D-League Showcase Profiles: Call-Up Candidates (Part One)

D-League Showcase Profiles: Call-Up Candidates (Part One)
Jan 17, 2011, 10:58 am
Profiles of some of the top NBA call-up candidates seen at the D-League Showcase in South Padre, Texas: Joe Alexander, Othyus Jeffers, Sean Williams, Antoine Walker, Matt Janning, Cedric Jackson and Patrick Ewing] Jr.

D-League Showcase Coverage:

D-League Showcase Profiles: NBA Allocation and Rights-Held Players
Interviews, Part One
Interviews, Part Two

Joe Alexander, 6-8, Power Forward, Texas Legends
20.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.6 turnovers, 1.6 blocks, 50% FG, 37% 3P, 78% FT

Matt Williams

One of the top call-up candidates in the NBADL at this juncture, former top-10 draft selection Joe Alexander is off to a strong start in his first campaign with the Texas Legends. Struggling to make a transition to the small forward position on the NBA level, Alexander has added a significant amount of weight to his upper body and has been converted back to the power forward spot, a position he's clearly far better suited for skill-wise. He scored effectively from the four spot during the two games he played at the 2011 Showcase, even if he showed some limitations as well.

Still the same tremendously gifted run-jump athlete we saw in workouts years ago, Alexander has an outstanding frame, but still isn't a very fluid player. He is very rigid in his movements and has difficulties getting down in a low stance, something that was a major issue when trying to play on the perimeter full time, particularly on the defensive end.

Over the course of the week here, and looking back at Alexander's body of work this season, it is clear that Alexander has found a comfort level offensively from the mid-post and left baseline. Setting up shop 10 to 12 feet away from the rim, when Alexander gets the ball he looks to either face up and take a quick jump shot if he's on the right block or settle for a turnaround jumper on the left side of the floor. Very rarely putting the ball on the floor with his back to the basket, Alexander has little trouble elevating over defenders to get his shot off, but needs to become more consistent if he's going to rely solely on those two moves to score.

When Alexander received the ball out on the perimeter and put it on the deck, the results were usually positive, which has been the case for most of the season. He's prone to forcing some drives and passes through contact, but his quick first step allows him to get to the basket, draw additional defenders, and create some easy scoring opportunities for himself and others. An efficient finisher, Alexander's mechanical shooting form has rendered him a less than efficient catch and shoot player, making his tendency to settle from the midrange a bit of a concern.

Defensively, Alexander was something of a mixed bag. He was slow to get back on defense on a number of occasions and didn't seem as dialed in as he usually is, but tallied 8 blocks in the two games we took in at the showcase and completely locked down the Dar Tucker one-on-one late in Texas's first game on one memorable occasion. Doing a nice job making his presence felt stepping in from the weak side and getting his hand on the ball, Alexander is a solid defender at this level, even when he isn't giving an Othyus Jeffers-type effort. A bit stuck in between positions defensively on the NBA level, it will be important for Alexander to hone his game on this end of the floor. The fact that he's leading the league in rebounding has to be viewed as a huge plus, though.

On the whole, Alexander's time with the Texas Legends has been a positive one. Lacking experience playing at a high level due to his late start in basketball and struggles in the NBA, Alexander has benefitted from seeing extended playing time at his natural position, something he's sorely lacked over the last few years. He still needs to continue polishing his offensive repertoire to maximize his efficiency, but the fact that he's averaging 20 and 10 and has as much upside as any player in the NBADL makes him a call up candidate and his situation one worth keeping an eye on.

Othyus Jeffers, 6-5, Small Forward, Iowa Energy
20.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 3.1 turnovers, 2.2 steals, 46% FG, 21% 3P, 76% FT

Matt Williams

Last time we checked in on Jeffers, he was fresh off a break-out showing at the 2009 D-League Showcase. The Chicago native didn't earn a call up to cap his tremendously productive rookie year, but after a brief stint in Italy and a successful sophomore campaign on a stacked Iowa Energy team, Jeffers saw action in 14 games for the Utah Jazz near the end of last season. Solidifying himself as one of the top call-up candidates once again this season, Jeffers impressed once more with his athleticism, toughness, and defensive intensity.

Many of the observations we made about Jeffers's offensive skill-set in our last report remain true at this point. He's a marginally improved catch and shoot threat, and has made some strides in his ability to shoot off the dribble, but he still has a lot of work to do on his ball-handling and perimeter scoring arsenal to make it a viable NBA tool, and didn't attempt many jumpers in the games we watched in South Padre.

At this juncture, most of Jeffers's points are the byproduct of his relentless hustle, quick first step, and physicality around the basket. He runs the floor with purpose in transition, isn't selfish with the when he sees an open teammate, and seeks out contact at the rim. Getting to the line 8.5 times per-game and pulling down 2.5 offensive boards, Jeffers epitomizes the bulldog mentality and team first attitude that coaches love.

That mentality is pivotal to Jeffers's success on the defensive end. Extremely active and capable of shutting down some of the NBADL's best wings in one-on-one situations, Jeffers is the type of player that clearly takes his responsibilities on the defensive end personally. A great rebounder and team defender, it is easy to understand why NBA teams take an interest in a player like Jeffers.

Standing just 6'5, Jeffers has made some strides towards becoming a full time wing, but he's still converting just 37.5% of his jump shots this season according to Synergy Sports Technology. Seeing a few extra spot-up possessions per-game, it will be important for Jeffers to continue honing that part of his game to give himself the opportunity to exploit all his other talents at a higher level. Regardless of his development as a true small forward, Jeffers will be a potential call-up candidate year-in and year-out because of the intensity he brings to both ends of the floor.

Sean Williams, 6-10, PF/C, Texas Legends
15.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 61 FG%, 69 FT%

Matt Williams

Former first round draft pick Sean Williams had a solid week on the floor, but the feedback we heard about him off it may have caught our attention most. On the court, Williams remains the same highly athletic defensive presence that he was in the college game, but word is that Williams has been a model citizen off the court for the Texas Legends. Becoming a first-to-arrive, last-to-leave type, Williams seems to have matured past the issues he had off the floor in the past to focus on his basketball career.

An effective complementary scorer thanks to his length and athleticism, Williams still hasn't developed a terribly polished post repertoire. However, he has shown that he hasn't lost a step as a rebounder and shot blocker. Whether he's rotating over from the weakside, defending the midrange, or crashing the boards, Williams makes an impact with his physical tools and energy. A top-call up candidate due to his terrific combination of size, athleticism, length and shot-blocking ability, Williams will earn himself a roster spot in the NBA sooner rather than later if he can continue to make good decisions off the floor.

Antoine Walker, 6-9, SF/PF, Idaho Stampede
15.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.7 turnovers, 42% FG, 35% 3PT, 61% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Certainly the most high profile name among all players in the D-League, the 34-year-old Antoine Walker is not having the easiest time in his quest to get back into the NBA, putting up a good amount of points but needing a lot of shots to do it and turning the ball over at an extremely high rate on top of it.

Beyond that, Walker is still not in very good shape despite already reportedly losing a ton of weight, having a great deal of extra weight on his body that limits his speed, explosiveness, and conditioning. This shows up most notably on the defensive end, where he is mostly forced to guard centers at this level due to his lack of lateral quickness. Walker's attitude is equally alarming, as while he's not necessarily a bad teammate, he takes off plays and is constantly complaining to officials, clearly struggling with where he's at as a player right now.

While his shooting is erratic and inconsistent, Walker still clearly has some ability in that regard, but not nearly enough to make up for his other weak areas from an NBA perspective. Given his age and how much farther he has to go to get into shape, as well as how poorly he performed at the Showcase, Walker's NBA hopes seem unlikely at best.

Matt Janning, 6-4, Shooting Guard, Maine Red Claws
8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.1 turnovers, 42% FG, 43% 3PT, 72% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Despite not even being invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in this year's pre-draft process, Matt Janning surprised many people by making Phoenix Suns' opening camp roster, while he's now having a solid year in the D-League.

An extremely team-oriented, unselfish, off-the-ball type player, Matt Janning doesn't really fit the mold of your typical D-League guard, and that shows in his rather pedestrian scoring production. There are many times where Janning can go unnoticed in the team's offense, though he's constantly moving off the ball, maintaining good spacing, and making the extra pass when the ball comes his way.

Looking at his offensive skill set, Janning is an excellent spot shooter off the ball with a high and quick release, knocking down 43% of his threes thus far, having the rare distinction of having a higher three-point than two-point shooting percentage. He can also hit pull-up jumpers and has a good shot fake, but does so more out of catch-and-shoot plays as opposed to in isolation, not really having the ball-handling skills to shake his man consistently when matched straight up.

In terms of attacking the basket, Janning has a decent first step with the ball and has some crafty moves in his arsenal, but his advanced ball-handling is limited and he isn't the best shot creator.

As a passer, Janning shows great vision and is capable of making tough passes to cutters or occasionally operating out of the pick-and-roll, but most of his assists come as flow-of-the-offense passes, and he's not one to break a defense down off the dribble to find teammates. While Janning is a good passer for a two, he looks uncomfortable when forced to play the point, and even can get into trouble bringing the ball up the floor against tough pressure defense.

Defensively, Janning is an excellent communicator with great fundamentals while he has solid lateral quickness and has no problem playing tough perimeter defense. Not having the thickest build, Janning is however wiry strong with solid length, and more than holds his own in isolation situations.

Looking forward, Janning has a decent skill set while being an excellent team player with a very high basketball IQ, though it's clear his game is not particularly well suited for the D-League style of play. It's clear in watching him play he could be more valuable in a different setting, and because of such it wouldn't be surprising if he got called up for a test run at some point, though he could also have a very successful career overseas if he decides to go that route.

Cedric Jackson, 6-3, Point Guard, Idaho Stampede
13.6 points, 7.9 assists, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 3.3 turnovers, 38% FG, 33% 3PT, 61% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After playing for three different teams in the NBA on ten-day contracts last season, Cedric Jackson is back in the D-League once again where he's one of the point guards most likely to see a call-up when teams start offering ten-day contracts. Not much has changed for Jackson over the past year aside from some subtle improvements in little areas of his game.

A quick point guard with good size and a high motor, Jackson has nice creativity and shiftiness with the ball, being a good threat operating off the dribble, especially in pick-and-roll situations. His style of play is one that is very ball-dominant, something that is further magnified by his team's style of play, which centers highly on isolations and pick-and-rolls, not having much in terms of off-ball movement or play calling.

As a point guard, Jackson shows very good vision with the ball, especially in the lane and running the pick-and-roll, seeing all the options and making some very tough passes on the move. His ability to change directions and keep his head up with the ball are key to his game, and he appears to be improving his feel for the game as he gets more experience.

In terms of his own offense, Jackson does a good job getting to the rim with a nice array of crossovers and good footwork, though he struggles to finish well at the basket despite showing pretty good creativity. He has further problems at the free-throw line, as while he gets there at a decent rate, he has struggled to shoot over 70% at most of his many stops in college, the D-League, and the NBA.

Jackson does show a nice mid-range game, being capable of pulling up off the dribble and creating his own shots out of isolations and pick-and-rolls, but his below average three-point shooting is probably the biggest thing holding him back right now, as it holds back how effective he can be out of the pick-and-roll and hurts his ability to play off the ball.

Defensively, Jackson is extremely tough and active, showing a good stance, excellent hands, and solid overall awareness. He makes a lot of plays off the ball, communicates pretty well, and does a good job in man-to-man perimeter defense as well.

Looking forward, Jackson could certainly get some more chances to play in the league, having already played for the Spurs, Cavs, and Wizards. His ball-dominant style of play poses a problem for fitting into what most NBA coaches are looking for, but his prowess in the pick-and-roll and his defense are very attractive qualities, while he has plenty of size and athleticism for the point guard spot as well. If he could develop into a reliable three-point shooter he could have a chance to develop into a solid backup point guard in the NBA, and that needs to be his main priority at the moment.

Patrick Ewing Jr Jr, 6-8, SF/PF, Reno Bighorns
16.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, 2.9 turnovers, 44% FG, 36% 3PT, 77% FT

Joseph Treutlein

One of the nicer surprises among the players we saw in our four days in South Padre, Patrick Ewing Jr has improved noticeably from his time in college and may be one of the most interesting players in the entire D-League.

The biggest development with Ewing is his improved shooting ability, as he's shooting a solid 36% from behind the arc on 2.8 attempts per game to go along with 77% from the free-throw line, despite never shooting higher than 66% in college. Taking on a solid scoring load and also dishing out a very high number of assists for a combo-forward, Ewing's offensive abilities on the whole are significantly improved.

While he's never going to be one to break his man down in isolation or create his own shots reliably due to his average ball-handling skills, Ewing is doing a great job moving in the offense, scoring on cuts, in transition, and by crashing the offensive glass, and finally developing into a respectable floor spacer capable of hitting spot-up shots even when on the move. His basketball IQ and hustle also help matters, as he's willing to contribute in any way possible and serves as a nice glue guy to do all the little things well.

Defensively, Ewing's intensity and awareness are as high as ever, and he uses his length and size to make lots of plays from the help side. He's still a tweener, prone to being beat on the perimeter by quicker 3's and severely prone to being backed down in the post by more powerful 4's, but he does his best to hold his own against most and projects to match up with many bench NBA players well on the defensive end.

Looking forward, continuing to develop into an even better perimeter shooter would clearly be the best thing to improve Ewing's pro prospects, as he's probably about reached his ceiling in most other areas considering he's 26 years old and has never shown much knack for shot creation. Ewing is still somewhat caught between positions defensively, but could start getting some NBA looks this season or next, especially if his shooting continues to improve.

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