Inside the D-League: Week Three

Inside the D-League: Week Three
Dec 13, 2007, 07:33 pm
Spurs Recall Washington

With an ankle injury to Tony Parker that may keep him out of the game tonight, the Spurs took action by recalling Darius Washington from the Austin Toros. Washington was with the Toros for four games, where he led the league in scoring at 28 points per game while leading the team to 4 consecutive victories. An un-drafted rookie out of Memphis, he spent last season overseas before playing surprisingly well for the Spurs in training camp.
Washington will likely remain with the team until Parker becomes 100%, and could then return to the Toros. Each NBA player is eligible for 3 assignments per season, so the Spurs’ rookie can return to Austin twice more.

Jazz Recall Fesenko

The Utah Jazz have recalled rookie center Kyrylo Fesenko for the second time this season. The Ukrainian rookie was in the midst of his second stint in the D-League this season, meaning he can only be re-assigned once more this year. Fesenko was re-assigned to the Utah Flash on December 6th after spending 10 days with the minor league team in November. In his 6 games on assignment this season, the rookie center averaged 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 62% from the field.

Samb Assigned to Fort Wayne

Center Cheikh Samb of the Detroit Pistons has been assigned to play with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The rookie has only appeared in 2 games for the Pistons this season, and will immediately become one of the better centers in the D-League. Originally from the Senegal, Samb spent last season playing in the Spanish third division. He impressed Detroit with his showing in the summer league in Las Vegas. At the age of 22, Samb has an excellent wing-span and can already be described as a capable shot-blocker. Offensively, he will have to further develop his post game, but already shows the ability to step out and hit the mid-range jumper. The Pistons are very comfortable with using the D-League, sending Amir Johnson, Will Blalock, and Alex Acker to their affiliates over the past two seasons.

Brooks Joins Rio Grande Valley

Rookie guard Aaron Brooks has joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Rockets 2007 first round pick will join his teammate Steve Novak on the Vipers, where he will play major minutes. The former Oregon guard is currently buried behind Rafer Alston, Mike James, and Steve Francis in the Houston point guard rotation, and the time in South Texas will keep him at the top of his game. It will be an interesting situation, as Brooks will share the back-court with fellow point guard and top DraftExpress call-up candidate C.J. Watson.

Benson Breaks Rebounding Record, Named Performer of the Week

Former DraftExpress blogging great Rod Benson knew he needed to step up with fellow big man Kevin Lyde out of the line-up, and he responded in a big way, finishing the game with 28 points and 28 rebounds. His 28 boards were 3 more than the previous D-League record, and he led the Dakota Wizards to victory over the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The second year big man also had 25 points and 15 rebounds in his other game last week, and was named the performer of the week for his strong effort. Benson currently leads the D-League in rebounding at 14.5 per game, and scores 15 points per game as well. He will need to become stronger to have a chance at competing in the NBA, but he has proven to be among the elite D-League big men this season.

Manuel Joins Iowa

Small Forward Jackie Manuel has joined the Iowa Energy after choosing the D-League instead of an overseas contract. The former North Carolina Tar Heel played with the Los Angeles D-Fenders last season, scoring 9.5 points per game on the year. Following his stint in L.A., Manuel played with the Charlotte Bobcats in the Orlando Summer League, before playing in training camp with the Boston Celtics. The 24 year-old is known for his lock-down defensive ability on the perimeter, but needs to become more consistent as an offensive player to make it to the NBA. Iowa acquired the rights to Manuel through the expansion draft, selecting him in the second round.

Anaheim Acquires Tabuse

After filling in their point guard hole with Will Blalock, the Anaheim Arsenal have added D-League veteran Yuta Tabuse to back him up. Tabuse spent last season with the Bakersfield Jam, and has previously played for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. The Japan native brings a large media following with him to each D-League arena, but his playing time may be limited with Blalock playing heavy minutes.

NBA Player Update

Morris Almond, Utah Jazz/Utah Flash
22.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .5 apg

Almond has displayed his scoring ability that made him such a successful college player, but will need to really focus on improving defensively while playing with the Flash. The rookie first round pick has both the body and the length to become successful at the defensive end in the NBA, but must work to improve his focus and positioning. A deadly shooter, Almond has been lights out from the three point line so far, and his mid-range game will be very effective against D-League competition. Offensively, he can focus on becoming a better ball handler. Almond has the tools to become very good scorer at the NBA level, but his time in the D-League will be focused around becoming a more complete player.

JamesOn Curry, Chicago Bulls/Iowa Energy
22.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.1 apg

Curry had an impressive 15 assist game last week, his best in that category since joining the Energy. Though he still isn’t a true point guard, Curry can find the open man on the drive and in transition. The rookie has also become more aggressive in driving to the basket recently, an area he struggled with early on in the D-League season. To really establish himself, the Chicago Bull must become stronger, and play more physically while handling the ball on the pick and roll. When doubled on the high screen, Curry just waits for the defense to reset rather than attacking, which sometimes leads to forced shots at the end of the shot-clock. The former Oklahoma State guard has the scoring ability to become a spark-plug type of guard off the bench, but really must work on the way he handles the pick and roll.

Nick Fazekas, Dallas Mavericks/Tulsa 66ers
14.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.3 apg

Fazekas had his best game since being assigned last week, finishing with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists against Ian Mahinmi and the Austin Toros. The Mavs’ rookie still needs to improve his body, but his offensive skills have fit nicely with the 66ers since he was assigned early in the season. Fazekas scores the majority of his points facing the basket, but shows the willingness to play inside and take contact. His anticipation and soft hands give him the edge against more physical players in the D-League, but he must become stronger for his game to be effective at the NBA level. Fazekas has also struggled with adapting to the NBA three point line, but we’ll wait until later in the season to decide if this will be a long term problem.

Kyrylo Fesenko, Utah Jazz/Utah Flash
16.3ppg, 7.2rpg, 2.7bpg

The Ukrainian rookie has continued to play well since returning to the D-League from his short stint back with the Jazz. Fesenko shows good rebounding fundamentals, though his numbers against D-League competition might indicate otherwise. Offensively, the rookie uses his physical attributes as an advantage, using a good frame, above average athleticism, and a long wingspan to pick up a number of points inside. He has gained comfort in the low post since the start of the season, but still needs polish when it comes to footwork and touch inside. Still, Fesenko looks like a steal considering his draft position, and will make a good NBA player in the future.

Coby Karl, Los Angeles Lakers/Los Angeles D-Fenders
18.0ppg, 4.2rpg, 3.4apg

Though we haven’t seen many of his patented lob-passes yet, Karl appears to be a capable triangle player. With the D-Fenders, the un-drafted rookie spends a lot of his time initiating the offensive, but can make the proper reads to find open shots when the ball-handling duties fall elsewhere. The Lakers are having success this season with a number of high percentage shooters, and Karl fits the bill in this area too, shooting 48% from behind the three point line in his 5 games. Physically, the guard has a nice wing-span, though his lateral quickness may limit his potential on the defensive end. Still, Karl has displayed promise in the D-League and looks to be a nice fit with the Lakers as long as Phil Jackson remains at the helm.

Ian Mahinmi, San Antonio Spurs/Austin Toros
13.7ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.2apg

Mahinmi has continued to struggle with foul trouble, fouling out of each of his past 2 games in less than 30 minutes. The French rookie averages a foul per every 5 minutes of playing time against D-League competition. Offensively, Mahinmi has some developing to do when it comes to his low post game, but plays very aggressively inside, and has decent hands around the basket. He relies on a right handed hook in the post, but needs to improve his touch and develop better footwork. The rookie rebounds the ball effectively at times due to his athletic profile, but better use of his body would allow him to become an elite rebounder in the D-League. Mahinmi continues to show progress with his game this season, and it will be interesting to examine his progress in the last few months of the season.

Steve Novak, Houston Rockets/Rio Grande Valley Vipers
17.0pg, 6.9rpg, 1.4apg

For a guy like Novak, the D-League is more about staying on top of his game more than anything else. The Rockets drafted him for his shooting ability, and he continues to shoot lights out in the D-League, with a three point percentage of 44%. To improve his NBA chances, Novak will have to prove that he can guard either forward position. He appears to be slow-footed to match-up against many small forwards, but lacks the ideal bulk that you look for in power forward. Still, a shooting specialist like Novak always has value, and the Vipers will be happy to have him around this season.

Kosta Perovic, Golden State Warriors/Bakersfield Jam
9.3ppg 4.3rpg, 1.1bpg

After spending a good portion of their mid-level exception signing the Serbian rookie, the Warriors have to be angry that he doesn’t receive more playing time with the Jam. Perovic has only played 20 minutes per game thus far, despite being one of the better bigs on the Jam roster. Though skinny, Perovic spends most of his time playing inside, using his length and good hands to score over stronger defenders. The rookie is still raw offensively, and needs to develop a reliable go-to offensive move. Defensively, Perovic has shot-blocking potential, but his timing and rotations limit his ability in this area. Though a long way from helping an NBA team, the rookie could really benefit the Jam with addition time on the floor.

Gabe Pruitt, Boston Celtics/Utah Flash
15.2ppg, 2.8rpg, 3.5 apg

The Celtics rookie has been streaky since returning from the Celtics, but shows excellent potential guarding points guards defensively. On the offensive end, his ball-handling remains erratic at times, though his cross-over move can be very effective at creating separation. Pruitt’s shoots the ball more effectively when spotting up, and his accuracy drops significantly off the dribble. The rookie needs to focus on improving his point guard skills as well. His physical and defensive abilities are a good start, but he could really benefit from a long stint with the Flash.

Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee Bucks/Tulsa 66ers
23.2ppg, 6.2rpg, 5.2apg

The Milwaukee Buck hasn’t attempted a three pointer over the past 4 games, deciding instead to attack the basket aggressively. The style of play has paid dividends for Sessions, who had 10 or more free throw attempts in 5 of 6 games this year. He still focuses more on scoring than distributing, but works mostly within the confines of the 66er offense. Sessions has only turned the ball over 1 time in his past 3 games after averaging 6 over his previous 3 games. The Bucks have no use for him on the active roster currently, and Sessions may spend the bulk of the season in Tulsa.

Alando Tucker, Phoenix Suns/Albuquerque Thunderbirds
23.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.3apg

In three games since being assigned by the Suns, Tucker has shot over 50% from the field while scoring his 23 points per game. The rookie needs to focus on improving his three point shooting, but the mid-range scoring has been a deadly tool for him thus far. With his athletic ability, Tucker could be even more effective if he decided to attack the basket more aggressively. The former Wisconsin Badger seems to be a perfect fit for the transition system of the Phoenix Suns, but three point shooting may keep him out of the rotation for some time.

Brandon Wallace, Boston Celtics/Utah Flash
12.5ppg, 9.2rpg, 2.7apg

A raw but promising rookie, Wallace ranks among the top 10 rebounds in the D-League, thanks to his length and leaping ability. Offensively, Wallace can hit an open jumper, but will need to improve his ball-handling to take full advantage of his athleticism inside. Adding bulk will be important for the rookie, who remains too skinny for either forward position at this point in time. Wallace has some nice tools that compliment his athletic ability, but needs a few big improvements to have a long NBA career.

Darius Washington, San Antonio Spurs/Austin Toros
28.3ppg, 6.5rpg, 6.3apg

A talented point guard, Washington may be the most ready to contribute of all the NBA assigned players. Shooting nearly 55% percent from the field so far, the surprising number for the rookie has been the 43% shooting from behind the three point line. Washington has the body and athleticism to be a very effective slasher in the NBA, with the ability to initiate contact off the dribble drive. The Spurs’ rookie currently averages 9 free throw attempts per game in his 4 games since being assigned. Defensively, Washington lacks the ideal size for an NBA point guard, but uses good lateral quickness and a solid frame to effectively defend bigger guards. The Toros are 4-0 since the rookie was assigned.

D-League Team Updates

Austin Toros, 5-1

The Toros have established themselves as the best team in the league over the past week, picking up a win against Tulsa before taking down division rival Rio Grande Valley in a closely fought game. Marcus Williams scored a solid 17 points in his D-League debut, but struggled against the Vipers. Consistency has always been a problem for Williams, and steady production would go a long way towards getting him a call-up. Keith Langford’s production at the shooting guard has remained steady, but he must improve his free throw shooting. Langford can create his own shot due to his athleticism and ability to score off the dribble, and could receive a look from an NBA team at some point this season. DerMarr Johnson and Cheyne Gadson have also been streaky as of late, but with the talent on the Toros, they can live with shared scoring from a number of different players.

Austin plays a pair of home games against Colorado and Idaho Friday and Saturday before traveling to Colorado for a Tuesday game.

Rio Grand Valley Vipers, 6-2

Rio Grande Valley defeated Tulsa last week before dropping their second game of the year to Austin. C.J. Watson may be the next call-up among players in the D-League thanks to his consistent production this season. He missed most of the Tulsa game due to influenza, but bounced back with a solid performance against the Toros. Gabe Muenoke may lack the upside of other D-League players, but has been one of the top scorers in the league, and scores the majority of his points on mid-range jumpers. If the Vipers make another roster move, look for them to add another big man.

Rio Grande Valley hosts Idaho on Friday and Colorado on Saturday.

Colorado 14ers, 5-2

Colorado picked up a pair of wins against Albuquerque last week, brining their road record to an impressive 4-1 on the season. Kaniel Dickens may lack the basketball IQ of an NBA player, but he played extremely well last week, and is now averaging 21 points per game while shooing 46% from behind the three point line. For a player as athletic as Dickens, 4.1 rebounds per game seems a little disappointing. Elton Brown continues to dominate down low for the 14ers, and has a pretty nice feel for the game. Billy Thomas has continued to pace the team defensively, and new addition Justin Cage has been solid as well.

The 14ers play in Austin on Friday and Rio Grande Valley Saturday, before hosting Austin on Tuesday.

Iowa Energy, 5-3

Iowa picked up a pair of wins last week, starting at home against Bakersfield before scoring 134 points in a blowout road win in Fort Wayne. Shooting guard Mike Efevberha has been moved to the starting lineup because of his hustle, and has raised his scoring average to 15 points per game this season. The addition of Anthony Tolliver has helped Iowa considerably. Dwayne Mitchell has continued with solid production on both ends of the floor, but must again play aggressively in the paint like he did early in the season. The addition of Jackie Manuel will provide Iowa with better perimeter defense as well.

Iowa hosts a Friday game against Sioux Falls before traveling to Tulsa for a game on Saturday.

Idaho Stampede, 5-3

Idaho split a pair of games with Sioux Falls last week before dropping a home game to Dakota. Randy Livingston has been shooting the ball surprisingly well lately from the three point line, and has become more of a scorer as a result. Lance Allred has stepped up his interior play, and had a game of 28 points and 20 rebounds against Sioux Falls last week. He probably lacks the athletic ability to play in the NBA, but is a very solid center for the D-League. Cory Violette has also played very well inside, and has the ability to step out and knock down an open jumper. The Stampede lost Luke Jackson to the NBA, but have the chance to grab a good player from the available player pool.

The Stampede play in Rio Grande Valley on Friday before traveling to Austin for a Saturday game.

Los Angeles D-Fenders, 4-3

The D-Fenders split a pair of games against Utah last week, losing at home but winning on the road. Sean Banks has continued his unbelievable level of production so far this season, scoring nearly 23 points per game on 48% from the field. Robert Whaley may be out of shape right now, but has averaged 16.5 points over his last two games. He must focus on improving his rebounding as well as improving his conditioning. Devin Green’s numbers have dropped from last season, but his three point shooting has improved and he is comfortable with the ‘glue guy’ role. The D-Fenders have plenty of talent, but it may take the team some time to adjust to the triangle offense.

The D-Fenders host Bakersfield on Thursday, and play a Saturday game in Utah. They finish their week Sunday at home against Bakersfield.

Utah Flash, 4-4

Utah split a pair of games with Los Angeles last week, bringing them to .500 on the season. Brian Hamilton has been extremely efficient this season, shooting 70% from the field on the season. James Lang has struggled since Fesenko returned to the team, but looked very solid with big minutes. Aleksander Ugrinoski needs to improve the way he runs a team, but likes getting to the basket, and has displayed solid flashes of potential this season. It will be important for the team to build chemistry, but it could be difficult if there is a revolving door with the NBA players on the team this year.

The Flash host Anaheim on Friday and the D-Fenders on Saturday.

Dakota Wizards, 3-3

Dakota won two tough games last week again Idaho and Sioux Falls. Kevin Lyde injured his hamstring against Idaho, and missed the game against Sioux Falls. He has been a monster inside for the Wizards this year, but the play of Rod Benson has made up for his absence. Point guard Dontell Jefferson has been a very impressive prospect this season, playing shut-down defense while showing good slashing ability on offense. Maurice Baker has been solid as well, using quick hands on defense to create turnovers. Carlos Powell can score the ball very efficiently, but must improve in the rebounding department.

Dakota plays a Thursday and Friday night back to back in Fort Wayne, before hosting Sioux Falls on Sunday.

Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 3-3

Fort Wayne lost their only game last week, dropping a home contest to Iowa. Jeremy Richardson has continued to score efficiently, and was 9/14 from the field and 4/4 from the three point line while scoring 24 points in the loss to Iowa. Earl Calloway can be called one of the surprises of the D-League season so far, showing the ability to lead the team as well as scoring ability off the dribble. Larry Turner needs to step up his effort on the court, and improve his touch inside.

Fort Wayne hosts Dakota for back to back games Friday and Saturday nights.

Anaheim Arsenal, 3-6

The Anaheim Arsenal split a pair of games with Bakersfield last week, losing on the road before bouncing back at home. Guillermo Diaz has struggled as of late after starting off the season with a string of solid games. Kedrick Brown has slowly adjusted to playing basketball professionally again, and could really break out in a month or two when he conditioning returns. Steven Smith has also produced, though he lacks a true position for the NBA. For the season, Smith currently averages 18.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. With the addition of Will Blalock, the Arsenal could become a deadly transition team, and string some wins together.

Anaheim plays Friday night in Utah and Saturday night in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Thunderbirds, 2-4

Albuquerque dropped a pair of home games last week to the surging Colorado 14ers. Josh Gross has been one of the early surprises of the D-League season, scoring 23 points per game while shooting nearly 47% from behind the three point line. Daniel Horton had his best game of the year last week, scoring 14 points in 17 minutes. To improve the team, Albuquerque will need to look to the free agent pool in search of a big man. Somebody like Kris Lang would provide a huge lift to the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds play Friday in Bakersfield before hosting Anaheim Saturday night.

Tulsa 66ers, 2-4

Tulsa dropped games to Austin and Rio Grande Valley last week, putting them two games below .500 for the season. Mike Hall has provided solid defense and rebounding, but is shooting only 35% from the field this season. Glen McGowan has retuned from a knee injury, but it will take time for him to be 100% effective on the court. Adam Harrington sat out both games last week due to injury. Without Harrington, the 66ers have to rely on their NBA players to have a chance at winning.

Tulsa will try to get back on track Saturday night at home against Utah.

Bakersfield Jam, 2-7

Bakersfield dropped a game to Iowa last week, before splitting a pair of games with Anaheim. Andre Barrett has immediately turned the Jam into a respectable team, averaging 19 points and 9 assists per game this year with a shooting percentage of 50. Brandon Bowman has improved since last season, but his basketball IQ still needs work, and he needs to develop some variety in his game. Scooter McFadgon is a good scorer for the D-League, but must improve his three point shooting to have a chance at the NBA. The Jam have won both their home games this year, while dropping all 5 of their games on the road.

The Jam play in Los Angeles this week before traveling to Albuquerque. They return to Los Angeles for a game on Sunday.

Sioux Falls Skyforce, 1-5

Sioux Falls won their first game of the season last week against Idaho, before dropping another home game to Dakota. Nik Caner-Medley has a chance at the D-League MVP award with the way he has played this season, averaging 21.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.7 steals per game this year. Kasib Powell should also help the frontline of the Skyforce. Sioux Falls lacks a true center, and they basically start three combo-forwards up front in Damone Brown, Powell and Caner-Medley, and that makes it easy for opposing defenses to just switch on all screens.

Sioux Falls plays in Iowa on Friday night and Dakota on Sunday.

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