NBA D-League Showcase, Day Four

NBA D-League Showcase, Day Four
Jan 18, 2008, 04:06 am
Devin Green is knocking on the NBA's door with another excellent performance. Nick Fazekas, Ramon Sessions and Josh McRoberts are being paid like NBA players, but are not separating themselves from the crowd here. Randy Livingston, Cory Violette and Kris Lang show the value of experience in the D-League, and much more in the final day of the Showcase in Boise.

Devin Green, 6-7, Shooting Guard, LA D-Fenders
16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 7/13 FG

Mike Schmidt

Devin Green continued to show today why he’s considered by most as the top call-up candidate in the D-League, and his impact went far beyond the numbers. The talented guard missed on all three of his three point shots today, but had no problem beating the Toros off the dribble and showed the ability to do a number of different things on the dribble-drive. Green shows the ability to hit the pull-up jumper in the paint, or the scoop lay-up over bigger defenders.. If the defense crowds the paint, he chooses to kick the ball to the open man rather than driving into traffic.

Some have criticized the 25 year-old for not taking over games, but he will be a role player type in the NBA rather than a go-to scorer. On a team with 6 former NBA players, Green seems content doing all of the little things for the team, and generally takes most of his shots within the flow of the offense. Defensively, he uses good length and a well built frame to shut down opposing wings.

After considering everything Green can bring to a team, it’s baffling that no NBA squad has given him a chance this season. Numerous roster spots remain open on NBA teams, and plenty of them could potentially benefit from giving the versatile gluy guy a chance. Boston would be a great fit for Green where he could play minutes next to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. His versatility would also fit very nicely in Miami next to Dwayne Wade. With everything he displayed in Boise in front of many NBA decision-makers, it appears that his chance will arrive very soon.

Josh McRoberts, 6-11, Power Forward, Idaho Stampede
7 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 2-10 FG, 0-1 3P, 3-4 FT, 30 minutes

Jonathan Givony

The ship continues to sink for the former top ranked player in the 2005 high school class, as after laying an egg in his first game here, he proceeded to have an even worse outing tonight, shooting 2-10 from the field. Josh McRoberts clearly doesn’t want to be here—that much is obvious from his body language, seemingly floating up and down the floor aimlessly “with his thumb up his [rear end]” as one longtime NBA scout put it. He’s coming off the bench behind two undrafted players in Lance Allred and Cory Violette who look destined for Europe—and quite frankly has not made any type of case for himself to be receiving minutes over them.

Offensively, McRoberts does not seem to have a consistent way of creating points for himself. He looked incredibly soft in the post, fading away from contact, being unable or unwilling to use his body to create space, showing very little in the ways of actual post moves, and settling for bad shots. On the perimeter, McRoberts is making things way too difficult on himself, pulling up off the dribble on more than one occasion for mid-range jumpers (air-balling one of his attempts), and even trying to shoot an NBA 3-pointer.

Defensively, McRoberts could not stay in front of any of the D-League players he tried to guard tonight, and did not really put much effort at all into this part of his game--being outhustled for rebounds as well. Opposing players have been going right at him in both games we saw here, and McRoberts really hasn’t responded to the challenge in the least bit.

The sooner McRoberts realizes how far he is right now from being an NBA player, the better off he’ll be. From what we can tell, the Development League is exactly the place he needs to be at the moment. His lofty recruiting rankings from high school will only take him so far at this point, as he looks pretty close to turning into a cautionary tale if he’s not careful.

Randy Livingston, 6-4, Point Guard, Idaho Stampede
12 points, 12 assists, 4/9 FG

Mike Schmidt

Randy Livingston today proved again why he remains one of the best stories in minor-league basketball, and a perennial call-up candidate. With the way the veteran guard sees the floor, you would think he has eyes all the way around his head. The Idaho offense ran like a well-oiled machine with him on the court, particularly in the half-court offense where Livingston was constantly coaching his team on the floor as well as perfectly placing the ball.

Though his shooting form still looks awkward, the guard’s accuracy from behind the arc is quite impressive this season. Livingston’s shooting percentage sits in the high 30s right now on over four attempts from long range on the season. On the drive, Livingston also shoots the mid-range jumper if open and can even occasionally carve out some space posting up with his wide body to create lay-up opportunities.

At the age of 32, Livingston lacks great mobility partially due to a high level of wear and tear on his knees. This can be compensated for offensively with good screens and the way he uses his body, but it does hurt the veteran on the other end of the floor, as well as in terms of conditioning. Still, his experience and leadership could be valuable to a number of NBA teams right now. There are some rumors that he is very close to getting bought out and signing a deal with a team in the Spanish ACB.

Kris Lang, 6-11, Center, Austin Toros
First Game: 11 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 0 assists, 3 turnovers, 4-8 FG, 3-6 FT
Second Game: 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 2-9 FG, 5-6 FT

Jonathan Givony

Players like Kris Lang usually don’t play in the D-League from what we can tell. A 6-11 center with an NBA frame, Lang is ready to compete physically with big men at any level of basketball. He’s rated by most International scouts in attendance as the #1 big man prospect in the D-League, and it’s really not hard to tell why. He’s someone you know exactly what you can expect from him on a consistent basis.

Besides his chiseled frame, Lang also has excellent hands and solid mobility for a player his size. He runs the floor well, and has excellent timing for rebounds and blocks, being somewhat of a force on the glass in many minutes here in Boise. He’s extremely active, boxes out well, plays physical and doesn’t shy away from contact.

Offensively, Lang is a fairly limited player, although he’s probably slightly better than he was able to show here. He establishes deep position in the paint thanks to his strength and frame, and has some basic back to the basket moves he can utilize—mainly a jump-hook and some simple footwork. He’s not explosive finishing at the rim, particularly in traffic, and loses effectiveness significantly the farther out he strays from the basket. He tried some really tough shots here that looked out of his repertoire, hook shots from difficult angles and too far out, and some mid-range jumpers that didn’t look particularly good. He doesn’t seem to have the best touch around, and has been struggling from the free throw line at times early on in the year so far. He does run the floor extremely well, which can help him get some easy baskets.

Defensively, Lang does a very good job. He likes to throw his body around in the post and is not afraid to make his presence felt. It’s tough to post him up because of his size, strength and the effort he puts in here, which makes him a pretty valuable guy to have. He’s constantly talking to his teammates, looking to pick his spots where he can help out with a heady rotation or by sticking his hand in for a steal or block. His feet are a little bit slow out on the perimeter, which hurts him trying to defend pick and roll plays.

All in all, Lang is a useful player who might even have a chance to get called up by some NBA team looking for a backup center who brings defense, rebounding, intelligence, and consistent effort whenever he’s called upon. He’s not a super talented player, but there is a lot to be said for the consistency he brings to the table. Some of the biggest teams in Europe are waiting in the background in case he decides to cross back over the Atlantic again.

Nick Fazekas, 6-11, Power Forward, Tulsa 66ers
15 points, 6/10 shooting, 4 rebounds

Mike Schmidt

This was one of the better match-ups of the season to evaluate the play of Nick Fazekas, with Tulsa taking on Colorado, who features top level big man Elton Brown. Though he managed to score in a few spurts, the rookie had a minimal impact throughout the game. Defensively, Fazekas lacks the strength to bang with centers in the NBA and the foot speed to stay with power-forwards. This was evident when Fazekas tried to guard Elton Brown, who can play down low or facing the basket.

Offensively, Fazekas failed to establish post position against Justin Cage on the low block. Cage is a swing player who measures 5 inches shorter than the Dallas Maverick, but still managed to shut him down due to his length, size and aggressiveness.

The big man does show good skills facing the basket and good hands inside, but the lack of strength and speed severely limit his NBA upside. If Fazekas had showed up to the Orlando pre-draft camp with a performance like this, he might have fallen all the way off the draft board altogether. Almost every person in attendance here unanimously shook their heads when asked about Fazekas’ performance at the Showcase. Things aren’t looking great for him right now, but it’s still very early in his career and he must take things very seriously if he’s going to survive in the NBA long-term.

Keith Langford, 6-4, Shooting Guard, Austin Toros
First Game: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 0 turnovers, 3 steals, 6-15 FG, 0-3 3P, 7-8 FT
Second Game: 24 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 10-16 FG, 4-6 3P, 0-0 FT

Jonathan Givony

Keith Langford showed off the two sides of his game here in Sioux Falls quite nicely, displaying the considerable improvement he’s made as a basketball player since he graduated from Kansas, but also the different areas of his game that he needs to improve in.

Standing somewhere between 6-3 and 6-4, Langford is somewhat undersized for the shooting guard position, but has a terrific 6-9 wingspan to make up for that. A left-handed player, Langford is an explosive athlete, blessed with great quickness and terrific body control, which he likes to put to use particularly well in transition.

Offensively, Langford is at his best with the ball in his hands, where he can put his explosiveness and solid ball-handling skills to good use. He has good footwork and strength, being a tenacious player who gets to the rim with impressive spin-moves and is not afraid to draw contact and make his way to the free throw line. He’s a very good finisher at the rim, and if he sees some traffic coming his way, will not hesitate to drop in a pretty left-handed floater. His mid-range game is very solid, as he loves to pull-up off the dribble from 17 feet. Langford used to be known as an extremely weak perimeter shooter, but he put some of those notions to rest here in the second game by knocking down 4 out of 6 of the NBA 3-pointers he attempted. He’s shooting 33% from that range on the season in the D-League, which indicates that he probably still has some work to do in this area. His shot flattens out at times when he’s rushed, but his form for the most part isn’t bad, so there is certainly room for optimism here. Being more effective playing without the ball (shooting off screens and such) is the next step for him.

Langford was somewhat turnover prone earlier in his career, but he really did a nice job staying under control in the two contests we took in, even shouldering a good amount of ball-handling duties at the point guard position at times. His court vision isn’t good enough to be considered a great prospect at the 1-spot (he’s a natural 2), but he can certainly bring the ball up the floor and get his team into their offense effectively enough.

Defensively, Langford really gets after it, smothering opposing players with his combination of quickness and length, and being tenacious in the passing lanes. He lacks some size and maybe some awareness at times, but really makes up for it with his effort.

All in all, Langford is a borderline NBA player who could get another call-up this year, as a sparkplug type scorer to bring off the bench. If that plan doesn’t work out, he’ll have many suitors overseas, where his terrific athleticism could really make him a difference maker at a pretty high level.

Ramon Sessions, 6-2, Point Guard, Tulsa 66ers
17 Points, 9 Rebounds, 5 Assists, 6 Turnovers, 6/15 FG

Mike Schmidt

Ramon Sessions really struggled with the way he played today. On the offensive end, he was content with pounding the ball into the floor for the majority of the shot-clock rather than creating ball movement in the Tulsa offensive sets. This led the rookie into a number of difficult low-percentage shots off the dribble. From behind the 3-point line, he shows good vision and solid play-making ability, but he lacks the same vision on his drives to the basket—seeing only thing and one thing only, the hoop. Sessions lacks the ability to finish inside over big men and struggles with perimeter shooting at this point in his career, which limits his scoring to pull-up mid-range jumpers and floaters (which he does make with very good accuracy).

On the plus side, Sessions plays hard on the defensive end and rebounds the ball extremely well for a guard his size. The rookie shows great strength with his upper body and uses this as a defensive asset against bigger guards. To last in the NBA, he needs to again focus on running an offense effectively. At Nevada, he looked to be an above average floor general, and did a much better job of distributing earlier in the D-League season. Improved outside shooting would also increase his chances to someday make an impact in the NBA.

Cory Violette, 6-8, Power Forward, Idaho Stampede
Game One: 6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 2 turnovers, 3-8 FG, 17 minutes
Game Two: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 6-9 FG, 1-1 3P, 6-6 FT, 20 minutes

Jonathan Givony

It’s not quite clear how Bryan Gates got Cory Violette to accept coming to the D-League this year (he’s an established player in Europe, with little to no NBA upside), but it’s pretty obvious that we’re talking about a huge asset to have at this level.

Violette is an undersized power forward with a wide body, great hands, and underwhelming athletic ability. He’s the type of tough, active player who is always around the ball and really knows how to get after offensive rebounds, thanks to his excellent timing and positioning, as well as the tenacity in which he plays with.

Violette is big and strong enough to be a presence in the paint at this level. He doesn’t have a great deal of moves, but he’s extremely smart and patient with the ball in his hands, making good decisions and not able to get the job done either with simple footwork or a terrific pass out of the post. He has really nice touch, especially on his turn-around jumper, but is limited somewhat by the fact that he plays below the rim, not being a great finisher in traffic. He also sets great screens, and might be able to face the basket a little bit (he hit one nice looking NBA 3-pointer tonight)—even if this wasn’t a part of his game that he wanted to show too much of.

Defensively, Violette lacks size and has poor lateral quickness (the main reason why he’s almost certainly not an NBA player), but he puts a tremendous effort in and gets the job done at this level against the mostly mediocre big men we saw him matched up against.

The best part of Violette’s game might be his passing. He’s extremely intelligent in the way he reads the defense, making quick and accurate touch passes on a number of occasions that got his teammates easy baskets, either directly or on the very next pass (the hockey assist). He’s equally effective passing out of the low or high post. Having two experienced and unselfish players like Violette and Randy Livingston (as well as Lance Allred) is probably a good place to start when trying to figure out why Bryan Gates’ Idaho team has won their last 11 straight games.

It’s not quite clear why Violette decided to take a steep pay cut to come play here in Idaho, but he’s really doing a nice job. The overseas scouts we talked to were clearly impressed, so maybe he’ll end up landing himself a much better job next season than the one he had in Italy last year.

Saer Sene, 7-0, Center, Idaho Stampede
14 points, 13 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 3 blocks, 6 fouls, 6-6 FG, 2-3 FT, 27 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Although his stat-line might look slightly more impressive than the actual results on the court, there is no doubting the fact that Saer Sene is making some very solid progress in his second year in the D-League. Stronger in the upper body (but still with a ways to go in terms of fully filling out), Sene is quite a presence in the paint thanks to his gigantic 7-8 ½ wingspan, which he uses quite well to grab rebounds, finish around the rim and challenge shots in the paint.

Sene should be grateful to have a playmaker like Randy Livingston running the show here. Livingston really makes an effort to keep Sene involved in the offense, with designated plays that are run just between the two to take advantage of Livingston’s court vision and Sene’s freakish length inside the paint. Livingston dribbles the ball along the 3-point line and waits for Sene to run parallel to him on a sharp cut to the rim, at which point he’ll whip a perfect pass right into his hands. The result is Sene catching the ball right below the rim with his hands already outstretched, meaning he just has to drop the ball into the basket and run back on defense. This is simple basketball, but so incredibly important for his development as a post player. It’s no surprise Sene went 6-6 from the field tonight. Things would be 100% different if we were talking about the NBA, but we’re seeing progress, which has to be considered encouraging.

Defensively, Sene can block and alter tons of shots around the basket, but he still is light years away from being able to play consistent minutes in the NBA from what we can tell. He looks incredibly lost every time he needs to step away from the paint to defend a pick and roll play for example, not bending his knees in any type of fundamental stance, and looking a step slow in everything that has to do with timing, instead mostly just standing upright with his hands in the air. He’d be chop liver most likely for most any NBA starting big man with a pulse.

Still, you have to like the effort he’s putting forth, the fact that he’s running the floor hard, being active, and looking like a good teammate invested in his team’s success. It’s too early to say whether Seattle’s investment will really pan out (he’ll almost certainly not live up to his top 10 pick status), but at least there are some encouraging signs to speak of.

Mike Taylor, 6-2, PG/SG, Idaho Stampede
20 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 turnover, 3 steals, 8-14 FG, 4-6 3P

Jonathan Givony

Mike Taylor is the type of story you find on occasion in the D-League. A 21 year old former Junior College standout, Taylor spent his lone year in college playing for Iowa State, where he had a terrific season, averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists on his way to All-Big 10 honors. From there things seemed to go downhill for him, as he was kicked of the team after being arrested on more than one occasion. He first tried enrolling at a Division II school, but when that didn’t work out, went to go play in the D-League instead, and actually had himself a terrific performance at the D-League showcase.

Taylor is a superb athlete, possibly one of the quickest players we saw in our four days in Boise. He’s also an excellent ball-handler, able to change directions quickly and get to the rim in strong fashion, where he can finish in a variety of ways. Taylor can also shoot the ball with NBA range, as he displayed knocking down a barrage of 3-pointers in just a few short minutes to bury Fort Wayne in the 3rd quarter. He’s a streak scorer who can heat up just as fast as he can cool down.

In an off the bench sparkplug role playing in a wide open setting such as this, Taylor is outstanding, but where he might get himself into some trouble is when he’s forced to think and make plays in the half-court. He’s quite wild with the ball at times, driving with his head down at full speed into the paint, and jacking up terrible shots off the dribble without even thinking about looking around to see if one of his teammates are open. That doesn’t come as that much of a surprise when you consider that Taylor shot 37% from the field last year and averaged just under 5 and a half turnovers per game, playing for one of the worst teams in the Big 12.

No one will deny the talent Taylor has at his disposal, but if he’s going to make a career in basketball, he’s going to have to first prove that he’s put his considerable baggage behind him. Playing here in Idaho is a nice start.

Eddie Gill, 6-0, Point Guard, Colorado 14ers
First Game: 11 points, 8 assists, 7 turnovers, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 3-11 FG, 1-4 3P, 4-5 FT
Second Game: 14 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 rebound, 3 steals, 3-6 FG, 2-5 3P, 6-6 FT

Jonathan Givony

This might not have been the type of Showcase Eddie Gill needed to have to make NBA teams pull the trigger on calling him up (although you really never know). Gill looked a little bit too wild in this setting, jumping in the air with no clear destination in mind on more than one occasion, delivering bullet passes to the 2nd row, dribbling into traffic, and making other poor decisions. He’s a smallish (6-0) point guard with average athleticism, solid ball-handling skills and decent scoring tools, showing the ability to knock down shots with range (despite his inconsistent release point) and having the strength to get inside the paint and finish at times. Gill gets his assists mostly on the drive and dish, as he’s a dominant ball-handler who can be extremely turnover prone as he showed here, averaging over 4 per game on the year. He looks very uncomfortable when forced to go left, which not enough teams took advantage of. Defensively, he gets in the passing lanes very well, but lacks some size on this end. When it’s all said and done, he’s a guy that does a lot of things well, but nothing great. Teams might like him because he’s an older guy who has plenty of experience both in the NBA and high-level Europe.

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