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Dunk that Sh!t: Friday Edition

Published: May 20, 2011

John D’Oriocourt  (@Kibner on Twitter) : Can the D League be used to develop raw players or is there a lack of teaching NBA fundamentals down there?

Michael McNamara: When you talk about guys who have used the D League as a spring board for their NBA careers, the list is not overly impressive, but it is a nice collection of solid role players. The list includes (but is not limited to): Chris “Birdman” Anderson, Mikki Moore, Matt Barnes, Chuck Hayes, Kelenna Azukuke, Bobby Simmons, Aaron Brooks, Ramon Sessions, CJ Watson, Will Bynum, Shannon Brown, JJ Barea, and Reggie Williams.

In fact, at the start of last season, 63 players on NBA opening day rosters had D-League experience. Now, some of those guys were guys who were virtually guaranteed a spot from the get-go and merely went down to the D-League to work on their game or get some minutes (think Jonny Flynn). But many of the guys on the list I mentioned in the first paragraph might have never seen an NBA court if not for their time in the developmental league.

The problem with the Developmental League as a pipeline to the NBA with regard to developing players is that it is not a true minor league system, aking to what we see in baseball. Only three NBA teams own their D-League affiliates (Lakers, Thunder, and Spurs) and less than a half of a dozen others have single-affiliate partnerships. So, imagine being the head coach of a D-League team and the Warriors send down a few players to your squad on a Tuesday afternoon. Then, Wednesday morning the Hornets send down Quincy Pondexter.

The Warriors want their guys to work on conditioning because they are going to push the ball non stop. They want you to help their guys work on spreading the court, get their own shots off of isolation, etc. Meanwhile, the Hornets want Quincy to work on finding spots within a set offense to get his shot. They want him to learn how to pass of the guy he is covering to where the help defense is going to be, etc. How, as a coach, do you accomplish both objectives? That is the rub, and often times they can’t.

Teams have been more successful plucking players from the D-League than they have been in using it for their own developmental tool for this very reason. The players who seem to thrive are the ones who have one exceptional skill set that can translate to the league. In the D-League, they get a chance to get significant minutes against legitimate competition, which simply helps their confidence. At this level, it is one thing to be able to do something, it is another to believe that you can do it.

Even late second round picks were the stars of their high school and college teams. They most likely were All-State or even possibly a McDonald’s All-American. The NBA can be very humbling for somebody like that, and often times players do not develop properly because they relied solely on athleticism or size to get themselves to this point. The D-League is a nice proving grounds for young players, but as I said, they usually need to have one exceptional skill. Look at that list, nearly every guy except for perhaps Bobby Simmons is a specialist in one specific area. Not very many of them are “well-rounded” or good fundamental players.

This is why I get so excited about the potential of Patrick Ewing, Jr. He is an exceptional, top 2 percent in the league kind of athlete. He has that one exceptional skill set and has the passion and desire to get better. Ironically, I could see him as a smaller version of Chris Anderson if he puts it together. The Birdman rotated between the 4 and the 5, blocking shots, scoring garbage buckets, and energizing the second unit. Ewing, Jr. can do the same things at the 3 and 4 positions if he continues on his game. Scouts have already seen a remarkable improvement from the time he entered the D-League until last season when the Hornets called him up.

So, while I can blab on about this subject all day, perhaps Ewing, Jr. gives you the answer you are looking for in more concrete terms.

(To submit your questions, either hit us up via Twitter (@hornets247) or on Facebook (Hornets247). Or you can email Michael McNamara at:

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