Just like how baseball has the minors, the NBA has the D-League. This is an association where players too good for college, but not quite ready for the big leagues, go to develop their games to the point where they can make an impact for a professional team.
This season, the D-League has some players who are doing so well that it's a wonder teams at the next level have not taken notice.
Take JaJuan Johnson (pictured), for example. Here is a man who averaged 20.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game his senior year at Purdue, but whose lean 6'10", 221-pound frame rendered him ineffective in the NBA.
After being waived by the Houston Rockets before the start of the regular season, he was taken first overall in the 2012 D-League draft and has done fine work there.
Johnson and other D-Leaguers have numbers that are head-turning. With certain teams needing to fill holes just one month into the season, GMs would be wise not to just scope the free-agent market, but to check the D-League for some NBA-ready talent that can help fire up the fans.
2012-13 Stats: 23.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, .397 FG%, .286 3P%
Goudelock was a fine scorer at the College of Charleston and averaged 18.2 points per game over four years, but he failed to make much of an impact in one season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He has since signed with the Sioux Falls Skyforce and has continued to develop his game.
The man's scoring speaks for itself, but his shot selection remains a red flag. His numbers are only over the course of three games played, but his shooting percentage is still something for him to work on as the season progresses.
Goudelock is undersized for a shooting guard at just 6'3", but teams would be wise to give him a chance if they need a scorer to come off the end of the bench. He has a natural shooter's touch and could become a fine NBA player in the right situation.
2012-13 Stats: 11.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.8 BPG, .319 FG%
Johnson now plays for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and has been a decent interior presence for them. His rebounding and blocking are there, but he has struggled with his shot selection, much like Goudelock.
Just the same, Johnson appears committed to being a pure defensive player who only scores when necessary. He needs some time to develop but is still young at just 23 years old. Teams in desperate need of interior defense—the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and the like—would thus be wise to give Johnson a look.
Even if he is on the skinny side, his commitment to defense is admirable.
2012-13 Stats: 19 PPG, 13 RPG, 1.7 BPG .386 FG%
Mays has great size for the NBA at 6'9", 230 pounds, but he is still developing his overall skills. He has done a fine job with the Springfield Armor, but his shot selection still needs work.
All that Mays really needs to do is realize that his best work is in the paint, be it pulling down rebounds or blocking shots. He has been a rebounding machine for Springfield so far, and his somewhat improved offensive game is just the icing on the cake.
NBA teams looking for a good low-post player and rebounder should target Mays, as his size is undoubtedly his best quality and reason enough to give him a chance at the next level. He would be older than most rookies at 26 years old, but his determination in the paint is incredible.
This man has the potential to become a poor man's Kenneth Faried. Who wouldn't want a player like that on the roster?
2012-13 Stats: 15.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 5.7 BPG, .696 FG%
Shot-blocking is an important part of any big man's game, but the stat itself is one that tends to fly under the radar. Varnado has been putting on a blocking clinic playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, being an absolute beast on defense and also a fine interior presence on offense.
His prowess at swatting shots is not at all surprising. In four years at Mississippi State, he averaged four blocks per game. Even more amazing is that Varnado is not built like a typical shot-blocker at just 6'9", 210 pounds.
By NBA standards, that's just too skinny. Varnado needs to spend some time in the weight room before entertaining any offers from NBA teams, though he has the upside to become presence in the paint given the chance.
Once he fills out and his defense becomes more physical and complete, then the results should be off the charts.
2012-13 Stats: 18 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.3 SPG, .500 FG%, .333 3P%
Kennedy is an interesting player. He can score and rebound, but he doesn't have a post player's typical size at 6'6", 215 pounds. That said, he plays hard every night to leverage his lack of verticality.
Playing for the Erie BayHawks this season, Kennedy has chosen his shots wisely and battled on defense. Both attributes highlight his vast potential at age 23.
Not many teams may be in the market for a player like Kennedy, but he still deserves an NBA contract. Even if he is sitting at the end of the bench and only getting garbage-time minutes, he will get experience and learn just what he has to do to make it in the NBA.
2012-13 Stats: 27.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2 SPG, .500 FG%, .409 3P%
Douglas-Roberts was a natural scorer at Memphis, but his talents did not translate so well to the NBA. In three seasons, he averaged only 7.7 points and shot 29 percent from long range.
To say that he has found his shot playing for the Texas Legends would be an understatement. Douglas-Roberts is currently among the D-League's leading scorers, and he isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Rather than rely on his jumper, he is driving the lane and drawing fouls, averaging 9.4 trips to the charity stripe per game.
The long and short of it is that CDR is now a complete player. He has good size for an NBA shooting guard at 6'7", 210 pounds, so GMs looking for an offensive spark should give Douglas-Roberts' representatives a call.