D-League Season Preview: Part Three

D-League Season Preview:  Part Three
Nov 15, 2007, 02:44 am
More D-League Content:

D-League Season Preview Part I
D-League Season Preview Part II
CJ Watson Blog
D-League Draft Recap
D-League Draft Preview

Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Mike Schmidt

Training Camp Roster:

PG: CJ Watson/Royce Parran/Quannas White
SG: Kenny Taylor/Quin Humphrey/Rob Griffin/Derrick Allen/Craig Winder
SF: Steve Novak/Trent Strickland/John Davis/Stanley Asumnu
PF: Gabe Muoneke /Jason Clark/Jarred Merrill
C: Kevin Bookout/Jesse Smith/John Bunch

Roster Outlook: The Vipers wisely invested their first round draft pick in CJ Watson, arguably the top point guard prospect in the D-League at the moment. Freak athlete Royce Parran mans the back-up point spot, and is exciting to watch despite his lack of size. Scorer Quin Humphrey has the opportunity to compete for serious minutes at the 2 this season, and could evolve into a solid scorer at this level. Steady former Texas shooting guard Kenny Taylor will provide experience, defense and perimeter shooting on the wing as well. At the forward spots, Gabe Muoneke is a slasher who played very well for the Charlotte Bobcats at the summer league in Orlando. He will be interchangeable at the ¾ with Steve Novak, who has been assigned to play in the D-League by the Rockets, and his shooting ability will allow him to be one of the top scorers in the league. The center position remains up in the air, with former Oklahoma shot-putting center Kevin Bookout the early favorite to win the job.

NBA Affiliates: Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets

Potentials Assignment Candidates: Rio Grande is in a good position to have their roster strengthened by the three NBA teams they are affiliated with.

The Rockets have already assigned Steve Novak, who appeared in 35 games with the Rockets last season as a rookie. Houston could potentially send down rookie first rounder Aaron Brooks as well, since he’s buried behind Rafer Alston, Mike James, and Steve Francis in the point guard rotation. Second rounder Carl Landry played well during the pre-season, but has yet to make a debut in the regular season, and it could make sense for him to be sent to the D-League.

For the Cavs, another assignment in the D-League makes perfect sense for Shannon Brown, who they declined a third year option on. Second year big man Cedric Simmons has also failed to crack the rotation, and could be sent to the Vipers this year. Rookie shooter Demetris Nichols could be sent down as well to work on his defense.

The Hornets have used the D-League in the past, and Marcus Vinicius is a candidate to be sent down for the second season in a row. The Brazilian forward shows good promise as a scorer, but must become stronger and improve defensively. Rookie shooting guard Adam Haluska exploded for a 20 point game in the pre-season, but he will likely be limited to garbage time minutes in the regular season. It would make sense for New Orleans to send him down for minutes to keep his game sharp. First rounder Julian Wright has appeared in 5 of the 7 regular season games for New Orleans, but in limited minutes, so it’s possible that they send him down at some point during the season.

Season Outlook: The Vipers have good depth at the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward positions. Steven Novak will be a valuable commodity, and should score at least 15 points per game for the Vipers. Stylistically, Rio Grande Valley may be forced to play up-tempo due to their lack of a starting quality center on the team. C.J. Watson’s ability to make smart decisions on the the break and the athleticism on the wings could make run and gun the way to go for the expansion team. The Vipers have good talent for a first year expansion team, but they could struggle if Novak is called back to Houston, and they aren’t quite as stacked as many of the other teams in the league, particularly in the front-court.

Sioux Falls Skyforce

Mike Schmidt

2006-2007 Record: 30-20

Training Camp Roster:

PG: David Bailey/Elton Nesbitt/Derrick Wimmer
SG: Carl Elliot/Ben Jacobson/Milone Clark/ Fred Robinson/Marcus Bailey
SF: Nik Caner-Medley/Evan Burns/Michael Joiner/Sammy Monroe
PF: Antwayne Robinson /J.C. Mathis
C: Jason Klotz/Ronald Allen

Roster Outlook: The Skyforce lost nearly all their players from last season, and tried to re-load through the draft. At point guard, Carl Elliot from George Washington has a chance to be a solid starter, and has good range on his shot. He will likely see heavy minutes alongside the undersized waterbug David Bailey, a potential crowd favorite, who brings serious speed and experience to the table having played in some strong overseas leagues. Ben Jacobson could turn into a solid shooting threat for Sioux Falls at the backup combo guard spot. Former McDonalds All-American Evan Burns struggled with various injure during his college career, including a knee injury, but has the talent to become a feature scorer in the D-league if he can find a way to live up to his vast potential. First rounder Nik Caner-Medley will be a constant threat to score playing the 3 and 4 spots for the Skyforce, and his size and versatility will allow him to be a serious mismatch at this level. At center, Jason Klotz brings a variety of skills offensively, but is a limited athlete and will need to become better at rebounding and playing defense. Ronald Allen will bring a physical presence, but must improve skill-wise.

NBA Affiliates: Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Bobcats

Potentials Assignment Candidates: Chris Richard appears to be the most likely candidate to play in the D-League for the Timberwolves, who have used the raw big out of Florida sparingly so far. Lottery pick Corey Brewer has back-up minutes for the Timberwolves, and it’s likely he’ll be in the Minneapolis area for the whole season. The same goes for second year players Craig Smith and Randy Foye.

The Bobcats probably have a stronger connection to the D-League than any other NBA team, with three of their coaches having past jobs in the league including head coach Sam Vincent. Jermareo Davidson is the most likely candidate to play in Sioux Falls at some point this season, though lack of depth up front may keep this from happening anytime soon. Jared Dudley sat out due to a foot injury in the pre-season, but has put in some solid time off the bench this season. With Adam Morrison out for the season, Dudley becomes more of a necessity in Charlotte. Second year center Ryan Hollins played in the D-League last season, but has played 12 minutes per game early on in the season.

Season Outlook: Sioux Falls has a proven coach, but they will have to overcome the loss of a lot of talent from last season. Caner-Medley will be a top scorer in the league, but he looks like the only consistent offensive option on the roster alongside David Bailey. Up front, Sioux Falls appears to be quite thin at this point in time, which could cause early struggles if Minnesota decides to wait on assigning Richard. The Skyforce did load up on shooters, and their depth at point guard appears to be quite good at this point in time. Unless they can acquire some front court players from the available player pool, it is hard to imagine them playing as well as they did last season.

Albuquerque Thunderbirds

2006-2007 Record: 24-26

Mike Schmidt

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Daniel Horton/Steven Barber/Elijah Ingram/Tim Smith
SG: Tiras Wade/Ali Berdiel/Abdul Mills/Kris Collins
SF: Darvin Ham/Ramon Dyer/Josh Gross
PF: Ejike Ugboaja/Serge Angounou/Harry Good/
C: James Smith/Michael Adams/Jackson Marlow

Roster Outlook: At point guard, the Thunderbirds drafted Daniel Horton in the second round. Horton struggled to fit in the triangle offense run by the D-Fenders last season, but has a chance at becoming a quality starter in the D-League. He needs freedom to operate, but it seems like he’ll get that here in Albuquerque. Steven Barber focuses on scoring more than distributing, but is a quality back-up who will play a lot of minutes this year. They will have to rely on the talented, but unstable Tiras Wade at shooting guard, who can really light it up from the outside, but is just an average athlete. Former NBA player Darvin Ham can be slotted in for time at both forward spots this season. The D-League first rounder brings a great deal of energy and athleticism inside, but it will be interesting to see if his age has made an impact on his natural physical abilities, as it’s been around three years since the 34 year old last saw serious playing time. At power forward, the Thunderbirds drafted 2006 Cavs’ first rounder Ejike Ugboaja, a Nigerian big man who is extremely raw, but plays hard and has a chiseled body. To fill the center void, former Marist center James Smith will receive a lot of playing time this season. Smith has an accurate shooting stroke out to the college three point line, but will need to improve his rebounding and all around effort this season.

NBA Affiliates: Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers

Potentials Assignment Candidates: The Suns could send rookie Alando Tucker to the D-League. Tucker had a strong summer league, but has only appeared in 1 blowout win so far this season. A long stint in Albuquerque would make a lot of sense for the rookie out of Wisconsin. Second rounder D.J. Strawberry has appeared in 3 games for the Suns, and is closer to contributing than Tucker, thanks in part to his lockdown defense. Strawberry might be sent down, but it is no lock to happen at this point. Having only 13 players on their luxury tax strapped roster, it might be difficult with the Suns to part with those two due to concerns over having enough bodies for practice and in case of an injury.

The 76ers used the D-League with Louis Williams and Bobby Jones last season, and have a couple players who might see time this year. Rookie Thaddeus Young has only one appearance this season, which came in a blowout win. At the age of 19, he could benefit greatly from a stint with Albuquerque—just to continue to develop while receiving consistent playing time. First rounder Jason Smith has been a regular part of the Sixers’ rotation, but second rounder Herbert Hill could benefit from the playing time available to him in Albuquerque once he’s healthy. Second year guard Rodney Carney has been a key bench player for Philadelphia this season, and will spend the whole season in the NBA.

Season Outlook: The Thunderbirds have built an intriguing roster, but with a lot of question marks. Tiras Wade has always been a great talent, but hasn’t lasted long at any of his stops since college. Daniel Horton had a shaky rookie season himself despite the great potential he possesses. Darvin Ham was their top pick (#3 overall), but it remains to be seen how quickly he can return to his old-self at this point in time, if at all. Albuquerque also lacks proven depth up front, and may have to struggle through the growing pains of raw big men for the whole season. Still, they have good depth at point guard, and some nice talent spread across the roster. If Wade provides the scoring punch they need at the two, and the 76ers in particular decide to be generous with their stable of young talent, Albuquerque could compete for a playoff spot this season. Once player transactions start, don’t be surprised if they look for another big man.

Colorado 14ers

Jim Hlavac

Training Camp Roster:

PG: Eddie Gill/Brandon Dean/Lou White
SG: Eric Osmundson/Damien Lolar/Chuck Davis
SF: Brian Greene/Terrance Crawford/Marcus Sanders/Tyronne Beale
PF: Kaniel Dickens/Kelly Whitney/ Mo Charlo/Julian Sensley
C: Elton Brown/Chad Bell

Roster Outlook: Colorado lost three All-Stars from last season’s team, which lost in the D-League Championship game in overtime to Dakota. They do however, return All D-League 1st Team member Elton Brown who averaged 18.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for them last season. A repeat of those numbers, plus improved defensive play is a must for Brown to get called up. Brown went to training camp this year with the Los Angeles Lakers and was among the last players cut from the team.

Joining Brown as returnees include SF Terrence Crawford, SG Eric Osmundson and PF Mo Charlo. Crawford played in 47 games last season (19 starts) averaging 6.0 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game. Osmundson averaged 4.8ppg and 1.9rpg, while Mo Charlo averaged 4.8ppg and 2.8rpg.

Colorado will look to former NBA point guard Eddie Gill to run the offense this year. Gill was the 1st overall pick in this year’s draft and is hoping to return to the NBA after an up and down year playing in Russia.

Brian Greene should make an impact for the 14ers, as well as fellow combo-forward Kaniel Dickens. Greene had a great season in France last year, and turned down numerous big money offers in Europe. He provides some athleticism to the Colorado front line, as well as team oriented play. Dickens was called up during his D-League stint 2 seasons ago. A freak athlete, he will cause mismatch problems this season with use of his ability to get to the basket, or take smaller players down low. Kelly Whitney provides solid depth up front as well, though he lacks ideal size for the NBA. He took a year off to deal for personal reasons last season, but has the energy and athleticism to be a commodity at the D-League level once he works his way back into shape.

NBA Affiliates: Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors

Potentials Assignment Cadidates: Right now there are no obvious players for assignment. PF Josh Boone from the Nets might be the favorite, but most of the eligible players are seeing limited action in all of their team’s games. Sean Williams could be another possibility at some point, but he has looked impressive in limited stretches so far. Eligible players from the Nuggets include G Yakhouba Diawara and F Bobby Jones. The Nets can send down PG Marcus Williams, while the Raptors could send down Andrea Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa or Jamario Moon. None look particularly likely at this point.

Season Outlook: Colorado lost a ton of talent with the departure of Von Wafer (Denver Nuggets), Louis Amundson (Philadelphia 76ers) and Pooh Jeter (BC Kyiv), but the combination of Elton Brown and Eddie Gill should give the 14ers a good foundation to build upon. And if their draft this year is anywhere close to last year’s, they will have a good run at the Southwest Division title. The assignments of Dickens and Greene will provide them with a lot of talent up front when combined with Elton Brown. Whitney and Crawford are quality guys to have off the bench in the D-League as well. Depth at the shooting guard position may become a problem during the season, however. Brandon Dean was solid in the D-League last season, but may have to back up both guard spots. With the way the roster has been put together, the 14ers will probably play a lot of small ball this season, and they have the athletes to turn this into a very successful season.

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