NBA D-League Showcase, Day One

NBA D-League Showcase, Day One
Jan 15, 2008, 04:15 am
DraftExpress is out in full force once again to cover the NBA D-League Showcase, this time in surprisingly pleasant Boise, Idaho. Kyrylo Fesenko and JamesOn Curry had solid outings from the NBA send-downs, and Mo Baker, Kevin Kruger and Ivan Johnson shined from the players vying for callups.

Boxscores and game recaps can be found at the D-League's official website.

Kyrylo Fesenko, 7-0, Center, Utah Flash (Jazz assignee)
17 points, 7 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 7-8 FG, 3-6 FT, 26 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Kyrylo Fesenko had a really nice start to his D-League showcase, showing off a lot of potential in a number of different areas and being fairly productive at the same time. He doesn’t appear to be in the best shape, suffering a bit with his conditioning after extended stretches on the floor, but still had himself a really nice game.

Fesenko was pretty aggressive looking to establish position deep in the paint, and Utah (and particularly Kevin Kruger) made it a point to feed him in a place where he can finish with a strong, simple move. He showed terrific hands coming up with a couple of deflected balls not intended for him, and was very active moving towards the ball and making his presence felt. A constant staple of Fesenko’s game is the effort he brings to the offensive glass, and today was no exception. He was constantly in the mix for loose balls, using his big frame to the fullest and coming up with a couple of extra possessions for his team in the process, even if these weren’t always counted directly as offensive rebounds for him.

Fesenko surprised us with two parts of his game in particular that leave a lot of optimism regarding his long-term potential. For one, he made some terrific passes, both from the high post and when doubled out of the low post. He sees the floor nicely from his high vantage point and is extremely unselfish getting players around him involved, always looking to make the extra pass like everyone on this team.

Another was the way he moved his feet defensively. Fesenko is not what you would call a quick player by any stretch, but when stepping out to hedge screens and then recovering back into the post, he did a very nice job. On one occasion he was caught out on the perimeter on a switch and was forced to defend a 6-5 and pretty athletic wing player in Scooter McFadgon. McFadgon took him off the dribble and Fesenko slid his feet nicely matching him stride for stride in fundamental fashion, finally meeting him at the rim and getting off his feet to swat the shot away and then grab the loose ball. That’s a pretty impressive play for a guy that size to make, and should make Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz pretty happy.

Fesenko still has a long road ahead of him to become a productive NBA player, but he seems to be off to a really nice start.

JamesOn Curry, 6-3, Shooting Guard, Iowa Energy (Bulls assignee)
34 points, 7 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 rebounds, 15-21 FG, 4-8 3P, 0-2 FT, 47 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Just in case anyone wasn’t aware by now, JamesOn Curry made sure to display his credentials as a outstanding scoring threat, making baskets from everywhere on the court on the way to an outstanding 34 point, 7 assist effort.

Curry was extremely aggressive looking for his own offense, playing on the ball quite a bit and taking exactly what the defense gave him. He operated a great deal in the mid-range area pulling up sharply off the dribble on a number of occasions, and displaying beautiful elevation to create separation from his defender. He hits tough shots even with a defender draped all over him, coming off screens and going left or right, fading away and flailing his legs out and regardless knocking down many off-balance looks. He’s got picture perfect mechanics on his 3-point stroke as well, looking equally dangerous coming off screens, on the catch and shoot with his feet set, or pulling up with the ball in his hands.

As a slasher, Curry is not the type of player who gets to the free throw line a great deal, as his first step is average and he’s a bit on the skinny side. He is smart enough to know how to get past his man, but usually prefers to pull-up before he gets all the way to the rim, which is probably a good idea since he’s isn’t a terribly explosive finisher. He’d rather drop a beautiful floater in his defenders eye than go up and take contact at the rim. He racked up 7 assists tonight playing a combo guard role, mostly by making the extra pass on the perimeter or finding the open man on the drive and dish, but not really by displaying any outstanding point guard skills. Indeed, he’s a scoring guard in the Jannero Pargo mold, which is probably exactly the role Chicago drafted him to play. He was a bit careless at times with the ball and forced the issue on a few select possessions, leading to 5 turnovers—although this is somewhat expect considering how much ball-handling he was forced to do.

Defensively, Curry is nothing to write home about, possessing average lateral quickness and poor awareness on this end of the floor. He’s really not physical enough, giving up too much space on the perimeter and not doing a very good job fighting through screens on the pick and roll. This might be the biggest improvement he’ll have to make if he’s to eventually stick in the NBA, and although he tried for the most part to make his presence felt (he even fouled out), the results weren’t really there. Curry did as good of a job tonight making sure that the NBA and International teams are aware of his strengths with the way he played, and at the very least surely earned himself some money overseas if he’s eventually forced to take that route.

Maurice Baker, 6’1”, Point Guard, Dakota Wizards
41 points, 12-17 FG, 17-17 FT, 6 assists, 0 turnovers, 6 steals

Richard Walker

Maurice was phenomenal in his first game of the Showcase. He scored 41 points on a variety of plays, and was perfect from the line, shooting a whopping 17 of 17. He punished the Iowa defenders by knocking down open jumpers off of screens and curls and drew contact on the defender for several and-1 opportunities. Clearly we’re talking about an extremely versatile scorer with outstanding instincts for putting the ball in the net.

Baker showed good body control while hitting a baseline floater and demonstrated a good two-man game with Rod Benson getting the kickout for an open 20”. Baker showed some very steady play while smoothly pulling up in transition and knocking down a 20” jumper, and also stole an outlet pass and calmly banked it in off the glass from 15” out. He can finish with either hand around the basket, and has nice toughness and strength for a guard. His mid-range game is a real strength of his, making him an extremely difficult player to guard because of the many ways he can score the basketball.

The arena in Idaho was buzzing about Baker after the game. The 41 points he scored came effortlessly, and the crowd was duly impressed. He attacked the basket aggressively and is a very versatile ball handler with a high acumen for the game, but despite his upper body strength it’s not clear yet if he has the athleticism to take it to the next level. His quickness looks somewhat average compared with some of the other guard prospects here, so it’s hard to say whether he’d be able to translate this same scoring ability to a higher level.

Kevin Kruger, 6-1, Point Guard, Utah Flash
7 points, 9 assists, 1 turnover, 1 rebound, 2 steals, 3-8 FG, 1-4 3P, 0-0 FT, 28 minutes

Jonathan Givony

The engine that made the Utah Flash go, Kevin Kruger did a great job setting the tone for his team with his poise and unselfishness, something that rubs off on all his teammates and really makes them look like a cohesive unit—which is somewhat of a rarity here in the D-League at times.

Kruger stands out especially well for his basketball IQ and court vision, making creative passes and really doing a nice job controlling the tempo for the Flash. He runs their half-court offense, moves the ball around the perimeter fluidly, and gets the ball into the post nicely when the situation calls for it. He’s not the quickest or more explosive player you’ll find here, and that is somewhat reflected in his zero free throw attempts. He struggles at times when his half-court offense breaks down and he’s forced to go out and make plays on his own with the shot-clock running down, but he regardless did a nice job here finding creative solutions and ensuring that his offense ran fluidly. It will be interesting to see how he looks against a better defense.

Defensively, Kruger doesn’t have great lateral quickness, but he’s smart and puts a good effort in, which brought some pretty solid results on this end of the floor. He got in the passing lanes nicely as a result of his effort here.

In terms of scoring, Kruger seemed more concerned with running his offense and getting everyone around him involved first and foremost, possibly passing up on some situations where he could have been aggressive and put the ball in the basket himself. His 3-point shot wasn’t falling for him at a great rate here, but he clearly has nice looking (albeit flat-footed) mechanics, and this is probably a better weapon that he was able to show today.

All in all, Kruger looks like one of the better point guards the D-League has to offer, but it’s hard to say that his NBA potential is very high. He should be able to make a solid career overseas in mid to high level Europe.

Ivan Johnson, 6-8, Power Forward, Anaheim Arsenal
26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 4 turnovers, 11-16 FG, 4/5 FT

Mike Schmidt

Although he may lack the upside of some of the other players here this week, Ivan Johnson looked to be one of the bigger sleepers at the showcase today. He shows great comfort on offense facing the basket, using a pump-fake to get to the rim or spotting up for the mid-range jumper. Johnson also used a right handed jump-hook from the low block to score on a couple possessions. From the high post, the forward showed a good feel for the game and seemed comfortable finding open teammates.

With a strong build and above average athleticism, the 23 year-old certainly has a good deal of upside. To enter NBA discussions, he must focus on making a defensive improvement. Opposing big men had no problem backing him down and scoring over the power forward in the low post. He also looked completely lost attempting to defend the pick and roll, and often left his position for rebounds to wildly chase a blocked shot.

With his offensive game and athletic abilities, Johnson has the tools to become a very effective offensive player. At 6-8, he’s probably lacks the combination of size and athleticism to make an NBA roster, but the European scouts in attendance took notice of his performance today.

Andre Barrett, 5-10, Point Guard, Bakersfield Jam
11 points, 10 assists, 4/10 FG, 3 turnovers

Mike Schmidt

The veteran point guard struggled today, despite his high level of production up to this point in the season. Barrett finished the game with 10 assists, and did find the open man on drive and dish plays numerous times. He struggled to run his team in the half-court however, and often forced the issue looking for his own shot. The forces inside led to Bakersfield taking some difficult shots at the end of the shot-clock.

Defensively, Barrett struggled at times when forced to guard bigger players, and Lamar Rice took him to the low block and scored very easily on him on one possession. Defense will also be a issue for him at the NBA level due to size, but he could do a better job of pressuring the ball.

Barrett missed most of his step-back jumpers off the dribble today, but usually scores these type of mid-range shots effectively. To maximize his potential, Barrett must look for his teammates earlier in the shot-clock as well as picking the right spots to attack the basket. The score-first mentality really hurt the team and didn’t do much for the scouts in attendance either, although it must be noted that his team didn’t do a great job helping him out in this department much either. Though it wasn’t his day, Barrett remains one of the top candidates in the D-League, and will have a chance to redeem himself later this week.

Michael Cuffee, 6-5, Shooting Guard, Bakersfield Jam
20 points, 6 rebounds, 5/11 FG, 10/11 FT, 4 turnovers

Mike Schmidt

After joining Bakersfield via trade in the past week, Cuffee seems to be a good fit for a team that desperately needs help. The 24 year-old shooting guard has an NBA body with long arms and excellent athleticism. He scored the bulk of his points today by aggressively attacking the basket off the dribble, which forced the defense to foul him. At the line, the guard made good on 10 of his 11 attempts. Cuffee also displayed good promise on the defensive end, showing the length and quickness necessary to shut down opposing wing players. To really establish himself as a call-up candidate, an improvement to his shooting stroke would go a long way. He also tends to be out of control driving to the basket at times, and could work on controlling his body more effectively on the drive. Cuffee showed good potential today, and it will be interesting to see how he follows it up later in the week.

Will Blalock, 6-0, Point Guard, Anaheim Arsenal
5 points, 4 rebounds 2 assists, 1 turnover, 21 minutes, 2/5 FG, 1/4 3P

Mike Schmidt

It was a struggle today for Blalock, who seems out of his element running the Anaheim offense. The second year point guard looked much more comfortable in transition, but still lacked confidence with his decision-making. Blalock’s outside jumper has a lot of room for improvement as well, but he shouldn’t be written off after one bad game. He has the physical tools to play in the NBA, and could really make an impact later this week if Anaheim starts running more. He will need to show better leadership skills, and also be more assertive.

Dontell Jefferson, 6-4, Point Guard, Dakota Wizards
0 points, 0/5 FG, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, 3 rebounds

Mike Schmidt

Dontell Jefferson had been playing well entering the showcase, but struggled to get anything going today on the offensive end. With Maurice Baker playing well, Jefferson wasn’t a key part of the offense for the Wizards today, and struggled with his perimeter shot on a few spot-up looks. He is shooting 40% from three this season, and a poor shooting game shouldn’t deter scouts from looking at his play over the course of the season. The point guard did have a better showing defensively, where he pressured the Iowa guards throughout the game. With the ball out of his hands for most of the game, we didn’t really get an in-depth look at his point guard skills today. The 24 year-old guard had an off day, but should bounce back later this week.

Blake Ahearn, 6-2, PG/SG, Dakota Wizards
12 points, 3/10 FG, 6/6 FT, 2 assists, 1 turnover

Mike Schmidt

Though he’s mostly labeled as a shooter, Ahearn missed on all three of his long range attempts today. He did show impressive ball-handling ability, and hit a couple of mid-range floaters off the dribble. Ahearn handles the pick and roll like a veteran, and his shooting and mid-range ability make him quite valuable for the Wizards. The lack of explosiveness inside hurt the rookie near the basket today, and will limit his chances at the NBA. Still, with his shooting stroke and ability to score from mid-range, he will certainly receive a chance to contribute overseas.

Steven Smith, 6-8, SF/PF, Anaheim Arsenal
11 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, 3-11 FG, 1-2 3P, 4-4 FT, 28 minutes

Jonathan Givony

This was not a great game for Anaheim combo forward Steven Smith, one of the top scorers in the D-League up until this point. His team really struggles to find any type of cohesive offensive rhythm, often resorting to Isolations and one on one play, and Smith may have gotten a little too caught up in this type of game as well. Anaheim does not appear to be the most organized team you’ll find here, and the excessive amount of freedom he enjoys offensively probably works against him to a certain extent.

With that said, you could still see that there is a lot of talent and determination to be found in Smith’s game, even if that didn’t always produce great results out on the floor. Smith is a high-energy, extremely aggressive player on both ends of the floor, which leads him to a lot of good sequences, but also a lot of bad. He likes to play facing the basket primarily, where he can put the ball on the floor and attack his matchup, and either finish with a pretty floater, pull-up off the dribble, or turn-around and go to work with his back to the basket. He’s a very versatile offensive player, possessing range out to the NBA 3-point line and a team spirit that shines through despite his insistence of playing so much one on one basketball. Being a good, but not great athlete, he often struggles to fully beat his man off the dribble when attacking him from the perimeter, which is what leads to many of his problems (read: turnovers).

Defensively, Smith is a very long and physical guy. He plays hard, is fundamentally sound, and extremely active. He hits the glass hard on both ends of the floor, making the most of his solid athleticism and frame. As far as the NBA is concerned, he might not quite be quick enough to play the small forward position, and probably isn’t strong enough to guard most power forwards, but we’ve seen players with a similar profile make it against the odds in the past. It’s not clear just how close he is to making it at this point, but he’s a really nice basketball player regardless.

Scooter McFadgon, 6’5”, Small Forward, Bakersfield Jam
7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal

Richard Walker

McFadgon had a tough day from the field, going only 2 of 11 and scoring only 7 points. He is averaging a very solid 19 points a game this season on 48% shooting, but the majority of those points come from his midrange game. He still has yet to show he can shoot from NBA range, shooting only 27% on the season and going 0-1 today.

Scooter made a concerted effort early in the game to get to the basket, but was unsuccessful, getting stripped on one play, and then on another showing good hang time with an athletic pump-fake mid-air before missing badly off the glass. He did a good job in man defense, but struggled on team defense, and in one possession in particular let his man cut to the basket for an easy feed from Andre Barrett.

Despite his troubles offensively, he did grab 6 boards, ran the passing lane for a steal plus And-1, and made a pretty pass from the top of the arc to James Peters for the alley-oop.

Michael Joiner, 6’7”, Small Forward, Sioux Falls Skyforce
17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 of 4 from three, 6 of 7 overall

Richard Walker

Joiner showed a very nice touch from both midrange and behind the arc. He was 6-7 from the field, often benefiting from spot up opportunities courtesy of point guard David Bailey driving and kicking.

He also did a good job defensively, grabbing 8 boards (7 defensive) and blocking 2 shots. On one play in particular he showed surprising athleticism while skying for the block, only to come off the ball and commit the foul by hitting Davin White on the arm.

Michael is an excellent shooter scoring at just under 50% on the season, despite being mostly a perimeter player. He needs to work on developing a bit more of an inside game and try not to gamble as much on defense to improve his stock.

Dwayne Mitchell, 6’5”, Shooting Guard, Iowa Energy
23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 of 15 from the line

Richard Walker

Dwayne recently lost his starting job in Iowa after a bad stretch of games. He came out strong against Dakota, however, scoring 23 points and getting to the basket at will.

Mitchell has a very strong upper body, which allows him to absorb contact and finish at the rim. Several times he got into the paint and attempted acrobatic finishes getting to the line 15 times, but failing to convert on 10 of them. This is a major weakness for a player who relies so heavily on his slashing game, as leaving 10 points on the board was clearly the difference between a win and a loss for his team tonight, and probably what would have been considered a breakout performance individually for him. Mitchell suffered some of these same problems in college, so clearly it’s something he must address.

With that said, we might be talking about the most physically impressive player in attendance here. On one play he jumped from one side of the basket and pump faked before reaching the other side and then attempting a reverse dunk. He missed the dunk, but the play showcased how incredibly athletically he is. He also showed nice touch after getting fouled in the lane and then flailing backwards and throwing up a pretty high arcing floater. He’s not only extremely explosive, but is also incredibly strong. To take his game to the next level, though, he must simplify his moves, getting rid of many of the pump-fakes and double clutches he throws in unnecessary, which led to quite a few misses that he easily could have converted had he taken a more simple route.

Mitchell has a lot of talent and if continues to play like he did tonight he’ll certainly get his starting role back in short order. We’re talking about a player with outstanding upside to continue to improve, who is nowhere near his peak as of yet.

James Lang, 6-10, Center, Utah Flash
19 points, 4 rebounds (1 offensive), 8-12 FG, 3-6 FT, 19 minutes

Jim Hlavac

Lang had an efficient game against an undersized Bakersfield team. Bakersfield played without a center and used 6’7” Anthony Wilkins and 6’8” George Williams to guard Lang. In 19 minutes, Lang had 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, and 4 rebounds. Lang gets most of his points down low - he likes getting the ball with his back to the basket in the low post, and can go either right with a power move or left for the short hook shot. He has trouble getting off the ground, but uses his length to shoot over the smaller defenders. He has a nice soft touch on his short shots, but had trouble at the free throw line shooting 3-for-6 at the line, despite being a 76% free-throw shooter on the season. Defensively Lang should be more of a factor. He only had 3 rebounds and should have had more with his height advantage. Conditioning is the main thing holding Lang back at this point. He’s 30-40 pounds overweight, and therefore looks nowhere near ready to be considered a candidate to return to the NBA or be able to play high level overseas basketball until he decides to commit himself to being a pro.

Kedrick Brown, 6-7, Forward, Anaheim Arsenal
10 points, 7 rebounds (1 offensive), 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 steals, 1-7 FG, 0-4 3PT, 8-10 FT, 40 minutes

Jim Hlavac

Kedrick Brown’s return to the NBA has hit a snag. The former lottery pick took a year off last season, and is looking to get back into shape in the D-League this year with Anaheim. After an understandably slow start to the season, Brown had begun to consistently score 20 points and grab 6 rebounds per game. However, a good showing here at the showcase is what Brown really needs. Today he had 10 points and 7 rebounds in 40 minutes. He was only 1-of-7 from the field, including 0-for-4 from the 3 point line. For long stretches he seemed absent on the court, not making his present felt and struggling to get anything going off the dribble with his average ball-handling skills.

Despite his poor shooting performance, Brown never tried to force any shots. He had a couple of nice passes and finished with 4 assists.

Defensively, he did a nice job, with aggressive man defense. He also got his hands in a few passing lanes and had 4 steals.

Jackie Manuel, 6-5, Guard, Iowa Energy
10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 5 fouls, 5-10 FG, 22 minutes

Jim Hlavac

Jackie Manuel was the last cut in training camp with the Boston Celtics and is a defensive specialist. Because of his defensive prowess, he sometimes leaves his man to help out only to wind up getting burned. Dakota’s Carlos Powell had 8 first quarter points on Manuel due to this. If he would stick to his man he would be on the short list of best defensive players in the D-League. Tonight, Manuel was limited to 23 minutes due to foul trouble.

Offensively, Manuel’s game is still not there. Early on, Manuel had three shots within a couple of feet and only made one. He did have one nice mid-range jumper off the dribble but will need to increase his range and precision to have any impact offensively.

Manuel’s key to getting into the NBA lies with his ability as a lock-down defender and he might be good enough at it to earn a call-up.

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