Thanks to the sensational play of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, and the “Linsanity” that has followed given his string of breakout games that has single-handedly saved the team’s season, in addition to salvaging the NBA’s deteriorating reputation, everybody in the league is already looking for the next Lin.
Being that Lin’s roots are tied to the success he experienced in the D-League, now more than ever are NBA scouts hungry to get their hands on the next sensation that will catch everyone by surprise.
No, this is not yet another piece praising the play of Lin, nor is it a comparison of his play/personality to that of Tim Tebow’s. Instead, we are here to talk about the NBA D-League. It has been one of the more successful minor leagues, and with the D-League All-Star game fast approaching, it is time to take a look at five D-League All-Stars who have a fantastic shot at making the leap to the big leagues by the end of the season.
Green, largely considered to be a draft bust around the NBA, is on track to making his comeback. In addition to possessing a freakishly athletic arsenal, he has proven to be a competent scorer from both inside (48 percent) and outside (47 percent), which has earned him a 19.8 PPG average to go along with his 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.2 SPG.
It is no question that he came into the NBA too young and too raw, but at only the age of 26, you can bet teams will be looking to give him another shot if he keeps his production up. He is the ideal size for a small forward (6’8”, 200 lbs.), and he has the kind of talent to deliver at the rim to make fans get out of their seats (see video attached).
It would not be surprising to see a team like the Lakers, desperate for some athleticism alongside Kobe at the 3 spot (Ron Artest keeps looking older and older to these eyes) give Green a go. Maybe not a starting role, but this is the same team that started Devin Ebanks at the beginning of the season, so you never know.
Thomas, a slightly undersized but still dominant power forward, is currently having his best season in the D-League. His stats are up in every single category compared to last year (with turnovers being down), and he has become an integral part to the Toros rotation. He is currently averaging 15.8 PPG on a enviable 55 percent mark from the field, as well as snatching 7.7 RPG.
The former Duke standout definitely has tenacious defensive roots to go along with a hustle style of play. He is only 23 years old, and playing for a team whose pro club (the San Antonio Spurs) utilizes the D-League more than any other team in the league. The Spurs just called up Eric Dawson, and if he does not pan out, Thomas could be the next guy to get his chance, especially considering the Spurs will be without the services of Tiago Splitter for a couple of weeks.
The 21-year old probably came out of school a little too early in hopes that his potential would make him a lock on an NBA roster. While he is not on one now, the way he is playing on the Vipers will surely earn him a spot soon enough. The 6’10”, 250 pound big man is currently averaging 16.7 PPG, shooting an unconscious 66 percent mark from the field, to go along with 7.9 RPG and 1.3 SPG.
His length, athleticism and assured post game was what gave him some burn on the Rockets during the preseason. Samuel Dalembert is strictly a short-term solution for them, and lately he has been fading considerably after starting out hot. Smith is a much better offensive prospect than Dalembert at this point, and the Rockets could certainly use a post partner for one Luis Scola.
If Smith keeps shooting at a ridiculously high percentage and showing off his length and potential, you can bet he is going to get a call-up soon. After all, the Rockets were one of the teams that cut Jeremy Lin. You know they are going to do their best not to let another one get away.
The former Oklahoma State star has not had much luck in the pro leagues after leaving college. Curry has established himself as a go-to scorer in the D-League, and a dependable long-range sniper who can also play some point guard when called upon. Make no mistake about it, Curry is a shooting guard first, given his 6’4” frame and ability to knock it down from anywhere on the floor.
NBA teams are always wary of players that have been in the D-League for a long period of time, because there must be a reason why they are there. Maybe this is Curry’s year though, being a D-League All-Star, shooting well from the outside (43 percent, a career 40 percent shooter from outside), and only being 26, he could still contribute for a team.
Perhaps the New Jersey Nets, who own the Armor, aching for a consistent outside shooter, give him a go. Right now they could use just about anything to keep Deron Williams in town, and a solid outside threat like Curry could serve as a pleasant surprise.
Everybody loves an undersized power forward with a strong desire to get his hands on the basketball. There is a reason the likes of Elton Brand and Paul Millsap still exist in the NBA, as well as why Charles Barkley is a Hall of Famer. Heart cancels out size if it is big enough, and that’s exactly what Marcus Lewis is proving in the D-League.
The 6’8”, 245 pound power forward is currently averaging 15.1 PPG and 13.0 RPG. 13 rebounds a game is an enormous feat, and Lewis has proven to be a determined rebounder and capable inside threat as well. At only the age of 25, the window is still open to make a jump to the big leagues, especially now that he’s an All-Star in the D-League.
Every big league team loves a tenacious rebounder, that is how a player like Reggie Evans has stuck around for so long. Lewis is a more polished player than Evans in the post, and could definitely be an energy bunny sort of player off a team’s bench.
Currently, the Oklahoma City Thunder control the operations aspect of the 66ers, and right now Nick Collison is filling the role that Lewis would potentially occupy someday. However, Collison is also signed on to a big contract, and Lewis could be a cheaper, younger, more exciting prospect that the Thunder give a shot to as the season draws to a conclusion.