The 2008 D-League Showcase: A First Look

The 2008 D-League Showcase: A First Look
Jan 13, 2008, 02:03 am
The D-League Showcase presents an opportunity for the 140 players in the D-League to display their talents in front of their most important audience of the season. Over 60 scouts representing every NBA team and the top teams in Europe (at least seven from Spain we're informed) will make the trek to Boise for the four day event. DraftExpress will be right there with the scouts, providing daily coverage of the players and different rumors circulating Quest Arena starting on Monday afternoon.

The annual event must be approached like a job interview for the players looking to live out their NBA dreams. In addition to the on-court play, the scouts will be observing the interaction of the player with his teammates, his body language in different situations, and even their behavior off the court during the four day event.

In addition to four days of quality basketball, the Showcase provides different storylines that can be appreciated by any hardcore hoops fan. The event generally results in a few call-ups, and it’s always interesting to track the NBA assigned players who participate. The fact that these teams play to win is sometimes forgotten with everything else going on, and the Showcase games could be crucial to the playoff push for a number of teams this season.

The Call-Ups

Last season, the Showcase resulted directly in two call-ups, when Renaldo Major and Jeremy Richardson received opportunities in the NBA during the event or just after. The Stephen Jackson for Mike Dunleavy Jr. trade opened a roster spot for the Golden State Warriors, who called Major and put him into action the same day, playing the guard 28 minutes in his NBA debut. The Atlanta Hawks sent minor league scout Harold Ellis to the showcase, and were immediately impressed by Jeremy Richardson, choosing to sign him to two 10-day contracts starting the week after the 2007 event.

There are more potential call-up candidates than ever entering this year’s D-League Showcase, but the top talents aren’t as clear cut as in past seasons. With the high number of potential NBA players in the D-League, a number of NBA teams could put roster spots to use after the Showcase. The Charlotte Bobcats have an open roster spot as a result of the Nazr Mohammed trade, and could look for another point guard with Raymond Felton and Jeff McInnis both suffering recent injuries. Randy Livingston, Andre Barrett and Eddie Gill could all step in and potentially fill this vacancy in the Bobcat backcourt. The Boston Celtics have two roster spots open as well, and could look for another point guard or addition depth up front. The New Jersey Nets currently have only 13 players under contract, and already called up a pair of Colorado 14ers this season in Eddie Gill and Billy Thomas.

Other teams with open roster spots include the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets (2 open spots), Seattle Sonics, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards (2 open spots), Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns (2 open spots), and Sacramento Kings.

The Assignees

29 different assignments have brought 23 NBA players to the D-League at some point during the season. The Showcase gives an NBA team two chances to watch their assigned players in action at a centralized location. We could see a few NBA assigned to their D-League affiliates right before the start of the event, as was the case last season with Jose Juan Barea of the Mavericks who arrived at the arena in Sioux Falls just hours before his game started. Nine NBA players are set to travel to Boise with their NBA affiliates as of right now. The current assigned players are as follow:

Shannon Brown: Cleveland Cavaliers/Rio Grande Valley Vipers
JamesOn Curry: Chicago Bulls/Iowa Energy
Nick Fazekas: Dallas Mavericks/Tulsa 66ers
Kyrylo Fesenko: Utah Jazz/Utah Flash
Ian Mahinmi: San Antonio Spurs/Austin Toros
Josh McRoberts: Portland TrailBlazers/Idaho Stampede
Mouhamed Sene: Seattle SuperSonics/Idaho Stampede
Ramon Sessions: Milwaukee Bucks/Tulsa 66ers
Alando Tucker: Phoenix Suns/Albuquerque Thunderbirds

The Teams

Dakota Wizards:

Current Record: 11-7, First Place in Central Division

Showcase Schedule: Mon vs. Iowa, 9:15pm; Wed vs. Rio Grande Valley, 9:15pm

Players to Watch: Forward Carlos Powell ranks second among active D-League players in scoring at 22.7 points per game. The talented forward has legit size for an NBA 3, and has a power game that could make him an effective weapon at the NBA level. Powell’s name is brought up constantly when discussing the top call-up candidates in the league. Many scouts view Rod Benson as the most improved player in the D-League this season, and he currently leads the league in rebounding at 12.6 per game. In his second year, Benson has the height and athleticism to play in the NBA, but must prove that he can hold his ground against stronger players. Guard Dontell Jefferson showed promise last season, and has really emerged as one of the more interesting upside prospects this year. With great size at 6’4,” he may be the best defensive guard in the D-League this season. The 24 year-old also has impressive slashing ability off the dribble, and currently shoots over 40% from behind the three point line on the season. To emerge as a top point guard prospect, Jefferson must mature with his decision-making in the half-court. Center Kevin Lyde is a constant double-double threat and another Wizard to watch in Boise.

Team Outlook: Winners of 6 of their past 10 games, the Wizards currently lead Fort Wayne in the central division by 2.5 games. They have two of the stronger defensive guards in the league in Jefferson and Maurice Baker, and their front-court duo of Benson and Lyde is hard for any D-League team to match. Their Monday contest against Iowa will be their third game in four days against the Energy. The two teams matched up in North Dakota on Friday night, and play Sunday in Des Moines before flying out to Boise for the Monday game at the Showcase. A win against Iowa would create further separation between the two teams in the Central Division race. Dakota also gets their second look of the year at Rio Grande Valley on the third day of the Showcase. The Wizards took down Rio Grande Valley in a high scoring affair with 256 total points on the scoreboard on December 22nd, but the Vipers have undergone a roster makeover since that time. Dakota has a chance to repeat for a second consecutive D-League title, and their chances will only improve when Renaldo Major re-joins the team in a few weeks.

Bakersfield Jam

Current Record: 3-19, Fifth Place in West Division

Showcase Schedule: Mon. 14th vs. Utah, 3:45pm; Tues. 15th vs. Anaheim, 6:30pm

Players to Watch: The Jam have one of the premier call-up candidates in the D-League in Andre Barrett. The veteran point guard lacks ideal NBA size, but possesses great quickness off the dribble as well as versatile scoring ability and solid court vision. Barrett currently has averages of 18.9 points and 9.2 assists per game on the season. Guard Scooter McFadgon is another player to watch on Bakersfield’s roster. The shooting guard needs to develop a three point shot and could work on his shot selection, but has an impressive mid-range game. Recently acquired guard Michael Cuffee was solid for Utah early in the season, and could break out on Bakersfield with additional minutes.

Team Outlook: The Bakersfield Jam must fight an uphill battle for the rest of the season to make the playoffs. Their slow start came under recently departed coach Jim Harrick, and newly hired coach Scott Roth will be in charge of turning around the team and potentially overhauling the roster over the remainder of the season. They face off against two division opponents in Idaho in Utah and Anaheim. Record-wise, the teams Bakersfield plays in the showcase are the two they are looking directly up at in the divisional standings. A pair of victories in Boise would leave them either one or two games behind Anaheim in the win column. It will be a tough battle for Bakersfield to overcome their slow start and make the playoffs, and every game for the rest of the season can be looked at as a must win.

Los Angeles D-Fenders

Current Record: 12-4, First Place in West Division

Showcase Schedule: Tues vs. Fort Wayne, 1pm; Thurs. vs. Austin, 1pm

Players to Watch: The D-Fenders roster can best be described as ‘stacked’ at this point, with 6 former NBA players on the team. Guard Devin Green might be the best D-League player that nobody is talking about this season. The 25 year-old stands at 6’6” and can play multiple positions on the court. Green brings lock-down defense every night and has displayed an improved perimeter jumper this season. Center Jelani McCoy recently returned from a stint with the Denver Nuggets, and his size and experience make him another potential call-up candidate. Sean Banks established himself as a top scoring threat in the D-League, ranking third among active players at 21.9 points per game. If he continues to stay out of trouble off the court, he could be a real interesting prospect for an NBA team running an up-tempo offense. With good size and athletic ability, center Darryl Watkins has the upside to return to the NBA this season (he started the year with Sacramento). The rookie needs to improve his basketball IQ to last in the NBA, but has top level athleticism for a big man. Stephane Lasme started the season with the Golden State Warriors who drafted him in the second round of the 2007 draft. The talented shot-blocker is undersized for the power forward position, but has produced very well for the D-Fenders when given minutes. Guard Brian Chase has struggled with his three point shot this year, but still stands out with his strength and quickness on the defensive end. The undersized guard will need to focus on distributing the ball to make it back to the NBA.

Team Outlook:

The D-Fenders have won 9 out of their last 10, and have as much talent as any team in the league. They remain only a half game ahead of the Idaho Stampede in the West Division, and two wins at the Showcase will be important in creating some separation in the division race. The two games Los Angeles plays at the Showcase are against non-divisional opponents, and it will be the first time they have faced both Austin and Fort Wayne this season. The game against Austin should garner a great deal of attention from the NBA decision-makers in attendance, considering the 11 current or former NBA players on the combined rosters. The match-up between the two NBA-owned powerhouses could be the most exciting game of the Showcase as well. Fort Wayne has taken more of a small-ball approach as of late, and will be a good match-up for the D-Fenders, who like to run and gun as much as anyone in the D-League.

Idaho Stampede

Current Record: 13-5, Second place in West Division

Showcase Schedule: Tues. vs. Rio Grande Valley, 9:15pm; Thurs. vs. Fort Wayne 9:15pm

Players to Watch: Idaho features current D-League assist leader and perennial call-up candidate Randy Livingston, who averages 11 assists per game this season. The veteran runs his team like a coach, and could see a return to the NBA very soon. Center Lance Allred has established himself as a top center in the D-League with 18.8 point and 10.6 rebound averages on the season. He must prove that he can produce against stronger and more athletic centers to receive a look from an NBA team. A veteran shooting guard, Roberto Bergersen has been a solid scorer for the Stampede this season, and forward Cory Violette shows excellent hustle despite lacking NBA upside.

Team Outlook: The Stampede boast the longest active winning streak in the D-League at 8 games, and have the advantage of playing their two Showcase games at home, where they haven’t lost a game this season. Their experience at the guard positions will create problems for Rio Grande Valley, who recently lost their two best guards to the NBA and Europe. The size advantage will be the key factor for Idaho against Fort Wayne. In addition to Allred, the Stampede have NBA assigned big men Saer Sene and Josh McRoberts, who hold a big advantage over Fort Wayne’s first round pick Larry Turner. Two wins at the Showcase can position Idaho for a run at the West division title, while placing addition pressure on the Los Angeles D-Fenders to stay out front.

Iowa Energy

Current Record: 9-11, Third Place in Central Division

Showcase Schedule: Mon. vs. Dakota, 9:15pm; Wed. vs. Utah, 6:15pm

Players to Watch: Iowa Features guard Dwayne Mitchell who averages 21.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game on the season. The 25 year-old must focus on cutting down on turnovers while becoming more consistent with his outside shot to make it to the NBA. Mitchell possesses an NFL body and uses his athleticism to finish around defensive players inside. Power forward Anthony Tolliver was set to make the opening day roster for Cleveland, and has intriguing offensive skills facing the basket. The big man has shooting range out to the NBA three point line, but must become a tougher defender and more effective rebounder to have a chance at the NBA. Power forward Doug Thomas brings freakish athletic ability to the court and might be the most improved D-League player from the start of the season. Small forward Jackie Manuel uses his great length defensively, but must improve his shooting to receive an NBA call-up.

Team Outlook: Iowa has lost 5 consecutive games, and will need strong play from NBA assignee JamesOn Curry in order to right the ship. Curry’s leadership and intensity were missed when he returned to the Bulls after a stint to open the season in Des Moines. The team moves the ball very effectively on the offensive end, but often settles for jumpers rather than attacking the basket. They remain 2.5 games back of the Dakota Wizards for first place in the Central Division, and a Monday victory could provide an emotional boost to the team. The match-up against Utah should be interesting considering it will be the first time these two expansion teams face off. Utah’s low-post bigs should provide an interesting match-up for the perimeter oriented big men on Utah, and the guards on both teams like to slash to the hoop. A pair of victories at the Showcase could go a long way in re-energizing the Energy for a playoff run.

Anaheim Arsenal

Current Record: 6-11, Fourth Place in West Division

Showcase Schedule: Mon. vs. Sioux Falls, 6:30pm; Tues. vs. Bakersfield, 6:30pm

Players to Watch: Former lottery pick Kedrick Brown started the season strong for Anaheim, but has struggled with consistency lately. His level of conditioning is on the rise, and he could see another NBA chance with better three point shooting. Point guard Will Blalock has impressive athletic ability and a solid feel off the dribble, but has struggled with consistency since joining Anaheim. Though he may lack a true position, Steven Smith has versatile scoring ability and could receive another chance at the NBA this season. The second year forward has a scoring average of 19.5 ppg on the season. Ivan Johnson has emerged from nowhere this season and could be worth paying attention to during the showcase.

Team Outlook: Anaheim dropped a game to the Los Angeles D-Fenders on Friday after winning two in a row. The team appears as if they could string some wins together, but a consistent team effort is needed for this to happen. The match-up against Sioux Falls should be an interesting one for both squads. The Arsenal have an athletic advantage, but the lack of big men could hurt Anaheim defensively against a group of Skyforce guards who like to shoot the gap on the pick and roll. To remain ahead of Bakersfield, the divisional game against the Jam can be considered a must-win for Anaheim. The two teams have already squared off three times this season, with the Arsenal coming out on top twice so far.

Austin Toros

Current Record: 13-4, First Place in Southwest Division

Showcase Schedule: Wed. vs. Sioux Falls, 1:00pm; Thurs. vs. Los Angeles, 1:00pm

Players to Watch: Austin currently brings a loaded roster filled with potential call-ups and past NBA experience. Forward Justin Reed has struggled offensively since joining the Toros, but brings lockdown defense and years of NBA experience with him to the D-League. He remains a top call-up candidate despite the early struggles on the offensive end. Guard Keith Langford recently rejoined the Toros after a brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs. Langford lacks NBA range on his jumper, but is very athletic with the ability to rise over the defense and make shots. DerMarr Johnson also joins Austin again after his stint with the Spurs. The guard has more NBA experience than nearly anyone in the D-League, but must prove he has the desire to play at a high level. A talented swing player with upside, Marcus Williams played for the Spurs earlier this season as well. The rookie can score off the dribble, but needs to cut down on turnovers and improve his perimeter shooting to receive another NBA chance. Center Kris Lang can score the ball efficiently, and recently turned down $100,000 per month from a team in the Ukraine to return to the United States while his wife gives birth. Lang could help his stock with the NBA scouts by rebounding the ball more aggressively, but his size and scoring ability make the veteran a potential call-up candidate.

Team Outlook: The Toros have yet to come together as a cohesive unit on the floor, but have enough talent to beat nearly any team in the league on their worst night. They have the size defensively to shut down the scoring attack of Sioux Falls, and their ability to play at different tempos on the offensive end gives the team a unique edge. The Austin vs. Los Angeles match-up on Thursday may determine who the better D-League team is for the time being, and the transition defense of the Austin bigs will be key to stopping the transition attack of Los Angeles.

Sioux Falls Skyforce

Current Record: 8-11, Fourth Place in Central Division

Showcase Schedule: Mon. vs. Anaheim, 6:30pm; Wed. vs. Austin, 1:00pm

Players to Watch: The Skyforce have one call-up candidate in small forward Kasib Powell, who has past NBA experience with the Chicago Bulls. Powell needs to improve his three point shooting, but has a potent mid-range game and excellent court vision. The force also rely on guard Carl Elliott who can lock down on the defensive end. Point guard David Bailey has versatile scoring ability, but must focus more on setting up his teammates.

Team Outlook: The Skyforce use their home-court as a big advantage, but have struggled away from South Dakota this season, with just a 2-8 record on the road. They match-up well with Anaheim, and the game could produce a high final score considering the pace that both teams enjoy playing at. The D-Fenders are a tougher match-up for Sioux Falls, particularly in the paint. This game will probably also produce a lot of transition scoring by both teams, but Los Angeles has the size advantage inside and out. Sioux Falls must focus on transition defense to have a shot at beating the D-Fenders.

Tulsa 66ers

Current Record: 7-10, Fifth Place in Southwest Division

Showcase Schedule: Wed. vs. Albuquerque, 3:45pm; Thurs. vs. Colorado, 3:45pm

Players to Watch: The 66ers feature small forward Mike Hall who played much of last season with the Washington Wizards. Hall had a slow start from the field this year, but does a little bit of everything and appears to have the tools to be a long term NBA player. Power forward Glen McGowan was expected to be one of the top D-League scorers this year, but was slowed at the beginning of the season by a knee injury. The talented forward has started piecing together solid showings lately, and could really break out over the second half of the season. One of the top shooters in the D-League, Adam Harrington brings a competitive mean streak to the floor. The talented scorer could fill a gap with an NBA team looking for a shooter.

Team Outlook: The 66ers have plenty of talent, but lack team synergy, which has led to a below average record to start the season. At just three games below .500, a pair of wins at the Showcase could bring the team together and better position them for a playoff run. A win against Albuquerque would tie the 66ers with the Thunderbirds in the Southwest division. Tulsa split their first two meetings of the season with fellow division opponent Colorado, with each team winning at home so far this season. Colorado has struggled lately, and the 66ers could pass the 14ers with a pair of wins and two Colorado losses.

Utah Flash

Current Record: 10-8, Third Place in West Division

Showcase Schedule: Mon. vs. Bakersfield, 3:45pm; Wed. vs. Iowa, 6:30pm

Players to Watch: D-League veteran center James Lang can really scores the ball in the low post, with great touch inside and a range of developing moves on the low block. Conditioning is a constant issue for the 24 year-old, but his scoring and rebounding could lead to another NBA look this season. Point guard Kevin Kruger has NBA range on his jumper and can distribute the ball fairly effectively as well. As one of the two draft eligible players in the D-League, Aleksandar Ugrinoski has a chance to improve his draft stock with a strong showing in front of the numerous scouts.

Team Outlook: As the benefactors of many NBA assignments this season, the team must focus on building chemistry in order to maintain their playoff position. Utah Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko is expected to remain with the team for the long haul, but won’t be eligible to return to the D-League again this season if the Jazz recall him one more time. Kruger starter the season slowly, but has really come on strong as of late, and now ranks third in the league with 9.3 assists per game. The match-up against Bakersfield will be the third of the season for Utah, and it’s hard to beat any team four times in a row. They will face Iowa for the first time in franchise history, and will have an advantage inside at both ends of the floor with Fesenko and Lang in the middle.

Fort Wayne Mad Ants

Current Record: 8-9, Second Place in Central Division

Showcase Schedule: Tues. vs. Los Angeles, 1:00pm; Thurs vs. Idaho, 9:15pm

Players to Watch: The Mad Ants are led by rookie guard Sammy Mejia, who missed the beginning of the season with an injury but has averaged 21.8 points per game since returning. Mejia rebounds the ball extremely well for his size, but needs to show more consistency with his perimeter shooting. Center Larry Turner has a great body and stands at 6’11,” but his struggles with foul trouble limit the big man’s NBA upside. The rookie must also focus on improving his touch inside and focus on playing with a better motor. D-League veteran Walker Russell has improved the backcourt of Fort Wayne since returning from an early season injury, but his shooting percentage needs to rise out of the 30s.

Team Outlook: The Mad Ants started the season slowly, but are now working their way back towards .500. The loss of Jeremy Richardson to the NBA has hurt the team, but Mejia’s strong play has made it a little easier on them. Fort Wayne probably has a tougher schedule than any other team in the Showcase, considering they play the best team record-wise and a game against the host team who is undefeated at home this season. The game against Los Angeles provides a big challenge for the front court of the Mad Ants. The team has shifted their play to a smaller and more up-tempo system because of the poor frontcourt production early in the season. Los Angeles can play fast as well, but still have big men that can hurt Fort Wayne down low. Idaho provides just as big of a challenge, and the three NBA big men on their roster could create problems for Fort Wayne.

Albuquerque Thunderbirds

Current Record: 6-8, Fourth Place in Southwest Division

Showcase Schedule: Tues. vs. Colorado, 3:45pm; Wed. vs. Tulsa, 3:45pm

Players to Watch: The Thunderbirds have relied on the scoring ability of Josh Gross this season. The forward has a few years of D-League experience under his belt, and is a very accurate spot-up shooter. 2006 Cleveland Cavalier second round pick Ejike Ugboaja also plays for Albuquerque, though he remains raw and has struggled to adapt to playing in the D-League. Daniel Horton has proven to be a solid pick-up for Albuquerque, averaging 13.6 points per game on the season.

Team Outlook: The Thunderbirds have played fewer games than any team in the D-League and have a tough schedule to end the season, with many road games. The team relies on the shooting of Gross and the ability of Horton to get to the basket off the dribble. They face a tough match-up against Colorado, who could provide problems athletically for Albuquerque. The Thunderbirds struggled against dominant inside teams all season, and Elton Brown should have few problems scoring against their front line. Tulsa proves to be a better match-up for Albuquerque. The 66ers have big men that are more perimeter oriented. It will be important for the Thunderbirds to stop Ramon Sessions from penetrating.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Current Record: 9-8, Second Place in Southwest Division

Showcase Schedule: Tues. vs. Idaho, 9:15pm; Wed. vs. Dakota, 9:15pm

Players to Watch: The Vipers feature a couple of call-up candidates with NBA experience. Big man Chris Taft recently joined the Vipers, but it will take time for him to regain the conditioning necessary to play at a high level. At the age of 22, he will have a chance to dominant later in the year if his back recovered fully from an injury that caused the Warriors to cut him before the 2006-2007 season. Shooting guard Desmon Farmer also joined the Vipers recently. The D-League veteran is a streaky shooter, but plays tough defense and brings a lot of energy to the court.

Team Outlook: The Vipers are a completely different team now than they were just a few weeks ago. They lost forward Gabe Muoneke to Spain and Kenny Taylor to Greece in a span of a couple of weeks. Their leading scorer, CJ Watson, was recently signed to a 10 day contract by the Golden State Warriors and has played well enough to stick around for the rest of the season. With those three moves, the Vipers were forced to rebuild on the fly. Taft and Farmer were recently acquired by the team, and they have now lost four games in a row. It will take some time for the new players to build chemistry with the existing players, and they face a tough schedule in the showcase which starts off against the host team. Chris Taft must play at a very high level for Rio Grande to compete with Idaho at the Showcase, and their guards must make shots on the perimeter as well. Dakota also has the ability to pounds the ball inside, and their defensive-minded back-court could create problems for the Viper guards, who aren’t used to creating on their own. Their hot start to the season will help Rio Grande Valley through this tough stretch, and have a chance at getting things back together for a playoff run.

Colorado 14ers

Current Record: 9-9, Third Place in Southwest Division.

Showcase Schedule: Tues. vs. Albuquerque, 3:45pm; Thurs. vs. Tulsa, 3:45pm

Players to Watch: Power Forward Elton Brown continues to dominate the D-League, much like last season. It is almost surprising he hasn’t received an NBA look at some point this year, but conditioning has troubled the big man in the past. Eddie Gill was the first D-League player called up this season, and has a great chance at returning to the NBA at some point. The veteran point guard has all the makings of a third NBA point guard, but could improve his three point shooting while in the D-League. Fellow veteran Billy Thomas just returned from the New Jersey Nets, and has the defensive ability to garner the attention of the NBA scouts in attendance. Small forward Kaniel Dickens has freakish athletic ability and is shooting over 40% from behind the three point line this season. To make it back to the NBA, he must start driving to the hoop more and show consistent desire while on the court. Rookie swingman Justin Cage shows toughness and physicality on the defensive end, but must work on his perimeter shooting stroke.

Team Outlook: The 14ers have lost 5 games in a row and 6 of their last 7 entering the Showcase. They have struggled with injuries as much as any team in the league this season, and the revolving door with the players on their roster also created chemistry problems. It is up to Eddie Gill to bring this team together, and with Billy Thomas back, they have the talent to make a run for another appearance in the D-League finals. Both of their showcase games are against divisional opponents, so it makes it that much more important that they string some wins together. They have the size to dominate both Tulsa and Albuquerque inside, and they can slow the tempo down to beat both teams in the half-court setting. Perimeter shooting has developed into a problem for the team lately, and Billy Thomas must shoot the ball well for Colorado during the showcase.

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