The NBA Development League is often looked upon as a downgrade when players receive an assignment to places like Delaware, Springfield, Rio Grande Valley or Sioux Falls rather than playing in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Detroit. While it may be underwhelming, most NBA fans miss the whole point of the D-League or the benefits it can have on a player.
The D-League can be described as a dark place that players never want to step foot in, but there is no doubt that the D-League gives players the opportunities to hone skills that can’t be worked on sitting at the end of an NBA bench. Instead of sitting on the end of that bench, these players are given the opportunity to play 30-plus minutes per game against other players fighting for their NBA lives. It’s the proverbial Hunger Games of the NBA.
The worst thing someone can do is talk down about the level of competition in the NBA Development League. Sure, you won’t find a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James there. But you’ll find a roster full of ambitious young athletes trying to make their dream become a reality. You see the grit, the guts and the glory that can be lost in the magic of the NBA. I love the underdog mentality and that’s something that EVERY player in the D-League has. They play in venues that have more empty seats than people, trying to play a team oriented game when they know they have to value individual success over team success for them ever to take the jump to the NBA.
Sometimes we all take for granted the stars we watch night in and night out. For now, lets give some praise to these 10 D-League players that deserve to be playing in front of thousands before the season is over.
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10. DEE BOST
After playing four years for Mississippi State (13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists), Dee Bost started his professional basketball career by playing in Montenegro for a short time frame in 2012-2013. Bost was signed by the Portland Trail Blazers in August, but was waived in late October, when he was acquired by the Idaho Stampede.
The D-League’s leader in assists at 7.6 per game (2.17 AST/TO ratio) has started off his season on a tear. Playing with Pierre Jackson, who leads the NBA D-League in scoring and has four 40-point performances on the season probably helps too. But Bost is also capable of putting points on the board too, averaging 15.6 on the season. Bost needs to work on his shooting percentage (34 percent on the season), but that’s why he’s in the D-League right now. He’s still shown the ability to distribute the ball at a high volume, which is rare in a league where most players are concerned about points over everything.
Bost’s best performance this season came on December 27, when he recorded 19 points, eight assists and a whopping 16 rebounds. Nice numbers for a 6-2, 176-pound guard. He’s still extremely young, which is why right now is a great time for NBA teams to call Dee Bost and sign him to a contract. He’s scoring at a high volume, along with distributing. His numbers are comparable to the explosion Kendall Marshall had in the D-League before the Lakers signed him, but Dee Bost doesn’t have the name that Marshall does. If Dee Bost keeps performing this season, then he deserves a second look from NBA teams.
9. OTHYUS JEFFERS
Othyus Jeffers is the story of a man that won’t give up to achieve his dream. Jeffers has been chasing the NBA since 2008 after he went undrafted. He’s been on multiple NBA rosters during training camp and summer leagues, usually being waived before 12-man rosters were announced. The closest success for Jeffers came in 2011, when he was signed to a couple of 10-day contracts with the Washington Wizards midseason, before they signed him for the remainder of the season. In 13 games with the Wizards, Jeffers produced 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in 13 games (including a 15-point performance and a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double). When Jeffers became a restricted free agent the following season, the Wizards extended a qualifying offer. Unfortunately, the lockout struck and stopped Jeffers from being able to sign the offer. During the lockout, Jeffers tore his ACL, which caused the Wizards to remove the offer and just like that, Jeffers dream went from being in reach to seeming millions of miles away again.
Fast-forward to the 2013-2014 NBA D-League season and you can find Othyus Jeffers playing for the team he’s been playing with since 2008, the Iowa Energy. The swingman combo is putting up fantastic numbers like always. To date, Jeffers is averaging 23.2 PPG (sixth in the D-League), 11.5 RPG (third in the D-League) and 3.4 APG while shooting 49 percent from the field. Jeffers only has three performances this season where he’s scored less than 19 points. What might be more impressive is that Jeffers, up until this past week, didn’t have a game this season where he grabbed less than eight rebounds. He also has nine double-doubles on the season.
Jeffers can literally impact the game in every way possible. Recording an average of 2.5 steals per game, Jeffers has had a seven steal game this season and also an eight steal game. Othyus Jeffers has been a D-League standout since being undrafted in 2008 and he’s having his best season. There are plenty of teams in the NBA that could use someone as skillful as Othyus, especially as he’s right in his prime. Hopefully someone scoops up Jeffers and we start to hear his name on a regular basis.
8. TROY DANIELS
Troy Daniels is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA D-League at 23.6 PPG, with a true shooting percentage at 64.5 percent. That kind of scoring is expected when his Rio Grande Valley Vipers score 125.5 PPG and lead the D-League with a 13-3 record. Troy Daniels will get called up to the NBA simply for his dominance of the minor league. Playing for Shaka Smart at VCU in his collegiate days, Daniels became known as a lethal three-point shooter, currently holding the VCU and A-10 record for most three-point field goals made in a single game at 11. After going undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft, Daniels stuck on with the Bobcats and Rockets temporarily before being waived before the season began. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers acquired Daniels in November and that’s where his success begins.
Daniels’ points are coming from shooting identical percentages from the field and the arc (43.4 percent) and he’s making 5.7 three-pointers per game. He’s also hit two or more threes in every game this season, including four separate performances where he’s hit eight three-pointers. No matter what way basketball gets twisted, a lethal shooter is a lethal shooter. There is nothing different about that three-point line in Rio Grande Valley than the one in Houston. There’s a reason why Seth Curry was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, he’s a lethal shooter. I see the same future for Troy Daniels. When you watch this video below, where he hits six threes in less than 10 minutes of game action, you’ll understand why this kid’s future lies in the NBA. He reminds me of shooters like Danny Green and Anthony Morrow, who began their careers in the D-League before becoming common names in the NBA.
7. DeANDRE LIGGINS
DeAndre Liggins figures to be headed back to the NBA sooner rather than later since he is currently the ninth-ranked prospect in the D-League, according to nba.com/dleague. Some of you might remember Liggins from a few brief appearances with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After bouncing back and forth between the D-League and NBA last season, Liggins was waived by the Thunder in September. The Sioux Falls Skyforce acquired Liggins in November, which is the team he’s currently flourishing with.
Liggins is a 6-6 guard that can do everything on the floor. Right now, he’s averaging 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists while playing 40 minutes per game. Liggins isn’t an exceptional shooter, but his length at 6-6 creates a mismatch for most guards on the floor. As you can tell from his statistics, Liggins is a do-it-all type of player. He’s not going to blow anyone away on the floor, but he will do all the little things and that’s important. His play is a huge reason the Skyforce record is sitting at 11-6 right now. Liggins can come in and contribute in a plethora of areas for NBA teams, which is a reason he’s high on the prospect watch and will be donning another NBA jersey in the immediate future.
6. CHRIS WRIGHT
From watching Chris Wright, one might believe he’s related to the Wright brothers because this kid can FLY. It’s ironic that this high flyer decided to play his college ball for the Dayton Flyers and is considered the greatest-above-the-rim player in Flyers history. No kidding. But, while Wright can fly with the best of them, he’s still a valuable asset on the floor. After going undrafted in 2011, he started his venture into the D-League with the Maine Red Claws, who he currently plays for. However, Wright has had success in the NBA. After signing a training camp contract with the Golden State Warriors, Wright survived the cuts and made the final roster. Wright started the final game of the season for the Warriors, scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds on 11-for-14 shooting. After his stint with the Warriors, Wright failed to make some training camp rosters and was acquired by the Maine Red Claws in late October. With the way Wright has been playing, he might find himself on an NBA roster soon.
In 16 games with the Red Claws this season, Wright is averaging 20.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Wright’s PIE (Player Impact Estimate) is at 16.6 percent, which is the second highest in the D-League. He’s shooting a clean 50 percent from the field, while boasting a high usage rate at 25.6 percent. Wright has six games this season where he has shot 55 percent or better from the field, with Wright scoring over 20 points in all but one of those games. Wright has a unique ability of pure athleticism and power, which is why he’s dominating in the D-League right now. His combination of scoring ability while being able to play above-the-rim at all times makes him a prime candidate for a call-up.
5. MANNY HARRIS
Harris for short is a combo guard for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. After a successful three-year career at Michigan, Harris left early and unfortunately went undrafted in 2010. Harris briefly spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, which even included starting a game. After Harris was cut by the Cavaliers due to players returning from injuries, he bounced around from the NBA and D-League several times. This is a common occurrence among D-League players, one day you will be in Los Angeles playing in front of thousands and the next you will be playing in an arena with a sea of empty seats. This September, Harris was on the Orlando Magic’s training camp roster, but didn’t make the final cut. He was then acquired by the Los Angeles D-Fenders after a trade with the Canton Charge.
Manny Harris responded to not making the Orlando Magic’s roster by exploding for 41 points, four rebounds, three assists and five steals in his debut for the D-Fenders. Harris has continued this production in his following six games by not scoring under 21 points in a game, while also compiling 31-point and 30-point performances. In ten appearances with the D-Fenders, Harris has one of the best true shooting percentages and he’s scoring at an extremely high clip at 26.9 PPG, which is second in the D-League. He’s also grabbing 6.0 rebounds and dishing out 4.0 assists per game. Harris has also shown the ability to knock down the long ball. Manny Harris has seen the bright side and dark side in the NBA, spending time as a starter in both the NBA and D-League. With his explosion this season, it makes me believe that Harris deserves to be under those bright lights sooner rather than later.
4. JARVIS VARNADO
Jarvis Varnado is a name that might be familiar to some, since he was drafted by the Miami Heat in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft. As the story would have it, Varnado might be the only player in the D-League that actually owns an NBA championship ring. Varnado was on the Heat’s roster when they beat the Spurs 4-3 in the NBA Finals last season, after being signed for the season on January 30. He was waived before the season and was acquired by the Sioux Falls Skyforce, a team that he has been with in previous seasons. Weird enough, the day after the Skyforce acquired Varnado, they traded him to his current team, the Iowa Energy.
Varnado probably doesn’t care what team he plays for and that’s been evident by his play this season. Jarvis has had a taste of the NBA and that has to be driving him to be excelling at such a high rate in the D-League this season. To date, Varnado is averaging 14.1 PPG and 11.8 RPG, but that’s not even the impressive part about Varnado’s game. Varnado is averaging 5.0 blocks per game… yes, you read that correctly. If you couldn’t guess, he’s the best rim protector in the D-League. He has blocked more than two shots every game this season, with a season high 10 blocks on December 6. At this rate, it has to be a matter of time before someone gives Varnado another shot. He’s spent time in Miami, the team that drafted him in 2010, and they could always use some help down low. Someone averaging a double-double every night while swatting away over five shots per game has to be of some use to a team in the NBA. Don’t be surprised if this shotblocking machine gets a call up by the time you’re done reading this article.
3. DeWAYNE DEDMON
DeWayne Dedmon is new to the D-League and he must not like it that much, according to his performance thus far this season. Dedmon is a 7-0, 255-pound center that played his college ball at USC and went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. Although Dedmon is a rookie, he’s already been reassigned and reacquired to and from the D-League SEVEN times, mainly with the Golden State Warriors and the Warriors D-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. This is just an example of the rigors of the D-League and it’s business nature. Even with all this going on, Dedmon has been one of the standout performers in the D-League.
Typically, when a player averages close to the same rebounds as points, it’s a bad sign. Not in Dedmon’s case, as he’s averaging 15.9 points and 14.6 rebounds per game this season, leading the D-League in rebounding. Dedmon is also grabbing 5.3 offensive rebounds per game. This season, Dedmon only has two performances with under 10 rebounds and no performances scoring less than 10 points. He’s also swatting away 2.4 shots per game. With 12 double-doubles in 14 games, Dedmon is a player that is producing a double-double virtually every time he’s on the court. He is showing how valuable the D-League can be, because he’s already grown leaps and bounds in just a few short months. NBA teams will likely let Dedmon continue to flourish, but they would be smart to sign Dedmon off pure potential before his production starts to catch the eyes of NBA GMs all over the country.
2. DEVIN EBANKS
Devin Ebanks is a curious case, because he’s actually been a starter in the NBA before, for the Los Angeles Lakers. After playing 63 games for the Lakers between 2010-2013, Ebanks was signed by the Mavericks in September, but was later waived before the start of the season. Ebanks was acquired by the Texas Legends, which is the D-League affiliate of the Mavericks. Ebanks is another case of a player that is making the most of his time in the D-League instead of treating it like a demotion.
This season, Ebanks is averaging 24.4 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Legends, shooting 46 percent from the field with a true shooting percentage of 57.1. He’s contributing 29.95 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth in the D-League. Ebanks has had two 30-point performances this season and even went for a 43-point explosion on December 13. The most impressive part about his 43 point performance was his efficiency. Ebanks scored 43 points on 16-for-26 shooting from the field and 8-for-14 shooting from deep. I’ll do the math for you, Ebanks shot 61.5 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from deep that night. He also grabbed 14 rebounds, three steals and three assists in that game. This is just one game, but it shows the type of impact player that Ebanks can be, along with his performances all season. Devin Ebanks has tasted the success of becoming a player in the NBA and that has to be fueling his excelling play in the D-League thus far. Reportedly, the Sixers are now interested in picking him up.
1. PIERRE JACKSON
Pierre Jackson has no right being in the D-League. Anyone that follows Pierre on social media will notice he uses the hashtag #THEYSLEEP quite often. With the way he’s been playing on the Idaho Stampede this season, they won’t be asleep for much longer. Seriously I could watch YouTube videos of this guy all day, he’s that exciting to watch. It’s like watching Nate Robinson‘s performance against the Nets in the playoffs last season when you watch Pierre Jackson play. Jackson had a great career at Baylor, which turned into a second-round draft selection by the Philadelphia 76ers, who traded his rights to the New Orleans Pelicans. First, we have to explain why the electric 5-10, 180-pound guard, who currently leads the D-League in scoring at 30.1 PPG hasn’t been called up yet.
Even though Jackson was drafted by the Pelicans, he never signed a contract with them. Jackson played Summer League with the Pelicans, but signed a contract to play in France. Jackson decided to stay home instead of playing in France, which led to the Stampede drafting him in the first-round of the NBA D-League draft. So, what does this all mean? This means that Jackson is not free to sign with any NBA team, like most players in the D-League (Kendall Marshall played with the Sixers D-League affiliate, the 87ers, in Delaware and then was signed by the Lakers, for example). The only team that can call Jackson up are the Pelicans, which seems highly unlikely with Jrue Holiday, Brian Roberts and even Tyreke Evans dominating all the minutes at the guard position. There are no minutes in New Orleans for Jackson, even though he would seamlessly transition to the major league ranks.
With this being said, there’s no way I can’t put Jackson on this list. Jackson has had four 40-point games this season, with the highest being a 49-point game on 70 percent shooting from the field (14-for-20), 71.4 percent shooting from deep (5-for-8) and hitting 88.9 percent of his free throws (16-for-18). Those numbers are insane, even Kevin Durant would have to applaud Jackson for that type of efficient performance. Actually, Jackson has shot 57.7 percent or better in all of his 40-point performances. To make things better, Jackson also has five other 30-point performances this season. I just can’t get enough of this kid, he reeks of the type of confidence you want to see in a guy that will always be the shortest player on the court. Heart over height is a statement that is used for the shorter NBA players and that statement perfectly describes Jackson. Don’t sleep on Jackson and if you do, you’ll be sure to wake up when he gets his call up and takes the NBA by storm.
Who do you think deserves to be in the NBA?
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