As some of you Blazers fans might know, Anthony Tolliver of the D-League’s Idaho Stampede was called up by Portland yesterday. With Greg Oden out for the season, the Blazers were given the “Hardship Exception” and used it on Tolliver, who is a 6-9, 240 pound power forward. He is the second D-League call up of the 2009-10 season, the first being Chris Hunter of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, who was called up by the Warriors.
Right now, a lot of basketball fans just focus on the NBA and college and have overlooked the fact that the D-League season is well on it’s way. You can bet more and more guys will be called up, especially on January 5th, when 10-day contracts are allowed in the NBA. Here are seven guys we think might be moving on up to the big leagues soon.
1. Dontell Jefferson, G, Utah Flash (Arkansas) – 20.5 ppg, 6 apg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 spg
There is almost no doubt that Jefferson will get called up at some point this season. With his lock down D and versatile skill set, Jefferson is one of the D-League’s most complete players. He is a smart player with good size for a point guard that works his butt off on both ends of the floor. In the past week, Jefferson went for 30 points against Reno and 25 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 for 3 from the three-point line against Dakota. Last year, he got called up to Charlotte. If he is able to get consistent minutes once he’s called up, there is a good chance he’ll stick.
2. Dwayne Jones, C, Austin Torros (St. Joseph’s) – 18 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 66% fg
Jones’ game has improved so much since last season. Before, he was just a big body who could rebound and block shots. Now, he has a little bit of a post game and is a lot more aggressive on the offensive end. He has gotten a double-double in every game but one. In a game against Albuquerque on Dec. 15, Jones put up Wilt-type stats: 27 points, 24 rebounds and 4 blocks. He’s also tremendously improved his FG and FT shooting percentages. For the past half-decade, the 6-11 center has bounced back and forth between the NBA and D-League. With his revamped offensive game, expect him to bounce right back to that other league soon.
3. Michael Harris, F, Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Rice) – 26 ppg, 7 rpg, 59% fg, 45% 3p
Although he’s talented enough to be in the NBA right now, what has kept Harris out is that he’s a power forward in a small forward’s body. He is an efficient rebounder, but at 6-6, he is a few inches too short to play the four at the next level. What makes Harris a good candidate to be called up is the fact he is proving he can shoot the ball. He is knocking down 45 percent of his treys and hit five of them in a game last week. In back-to-back games against Albuquerque, Harris went 32 and 9 the first game and 23 and 7 the second game. Aside from being the third leading scorer in the league, he is also helping the Vipers win games. As of now, Rio Grande is 6-1 and have won six straight.
4. Sundiata Gaines, G, Idaho Stampede (Georgia) – 25.4 ppg, 7.7 apg, 5.3 rpg, 42% 3p
Perhaps the D-League’s best point guard prospect, Gaines doesn’t even start for his own team. But when he comes in, he puts a big dent in every statistical category. He’s a game changer, whose best attribute is his ability to score the ball. Gaines had a stretch where he scored over 20 points in six-straight contests. In just 29 minutes of action against the L.A. Defenders on Dec. 13, Gaines had 25 points and 7 assists while getting to the line 17 times. He’s proven that he can carry and control a fast-paced offense. And with several NBA teams that like to run and gun, Gaines’ game would fit right in.
5. Morris Almond, G, Springfield Armor (Rice) – 33 ppg, 6 rpg, 49% fg, 38% 3p
Almond had a cup of coffee in the NBA already. The 6-5 shooting guard spent two seasons playing limited minutes with the Utah Jazz. In the past week, Almond has joined the Springfield Armor in hopes that he can work his way back into the league. He’s always had a good shooting touch, but is still trying to prove he is not one-dimensional. In his second game with the Armor, the former first round pick out of Rice went off for 39 points and getting to the line 16 times.
6. Rod Benson, F/C, Reno Bighorns (Cal) – 15.7 ppg, 11 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 2 spg
Benson has been so close to the NBA he could practically taste it. He has played for several NBA summer league teams and participated in a couple of training camps. Although he has been dominant in his D-League career, he has never been called up. He’s always been a good rebounder and shot blocker, but his offensive skills and lack of bulk have probably held him out of the league. This season, Benson is putting up some good stats. For being 6-11, it is very impressive that he is getting 2 steals per game. Against Bakersfield earlier this week, Benson got 14 boards (6 offensive) and even dished out 4 assists.
7. Mustafa Shakur, G, Tulsa 66ers (Arizona) – 19.9 ppg, 6.7 apg, 4.3 rpg, 41% 3p
Shakur has followed the footsteps of guys like Ed Cota and Hollis Price as college stars who couldn’t find a niche in the NBA. But so far in the D-League season, Shakur is displaying attributes that should catch the eyes of NBA scouts. Shakur is showing effectiveness both as a scorer and distributer. His shot selection and accuracy has improved since his Pac-10 days. On the road last week against Maine, Mustafa had 21 points, 7 assists and 6 steals. If he can cut down his turnovers (he’s averaging 4 turnovers per contest), then he will get serious consideration for 10-day contract.
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