Inside the D-League: Week Six

Inside the D-League: Week Six
Jan 02, 2008, 07:55 pm
Johnson Added to the Spurs, Reed and Lang to Austin

The Spurs called up DerMarr Johnson last week, making him their third D-League call-up in 4 days. Johnson was ranked tenth on the DraftExpress Call-up List, and had been performing well for the Toros since returning to the U.S. from a failed stint in Italy. The veteran swingman averaged 16.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game during his stint with Austin. To make room for Johnson, the Spurs released rookie Marcus Williams, who had just been added to the roster a few days earlier.

Johnson will join guard Keith Langford who was also called up recently (as exclusively first reported here), and the Spurs will decide if they want to keep one of them for the rest of the season before all NBA contracts become guaranteed on January 10th.

The Toros were able to gain top level free agents from the player pool due to their call-ups, and added center Kris Lang and forward Justin Reed from the available player pool. Lang recently returned from a month long contract in the Ukraine to be at home while his wife gives birth to a child. Lang played well in the Ukraine, and was offered $100,000 a month to play there for the rest of the season due a rash of injuries his former team Azovmash suffered from. Reed was released by the Houston Rockets after training camp and opted to play in the D-League rather than taking a job overseas. With Johnson on the Spurs, the Toros have again moved to the top of the waiver list and can add another talented player from the pool. We will give an in-depth look at the available player pool and how the waiver system works in the coming days.

Watson Named Player of the Month

Rio Grande Valley Vipers point guard and DraftExpress blogger C.J. Watson has been named the D-League performer of the month for December. In his first D-League season, Watson has averages of 25.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 51.4% from the field. The 23 year-old point guard has the Vipers at 9-5 on the season, while leading the team in both scoring assists. Watson currently ranks atop our call-up list, and has been closely followed by a number of NBA scouts this season. The Vipers rely on him to run their offense, gearing their sets around pick and rolls where he can either score or dish the ball to one of his shooters on the wing. A graduate of Tennessee, Watson played overseas last season, before joining the Charlotte Bobcats for training camp in October. The Vipers selected him 5th overall in the 2007 D-League draft. There are rumors that he may get a callup from the Golden State Warriors sometime soon.

Simmons Assigned to Rio Grande Valley

Second year big man Cedric Simmons has been assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will see his first action against D-League competition this weekend in two games against Austin, and is expected to be recalled to the NBA after a game in Utah next Wednesday. The 15th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Simmons was acquired by Cleveland from the New Orleans Hornets in an off-season trade. The 22 year-old big man has good potential as a shot-blocker and can hit an open 15 footer, but remains raw for the NBA, and will need to focus on playing with more aggression. He will provide a much needed boost to the front line of Rio Grande Valley. The Vipers just lost Gabe Muoneke to Spain and Kevin Bookout is sidelined with a shoulder injury, making Jesse Smith the only healthy big man on the team.

Chris Taft and Brandon Wallace to Join D-League

Former Golden State Warrior Chris Taft is set to sign a contract with the D-League to enter the available player pool. He will join forward Brandon Wallace in the pool. Recently released by the Celtics, Wallace decided to stay home for a few weeks to become fully healthy before signing with the D-League. An undrafted rookie out of South Carolina, he made the Celtics after an impressive performance on their summer league team in Los Vegas. Taft was projected as a lottery pick at one time, but concerns about his work ethic and basketball IQ led to a drop into the second round of the 2005 draft where the Warriors nabbed him with the 42nd pick. He looked solid during his rookie year, but was forced to end the season earlier as a result of back spasms stemming from a fall he took after a dunk during the summer league. After his release from the Warriors in October of 2006, Taft sat out the season last year to rehab his back injury. If healthy, the talented big man could dominate in the D-League, but back injuries are often difficult for players to recover from, and it will likely take him time to get back into game shape.

Livingston Breaks Assist Record

Randy Livingston dished out a D-League record 22 assists in a home win against Bakersfield last Wednesday. 17 of his assists came in the first half, and the veteran guard also added 15 points in the victory. The previous record was held by three different players, including Livingston, at the 20 assist mark. The veteran currently leads the league in assists at 10.8 per game, and has been a major part of Idaho’s success since the start of last season. With his experience and knowledge of the game, Livingston is a strong candidate to receive another call-up this season. He is also reportedly a candidate for a Euroleague job with Cibona Zagreb.

Mejia Named Performer of the Week

Fort Wayne rookie Sammy Mejia was named the D-League performer of the week for last week after averaging 31.6 points per game in three games, including a 41 point effort in a closely contested loss to Rio Grande Valley. Mejia, drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 56th pick in the 2007 draft, was injury released early in the season and has played 5 games since re-joining the team. The rookie joined Fort Wayne under a new rule where draft picks who don’t make an NBA team are allocated to that team’s D-League affiliate.

Harrick Steps Down

After a slow start to his second season as Bakersfield’s head coach, Jim Harrick has stepped down. The Jam were just 2-13 on the season when he made his announcement, and went 1-1 in Harrick’s last two games as head coach. Sean Rooks was named the interim head coach upon the announcement, but Bakersfield claims that they will look elsewhere for a long-term replacement. The Jam went just 19-31 last season under Harrick, and didn’t start off any better this year. The coach missed his first round pick on draft night, and many observers questioned the effort he put into his job. After a slow start, it will be interesting to see if Rooks can inject some energy into the team and lead them to some wins.

Fesenko Returns for a Third Stint

Rookie center Kyrylo Fesenko was assigned to the Utah Flash for a third time last week. The big man played spot rotation minutes with Mehmet Okur out due to injury, and returns to the D-League now with the Jazz front line fully healthy. An NBA player can only play three stints with their D-League affiliate in a season, so Fesenko cannot return to the Flash this season if he’s recalled by the Jazz again. The rookie looked solid during his first two D-League stints, and has the potential to become a solid starter in the NBA down the road.

NBA Player Updates

Maurice Ager, Dallas Mavericks/Tulsa 66ers
15.7 ppg, 2.0rpg, 1.7apg

Ager has continued to play inconsistently, despite his scoring talent and the fact that he’s a second year player in the D-League. For the second year guard to play well, his three point shot needs to fall but his accuracy from long range has been less than desirable for the most part. Off the dribble, Ager lacks the first step to penetrate consistently at the NBA level, so he could focus on becoming more valuable by moving off screens and working to the open spot on the weak side. Defensively, Ager needs to focus on better positioning for help rotations as well as staying in front of his man. The second year guard has a chance to last in the league, but only if his perimeter shooting becomes a consistent threat.

Morris Almond, Utah Jazz/Utah Flash
29.9ppg, 3.8rpg, 1.5apg

Almond continues to score the ball very effectively , despite having an off game last week. Despite going just 5 of 19 from the field in a loss to Albuquerque, he made up for it by hitting 9 of 12 free throw attempts while scoring 21 points. The rookie has managed to keep his turnover numbers relatively low while handling a major part of the scoring load, which is impressive at any level. For now, Almond projects as mostly a scorer at the NBA level. He doesn’t pass the ball particularly well, and could also become a stronger player defensively. Still, Almond has the tools that will allow him to become a main rotation player for a long time.

Nick Fazekas, Dallas Mavericks/Tulsa 66ers
16.3ppg, 8.4rpg, 2.0apg

Fazekas had his best offensive game last week in a closely contested loss to Austin, scoring 31 points and 15 of 21 from the field. He has yet to extend his shooting range out to NBA three, though the rookie does show a nice stroke with consistency out to 20 feet. With his back to the basket, Fazekas will struggle to get anything done at the NBA level due to a lack of strength, but his offensive game facing the basket is quite impressive for a big man. For Fazekas to last, he’ll need to develop some strength in addition to improving as a post defender.

Kyrylo Fesenko, Utah Jazz/Utah Flash
13.4ppg, 7.4rpg, 1.1apg

The rookie big has played limited minutes since returning to the Flash for his last assignment of the season. Foul trouble limited him to 21 minutes in his first game back, while he only played 12 in his second. Despite the lack of minutes, the Ukrainian had 3 blocks in each game, thanks to his long arms and good anticipation. Fesenko has improved his help defense positioning since the early season, and could turn into a solid shot-blocker at the NBA level. Offensively, the rookie needs to develop a broader range of moves in the post, but has nice hands and finishes aggressively at the basket. Considering his age, it will be quite interesting to watch him develop for the remainder of the year.

Ian Mahinmi, San Antonio Spurs/Austin Toros
18.5ppg, 7.9rpg, 1.8apg

Mahinmi has scored more than 20 points in each of his last 4 games, and has been ridiculously efficient from the field on the process. The French rookie’s field goal percentage sits at above 63% on the season. He has double digit rebounds in 3 of his last 4 games as well, and the foul trouble that plagued him early in the season is less of a problem. Mahinmi has not fouled out of a game since December 11th, and has only 2 games with 5 fouls in that span. Offensively, the rookie has soft hands inside and is extremely athletic around the rim. His right handed hook has become more reliable than early in the season as well. After many people questioned the drafting of the big, Mahinmi looks like he will turn into a nice rotation player with another couple of seasons under his belt.

Demetris Nichols, Chicago Bulls/Iowa Energy
19.7ppg, 4.4rpg, 3.3apg

Nichols has produced well offensively since entering the D-League, but has a few correctable flaws he must work out. Coming off of screens, the rookie has appeared to be hesitant to shoot the open jumper. He made his living off of this type of shot at Syracuse, and will need to start hoisting it again to get back into a rhythm. Instead of shooting open jumpers, Nichols tries to create off the dribble, with limited success. His ability to shoot on the move and coming off screens should keep him in the NBA for a long time, but he must shift his focus back to just shooting the ball. Defensively, Nichols lacks the quickness to ever become elite, but needs to improve his positioning to even be considered average. The Bulls have just 9 days left to decide if they want to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season, so these next couple of games could be very important for Nichols.

Kosta Perovic, Golden State Warriors/Bakersfield Jam
8.7ppg, 5.1rpg, .2apg

The rookie had his best outing of the season in a win over the Los Angeles D-Fenders last week, finishing the game with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. He remains too raw for the NBA level, and must add weight to even have a shot at successfully playing garbage time minutes in the NBA. Offensively, Perovic relies on his ability to catch and finish inside and sometimes shoots the spot 15 footer. A back to the basket game or reliable move of some kind would greatly increase his chances at lasting in the NBA. Defensively, he lacks the bulk to defend the post, and his knowledge of help defense has a ways to go as well. Perovic doesn’t look like a long term NBA player at this point, but has 2 seasons after this one to impress the Warriors.

Mouhamed Sene, Seattle Supersonics/Idaho Stampede
11.7ppg, 7.3 rpg

The second year center has displayed solid tools since his assignment to Idaho right before Christmas. He finished with 9 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocks in a win last week, and followed it up with 17 points on 6 of 7 from the field. It’s clear that Sene has the tools to become serviceable in the NBA, but he must focus on playing with constant effort in addition to learning the game. The Senegalese center relies on his right handed hook to score in the low post, and actually positions his body well for rebounds. He remains a project, however, and would benefit from spending the entire season with the Stampede.

Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee Bucks/Tulsa 66ers
20.8ppg, 6.2rpg, 7.2apg

Sessions finished his last game against Austin with 18 assists and just 4 turnovers, while making 8 of 12 attempts from the free throw line. The rookie has played very well recently for Tulsa, sticking to his strengths on the offensive end, while running the team more effectively as well. With his good build and ability to hit the floater, Sessions appears to be a good third point guard for the NBA level with the potential to maybe even become a backup. His three point shooting percentage of 43% is deceptive when you consider that he only has 7 attempts on the season. If he can improve his shooting form and balance, Sessions really has a chance to make an impact for the Bucks.

DJ Strawberry, Phoenix Suns/Albuquerque Thunderbirds
30.0ppg, 3.0rpg, 2.7apg

Strawberry knocked down 4 of 6 from behind the three point line while scoring his season best 41 points, but followed it up by shooting just 1 of 8 from the field. Consistent long range shooting will be important for the rookie who struggled with his outside jumper at Maryland. Defensively, he has great potential which was on full display in 2 games against Morris Almond. To play a little point in the NBA, Strawberry will need to become a better decision-maker, but his slashing has been reliable as a scoring weapon thus far. Strawberry should stick in the league due to defense alone, and it will be interesting to see if he can progress as a shooter.

D-League Team Updates

Austin Toros, 10-4

Austin beat Tulsa three times last week, despite some major changes that took place on their roster. DerMarr Johnson and Keith Langford will stay with the Spurs for now, while Marcus Williams re-joined the Toros after Johnson was signed. They will have to adjust to the additions of Kris Land and Justin Reed as well as one more player from the pool. Squeaky Johnson has played very well since the departure of Darius Washington, with 8 and 15 assists over his past 2 games. Cheyne Gadson has also been steady at both guard spots since returning from Italy, and Justin Bowen’s production is important to the team’s success. First round pick Kevin Pittsnoggle has continued to struggle over his 14 games thus far.

This week, Austin hosts Rio Grande Valley for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday.

Idaho Stampede, 10-5

The Stampede have won 5 games in a row and haven’t lost a game at home this season. Randy Livingston’s strong play has been key for Idaho, and Brent Petway has stepped up his play as of late. Cory Violette and Lance Allred have been among the better front court duos in the league, with Allred averaging nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game on the season. If the team adds Jamaal Tatum or a player from the pool soon, they could have a very dangerous team for the rest of the season. Coach Brian Gates knows how to prepare his team for the long haul, and his group of guys will likely be near the top of the league record-wise at the end of the season.

Idaho opens the new year with Friday and Saturday home games against Tulsa and Bakersfield.

Los Angeles D-Fenders, 9-5

The D-Fenders split a pair of games against Bakersfield last week to close out 2007. The team had to make an adjustment to playing without Coby Karl, but Karl could rejoin the team on assignment from the Lakers very soon. Devin Green has the ability to lock down nearly any D-League player on the defensive end, and his versatility should get him an NBA look at some point during the season. Sean Banks has proven to be an elite D-League level scorer, but he could help his NBA chances by improving his three point shooting percentage. He three point shot looks flat for the time being, but he is very athletic and talented. Brian Chase had a good showing against Bakersfield, and could really help the team and himself by playing the same way he did last season.

The D-Fenders host Dakota in their only game this week, which comes on Friday.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers, 9-5
The Vipers wrapped up a long road trip last week with wins in Fort Wayne and Iowa. C.J. Watson has carried the team offensively, and his production became even more important with Gabe Muenoke departed for Spain. Watson has scored 25 or more points in each of his last 4 games, and had a 32 point, 15 assist and 2 turnover showing in a loss against Dakota recently. Kenny Taylor has stepped up his play as well, with 27 or more points in each of his last three games. Taylor is deadly with his shooting stroke when his feet are set, and has a three point shooting percentage of over 45 on the season. Quin Humphrey has also responded well since he was inserted into the starting lineup for the Vipers. Look for Rio Grande Valley to add a talented player from the pool within a couple weeks as well.

The Vipers play in Austin on Friday and Saturday night to open 2008.

Dakota Wizards, 9-5

Dakota beat both Colorado and Iowa last week, and have won 8 of their past 10 games. Carlos Powell is averaging 26 points per game in his last 5 contests. He may not translate to the NBA because he relies on the ability to overpower smaller players, but the forward may get a look from an NBA team at some point regardless. Kevin Lyde provides a big boost for the Wizards as well. The talented big man missed some time with a hamstring injury, but Rod Benson really stepped up in his absence. Benson still leads the league in rebounds at 13.3 per game. The Wizards are missing Dontell Jefferson due to an injury, but Maurice Baker has remained steady at the point, and Blake Ahearn’s ability to shoot the ball has made him very valuable in the absence of Jefferson.

Dakota opens their new year by traveling to California to face Los Angeles on Friday and Anaheim on Saturday.

Colorado 14ers, 9-6

Just when things were going really well for Colorado, injuries and call-ups have derailed them, leading to two losses in a row. Billy Thomas was called-up by the Nets, and Kaniel Dickens, Julian Sensley and Brian Greene are all out due to injury. Dickens is expected to return to the line-up soon, but Greene could be out for a long time, and Sensley remains injury released for the time being. Eddie Gill’s experience will be a key factor for the 14ers until they get some healthy players back, and Elton Brown must establish himself as a go-to guy down low. The defense of Justin Cage has provided the 14ers with a huge lift lately, and it’s hard to understand why he was released by Fort Wayne early in the season.

The 14ers don’t play again until Tuesday, when they face off at home against Fort Wayne.

Iowa Energy, 9-8

Iowa has continued their pattern of 3 game winning streaks followed by 3 game losing streaks. Last week, they dropped games to Rio Grande Valley and Dakota after beating Sioux Falls. Dwayne Mitchell has established himself as an elite D-League scorer, but must work on playing defense with his feet rather than using his hands so much. Anthony Tolliver has the skills to be an elite D-League big man, but he lacks the aggressiveness and physicality to take his game to the next level. The Energy could really use JamesOn Curry back from the Bulls, with Jeff Horner the only true point guard on their roster. Mitchell has been their best rebounder this season, so they could certainly use a physical big who can grab some extra boards.

Iowa opens 2008 with Friday and Sunday division games in Sioux Falls.

Utah Flash, 8-6

The Flash split a pair of games against Albuquerque last week, and remain over .500 for the season. After a slow start to the season, Kevin Kruger has really stepped up his game lately with a 10.5 assist per game average over his last 4 contests. James Lang produced at a very high level with Fesenko in the NBA, but seems to struggle when he doesn’t receive big minutes. Michael Cuffee currently struggles to shoot the three pointer, but has developed into a solid role player at this level. With Fesenko and Almond on the team, the Flash should remain competitive for some time. They should move up in the player pool within a couple weeks, just when some NBA players become available.

Utah plays at home against Bakersfield on Friday and Tulsa on Saturday.

Albuquerque Thunderbirds, 5-6

The Thunderbirds split a pair of games against Utah last week, and have played a league low 11 games on the season. The strong play of Daniel Horton has been huge for the Thunderbirds this season. Horton is averaging 16.4 points per game while shooting 50% from behind the three point line, but must focus on become a better distributor to receive an NBA look. Darvin Ham has been fairly disappoint for a player with NBA experience, and a better effort from him would be a huge step for Albuquerque. Josh Gross had a great start to the season but has been sidelined since December 15th due to injury. The Thunderbirds need a healthy Gross as well as another elite player from the pool to make a playoff run going into the new year.

The Thunderbirds travel to Anaheim for a Friday night game and return home for a Saturday contest against Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 5-8

Fort Wayne dropped a game to Rio Grande Valley last week before picking up a victory over Sioux Falls. Sammy Mejia has scored the ball very effectively since joining the Mad Ants, and keeping his production level consistent would go a long way for the team. Earl Calloway’s strong play can be described as inconsistent since Walker Russell returned from injury, but his 25 points on 11 of 15 from the field were a key part of the Sioux Falls victory. Roderick Wilmont’s hot shooting from early in the season seems like a distant memory, and he really needs to heat up again to have an effect for the team. Larry Turner remains a disappointment considering his draft position, and it will provide Fort Wayne with a huge boost once Cheikh Samb is sent back down from the Pistons.

Fort Wayne hosts Sioux Falls on Thursday night, before hitting the road for a Saturday game in Albuquerque and a Tuesday game in Colorado.

Sioux Falls Skyforce, 5-9

Sioux Falls beat Colorado last week but dropped games to Fort Wayne and Iowa. Kasib Powell remains extremely impressive for the Skyforce, showing a great feel for the game and the ability to score from mid-range. He lacks the three point shot to play in the NBA, but will be a good pickup for a team overseas. David Bailey also lacks NBA upside, but scores the ball effectively at this level. His distribution skills need plenty of work, however. Michal Joiner is a solid D-League big man off the bench, and can hit open jumpers. The Skyforce will now look to the player pool for the best available player, since they lost both Nik Caner-Medley and Damone Brown to Europe.

Sioux Falls plays in Fort Wayne Thursday night before returning home for Friday and Sunday games against Iowa.

Tulsa 66ers, 4-9

Tulsa dropped 3 games to a very tough Austin team last week, though they still have a chance to come back and make a playoff run this season. Adam Harrington and Glen McGowan have both struggled lately after returning from injuries. Both players could bring a boost to the team if 100% healthy. Mike Hall really struggled from the field early in the season, but his shooting percentages are slowly on the rise. To make it back to the NBA, Hall should focus on doing what he’s good at rather than attempting to do too much. The 66ers must focus on playing cohesively to rack up some wins, but they certainly have the talent to compete against any team in the league.

Tulsa opens their year in Idaho on Friday night followed by a Saturday night contest in Utah.

Anaheim Arsenal, 4-10

Anaheim dropped both of their games last week in Idaho, and have struggled with losing Noel Felix to Europe and Guillermo Diaz to injury. Will Blalock has stepped in and played very well lately, relegating Davin White to the bench. Kedrick Brown has struggled lately, fouling out of two of his last three games and going just 1 for 8 from behind the three point line in the last loss to Idaho. D-League veteran Marcus Campbell has played fairly well since joining the team, but Anaheim could still bolster their front line with another big man.

To open the year, Anaheim will host Albuquerque on Friday night and Dakota on Saturday.

Bakersfield Jam, 4-14

Bakersfield split a pair of games with Los Angeles last week just shortly after coach Jim Harrick announced he would step down. Scooter McFadgon scored 35 in the victory, shooting 13 of 20 from the floor without a three point attempt. Andre Barrett has continued to play very well this season, and currently ranks second in the league behind Randy Livingston in assists. The team may respond better to Sean Rooks, and he will get his chance to turn them around before an outside coach is hired. It will be interesting to track the progress of Bakersfield over the rest of the season.

Bakersfield will try to start their new year strong with a Saturday night game in Boise against the Stampede.

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