D-League Showcase- Day One

D-League Showcase- Day One
Jan 06, 2009, 01:18 pm
Kicking off Another D-League Showcase

We’re back for our third straight D-League Showcase, undoubtedly one of our favorite events on the basketball calendar. This is a setting for the hardcore only—you better be very serious about basketball if you decided to make it over here—and is always a good place to catch up on the latest in the industry with the numerous scouts, International teams, agents and players that make the trip.

The very poor weather—it was snowing for basically the entire day, caused a lot of flight delays and made it very difficult for many to arrive on time for the first day. The turnout was thus fairly poor—certainly from the NBA side but especially from Europe, so we’ll have to see if that is a trend or just a cause of the location and climate. Again we heard all kinds of grumblings about why they couldn’t have picked a warmer D-League city—such as Austin, Los Angeles or Anaheim—and considering the way the gym looked on the first day, it was hard to argue with that.

The first game was delayed by about 40 minutes because of a malfunctioning shot-clock (the announcer was a virtual shot-clock in the first quarter, counting down seconds at the end of possessions). The games were very sluggish to start off, too many whistles, too many bad shots, and a very minor league feel to the overall play. You heard a player yelling out “by yourself” to a teammate on pretty much every other possession, and most of them don’t need to be told twice to go one on one. Still, you learn to make the most of what you have here—there are all kinds of interesting people to talk with, there are certainly some intriguing prospects scattered about the rosters, and it still beats what most people have to do to make a living at the end of the day.

It can actually be quite entertaining if you come here with the right mindset—a classic example would be Carl Elliott taking an in-bounds pass and running the wrong way to score on his own basket, before being redirected by his entire team jumping up and down from the bench to make him realize his mistake. He promptly turned around, drove all the way to the other end completely unopposed and scored easily—a classic D-League play.

The D-League Showcase or NBA Showcase?

New Jersey’s somewhat surprising decision to send Sean Williams down to the D-League (he was one of the best players in last year’s Rookie-Sophomore Challenge, beating out Al Thornton, Spencer Hawes and Rodney Stuckey for a spot on the team) might signal a trend for future NBA teams. Will we begin seeing teams use the D-League showcase as their own private showcase to increase the trade value of their players?

It’s not a bad idea if you think about it, considering that every NBA team is represented here in Orem, along with numerous GMs, Presidents, Directors of Scouting and Directors of Player Personnel, among other executives.

The biggest curveball here might be Williams’ reaction—unilaterally deciding that while down in Colorado, he wants to play small forward. This coming from a guy who has been a center his entire life, has virtually no perimeter skills to speak of, and whom his best assets are his shot-blocking and offensive rebounding skills—which usually entail being as close to the basket as possible. The Nets publicly said “sure” but that hasn’t been exactly the case in the Showcase. No one will ever question Williams’ talent—it’s his intangibles and on and off the court focus that have always been his worst enemy. We discussed these issues at length before the draft in his DraftExpress profile, for a more recent take, see Hoopsworld’s article.

Any way you slice it, though, there is no questioning the fact that Sean Williams is the most naturally talented and physically gifted player at the D-League Showcase. As we all know, though, there is a lot more to being a successful basketball player than just being talented.

In his first game here in Orem, Williams struggled a bit with foul trouble and ended up having just a decent all-around showing considering the level of competition—10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 6 fouls and 2 turnovers on 4-7 shooting in 28 minutes. He spent most of his time within 15 feet of the basket, putting his freakish athleticism on display literally from the opening tip, jumping to the sky like a pogo stick to tap the ball to a teammate. He was able to establish himself as a legit shot-blocking presence and also made an impact on the offensive glass, but also showed pretty vividly why he has been unable to crack New Jersey’s rotation this season thus far.

His on-ball defense was pretty poor—being scored on numerous times by both Charles Gaines and Andre Brown, and committing some very silly fouls. His perimeter skills looked very raw (turning the ball over when trying to do anything advanced with the ball, bricking a mid-range jumper badly) and his entire game appears to be strictly off instincts.

At this level that can definitely work—and he made some extremely intriguing plays to back that up (some nice turnaround jumpers in the post, getting his hands on all kinds of loose balls), but the poor body language he displayed and the questionable IQ often negated some of those plays. Williams often looked like he was in his own world—not warming up with his teammates for example—and generally didn’t do a great deal to show that he is “worth the hassle” considering his off-court issues.

Other NBA Allocations

What better place to get a look at the development of some of the league’s little used rookies and sophomores than the D-League showcase? Sonny Weems, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker, Joey Dorsey, Alex Acker, Walter Sharpe and Malik Hairston are the other NBA assigned players we’ll be following over the course of the next few days.

Hairston and Dorsey were in action in day one.

Hairston was solid, although unspectacular, not surprising considering his role as a very complete and all-around player. He showed the ability to get to the basket at will as Colorado had no one who could keep him out of the paint. That’s a very good sign considering that his ball-handling skills have always been considered one of his bigger weaknesses. He has a solid first step off the catch – facing a guy up, jab stepping and attacking, which was evident in the first half when he took two dribbles from the top of the key, left Trey Gilder way behind him and threw down a ferocious dunk for a three point play. When he begins his dribble however, he is not nearly as quick—his handle is good, but certainly not spectacular—but he uses crafty moves coupled with his strength to get to the hoop. He’ll pivot and spin in the lane to push his defender away and find himself at the rim—showing a very high IQ in the process.

His shot looked good yesterday as well, albeit on not that many attempts, with the majority of his shots coming in the paint. His free throws however and the few mid range shots that he attempted displayed good arc and a soft touch, despite the slight hitch that is in his shot – pausing at the top prior to the release. His range extends to about 20 feet and is not comfortable from the 3 point line just yet.

His ball-handling skills seemed a little shaky when he was pressured, picking up his dribble prematurely on several occasions and forcing a few passes in the half-court which led to turnovers. Additionally, his head was down most of the time when he went to the basket, almost making up his mind before the move instead of weighing all of his options. His athleticism is certainly improving as he continues to improve his body, he is a very quick leaper with great hops, which contributes to his adeptness in the lane.

Hairston is in-between being a 2 and 3 right now. He does a lot of things well but doesn’t have one particularly great skill that would fill a need for an NBA team at the moment. Saying that however, he is a very good scorer (Almost 20 ppg), a solid athlete, plays with a good spirit and energy, and is a month and a half away from his 22nd birthday. As he continues to polish his all-around game, it would not be surprising to see him develop into a solid rotation player, which is exactly why San Antonio decided to call him up and make sure no one else does that first.

Dorsey’s first appearance in the D-League Showcase did not go over quite as well…Suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, Dorsey came into the game looking like he clearly did not want to be here. He looked wholly disinterested in doing anything when the ball was not in his hands, playing absolutely no defense, refusing to box out for rebounds (grabbing an incredibly uncharacteristic 4 defensive rebounds in 39 minutes) and completely ignoring his responsibilities getting back on defense. He looked very unfocused, showed bad body language, and generally made a mockery out of his “assignment” down here.

The worst part that he did all this with his general manager Daryl Morey (the man who traded for him on draft night, praised him effusively and gave him a 3-year contract) was sitting in the second row—obviously not happy with what he was seeing. “Disappointed” was all he was willing to say to us…on the record. There really wasn’t much more to be said, it was that bad. The big problem is that it’s exactly these type of issues that teams were worried about during the pre-draft process—his background, character and intangibles, and he’s unfortunately not doing much to show that he deserved otherwise. Dorsey needs to realize that his place in the NBA is anything but secured at this point in his career—there have been plenty of second round picks who didn’t last more than half a season in the NBA and never got another shot again. If he’s not careful, he could find himself meeting the same fate if he refuses to change his ways.

Other Performances from Day One

The top two players in the first game of the Showcase were Gary Forbes and Will Conroy, both players who are on a number of team’s shortlists for call-ups.

Forbes had 30 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers on 12-17 shooting from the field and 6-11 from beyond the arc. He came off the bench for Sioux Falls and gave them a huge spark offensively, creating his own shot repeatedly from the perimeter and getting to the basket for some excellent finishes. He’s not the most athletic player you’ll find (he plays below the rim), but his ball-handling skills, body control and scoring instincts are terrific. He even played some point, doing a nice job probing the defense with his dribble and then finding open players on the perimeter for spot-up jumpers. His perimeter shot was probably the biggest revelation—it’s only one game obviously, but for anyone to hit six NBA 3-pointers is extremely impressive. His release is quick and compact, and he was terrific with his feet set and a second to get his shot off—which he can get all the time against D-League type defenses. All in all, this was an extremely impressive performance, and if he keeps playing this way, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see him get a call-up. He helped himself as much as any player in day one.

On the other side of the ball, the top player for Albuquerque was clearly Will Conroy, also in large part thanks to the excellent shooting display he put on. Conroy’s shot was looking about as good as we’ve ever seen, he went 4-6 from beyond the arc to go along with 26 points and 11 assists, as well as 5 turnovers and 6 rebounds, playing all 48 minutes. He’s shooting 37% from beyond the arc on the season, on quite a few attempts, so it’s probably safe to say that his shot has improved from his time in college, where he was known as a mediocre shooter. He also did a very good job running his team in transition, making some crisp passes, as well as some very nice post-entry looks, but forced the issue a little bit too much in the half-court, which led to quite a few turnovers. This has always been Conroy’s biggest problem, and is clearly the number one issue holding him back from making an NBA team. Unfortunately he’s turning the ball over more than ever this season. If he can just cut down on the 2-3 careless decisions he makes with the ball every game he’d be in much better shape. He’s still not the greatest athlete around, relying too much on his strength rather than on pure quickness or explosiveness. All things considered, though, Conroy has to be looked at as one of the better point guards the D-League has to offer.

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