Here’s a question: Does the NBA Development League really improve basketball players and make them better pros?
According to NBA.com, 22% of current NBA players have played in a D-League game. The keys to being competitive at the NBA level are consistency and an exceptional work ethic. Players that adhere to these intangibles well are mainstays on NBA rosters.
Players that are entrenched in the D-League are not always less talented than their NBA counterparts, but rather lack the consistency and discipline essential to compete at the pro level.
The Development League seeks to correct player inconsistencies by providing stellar competition to prepare prospects for the bright lights of the NBA. Some players improve themselves much faster than others because of their hunger to taste the NBA ambrosia.
Here are 3 players that have worked tremendously hard and have propelled themselves past the D-League level and into the NBA, proving that the D-League has become an effective tool for overlooked and ambitious NBA hopefuls.
PG Will Bynum (Detroit Pistons)
The 6-foot point guard from Georgia Tech put up 12 points in his senior year, helping the Yellow Jackets to the Final Four. However, Bynum only shot 39% from the field as a senior which might have destroyed his chances of getting drafted.
After being signed and waived by both the Celtics and the Warriors in the 2005-2006 season, Bynum got another shot when he was declared the 5th overall pick in the D-League draft by the Roanoke Dazzle.
Bynum’s breakout season in the D-League came that same year when he averaged 24 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.7 steals, capturing the D-League Rookie of the Year while leading the league in scoring.
Bynum then headed overseas with Maccabi Tel Aviv after his terrific D-League campaign. In the 2008-2009 season Bynum finally got his time to shine with the Detroit Pistons, playing in 57 games that year.
Bynum is number 3 on this list because of his lightning quick speed, tricky ball handling, and ability to penetrate, making him one of the most consistent and effective point guards to migrate from the Development League to the promised land.
Bynum showed the Pistons he was worth his call up in the 2009-2010 season when he became Detroit's most productive player on their second unit, averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists. The undrafted speedster from Georgia Tech was rewarded with a 3-year, $10.5 million contract which he is currently finishing up this year.
Current Comparison -- Justin Dentmon (Austin Toros): Justin plays for the Spurs affiliate and averages 23.2 points and 5.3 assists per game. His quickness and ability to penetrate and put the ball in the basket makes it unbelievable that he is still in the D-League.
Bynum’s quickness and acceleration with the basketball exceeds Dentmon’s ability, but Dentmon's efficiency shooting the basketball puts his potential slightly above that of Bynum.
C Marcin Gortat (Phoenix Suns)
Taken 57th out of 60 players in the 2005 draft, 6-11 center Marcin Gortat has most NBA teams kicking themselves because they let the big fish slip away. The Polish Hammer has now become a monster in the paint, and is one of the most physical and consistent centers in the NBA.
Gortat is a great D-League success story. After being drafted by the Suns he was immediately traded to the Magic for cold hard cash. He never played in the NBA that season. Instead, he decided to play overseas in Germany for the next three years, winning their most coveted title in 2006. With the extra experience under his belt, Gortat headed back to the United States in 2007.
With juggernaut Dwight Howard blocking his path to major minutes, the Orlando Magic wanted Gortat to prove himself. He was sent to the Anaheim Arsenal, the Magic's D-League affiliate. With his hard work and dedication he made his way to the NBA that same season. Even with mediocre numbers in the D-League, his size and potential did not go unnoticed by GM Otis Smith.
Gortat played behind Dwight Howard for three years, establishing himself as a relentless defender and patient offensive center. However, Gortat was never content with his role in Orlando. He was packaged in a blockbuster trade to Phoenix, with the Suns getting the better of the deal.
In his first full season as a starter for the Suns, the former D-Leaguer looked like an All-Star, averaging 16 points and 10 boards after signing a contract for 5 years and $34 million. The Polish Hammer has persevered time after time, and is easily the best center to walk the bridge from the Development League to the NBA.
Current Comparison -- Jeff Foote (Springfield Armor): This kid is incredibly aggressive at 7 feet tall, and his activity around the rim is rarely seen in today’s big men. Foote stays active around the rim and goes after every missed shot, creating second chance opportunities.
Foote has great numbers, posting 15.2 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game in the D-League. His intelligence on the offensive end is impressive. He possesses a lethal hook shot and boasts an array of post moves. At 265 pounds, he’s not very quick, but he has the ability to keep up at the NBA level.
Foote is not as consistent as Gortat with his mid-range game, and also has plenty of work to do at the charity stripe. He can also get lost on defense, especially when defending quicker centers, but that can be improved with more conditioning. Foote’s offensive skills and unrelenting attitude on the boards are exactly what NBA teams look for in young centers. Foote is proficient enough to be a successful backup center in the NBA.
F Matt Barnes (Los Angeles Lakers)
He is known as one of the most physical and pesky defenders in the NBA, but Matt Barnes was once a D-Leaguer vying for a chance at the big time. Barnes was drafted 46th by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002 out of UCLA, where he averaged 13 points and 6 boards.
Barnes never suited up for the Grizzlies or the Cavaliers -- the team to which he was traded. The Cavs soon waived him, which led him to seek refuge in the D-League. He was foolishly underrated even by the D-League, and was selected 106th overall in their draft. The Fayetteville Patriots took Barnes, who contributed with 9 points nightly in 50 games.
The now defunct and stolen Seattle SuperSonics signed Barnes. After almost five years of being traded and waived by various teams, Matt’s career took off as a member of the Phoenix Suns in 2009 when he averaged 10 points and 5 boards as a reserve.
Barnes was signed by Orlando in 2009 and the Lakers in 2010 mainly for his defensive prowess against opposing superstars. His toughness and unrelenting on-the-ball defense defines his NBA career. His offense is basically making something out of nothing just like his career, as he is known as one of the best cutters in the game. Matt Barnes has become one of the most productive D-League forwards to make the coveted jump.
Current Comparison -- Andre Emmett (Reno Bighorns): Emmett has a great wingspan, good leaping ability at 6-5, and he can finish strong at the rim. Emmett can also knock down the three ball if given space. One of the best facets of Emmett’s game is that he attacks the rim with the best of them, making his field goal percentage look Lebronesque.
Defensively, he is not on Barnes’ level yet, but has great instincts on that side of the floor. Even though he capitalizes on his length on defense, he is not really a shot blocker in the mold of Barnes, but he can effectively contest shots.
Although Emmett is up there in age at 30-years-old, his knowledge of the game and 7 years of D-League experience can add some veteran leadership and scoring to a young NBA bench. Emmett is definitely one of the best scorers in the minors. Being mired in the D-League for so long likely makes his hunger to play in the NBA a cut above the rest.
By Kareem Arnold
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald