Unless you have been under a rock, you’ve noticed the recent trend of NBA franchises buying or starting teams in the NBA D-League. What was once an afterthought or punchline in basketball circles has now transformed to a well respected development league where NBA teams can not only find talent, but develop their prospects and rehab players. With no draft picks to depend on for the near future, the Brooklyn Nets are adding a D-League team at the perfect time.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson has long been a fan of the D-League given his San Antonio, by way of Mike Budenholtzer, upbringing. Early in the preseason, Atkinson praised the D-League and previewed how he plans to use it this season.
“We’re going to use the D-League as a tool, we want to use that,” Atkinson said after a calm Nets Sunday practice. “Like to me as a coach it doesn’t have a negative stigma, it has a positive stigma. Anyway we can use it in any scenario, for our young guys, for our guys who have been out and building them up again. I’m a big believer in the D-League, I think it’s a great tool for development.”
With guys like Isaiah Whitehead, Yogi Ferrell, Beau Beech, Egidijus Mockevicius, and Anthony Bennett all getting some type of guaranteed money from Brooklyn but not being ready/able to crack the rotation, having the D-League is a great way to keep an eye on your investment while also creating an environment for them to thrive in.
The D-League is also a great place for teams to slowly reintroduce players back into basketball. Teams like the Boston Celtics have done this with players like Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart via the Maine Red Claws or more recently when the Detroit Pistons had Brandon Jennings playing in Grand Rapids with the Drive following injury. Even this season, the San Antonio Spurs had NBA champion Danny Green practicing with Austin to get him more ready for the season.
Atkinson plans on taking advantage of how close his affiliate will be. For both player development and rehab, he will use the fact that they are going to be in the same building to start the season, and then be within a short drive to team facilities when they open.
“When they’re in Long Island at the Coliseum they’re be a step away from us. For their coaches that have been around, they’re in our staff,” Atkinson said (with a laugh) of the Nets’ D-League affiliate coaches. “They’ve been with us every day, were with us in summer league, now they’re in all our meetings from a coaching standpoint. We’re going to be synchronized on both levels which I think will help. If Isaiah, or if Chris, or if some goes down there, this makes sense, we’re not sending them to Fort Wayne or Austin.”
As guys like Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Tyler Johnson, and Jonathon Simmons keep emerging from the D-League to contribute in major ways for winning teams, keeping a close eye on who is on the roster in Long Island will be key this year. If you still aren’t sold, our very own Sean Kilpatrick was plucked from the D-League where he was an All-Star. The talent is there if you know how to look for it and assess it, and I believe that Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson know how to do both.
Beau Beech, Forward, North Florida
Many of you will remember Beech from both Summer League and preseason. Someone that is both 6’7″ and can stroke it from deep is rare to find, but Beech isn’t your average prospect.
After vowing to become both the first player from North Florida to play in the NBA and the best player to ever lace them up at North Florida, Beech found himself on the Brooklyn Nets Summer League roster. He averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebound per game while shooting 33 percent from deep. He scored in double figured three of five contests and ended SL on a 15 point performance on five of seven shooting from deep.
If Beech can defend at a higher level, expect him to get a call up and make an impact at the next level. He is deadly from deep and can light it up. I expect him to do very well in the D-League, as spacing and shooting are always hot commodities. The Brooklyn Nets will always need shooting, especially now that they run a motion offense. It wouldn’t be crazy to think Beech could play himself into a role in Brooklyn if he impresses in Long Island.
Yogi Ferrell, Guard, Indiana
If college basketball was your thing, then you know Yogi Ferrell very well by now. The four-year point guard out of Indiana University left the school as one of its all time greatest point guard and shooters. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to get him drafted or stick on Brooklyn’s final roster. Standing at only six feet tall, Yogi needs to prove people wrong this year and he can do so in Long Island.
The biggest concerns about his game where if he could get his shot off against NBA size and talent, and how well he can defend given his size. During both preseason and Summer League, Yogi failed to prove he could do so. A lot of his offense comes off of cutting to the basket or shooting on the perimeter, two things that are tough to do at a high level when you are just barely six feet tall.
Yogi will thrive in the D-League, and is on my short list of Rookie of the Year candidates. Short guards seem the thrive, just ask former ROY Quinn Cook. If Yogi can come in and prove he can get his shot off over bigs and not give up the farm while on defense, he could get some call ups this season too. Once his shot starts to fall, he can take over games. Keep an eye on him as the season progresses.
Egidijus Mockevicius, Center, Evansville
If you haven’t heard of Mockevicius, don’t worry, you are not alone. The little known prospect out of Evansville originated from Lithuania and was a double-double machine in college. Praised for his efficiency, Mockevicius is an old school big that can pull down rebounds at a high rate. The biggest downside to his game, especially when put in the perspective of the offense Brooklyn/Long Island runs, is that he has no jump shot. And I don’t mean he struggles, I mean he shot one jumper his entire senior year.
He should do well against D-League bigs and pull down a ton of rebounds, but unless he can become an incredible defender and an efficient rebounder, then he probably won’t get called up much this season. 24 year old centers do not find a jump shot overnight, so it’d be best for him to focus on defense and rebounding as his selling point. Brooklyn is in dire need of rebounding, but not at the cost of defense and rebounding. Look for him to stay in the D-League for most of the season.
Round One, 14th Overall
Boris Dallo, Guard, France
The Nets went international in their first ever draft, something unusual in the D-League draft. With their first pick, they selected a French combo guard named Boris Dallo. Dallo was once a major prospect early on, but failed to develop a consistent shot from deep. Now 22, he has spent time playing professionally overseas and is ready to try his hand in the D-League.
He is incredibly quick on offense and is a great defender. He does a good job of taking away space and staying attached to his man. All that he is missing from becoming a very solid role player is a consistent three point shot. He is 6’5″ and could defend three positions with ease, if he finds his shot he could become a very serviceable 3&D player at the next level.
Round Two, 36th Overall
Trashon Burrell, Forward, Memphis
Burrell is a 6’7″ forward who spent the past two years at the University of Memphis. A versatile player, the New York native averaged 9.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 31 percent from deep. He is oozing potential and stands a chance of having a successful season in the D-League.
He plays most of his minutes at small forward, so it is easy to imagine why the Nets want a 6’7″ swingman that can bury threes on the roster. What he needs to do is find consistency and defense while with Long Island. If he can become a lockdown defender and hit threes with more consistency, it is easy to imagine him having a role going forward.
Round Three, 58th Overall
J.J. Moore, Forward, Rutgers
Another pick, another long swingman that has the potential to be a good 3&D prospect if he can figure out how to consistently defend at the next level and hit threes more consistently. Moore started his career at Pitt but ended at Rutgers. As a senior, he averaged 11.18 points and 2.94 rebounds while shooting 31 percent from deep. He attended the Nets open tryouts, and was one of the more impressive prospects there, but don’t expect to hear his name in Barclays Center anytime soon.
Round Four, 77th Overall
Palpreet Singh Brar, Forward, India
Labeled the “best chance to succeed” by Brian Shaw following the ACG-NBA Jump camp, an initiative that focuses on Indian prospects trying to break through to the NBA, fans should be very excited about Brar’s presence in Long Island. At only 22 years old, the 6’8″ power forward has a good feel for the game and has a real shot at being one of the best players to come out of India. With a finely tuned skill set and sturdy body, look for Brar to succeed early in the D-League.
Round Five, 92nd Overall
Austin Witter, guard/forward, Reno Bighorns
The versatile guard/forward out of North Carolina A&T made a name for himself in college by doing a little bit of everything. With a stat line of 6.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2.9 blocks per game, Witter looked like a decent guy to have at the end of the bench and could do a little bit of everything. So far, he has spent the 2014-15 season with the Reno Bighorns and put up a pedestrian 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14 minutes of play.
*Author’s note: The D-League is a confusing place, especially for fans that have never followed it. If you have any questions relating to the D-League, feel free to reach out to me in the comments or on Twitter (@Nick_LT).