Earlier this week, the Austin Toros, who are the D-League-owned team and affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs, traded away what could have been a part of the Spurs’ future.
If you thought the NBA trade deadline resulted in a swarm of relocations, D-League teams should probably keep change of address cards stocked in the front office. Aside from the player movement from call-ups, several D-League teams go through more trades than even Bob Whitsitt could imagine.
Since it is a development league, player movement is a big part of the league.
Former Toros forward Leo Lyons became a casualty of the whirlwind of trades when the Toros shipped him in a three-team trade that netted them Josh Davis.
But while Lyons moves on to another team, it may be the Spurs who are the real casualty of this move.
Lyons has been an on-the-cusp player with NBA talent since he left Missouri and joined the Toros last season. In covering several home games and catching many others via Futurecast, I always said Lyons and Lance Thomas, who is now with the New Orleans Hornets for the remainder of the season, were the most NBA-ready players on the roster.
Lyons is a hybrid forward with the ability to play both forward positions comfortably and guard multiple positions. While players like Spurs forward Matt Bonner and Mavs forward Lamar Odom are given the “stretch four” tag for being power forwards with the ability to play outside, Lyons is able to switch between the two seamlessly.
While most “stretch fours” stay on the outside and shoot spot-up jumpers, Lyons brings athleticism and speed to that position that is far from the norm. While Lyons can spot up for the three-pointer (career 36 percent three-point shooter), he gave the Toros another dimension in that he was also able to blow post his opposition and make strong drives into the lane.
Lyons is also a good ballhandler for his size and is a matchup nightmare. Against small forwards, he works to get position in the low post and would face up or use a variety of low-post moves to seal his defender under the basket or overpower them. While power forwards can hold their own against him in the paint, Lyons brought them out of their comfort zone, using a jab step followed by a pull-up jumper or utilize a quick first step to penetrate.
While the 2012 D-League All-Star could use more development in a few different areas, he has the potential to improve in several areas. But in my opinion, Lyons is worth a shot in the NBA, even via a 10-day contract, with the skill set he has now and without the consideration for potential or upside.
What Jeremy Lin and several others before him have shown is that there is untapped talent in the D-League.
A recent article in USA Today asked several D-League players which current player could be the next D-League success story, Maine Red Claws forward Lawrence Hill pointed to Lyons.
“It’s weird playing against him, because this guy’s good enough to play in the NBA, and you know it,” Hill told USA Today.
Lyons said patience is key when waiting for the chance of a call-up.
“It is very difficult, I’m not going to lie, to stay positive and not get frustrated and impatient when you know you can play with those guys,” Lyons said. “I just try to stay positive and keep performing every night and show them you’re ready.”
In my opinion, Lyons is ready or at least worthy of a shot, but the Spurs are not oblivious to his talent.
The 6-9 forward had two workouts with the Spurs over the Summer, and in an interview I had with him then, he said the Spurs saw exactly what he could bring to the silver and black.
“I could bring a lot to the Spurs,” Lyons said then. “I’m a versatile forward that can do many things on the floor.”
“The Spurs hanging around watching us is a bonus,” he added. “They have seen every aspect of my game. I’m praying they give me the chance I deserve and that’s what I work for.”
While the Spurs don’t always call up players in their own backyard, Lyons knows the Spurs system well, having played in that system with the Toros since last year.
While the Spurs could certainly still offer Lyons a 10-day contract even if he is now a member of the Dakota Wizards, his days in the D-League are most certainly numbered and if the Spurs don’t come calling, an opportunity may not be far behind.
So while Lyons suits up for the first time as a member of the Dakota Wizards tomorrow night, pulling over a jersey with a D-League patch over his left shoulder, he knows the dream of seeing Jerry West’s silhouette there is still very much alive.