Inside the D-League: Week Five

Inside the D-League: Week Five
Dec 26, 2007, 03:34 pm
Billy Thomas Called Up to the Nets

Colorado 14ers guard Billy Thomas has been added to the New Jersey Nets, making him the 5th call-up of the D-League season. Thomas joins a team that called up Eddie Gill earlier in the season, but released him once Marcus Williams became healthy. In 12 games with the 14ers, Thomas averaged 14.9 points and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 40% from behind the three point line. The Nets have scouted the D-League hard in the past few weeks, looking at numerous options before choosing to add 32 year-old Thomas.

Almond Breaks Scoring Record, Earns Performer of the Week Honors

Utah Jazz rookie Morris Almond broke the D-League scoring record last week with an impressive 51 point outing, and has been named the Performer of the Week as a result. The rookie out of Rice went 12 of 16 from the free throw line while dropping his 51 points on 35 attempts from the field. In 6 games with the Flash, Almond is averaging 32 points per game while shooting 45% from the field and 43% from behind the three point line. He has the tools to become a reliable scorer at the NBA level, and looks to be a great value for the Jazz considering he was drafted 25th overall in the first round.

Player Movement Increases as Players Leave for Europe

Three big D-League names have been rumored to leave the D-League as of late, showing a possible early trend of players becoming impatient with NBA teams and seeking big money overseas. Damone Brown has left the Sioux Falls Skyforce to play overseas, after joining the team less than one month ago. Forward Noel Felix has also left the Anaheim Arsenal, choosing to sign with Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel. Felix struggled to fit in with the Arsenal, but they will miss his size up front. Rio Grande Valley forward Gabe Muoneke has also been mentioned as another player potentially leaving, with his final destination being Spain, possibly Tau Vitoria. Muoneke had been playing extremely well for the Vipers, and was receiving interest from a handful of NBA teams. With player movement picking up overseas, there will be more leaving for Europe shortly as well as many returning to play in the D-League. The NBA guaranteed contract deadline is fast approaching as well, and we could see a number of D-League players trading places with fringe NBA players.

Karl and Green Recalled From the D-League

Rookie guards Coby Karl and Taurean Green have been recalled from the D-League, rejoining their NBA teams right before Christmas. Karl appeared in 10 games with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, averaging 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field and 43% from behind the three point line. The D-Fenders have a break for Christmas, in which many of the players are returning home for a few days, so it made perfect sense for the Lakers to bring him back and check his progress. Barring injuries or a trade, Karl will return to the D-League affiliate shortly after Christmas, and may not miss any games with the team.

Green played in 4 games for the Idaho Stampede, averaging 19.3 points and 5.8 assists per game. With the Blazers playing well, they sent the rookie to the D-League to keep his conditioning up while getting him some time to learn next to Randy Livingston. Green will remain out of Portland’s rotation for the time being and could return to the D-League at some point this season.

Sene Assigned to Idaho

For the second consecutive season, center Mouhamed Sene will play with the Idaho Stampede on assignment. The second year Seattle Sonic has only appeared in 9 games this season picking spot minutes in blow-out games. Sene has the potential to become a good rebounder and shot-blocker in the NBA, but must focus on progressing offensively as well as playing with a consistent effort. During his rookie season, the big man appeared in 15 games with the Stampede, averaging 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

Cheikh Samb Re-Called by Pistons

Rookie center Cheikh Samb has been recalled by the Detroit Pistons, after spending 11 days with the team. He displayed good promise in his first couple games in Fort Wayne, but was sidelined during his second game when his front teeth were broken. The rookie will likely return to the Mad Ants towards the start of January. In his two D-League appearances, Samb averaged 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game.

Eddie Gill Re-Joins Colorado

Veteran guard Eddie Gill, recently released by the New Jersey Nets, has joined the Colorado 14ers. Gill was the number 1 overall selection in the 2007 D-League draft, but received a contract from the Nets before he could even suit up for a pre-season game. He appeared in 11 games for New Jersey, playing in 11 games with 1 appearance in the starting lineup. The chance of Gill returning to the NBA this season remains high, and January 5th is the first day for 10-day contracts.

Strawberry Assigned to Albuquerque, Tucker Recalled

Rookie guard D.J. Strawberry was assigned to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, where he will replace Suns’ teammate Alando Tucker. A rookie out of Maryland, Strawberry provides lockdown defense as well as a good glue guy for the Thunderbirds. The rookie guard needs to become more consistent with his perimeter shooting and develop his scoring ability while in Albuquerque.

Tucker immediately was one of the best players in the D-League since being assigned, and his recall comes after a number of dominating performances, including a 40 point night.

Nichols Assigned to Iowa, Curry Recalled

Rookie small forward Demetris Nichols will play with the Iowa Energy, while JamesOn Curry re-joins the Bulls for the time being. Nichols was drafted by the New York Knicks in the second round of the 2007 draft, but was cut after training camp and immediately picked up by Cleveland. When the Cavs reached a deal with Anderson Varejao they had no room for Nichols, and the Bulls picked him up off waivers. At Syracuse, the rookie became well known for his deadly shooting stroke, but he must focus on improving his slashing ability and defensive fundamentals while in the D-League. He has sat on the bench since the pre-season, and the minutes will certainly help his conditioning.

Darryl Watkins Added by the D-Fenders

Former Sacramento King Darryl Watkins has been acquired by the Los Angeles D-Fenders from the available player pool. Watkins went undrafted out of Syracuse, before making the Kings as a free agent. The rookie big man has great physical attributes, including a well developed body and nice athletic ability. Though he lacks a great understanding of the game, he can put the ball in the basket fairly effectively. To make it back to the NBA, Watkins must work on his defensive positioning and avoid foul trouble. His rebounding also needs improvement. With the lack of quality centers, Watkins immediately can be placed on the short list of potential call-ups.

NBA Player Updates

Maurice Ager, Dallas Mavericks/Tulsa 66ers
21.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.7 apg

Ager had his best showing of the season, scoring a season high 30 points and going 6 of 9 from behind the three point line in a loss to Iowa. In that game, the second year guard showed the ability to hit both set and off the dribble three pointers, while making some very difficult shots in the process. For Ager to last in the NBA, he will need to become more consistent with this three point stroke that has been absent from his game during the majority of his NBA career. Though a good vertical leaper, he doesn’t have the first step to penetrate consistently at the NBA level, and his mid-range game also leaves a lot to be desired. Defensively, Ager needs to improve his fundamentals as well.

Morris Almond, Utah Jazz/Utah Flash
32.0ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.8apg

The rookie out of Rice set the D-League scoring record when going off for 51 points, and shows impressive ability to put the ball in the hoop that will likely translate to the NBA level. Almond uses screens to create space for himself, and is nearly automatic when he can set his feet. The 25th pick in the 2007 draft, he also excels as a mid-range scorer, showing the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper and the floater inside. To improve while in the D-League, Almond must focus on progress defensively. He has a great body, but struggles to fight through screens, and has only average lateral quickness for the NBA level. Ball handling will also be important for him, and may determine whether he can penetrate to the hoop at the NBA level.

Nick Fazekas, Dallas Mavericks/Tulsa 66ers
13.9ppg, 8.8rpg, 2.3apg

Fazekas has continued to show good touch on the offensive end and an array of moves with the ball. The rookie appears to be in his highest comfort zone when facing the basket. Though he has good range on his jumper, the three point shot has not fallen for him to this point, and it may be anyone’s guess as to whether he will be able to extend his range to NBA three. In the low post, Fazekas struggles when matched against a stronger defender, though he has solid footwork and a few reliable moves. The big struggle for him at the NBA level will come physically. The rookie lacks any type of bulk, and often gets abused defensively in the D-League. In his last game against Iowa, Fazekas struggled to stop Nick Lewis from scoring in the low post. Though he has great hands which help him in this area, rebounding will also be a struggle at the NBA level for the former Nevada big man.

Ian Mahinmi, San Antonio Spurs/Austin Toros
17.2ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.4apg

Mahinmi recently missed time due to a foot injury, but has been absolutely dominant since returning to the floor. His best game of the season came against Utah, where he had 32 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Foul trouble has plagued Manhinmi throughout his international career, but this has been less of a problem as of late for the talented big man. Offensively, the French rookie has displayed better comfort operating down low, using a right handed hook out of the low post. The ability to flash to the basket and catch the ball also leads to a number of points for him. It is clear at this point that Mahinmi has better upside than any big man in the D-League, and it will certainly be interesting to see his production the remainder of the season.

Demetris Nichols, Chicago Bulls/Iowa Energy
21.3ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.8apg

Nichols became known for his ability to shoot the ball at Syracuse, and this skill should keep him in the NBA for a long time. The rookie will need more playing time to regain his comfort level on the court, but he has been fairly impressive in his stretch of early D-League games. The defense is forced to immediately respect Nichols when he receives a clean look on the perimeter, and this has opened up other areas of the game for him. Though he lacks the athleticism and first step to consistently get to the hoop at the NBA level, he will be able to use a pump-fake to get past the first defender, and he has a decent feel for finding the open man once he gets inside. Defensively, a lot of room for improvement remains for the rookie. Nichols lacks the lateral quickness to become a great defender, but could work on forcing the offensive player to the help defender. Surprisingly, he has displayed good anticipation in the passing lanes, which has led to some easy baskets for Nichols on the other end.

Kosta Perovic, Golden State Warriors/Bakersfield Jam
8.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .3 apg

Perovic has received extended playing time as of late from coach Jim Harrick and responded well to the extra minutes. The big man has blocked 4 shots in 2 of his last 3 games, and had 18 points and 8 rebounds in his most recently outing against the Utah Flash. He really needs to focus on becoming stronger to have a chance at playing in the NBA, but Perovic has above average athleticism and runs the floor nicely for a big man. He needs to develop a reliable post game, and his help defense will need a good deal of work as well.

Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee Bucks/Tulsa 66ers
22.1ppg, 6.1rpg, 6.5 apg

Sessions has continued to play well during his D-League stint, and could have a solid future as a third NBA point guard. The former Nevada lead guard needs to work on his three point shooting while in the D-League, but has a very nice floater. The floating runner that he shoots is the lowest percentage shot in basketball, and it’s a necessary tool for any small point guard playing in the NBA. Sessions likes to attack off the dribble and uses screens well on offense to create the space for him to get to the hoop. Defensively, the rookie has been inconsistent, but has the strength to guard most NBA points guards (bigger ones will post him up). Shooting mechanics will be important for Sessions. With improved balance and a better stroke, the rookie would last in the NBA for a long time.

DJ Strawberry, Phoenix Suns/Albuquerque Thunderbirds
26.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg

A rookie combo-guard, Strawberry special defensive ability that translates against both point and shooting guards. In the D-League, he will need to prove that he can shoot the three pointer as well as effectively run the point. In his D-League debut, Strawberry missed on both of his three point attempts. With only one game under his belt in the D-League and limited experience in the NBA, it’s tough to say how exactly he projects to the next level. His defensive ability makes the rookie a very intriguing player to track, and he has a chance to stick with the Suns for a long time.

D-League Team Updates

Los Angeles D-Fenders, 9-3

The D-Fenders have won their past 6 games, and now have the most talented roster in the D-League. 7 of their current players have NBA experience within the past few seasons, and they have balance on the team from top to bottom. The D-Fenders beat Iowa and Sioux Falls as part of their road trip last week, and now have some time off for Christmas. Devin Green has been playing extremely well lately, showing an improved shooting stroke, lockdown defensive ability, and the ability to play point guard. Sean Banks has evolved into one of the better scorers in the league this season, averaging 20.3 points per game on 49% shooting from the field. Wendell White is very aggressive inside, and has a nice feel for the game as well. If Darryl Watkins and Brian Chase play at top form, the D-Fenders will be tough for any team to beat.

Los Angeles plays a home-away back to back against Bakersfield on Friday and Saturday to close out 2007.

Colorado 14ers, 9-4

The 14ers beat Austin in a pair of games last week, but dropped a game in Anaheim where the opposing team only had 4 players on the court for the final few minutes. The addition of Eddie Gill has made Colorado one of the elite teams in the league, but it will take some time for him to build chemistry with his teammates. The loss of Billy Thomas will hurt the backcourt of the team, but they still have a plethora of talent up front. Kaniel Dickens has scored the ball very efficiently lately, particularly from behind the three point line (47%). With Julian Sensley out with an injury, it will be important for both Elton Brown and Dickens to continue their current levels of production.

Colorado plays at Sioux Falls on Friday night and in Dakota Saturday night.

Austin Toros, 7-4

The Toros have dropped their last three games, losing a pair to Colorado before falling short in overtime during a road contest against Utah. The re-assigned Darius Washington should help the team greatly, and a healthy Ian Mahinmi provides the Toros with an inside presence that few D-League teams have. Keith Langford has missed the past 3 games for the Toros with a minor injury, and his scoring ability off the dribble is a much needed weapon for Austin. Cheyne Gadson has struggled with his three point shot since joining the team, but has been a solid combo-guard and effective scorer. Marcus Williams may be playing the best basketball of his career as of late. His three point shooting stroke needs work, but he could potentially be a call-up candidate shortly.

Austin hosts Tulsa for a back to back starting on Thursday, before traveling to Tulsa for a Saturday game.

Iowa Energy, 8-6

Iowa struggled through the loss of JamesOn Curry, but they have adjusted nicely to pick up wins against Tulsa and Dakota. Dwayne Mitchell struggle two weeks ago, but bounced back nicely with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists in the Tulsa victory. He still struggles with ball handling and turning over the ball, but makes some very athletic plays off the dribble. Deji Akindele will be leaving the team shortly and has been de-activated for the time being. Jeff Horner has played fairly well since the departure of Curry, though the numbers don’t always accurately depict his performance.

Iowa hosts Sioux Falls on Thursday and Rio Grande Valley on Saturday. They close out the year with a New Year’s Eve game in Dakota.

Dakota Wizards, 7-5

The Wizards have played well as of late, winning 7 of their past 10 games. Last week they defeated Tulsa and Rio Grande Valley before dropping a close game to Iowa on Christmas. Rod Benson has established himself as one of the best centers in the league with Kevin Lyde out. The second year big man needs to get stronger, but has maintained a 13.5 rebound per game average this season. Carlos Powell continues to score the ball very effectively for the Wizards. His style of play may not translate to the NBA, but his ability to overpower other small forwards leads to easy baskets at this level. Dontell Jefferson has continued to impress with his slashing ability, scoring 18 points per game this season but must focus on increasing his shooting percentages.

Dakota hosts Colorado on Saturday and a home game against Iowa on New Year’s Eve.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers, 7-5

The Vipers have struggled as of late, dropping road games to Sioux Falls and Dakota. C.J. Watson has been steady for the team, making smart reads off of pick and rolls while showing the ability to knock down the jumper out to the NBA three point line. If Watson gets called up, the Vipers will struggled because their offense is set up to his strengths as a player. Gabe Muenoke has been the other big presence for the Vipers this season, and his alleged departure to Europe will hurt the team. Quin Humphrey and Kenny Taylor are solid D-League perimeter players, but they will struggle to create their own shots effectively if Watson joins an NBA squad. With Kevin Bookout currently out with a shoulder injury, the Vipers will look to add some size soon.

Rio Grande Valley plays in Fort Wayne on Friday and in Iowa on Saturday.

Idaho Stampede, 7-5

The schedule has been tough for Idaho early in the season, playing just 3 home games while opening with 9 on the road. They picked up a pair of quality wins in Bakersfield last week, and their schedule should start to get easier as they play their next three games to finish the month at home. Randy Livingston missed the last game because of a minor injury, and they desperately need him healthy to compete this season. Lance Allred has continued to dominate this season. He isn’t the strongest defender, but has averages of 19 points and 10 rebounds per game on the season. Ricky Sanchez has the tools to become an excellent scorer in this league, but a more consistent effort from him offensively would go a long way for the Stampede.

Idaho hosts Bakersfield on Wednesday and a Friday-Saturday back to back against Anaheim.

Utah Flash, 7-5

Utah won both of their games last week in overtime against both Austin and Bakersfield. The addition of Morris Almond from the Jazz has been huge for the Flash, and his scoring ability will give him a chance to compete in every game. With Kyrylo Fesenko back in the NBA, James Lang has stepped up in 2 of his past 3 NBA games. His solid touch inside and big body will always get him looked at by NBA scouts. Kevin Kruger had 16 points and 11 assists in the win over Bakersfield, but he must cut down on turnovers. The Flash have relied on NBA talent all season, and could struggle if Almond is recalled to the Jazz.

Utah closes out the year with a home-away back to back starting in Albuquerque Friday night.

Albuquerque Thunderbirds, 4-5

Albuquerque struggled in their only game last week, losing to Colorado in a blowout game. Josh Gross has been the most consistent scorer for the Thunderbirds this year, and he missed the game due to injury. If Gross misses an extended period of time, the team will have trouble finding a player who can be relied upon to score. Ali Berdiel has created well for the Thunderbirds going to the basket, averaging nearly 6 assists per game, but he must raise his shooting percentage from the mid-30s. If the Suns leave DJ Strawberry with Albuquerque for an extended period of time, it will give the team a much better chance to stay in the playoff race.

Albuquerque hosts Utah Friday night before heading to Utah for a Saturday game.

Tulsa 66ers, 4-6

Tulsa dropped both of their games last week, losing to both Iowa and Dakota. They have a lot of talent to go with their three NBA players, but they lack the chemistry to compete in the D-League. Mike Hall has been solid defensively this season and can knock down the spot-up jumper, but has only recently raised his shooting percentage to 39% on the season. Adam Harrington is currently out due to injury, and his shooting stroke was deadly early in the season. Glen McGowan has only recently started playing since recovering from a knee injury. They have the talent to be one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the league, but must start playing together as a team.

Tulsa plays in Austin Thursday and Friday nights, before hosting the Toros on Sunday.

Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 4-7

The Mad Ants lost to Tulsa and Sioux Falls last week but defeated Iowa in an overtime game at home. Sammy Mejia has re-joined the team, and he must play well if they are going to overcome the loss of Jeremy Richardson to the NBA. Larry Turner has been disappointing for the Mad Ants this year. He possesses a fantastic body for the NBA, but lacks any type of desire on the court. Guard Earl Calloway continues to surprise many people with his play this season, averaging 16.5 points per game while showing versatile scoring ability. Fort Wayne will likely look to the player pool very soon to attempt to find an elite scorer that will make up for the loss of Richardson.

Fort Wayne hosts Rio Grande Valley on Friday night before hosting Sioux Falls on Sunday.

Sioux Falls Skyforce, 4-7

Sioux Falls defeated Rio Grande Valley and Fort Wayne last week, but dropped a home game to the D-Fenders. Kasib Powell’s lights out mid-range scoring has been a huge asset for the Skyforce, who have already lost Damone Brown and Nik Caner-Medley to Europe this season. Power Forward J.C. Mathis had his best showing of the season on Christmas against Fort Wayne, finishing the game with 29 points and 14 rebounds. The Skyforce need a scoring guard as well as a center of some kind, and may struggle to compete against the better teams in the league until they add a couple more players.

Sioux Falls plays in Iowa on Thursday night, before hosting Colorado on Friday. They close out 2007 with a Sunday game in Fort Wayne.

Anaheim Arsenal, 4-8

Anaheim won one of the more exciting games in D-League history last week, defeating Colorado with just 4 players on the floor during the last couple minutes of the overtime period. This was Will Blalock’s most productive game since re-joining the D-League, and also the first where he received big minutes. Guillermo Diaz has struggled since his strong start to the season, and has become a very streaky scorer. With Noel Felix departed for Israel, the Arsenal are in desperate need for a big man. They could look to the pool or shop one of their many point guards to fill the void up front.

Anaheim plays Friday and Saturday night games in Idaho.

Bakersfield Jam, 2-13

Bakersfield has dropped their past 7 games, and are the worst team in the D-League with 13 losses on the season. Andre Barrett has continued to produce like one of the elite point guards in the league, but there’s only so much he can do with the team around him. On the season, Barrett has an assist to turnover ratio of over 3 to 1, and currently averages 9 assists per game. Brandon Bowman has improved since last season, but shot selection is still a problem for him, and his efforts can still be described as inconsistent. Scooter McFadgon has the scoring ability to help the team, but must work to improve his shot selection and three point shooting.

Bakersfield closes out the year with a Wednesday game in Idaho, before playing a home and away back to back against Los Angeles on the weekend.

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