D-League Numbers, Names: A Primer

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Somewhere around the eighth grade I lost interest in math. I endured it through high school and later college. Numbers bore me. However, numbers matter.

Numbers matter in basketball terms because numbers represent teams and players. With the NBA lockout it would be wise for Spurs fans to get a little more acquainted with the D-League, and the Austin Toros to be specific.  Some numbers that might prove helpful:

160. There are that many players in the D-League all trying to prove they belong with the big boys in the NBA. A veritable collection of the Rocky Balboa’s of the basketball world. The reality is, most will not make it. But some will. Some will push themselves and elevate their game and in an incredible moment in time will get their opportunity with an NBA team and will produce—and stick. “Yo Adrian. I did it!” If you’re a sports fan you have to love a good underdog story. The D-League is filled with them. One hundred and sixty guys all hungry for that shot.

16: There are sixteen D-League teams, nine with single NBA team affiliation. For the uninitiated, here is a breakdown of the D-League teams, and their NBA affiliation: Austin Toros (Spurs); Bakersfield Jam, (Clips, Suns, Raptors) NBA DLeague Canton (Cavs), Dakota Wizards (Warriors), Erie Bayhawks (Knicks), Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Best name ever-Pistons, Pacers, Bucks), Idaho Stampede (Nuggets, Blazers, Jazz), Iowa Energy (Bulls, Hornets, Wizards), Los Angeles D-Fenders (Lakers), Main Redclaws (Celtics, Bobcats, 76’ers), Reno Bighorns (Hawks, Grizzlies, Kings), Rio Grand Valley Vipers (Rockets), Sioux City Skyforce (Heat, T-Wolves, Magic), Springfield Armor (Nets), Texas Legends (Mavericks), Tulsa 66’ers (Thunder).

30: There are thirty NBA teams that have a keen interest in the players of the D-League. These teams are not looking for The Next Big Thing, rather they are looking for a player who is ready to be a viable role player on their team. They also look to the league to give young guns that can’t crack their rotation the playing time they need to develop. Last season alone, twenty-five teams assigned thirty-seven first or second year players to the D-League. Eighteen of those players were first round picks from 2009 or 2010, six were lottery picks. Forty-five percent of players drafted in 2010 played in the D-League during the season. Every NBA team had at least one player on their roster with D-League experience.  The NBA takes the D-League seriously, and Spurs fans should as well.

2:  Two players and their potential relationship with the Toros matter to Spurs fans. The Spurs drafted Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph in the 2011 draft. With the lockout, these two, like all rookies, have a great need to play. A year off will stifle their growth. Both need to learn the Spurs system. Both need to stay in shape. The question has been raised: Can drafted rookies play in the D-Legue this year with the lockout? There is no easy answer to that.  The legalese surrounding players under contract and their team is clear, but these are rookies who have not signed a contract. It’s all speculation at this point. Would Leonard and Joseph benefit from playing in the D-League, learning the Spurs system and staying in shape? Absolutely. Will that happen? We’ll find out soon enough.

6: Six players in particular for the Spurs should keep an eye on the Toros: Richard Jefferson surely sees the writing on the wall. The Spurs tried to move him and there were no takers. The Spurs drafted Leonard and he will play the same position. Danny Green showed promise last season. He’s also a small-forward. De’Sean Butler, if fully rehabbed and back at full strength, is also projected as a small forward. RJ has to hear footsteps. If the Spurs can’t move him, I don’t see them giving him 30 minutes a night just because he is making good money. The Spurs are about winning-period. If Leonard is truly the Bowen/Rodman hybrid, and if Butler or Green develop into viable role players—that is significant. If these young guys give the Spurs a better opportunity to win? Jefferson could be the highest paid guy on the team sitting in street clothes during the next season—whenever that is.

Tony Parker should be watching the D-League. Unless Nando De Colo is ready to make the jump from Euro ball to the NBA, TP’s backup is a very young Cory Joseph and an aging Manu Ginobili. The Spurs need a reliable third point guard. Is there a D-Leaguer out there who can fill that role?  We’ll have to watch, wait and see.

Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner should be watching the Toros.  The Spurs could use another legitimate role player with length at the 4/5 position. Is there help available the D-League? Again, time will tell.

1: One Spurs head coach will be keeping his eye on the D-League. Pop and R.C. have an almost preternatural ability to find talent where others don’t.  Pop won’t be lounging around during the lockout. He’ll be keeping his eyes on Europe, and on the D-League, particularly the Toros.

Is “The Next Big Thing” playing in the D-League? Probably not but someone, somewhere at some time, will be the first to go from D-Leaguer to All Star. The D-League isn’t really designed to produce NBA All-Stars. It’s much better at producing viable role players. Two players with D-League experience started in Game 6 of the NBA Finals—JJ Barea for the Mavs and Joel Anthony for the Heat.  Both of those guys are hard- nosed players. A guy who has to scratch and claw and fight his way to reach the top tends to be that way.

Cue the Rocky theme-song, one hundred and sixty players are ready to prove they belong.

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