Hidden Gems in 2014 D-League All-Star Game with Bright NBA Future
You might not get too many chances to watch the D-League's finest go to work while NBA action is taking place, so make sure you tune in and catch the best they have to offer when the league's All-Stars take center stage.
Pierre Jackson, Manny Harris and the rest of the top players in the lesser league will be putting their talents on full display when the D-League All-Star Game starts at 3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBA TV.
That said, not all of the standouts are going to be NBA players. A handful of guys are hidden gems just waiting to advance to the sport's highest level, and those are the ones we'll be focusing on here.
As a procedural note, every single player on the roster is eligible to be considered a "hidden gem." If you're playing in the D-League, you're pretty darn hidden from the average fan, even if your name carries some sort of recognition.
Don't make the mistake of waiting until the NBA action begins at 8 p.m. ET. Tune in a few hours earlier and do your best to familiarize yourself with the best of the best in the D-League.
Team: Idaho Stampede
NBA Experience: None
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Dee Bost is in an interesting position.
Not only does he naturally draw less attention because he plays for the D-League's Idaho Stampede, but he's also been massively overshadowed by one of his teammates. Pierre Jackson is an NBA player stuck without an opportunity to move up to the New Orleans Pelicans, but let's not let the diminutive point guard's greatness take away from Bost's excellence.
As Dime Magazine's Drew Corrigan wrote, "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."
And by "distribute the ball at a high volume," Corrigan means that he's actually leading the entire D-League in dimes. He has a 0.5 assist-per-game lead over Isaiah Canaan and the rest of the field, and his distributing has progressed rather significantly from the time he spent with Mississippi State.
"As good as Bost's court vision is, his carelessness with the basketball somewhat offsets this, a problem that has only gotten worse with time," wrote DraftExpress.com's Derek Bodner when Bost's collegiate career was drawing to a close. "The reasons for his turnovers are varied, from trying to do too much, to lack of focus, to simply bad decisions."
However, his assist-to-turnover ratio is now significantly better than it's ever been because Bost is playing under control and showing far more focus. If he could shore up his poor shooting, he'd look like more than just a fringe NBA player.
Team: Los Angeles D-Fenders
NBA Experience: Three years
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 31.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
Manny Harris has one of the more interesting stories of anyone in the D-League All-Star Game.
After he was told by the Los Angeles Lakers that he wouldn't be kept in the NBA, he went out and torched the Minnesota Timberwolves for 19 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes of action. Even more impressively, he was able to do so on just 11 shots from the field.
After the demotion, he stayed classy.
"I would like to thank the lakers for giving me a opportunity to be back at the Highest Level! Didn't end like I wanted but I understand it's how the game go!" wrote Harris, among other things, on his Instagram account, which displayed a picture of him in Purple and Gold.
Harris' nine-game cup of coffee in the Association—his first time playing for an organization other than the Cleveland Cavaliers—ended with him averaging 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest while shooting 40 percent from the field and 35 percent beyond the arc.
Back with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Harris went out and dropped 56 points in his first game back. Then he scored 22 in his next outing before putting up 27 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in his final game before the All-Star break.
The 24-year-old 2-guard was certainly a draft bust for the Cavs, but this change of scenery has done wonders for him.
Team: Idaho Stampede
NBA Experience: None
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 29.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.1 blocks
Pierre Jackson has become the poster boy of the D-League, throwing up ridiculous numbers of points for the Idaho Stampede as he waits for the New Orleans Pelicans to make room for him on the big league roster or find a way to give him an opportunity with a different organization.
But don't be too impressed quite yet.
While the streaky Baylor product has scored 58 points in a single game and gotten past the 40-point barrier seven times in his first season with the Stampede, his percentages are still rather lackluster. Jackson is shooting just 44.9 percent from the field and 34.9 percent beyond the arc, which puts somewhat of a damper on the scoring.
Still, there's no doubt he's an NBA-caliber talent.
"He was a one-man show. I knew right there (when coaching against him in high school), he’s the real deal," Mike Peck, the Idaho head coach, told MagicValley.com's Nick Ruland. "He could score, quick, he could handle. Look, he’s won a national championship at CSI, won an NIT at Baylor. He wins. He has a chip on his shoulder. He tries to prove it at every level."
Ruland goes on to write a fantastic profile of Jackson, one that should temper the expectations because there are still some major flaws here. But he also explains that one of them—Jackson's small stature—might not ultimately be that problematic:
As the league bends towards smaller, quicker players and faster pace — from rule changes to increased emphasis on maximizing offensive efficiency over rebounding – there is a greater need for a player with Jackson’s ability. Like diminutive Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas, all the way back in time to Earl Boykins and Muggsy Bogues — starting and playing 30 minutes at a high level is in the realm of possibility.
Jackson may be small, but he has game.
Clearly, it's a little too much game for the rest of the guys in the D-League.
Team: Iowa Energy
NBA Experience: Three years
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
Othyus Jeffers is never going to be an NBA star. Frankly, it'll be difficult for him to even elevate his profile to the point that he can start games for one of the 30 squads in the Association.
After all, he's already 28 years old and still hasn't developed a working jumper. That's of paramount importance for a swingman with aspirations to play at the sport's highest level, especially when he doesn't possess many truly elite skills.
Jeffers has spent time with the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards. This year, he played four games for Gregg Popovich, even spot-starting a contest against the Chicago Bulls in late January while injuries were ravaging the squad. Unfortunately, he missed his only attempt, recording just two rebounds and a whole bunch of goose eggs in the box score.
Although he can feast on D-League defenders, Jeffers does have a limited set of skills. He relies on the transition game and attacking the basket to score, and his primary assets come as a defender and rebounder.
Any shooting guard who can record 11 boards during the average game, regardless of the level, should eventually find a home in the NBA.
Team: Canton Charge
NBA Experience: One year
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks
We have to give the big guys some love.
Arinze Onuaku broke camp with the New Orleans Pelicans, but he only lasted three games before it was back to the D-League. During that trio of contests, the 26-year-old power forward averaged just 1.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.3 turnovers per game, shooting 25 percent from the field.
Needless to say, his NBA stint didn't go particularly well, though it's hard to make much of an impact in such limited time on the court.
As CantonRep.com explains, the second-time All-Star is having a pretty stellar season in the D-League: "The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Onuaku ranks second in the D-League in field goal percentage (62.6) and seventh in rebounding (9.5). He's averaging 14.5 points for the East Division-leading Charge."
Does the phrase "man amongst boys" ring true here? Absolutely.
It's amazing how differently his career might have progressed had he not suffered a nasty quadriceps injury during the 2010 Big East tournament. He plummeted on draft boards, ended up going to Lithuania for two years and has been unable to stick on an NBA roster.
But Onuaku is still only 26 years old, and there have been plenty of signs of domination. Focus on him throughout the game, and you'll be shocked at how mobile and explosive he appears.