Dominant D.J. White
White serves a great purpose here at this Showcase from our perspective, as he provides a clear barometer for what an NBA player actually looks like, and is an excellent measuring stick for which to evaluate other big men D-League prospects off of.
Offensively, White looked deadly from the 15-20 foot range, hitting quite a few shots on the game, including at least one contested fade-away. He also showed prowess in the post with a nice drop-step, as well as finishing with an explosive dunk on a pick-and-roll. Despite not being the quickest or most explosive athlete around, he covers long strides with his moves, and is capable of elevating around the rim and converting thanks to his terrific length when given time to gather himself.
Defensively, White is extremely vocal, makes all the rotations, and definitely still brings the defensive intensity he showed as a senior at Indiana. He's a bit lacking in terms of lateral quickness, which can lead to him getting beat in the post and on the perimeter by quicker foes, but he uses his length and strong base very well to be an effective overall defender.
White has already played rotation minutes in stretches with the Thunder the past two seasons, and might've been more of a regular there if not for various injuries he's suffered since being drafted. He's getting some good experience in this stint in the D-League, and definitely has the potential to break into the Thunder rotation as the season goes on, where he surely will be called back to the NBA at some point.
Morris Almond, the D-Leagues top NBA Prospect
On the offensive end, Almond is still a prolific shooter, and he's been among the league leaders in scoring efficiency (55% 2P, 44% 3P) in the D-League the past few seasons. He's equally deadly spotting up as he is pulling up in space, and he does a decent job of getting separation on the perimeter off one or two dribbles.
His dribble-drive game appears to have developed substantially since graduating from college, as he makes up for his lack of extensive advanced moves by using a solid first step and excellent footwork to make subtle changes of direction, weaving through the lane and even flashing the ability to finish with either hand. He also shows no hesitation to draw contact with his sturdy frame, getting to the line over 11 times per game (ranking 1st overall) in the D-League, which is an amazing rate anyway you look at it.
There are definitely concerns about Almond's volume shooting, but it'd be unfair to classify him as a chucker, as most of the shots he takes are ones that will provide his team with above average efficiency. His efficiency this week has been absolutely outstanding even on high usage, and despite his 15 or so shots per game, it's hard to look at any of his shots and say it was an ill-advised one. Considering how much smaller his role will be in the NBA (he leads the D-League in possessions used per game at 23.5), this will be a key factor in his transition to the next level.
Defense is still not among Almond's strengths, but he has put in adequate effort here, and his physical tools in terms of size, length, and lateral quickness are enough to get by at the shooting guard position.
The biggest concern about Almond from an NBA perspective is what he will be able to contribute when he's not scoring, as he ranks amongst the worst passers in the league, and watching him play, is clearly always looking for his own shot. Data from Synergy Sports Technology also suggests Almond isn't nearly as good of a scorer coming off screens as he is spotting up, and this could limit his effectiveness in a role as a 3-point shooter in the NBA.
Regardless, he clearly is an exceptionally talented shooter/scorer, and it's hard to believe he isn't worth a minimum contract for some team, given some of the ineffective players logging minutes on the wing around the league making 5-10 times the minimum salary. Almond has developed somewhat of a reputation for being a bit aloof at times and not always open to change, so it will be key for him to show that he has the intangibles to match his terrific talent.
Jeff Weltman Interview
Milwaukee Bucks Assistant GM Jeff Weltman discusses his thoughts on the D-League Showcase, the evaluation process of potential NBA prospects, his background as an NBA executive, and much more.
Sundiata Gaines Gets the Call-Up
Gaines is a reasonably athletic point guard who excels in transition and sports a chiseled frame that is substantially improved since his college days. He can create his own shot going left or right and gets to the free throw line at a high rate, excelling on the pick and roll in particular where he can get to the rim and finish (61% 2P) with an array of spin and pivot moves or find open teammates spotting up on the wing. He does a good job taking care of the ball despite the incredibly fast pace his team plays at, and appears to have strong fundamentals and a nice basketball IQ to help compensate for his lack of incredible physical tools.
The biggest question mark about Gaines (besides his average size) revolves around his perimeter shooting stroke, which has never been considered a strength throughout his career. He shot just 32% from beyond the arc this season and 30% as a NCAA senior, attempting quite a few shots which may indicate some shot-selection issues. With that said, he has a very strong mid-range game, being highly adept at creating space and knocking down shots pulling up off the dribble.
Gaines is a fairly tough and scrappy guy who plays good defense for the most part and is a very good rebounder for a point guard. Hes a bit inconsistent from game to game, something he needs to address, but should fit in well in Utahs flex offense and is the type of player Jerry Sloan likes.
Ajincas two contests in Boise were a very apt representation of many of his strengths and weaknesses,. Fouling out in just 20 minutes in the first game and committing five fouls in 19 minutes in his second, Ajinca showed how raw he remains on the defensive end. Hes appeared tentative at times in both of Maines games here, but still managed to block a total of 4 shots and alter a handful of short range attempts. His length affords him the opportunity to contest shots that many other players cant, but hes still honing that craft and learning how to cut down on his fouling.
Offensively, Ajinca flashed the talent that made him the 20th overall pick in 2008, but struggled at times as well. In his first game he finished with 5 turnovers and just 11 points, apparently playing through a minor illness. He came back strong a day later, finishing with 21 points on 9-14 from the field.
While the results of the second game were far more impressive, Ajinca made some impressive moves in both, including an essentially unblockable hook shot from the right block in the first and a pair of smooth face up drives in the second. Possessing excellent touch, Ajinca was able to overcome his lack of physical strength and toughness at times, but is still very much a work in progress as a player on both ends. The Bobcats will need to continue to foster Ajincas game, whether that be in Maine or Charlotte, to facilitate his development. We must keep in mind that hes only 21 years old at this stage, and obviously still has a world of potential left to tap into.
Nick Nurse Interview
We had a chance to sit down with the winningest coach in the D-League, Nick Nurse of the Iowa Energy, after his teams convincing victory yesterday over the Austin Toros.