumbering Nevill and Siler.

3. Iowa Energy

Starting Lineup:

Curtis Stinson
Rashad Anderson*/ Pat Carroll
Mark Tyndale/ Jeff Trepagnier
Darryl Watkins
Earl Barron*

Iowa has the best balance of any roster in the D-League this season with point guard Curtis Stinson leading the charge. Stinson, who went to training camp with the Chicago Bulls, and briefly signed in Greece before being cut, is a solid scorer who has plenty of experience playing at this level, and knows how to get the job done. After playing for four different D-League teams, Stinson has found a home with the Energy where he filled up the stat sheet last year to the tune of 16 ppg, 7 rpg and 8.5 apg last season.

Rashad Anderson was 2nd in scoring in Italy playing for a bad team last year and has started the season coming off the bench for Iowa, just like he did in college for UConn. He is a lights out shooter who has struggled with conditioning issues throughout his career but should eventually emerge as one of the top scorers in the league if he decides to stick around all season long. If he can show that he can defend his position and get his shot off effectively against NBA caliber athletes, he might be worthy of getting some looks.

Former Temple wing Mark Tyndale could complement Anderson nicely, as he’s a much better athlete and defender who is limited by his average basketball IQ and perimeter shooting ability, but still has the intensity and physical attributes to get the job done at this level. He played some point guard for Temple in his collegiate days, and would do well to show that he has the versatility to make his teammates better.

Inside, opponents will have trouble matching up with former NBA players Darryl Watkins and Earl Barron, two big men who seemingly complement each other well, even if neither have played much power forward in their careers. Watkins is a big bodied defender and rebounder with limited offensive skill, while Barron is a terrific mid-range shooter who has never been known as the toughest or most efficient player in the world. He’s had all kinds of injury problems over past year or so, which is why he was sent home from Italy last season. Defending opposing power forwards could emerge as an issue though if Nick Nurse decides to play the two together.

Iowa is affiliated with the Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns and could see assignments like James Johnson or Taylor Griffin for part of the season. Either player could be a huge addition to the team, as they currently have no true power forward on the roster, which is likely their biggest weakness.

4. Reno Bighorns

Starting Lineup:

Russell Robinson*
Dave Noel/ Brian Laing
Desmon Farmer*
Mo Charlo
Rod Benson*

Reno has a nice veteran team which should make the playoffs this season. While their team is high on experience, they don’t really have a standout call-up candidate they can hang their hat on, other than the trio of Rod Benson, Desmon Farmer and Russell Robinson, and even they might be a stretch.
Robinson was with the Cleveland Cavaliers for training camp after spending the summer on Orlando’s summer league team. Always known for his defense and basketball IQ, Robinson seemed to make big strides last season with his offensive game and looks like a far more confident player offensively than he did at Kansas. He’s not a great athlete but surely isn’t that much worse than many 3rd string point guards who make the NBA year in and year out simply due to being known commodities.

Although NBA teams haven’t shown all that much interest in Rod Benson in the past few years he spent in the D-League—at least not in the tangible form of an actual call-up—he’s still a player to keep an eye on due to the terrific rebounding ability and underrated basketball IQ he brings to the floor. He’s added weight to his skinny frame (the main thing holding him back) and was simply excellent in the Indiana Pacers training camp from what they told us. Teams might like to see him show more of a mid-range jump-shot this year, something he’s only displayed small flashes of in the past. Will this be the year that the Boom Tho movement hits the NBA?

Desmon Farmer has some NBA experience under his belt—he’s made the final cut in both Seattle and San Antonio—and will surely be one of the best scorers in the D-League again this year. He plays with a frenetic energy (probably overly so at times) and is capable of both getting to the rim or making shots from beyond the arc—which is more than most wing players in this league can say. He would be wise to exert more energy on the defensive end of the ball this season and show that he can play mistake-free, team oriented basketball (he can be very turnover prone at times) if he wants to prove that he can play a role in the NBA.
We put him at the 3 in our lineup more out of necessity than anything.

The Bighorns are affiliated with the Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings and neither team has a real assignment candidate other than Jon Brockman. Brockman is getting 7.5 minutes per game with Sacramento, so even he is a stretch. Donte Greene seems to be playing too well these days to be sent to Reno once again. That’s a shame because this team really lacks depth, particularly on the wing.

5. Los Angeles D-Fenders

Gabe Pruitt*
Joe Crawford*/ Dar Tucker*
Deron Washington*
Diamon Simpson
Longar Longar

While this might be the most talented team in the League in terms of sheer scoring power and athleticism, early injuries and chemistry concerns might slide the D-Fenders a few notches down than their potential indicates to start off the year.

Gabe Pruitt and Joe Crawford both played in the NBA last season, both went to training camp with the Knicks and are now both injured for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. If all goes as plans, they will both be back in the NBA this season. Pruitt needs to show NBA teams that he can play the point on a full-time basis and display more urgency in his all-around game. He’s a very talented player with plus size and athleticism, but doesn’t always show the most intensity, assertiveness or focus, one of the reasons the Celtics decided to pull the plug on him.

Joe Crawford is a big-time scorer who does a lot of things well, but needs to show teams what he can hang his hat on in the NBA with his average physical tools. Both guys would be well served to show off their prowess on the defensive end, something that they haven’t always done throughout their career.

LA has two of the most athletic players in the league on their roster as well in Dar Tucker and Deron Washington. Both need to show that they have the perimeter polish (particularly shooting the ball) and basketball IQ to be role-players in the NBA, but no one is going to argue with their physical tools.

Diamon Simpson is one of the scrappiest players you’ll find and could lead the league in rebounding and charges drawn, but the NBA might be a stretch with his lack of height, explosive athleticism and perimeter scoring ability. Either way, he’s a major asset to have on a team full of scorers.

The D-Fenders would probably like to get some help in the form of assigned players, but they have none that could be assigned to them. Per the collective bargaining agreement, a player can only be assigned to the D-League if he is in his first or second year in the league and the Lakers don’t have a single player who fits that criteria. It’s a shame because Adam Morrison could have surely used some time down here to work on his perimeter defense, rebounding and passing ability instead of just playing garbage time minutes from the end of their bench.

6. Tulsa 66ers

Starting Lineup:

Mustafa Shakur*/ Byron Eaton
Cecil Brown/Moses Ehambe
Latavious Williams
Larry Owens/Keith Clark
B.J. Mullens (Thunder)/ Steven Hill*

Tulsa appears to be one of the deepest and most athletic teams in the D-League on first glance, one that could cause major problems for other teams if they manage to gel and buy into playing strong defense. No other team has as much potential to move up in our power rankings.

Tulsa also has the most interesting prospect in the D-League, Latavious Williams. Williams is the first player to go straight from high school to the D-League, and will probably be the most heavily scouted prospect in the league. Williams is not eligible to be called up and will be automatically entered into the 2010 NBA Draft whether he wants to or not. He’s a big-time athlete who can make a real impact on both ends of the floor with his length and activity level, but is raw offensively and has had some questions marks raised by high school recruiting analysts about potential off-court red flags. Needless to say, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on Williams all season long.

Mustafa Shakur has played the past two seasons in Europe after graduating from the University of Arizona. He has call-up potential with his terrific physical attributes and natural talent, but we’ll need to see how his time in Europe has helped him improve on his known weaknesses, mainly perimeter shooting, and playing with consistent focus and intensity.

Tulsa’s athleticism extends to the rest of their roster, with a bunch of long-armed defensive minded local products on board in the form of Moses Ehambe, Yemi Ogunoye, and Larry Owens. Owens in particular is a guy to keep an eye on. Other potential impact players include stocky point guard Byron Eaton (good enough to start, potentially alongside Shakur), Keith Clark, who went toe to toe with James White in the Dunk Contest last season, and shot-blocker Steven Hill.

Tulsa should see plenty of help this year from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Byron/B.J. Mullens and Kyle Weaver were both assigned to the team with Weaver being recalled already due to a rash of injuries the team suffered, only to get injured himself. The Thunder could also potentially send Serge Ibaka or D.J. White to the 66ers, but both are getting about 11 minutes per game which should be enough to keep them in the NBA for the time being.

7. Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Starting Lineup:

Garrett Temple*/Jonathan Wallace
Antonio Anderson*
Mike Harris*
Joey Dorsey (Rockets)/Julian Sensley
Kurt Looby

The Houston Rockets and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers are the first teams to take part of the D-Leagues “Hybrid Affiliation” model. The Rockets have control over the Vipers coaching staff and personnel decisions as long as they cover the basketball operations expenses. Don’t be surprised to see Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey doing some behind the scenes experimentation with his brand new toy. What exactly, we’re not sure of quite yet, but things could get very interesting here.

Similar to Tulsa, this is one of the most athletic teams in the league and potentially one of the best defensive units around. The roster is chock full of long-armed athletes who play with toughness and intensity, and just happen to be directed by arguably the best head coach in the league, Great Britain National Team and former Dexia Mons coach Chris Finch, a fabulous hire. This is another potential sleeper team that could cause serious damage as the season moves on, particularly if they get Jermaine Taylor on an extended assignment or manage to acquire some offensive firepower.

Combo forward Mike Harris played for the Rockets two years ago and has significant D-League experience to fall back on. He can do damage from the perimeter but is much better at beating people up inside the paint. Look for him to be extremely productive this season as both a scorer and rebounder. Finch will look to him for leadership as well with how young this team is.

Rookie Garrett Temple played for the Rockets in both training camp and in the summer and appears to be a Daryl Morey favorite. He’s a big, long-armed point guard who can really defend and has a very nice basketball IQ. If he can find a way to improve his perimeter shooting stroke and maybe be a little more assertive offensively, he could emerge as a very interesting call-up candidate.

Antonio Anderson was the Defensive Player of the Year last year in Conference USA, so he might gather some NBA attention as a defensive specialist. He’s a terrific athlete with an NBA frame who, like Temple, has experience as a playmaker and some of the same weaknesses—mainly perimeter shooting and overall scoring ability. Anderson and Temple together in the same backcourt is a matchup that could give opposing coaches nightmares on the defensive end.

Georgetown product Jonathan Wallace is more of a traditional point guard who can make shots, run the offense and play mistake-free basketball. He will likely see a good amount of playing time, potentially alongside Temple and Anderson in various combinations.

Kurt Looby is another limited offensive player with intriguing physical attributes who really started to come around towards the end of last year’s D-League season. If he continues to improve and plays with consistency, he could be a guy to take a glance at if nothing else. Much of the same can be said about Mickell Gladness with his length and shot-blocking ability, but he’s so painfully thin it’s difficult to say much about him.

When it’s all said and done, Rio Grande Valley may opt to start Dorsey at the 5 (despite being incredibly undersized) and opt to go with talented face-up forward Julian Sensley at the 4, just to get some more offense on the court.

The Rockets have already assigned Joey Dorsey to the Vipers and could potentially assign 2nd round pick Jermaine Taylor as well. Taylor led the NCAA in scoring last season and could easily do the same in the D-League. The Rockets might want to see him work on other things, though.

8. Maine Red Claws

Starting Lineup:

Will Blalock
Billy Thomas*
Bill Walker (Celtics)/ Paul Harris*
Darnell Lazare
Noel Felix

The expansion Red Claws did a much better job in the expansion draft than their counterparts, the Springfield Armor, coming away with some veteran leadership in Billy Thomas and Noel Felix. Thomas is a major asset on this roster in particular due to his superb character, experience, perimeter shooting and willingness to be a role-player.

The best prospect here is Syracuse rookie Paul Harris who went to training camp with the Utah Jazz after going undrafted. Harris is currently out with an ankle injury but when he comes back he will be someone that NBA teams are sure to keep an eye on thanks to his athleticism, toughness, rebounding and lock-down defensive potential.

With Harris out, the Red Claws will fill his spot with the Celtics’ Bill Walker who was assigned last week. Like Harris, Walker has a history of working with assistant coach Mike “Sweet Chuck” Procopio, so the Celtics (Procopio’s former employers) know he is in good hands. When Paul Harris comes back the two should still be able to play together as they both spent more time at the power forward position in college than at the 3.

With Danny Ainge’s son, Austin as head coach, the Celtics will probably keep them supplied with NBA talent. It would not be a surprise if the Celtics sent J.R. Giddens or Lester Hudson later in the year. The Red Claws could also see Alexis Ajinca and Gerald Henderson assigned from the Charlotte Bobcats. Any assignments would be huge for Maine as they lack a considerable amount of depth at pretty much every position.

A brand new franchise, they are reportedly doing extremely well so far in everything that has to do with marketing and season ticket sales according to a recent CNBC article by Darren Rovell, something that has to make the D-League extremely pleased.

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