Continuing to explore the play of the allocated NBA players here at the D-League Showcase, we took an extended look at Bill Walker of the Boston Celtics/Utah Flash.
Walker had an outstanding game yesterday, as he went 10-12 from the field on his way to a team high 26 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the process as well. Perhaps even more impressive than that however was the way in which he did it. He had several thunderous dunks throughout the game, including a baseline drive in the 3rd quarter where he rose above two players for a three point play. Plays like this erase any doubts about the status of his knees, as he looked extremely comfortable finishing above the rim and also on his hard cuts to the basket. Along with James White, Walker appears to be the most athletic player weve seen in the Showcase thus far.
His ability to slash to the basket and get in the paint was on full display. He doesnt have the ball-handling skills to fully utilize his athleticism yet, but he is clever in his approach using several maneuvers to get his defender off balance and gain a half a step, driving left most of the time. He also uses his strength very well, driving into the paint and then turning the move into a post up to bully his way to the rim. His mentality is to try and dunk the ball every time, which is definitely how you want to see a player with his tools approach the game.
The one three pointer he took went in, but it was only one, which would suggest a lack of confidence and capability in that area. His stroke looked good, even from the FT line where he went 5-5, but he seemed hesitant to pull the trigger when left open resorting to pump fakes and drives to the basket. If he can really improve this area of his game he will be a very tough player to match up with. Hes only attempting two 3-pointers per-game in the D-League thus farhitting 40% of his attemptsbut the sample size does leave something to be desired just 15 games in. This is obviously a very important part of his development.
His overall guard skills can use some improvement as well, as he didnt look all that comfortable dribbling the ball under pressure and threw some questionable passes in the half-court. His defense was solid all game long, as he was active with his hands and was the first person to several loose balls.
Editor's Note: We incorrectly stated that Danny Ainge left the game after the first quarter. That was incorrect. As we just learned, he had gotten up and moved to a different seat and even stayed to talk to his players after the game was over. We apologize for the error.
What to make of Courtney Sims Numbers?
Sims is a pretty unique prospect as far as the D-League is concerned. He has great size, nice length and a decent (although certainly improvable) frame, to go along with solid athleticism. His hands are very good and his touch is absolutely terrific, making him an excellent presence in the post at this level of competition. Right off the bat he showed a very good feel for the game, making some heady post-entry passes on high/low plays.
What really separates him from other D-League big men is his ability to create his own shot. He can put the ball on the floor and has very nice footwork and wherewithal in the post, executing pivot moves and spinning to either shoulder to get his shot off. He lacks strength finishing around the rim or trying to back down his man while grinding in the post, but the skill-level of his finesse moves allow him to create high percentage opportunities on a regular basis when hes getting touches. He also showed the ability to step out to mid-range and knock down 18 foot jumpers, again showing great touch, which is certainly reflected in his free throw strokeat over 75% on the season. He gets to the line at a great rate (his ability to attack defenses off the dribble plays a huge role here), which is a big reason why hes been scoring at such a nice rate this season.
Defensively, Sims still has plenty of room for improvement, as he gave up position far too easily in the paint and also did a poor job for the most part rotating to meet slashers in the paint. He has the length to contest shots, but does not have very good awareness on this end of the floor, probably lacking some toughness as well as strength. Considering what his role would be in the NBA, this is definitely an issue if hes to see quality minutes as a rotation player. He seems to lose his focus quite easily, especially when a bad call goes against himleading him to completely lose his composure.
Sims already has some very minimal experience in the NBA, having made Indianas roster last year. He looks like hes improved quite a bit since then, and it wouldnt shock us at all to see some team decide to call him up sometime soon to see just how good he actually is.
Which brings us to our next storyline: What to make of D-League numbers? Naysayers will say that there are no big men in the D-League, that no one plays any defense, that half the teams dont look like they are being coached, practices are a joke, that team scoring averages are about 20% higher than the NBA, the pace is much faster than in real basketball, that players blatantly stat-pad and cherry pick, wins and losses mean absolutely nothing to most, and that the intensity level and competitiveness of players are often close to nil.
Some of this may very well have merit, and its something that D-League coaches and officials are quick to point out that they need to fix. Its difficult when the league has been so rapidly expanding year by yearnot due to demandwhich necessitates bringing in more and more players each year, and thus waters down the pool of talent on a nightly basis. More competitive salaries (D-League salaries for 08-09 stand at $25,500, for A players [usually two on a team], $19,000 for B players [also two] and $13,000 for C players) would help matters greatly, but when former D-Leaguers like Kris Lang and Terrell McIntyre are pulling in over a million dollars per year, while dozens are others are easily netting six figures in Europe, its tough to lure them with the remote hope of an NBA call-up.
From what we can see after two days, and from the many conversations weve had with NBA executives here, the D-League still has a long ways to go before being considered a legit farm system for NBA teams. They want to see better competition here, which can only stem from fixing some of the many issues laid out above. The most important thing from what we can see is increasing the salaries to lure better talent, stop expanding and watering down the talent level year after year, and doing a better job preparing players for how to be successful on a competitive team (which means maybe not even keeping stats, to discourage the constant trend of players just trying to put up numbers).
Is James White for Real?
Jim Hlavac and Richard Walker
Additionally, his midrange game has also greatly improved, as he has consistently hit his jump shots, often by keeping the defender on his heels with the threat of his deadly drive, allowing him to pull up sharply and hit the open jumperin truly impressive fashion. His form is significantly improved and he gets his shot off quickly while using his athleticism to create outstanding separation from his defender. His long range shooting percentage is not as consistent as we would like to see, but he is still shooting a respectable 35% from behind the arc, on about 3.5 attempts per game. The improvement to his form and the open shots hes drawing should start to nudge that number up over the course of the season.
Defensively, he looks pretty solid, able to read the passing lanes effectively and use his superior athleticism and wingspan to guard most D-league players, ranging from point guards to power forwards even. Coming off the bench as a lock down defender with elite athleticism is probably where his role in the NBA would have to be right nowwhich means focusing even more on his abilities on the defensive end. However, his developing offensive game and ball handling skills certainly give him a tremendous amount of upside even this late into his career, despite being already 26 years old.
White still has a tendency to complain animatedly after any foul call made against him a big red flag for NBA teams. He also occasionally shrugs his shoulder when the offensive play is not called for him and looks uninvolved, a problem which plagued him on occasion in college where he would go through long stretches without being involved in the action. His body language has never been his strong suit after all. These attitude problems are going to need to be investigated by NBA teams before they call him up, as teams are hesitant to add role players mid-season that might bring drama or baggage. However, his all-around game and athleticism is certainly worthy of a call-up to the big leagues this season.