Imagine this—you have a fairy tale collegiate career and get selected in the first round of the NBA draft by your hometown team. You expect to make an immediate impact, but by the time of the season opener, you’re playing for your team’s D-League affiliate.
You had to know that it was too good to be true right?
Sometimes it’s the player that was a star in college, sometimes it’s the player that barely made an NBA scout’s radar. Either way, a large chunk of players end up having to go through the D-League in order to have a chance at reaching their dreams of one day playing in the NBA.
The 2011-12 D-League season showcased these players, but only a few took complete advantage of the opportunity. Here is a look at four of the best players that the D-League had to offer last year.
The former University of Washington standout saw his first NBA action last season, playing a combined six games for the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors. His performance for the D-League’s Austin Toros got him that opportunity.
Justin Dentmon has an advantage over other D-Leaguers because his strengths are both his mid-range and perimeter game. The majority of guards are either three-point shooters or slashers that like to get to the bucket and finish around the rim. The beauty of being a mid-range threat is that not many people know what to do when playing against it because it is the most undefended trait.
Dentmon took advantage of this last year as he went on to be the D-League’s MVP by averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game while also leading the Toros to a D-League Championship.
At 26 years old, he doesn't have much upside once he has a set roster spot in the NBA. That doesn't mean that he doesn't have the kind of game that can keep him employed though.
He’ll have to take care of the ball better as averaging 3.9 turnovers a game won’t cut it. If he can handle the pressure of the higher stage, then there is no reason to think that Dentmon won’t be a solid backup guard for an NBA team this season.
Eric Dawson, also a member of the Austin Toros, is another player that shined in D-League basketball last year.
As far as big men go, Dawson is as versatile as they come. He isn't an athletic monster, but when it comes to his offensive skill set, he has the full package.
He can step out to 17 feet and knock down the jumper. He is comfortable going to either hand in the post and his two-dribble hook shot can’t really be defended with much success. On top of that, he runs the floor exceptionally well for a 6’9”, 250-lb power forward.
Dawson won the D-League’s Impact Player of the Year award and he might get the permanent call-up this coming season if he continues to play at the level that he did last year.
Blake Ahearn at the 2011 Pan-Am Games
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Being a fan favorite and not looking like a basketball player doesn't mean the man can’t play though.
Ahearn has that part handled.
Last season he broke the D-League's consecutive free throw streak on top of becoming the league's all-time scoring leader. He doesn't have elite athleticism, but he is ridiculously crafty, a lights out shooter and plays with a fun bounce. When it comes to the NBA, his best quality is going to be how he leads with his actions.
If how he stopped a fight between his American teammates and the Brazilian team at the 2011 Pan-American Games doesn't make you laugh or show you that he can step up and use his head in a tough situation then you might not be a human. It really is funny how he successfully gets every one of his teammates away from the situation.
Ahearn ended last season on the Utah Jazz after getting called up. Having fun on the court, playing with a level head and limiting his mistakes will keep him on the team.
Ubiles is an explosive athlete that can turn a mediocre night into a spectacular one with his streaky shooting.
Everybody on the list has had prior D-League experience, but Ubiles was able to come into his first year and take off. His season was an efficient one, averaging 19.6 points on 50 percent shooting. On defense, Ubiles uses his length to play off of his man and provides good quickness to limit penetration.
His streak shooting comes with a price as he sometimes gets carried away from behind the arc, but he’s young and has plenty of time to improve his decision-making. After playing in four games for the Washington Wizards last season, look for Ubiles to continue to play some of next year in the NBA.