With the All-Star Break still a month away and the D-League Showcase behind us, this is the time of year that you often see teams reach down for guy on a 10-day contract, whether it's to shore up a hole in the rotation or take a flyer on a young guy they think has some potential. So far this season, there have already been three clear success stories in terms of guys being found off the waiver wire - Hassan Whiteside on the Heat, Justin Holiday on the Warriors and Robert Covington on the 76ers.
Whiteside is a huge story that I plan on getting more into in the near future, but for now suffice to say that an uber-athletic two-way 7'0 like that being available for absolutely nothing should tell you a lot about how the market for pro basketball talent actually works. This ain't NBA 2k15 - there are plenty of really good basketball players out there waiting for a chance. Don't assume that a guy not being in the NBA means he can't play. NBA teams miss on guys all the time if for no other reason than it's hard (if not impossible) for a young guy who wasn't drafted in the top half of the first round to break into the rotation of an even half-way decent team. If there are three established guys at your position ahead of you, there's not much you can really do to unseat them as long as the team is playing well. That's just not how the world works.
I don't think it's any stretch to say that there are a number of guys in the D-League who could help NBA teams right now or who are at the very least better than some of the guys currently on rosters. A lot of it comes down to path dependence - once a team invests a draft pick in a guy, they are going to be more committed to developing him, if for no other reason than to make the FO look good. So once you slip out of the NBA once, you have to be a lot better than young guys on other teams to get back in. That's how guys slip through the cracks. It almost happened to Hassan Whiteside!
The more realistic outcome is Justin Holiday, a 25-year old rookie SG for the Warriors. After graduating from the University of Washington in 2012, he bounced around the fringes of the NBA and the D-League for a few years. The Warriors took a chance on him because of his combo of length, athleticism and shooting ability and it looks like they have found a solid 3-and-D role player to come off their bench. If a young guy can play regular minutes on a team as Golden State without messing with everyone else's chi, it's an accomplishment.
Here's how I look at it - are there a lot of team who could use a guy with the older Holiday's skill-set? Yes. Are there more guys who can have an impact like Holiday floating around the D-League? Almost certainly. All they need is a chance.
I'm not going to say I've watched these guys a lot in the D-League, but they are all guys I've seen play plenty in college. Given the stats they are putting up and what I know about their skill-sets from their college days, here are 7 guys I think are worth a shot at the next level. My guess is that the "replacement-level basketball player" is better than a lot of people give it credit for. Teams just have been willing to give young guys a chance.
Lorenzo Brown (NC State)
- 6'5 190 with a 6'7 wingspan
- 24 years old
- 17/5/4 on 51/37/80 shooting
This is an easy one. Brown is a huge PG with good athleticism who can match up with multiple positions. The concern about him coming out of college was his three-point shooting and he appears to have firmed that up in the D-League. This is a guy who could help a lot of teams as a backup PG right now. He may not have the high-level play-making ability to be a starting PG on a good NBA team, but he definitely has the physical tools to be one. As long as he can consistently stick 3's, he is a huge plus in a rotation considering what he brings to the table as a driver, passer, rebounder and defensive player.
Doron Lamb (Kentucky)
- 6'4 200 with a 6'7 wingspan
- 23 years old
- 18/3/3.5 on 43/40/88 shooting
He played as a SG in college but I think it makes more sense to think of him as a larger combo guard who can swing between either guard position on a second unit. He'll never be a full-time floor general, but his assist-to-turnover ratio in the D-League (3.5 to 2.1) shows you that he's a guy who can get you into offense, take care of the ball and initiate ball movement with a pick-and-roll. Add to the fact that he has good size for a PG and he's a plus shooter and he's definitely better than guys like Austin Rivers, Jimmer Fredette and Gal Mekel.
I wrote about whether Lamb could make the Mavs and beat out Ricky Ledo before training camp at Mavs Moneyball.
Adonis Thomas (Memphis)
- 6'6 230 with a 7'1 wingspan
- 21 years old
- 17/4/1.5 on 40/35/88 shooting
Thomas is the classic example of a guy who went pro too early, declaring for the draft after two very inconsistent seasons at Memphis where he never averaged more than 12 points a game. Why he thought he would be drafted when Will Barton went in the second round after being an All-American, I have no idea. Thomas has bounced around the fringes of the NBA world for the past two seasons and he appears to be coming into his own this year, when he would have been a senior in college. For a guy with the skill-set to play on the perimeter, he is freaking enormous - he is essentially built like Ron Artest. As long as Thomas can consistently knock down 3's, his ability to match up with multiple positions on defense and increase overall team length/athleticism makes him a very intriguing player.
Jabari Brown (Missouri)
- 6'4 200 with a 6'8 wingspan
- 22 years old
- 22/4.5/2 on 46/39/80 shooting
Brown fell victim to a case of positional crowding and bad coaching in college, as he shared a backcourt with Jordan Clarkson, a 2nd round pick of the Lakers, on a Missouri team that couldn't even make the NCAA Tournament (thanks Frank Haith). He was always really nice, but the concern was that if he wasn't even the best player on his mediocre college team how could he really be? After not being drafted, Brown is showing what he can do in the D-League - the guy is a great shooter who just knows how to get buckets. There's a lot of Randy Foye in his game. A team who needs offense and shooting from the perimeter could do a lot worse.
Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State)
- 6'5 190 with a 6'11 wingspan
- 23 years old
- Just signed with the Lakers D-League affiliate
If Thomas projects as the defensive specialist on the wings and Brown projects as the scorer, Franklin is the most well-rounded of the bunch. Of the three, he was the best college player, but a transition to an NBA role won't be easy since he's such a ball-dominant player. If I was starting an NBA team with one of the three, I'd go with Franklin, but obviously no one is doing that. He's long, athletic and he can create his own shot and create shots for others, but he was a very inconsistent three-point shooter in college (like many of SDSU's players) and unless he can prove he can make that shot in the NBA, teams won't respect him playing off the ball. There's definitely some talent there - you can't hold him not cracking the Memphis Grizzlies rotation as a second-rounder against him.
Tony Mitchell (North Texas)
- 6'9 235 with a 7'2 wingspan
- 22 years old
- In limbo after being cut by the Suns following a trade
Mitchell is the captain of my guys who never a got a fair shot in the NBA the first time team. He was drafted into an impossible situation where he had to sit behind Greg Monroe and Josh Smith in Detroit and then he became a casualty when there was a changeover in management. In terms of talent, though? Holy shit. We're talking a guy who could have been a lottery pick had he been eligible out of high school and played at Missouri instead of being forced into the world of partial qualifiers in the Sun Belt conference. In the very, very limited minutes he got in Detroit, he produced. My man got a 18.3 PER! Mitchell is free money on the ground, waiting to be picked up.
I wrote a big feature about him at SBNation before the 2013 draft.
Richard Solomon (Cal)
- 6'11 225 with a 7'0 wingspan
- 22 years old
- 9/7 on 64% shooting
The funny thing about Solomon is you wouldn't have found many fans or coaches in the Pac-12 last season who thought Travis Wear was the better player. Solomon is bigger, faster and more skilled - he's kind of a downscale version of Dwight Powell, the Stanford PF who has made a huge impression in Dallas since coming over as part of the Rajon Rondo trade. He can play out of the high post and the low post and he can defend multiple positions in the front-court. He never got a ton of shots at Cal, but he stuffed the shit out of the stat-sheet - 11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block a game on 54% shooting as a senior. He will probably need to figure out a niche for himself at the next level, whether it's as a rebounder, perimeter shooter or finisher on the pick-and-roll, but the tools are there for a long NBA career.
The thing about good two-way C's is they are pretty much impossible to find outside of the top of the draft. That's what makes the Hassan Whiteside story so remarkable.