Mining the D-League for NBA talent at Orlando Summer League

Orlando Summer League begins today, and while the biggest stars will be high draft picks like Nerlens Noel, Marcus Smart, and Aaron Gordon, there will be plenty of seasoned D-League veterans on display as well. Not only will they be playing for NBA jobs, but D-League jobs and potentially lucrative contracts overseas. This is the first action of the new season, and it happens less than three weeks after the end of the last season. Here are a few potential break out players who spent time in the D-League last season.

Tim Ohlbrecht, C; Fort Wayne Mad Ants; Playing with the Pistons in Orlando, 25 years old

Tim Ohlbrecht, despite being described to me once (affectionately) as “soft as sh*t,” has some legitimate skills and size, and has carved out a real role for himself in the D-League. He was a mid-season acquisition for the Mad Ants, playing 19 total games for them and finishing first on the team in TS% (.685), eFG% (.621), and second in Win Shares/48 (.182). The season before, he was a second team all D-League performer in Rio Grande Valley, and has posted career Per 36 averages of 18.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 assists, and 1.1 steals. He has good touch from out to 15 feet or so, shoots free throws at a well over 80% clip, rebounds well and generally has a positive impact on the game. He will be a strong test for any rookie bigman in Orlando to overcome, and stands a very solid chance to get a training camp invite with someone.

Frank Gaines, SG; Maine Red Claws; Playing with the Pacers in Orlando, 24 years old.

Frank Gaines graduated from Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne last summer as the best player in that fledgling program’s history, and promptly failed to get a Summer League invite over less decorated players than himself. Such are the perils of playing in the Summit League. After being an early round pick in the D-League, Gaines’ role grew and grew until he found himself the focal point of the entire offensive scheme, a role which he responded to by leading the D-League in points scored. He developed his shooting range well past the three point line, hitting a shade under 40% of his attempts. He eventually finished in the top ten in points, minutes played, field goals, three pointers, and free throws en route to posting per 36 averages of 22.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.4 steals while winning the D-League’s Most Improved Player Award for 2013-14 (the D-League bases their MIP on in-season improvement, hence why a rookie was able to win). Where Gaines’ path to the NBA would seem to hit a snag is in his size and relative one-dimensionality, but that didn’t stop Ian Clark or Dwight Buycks from making rosters after LVSL last summer. Worst case scenario, Gaines will look to earn a training camp invite and then a fat check from a team overseas. Being Bobby Brown is not a bad thing.

Cameron Jones, SG; Santa Cruz Warriors; Playing with the Magic in Orlando, 25 years old.

The cousin of Toronto’s Landry Fields, Cam Jones was the 10th pick in the 2011 D-League draft by Fort Wayne. After a disappointing season, he was traded to Santa Cruz, where he showed marked improvements in both of his two seasons since. His per 36 averages jumped to 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.3 steals with SC this past season, where he was a mainstay in the starting lineup for the eventual the 2014 D-League finalist Warriors squad. With ideal two guard size and length, he profiles very well as a two-way role player in the NBA, capable guarding three positions, hitting open shots and occasionally shouldering the offense. Imagine him as a less-explosive Gerald Henderson type. He’s a good spot up shooter, hits his free throws, doesn’t turn the ball over much for how often he handles it, and plays within himself most of the time. It stands to reason that he’s going to stick on someone’s roster somewhere. Why not this year?

Robert Covington, F; Rio Grande Valley Vipers; Playing with the Rockets in Orlando, 24 years old.

As a rostered player for the Rockets, Covington is a bit of a cop out. Since he spent the vast majority of his time with RGV, I’ll allow him, and since he’s apparently not playing in Vegas, I’ll include him. At 6-9, Covington is the very picture of a stretch four in today’s NBA, a role he played interchangeably in RGV, posting monster per 36 averages of 24.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 1.8 assists and 1.4 blocks on .440/.370/.843 shooting. He won the D-League All-Star Game MVP in February, setting a scoring record with 33 points in the West’s victory. He saw only 34 minutes of action with the parent squad last season, a number which promises to rise as the Rockets shed salary in the pursuit of Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. His problems seems to be on the defensive end, where he doesn’t really have a position, being a little to lumbering for good NBA 3s and a little to thin to battle bigger 4s. Then again, that’s not what you employ a bench scorer for. That he can do, and likely will do quite prolifically in Orlando.

Kalin Lucas, PG; Iowa Energy; Playing with the Grizzlies in Orlando, 25 years old.

Former Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas is a rare commodity in the D-League: a “true” point guard who runs an offense with patience and timing. Part of the Grizzlies’ veritable swarm of point guards, he looks to be the focal point in Orlando, where he’ll bring his near 3:1 assist to turnover ratio to bear on twitchy summer league guards. He’s not particularly big, but he’s fairly quick and efficient. He has a good game off the dribble and in transition, generally finding the best shot available for himself and his teammates. He has good length, and generally seems to pay attention defensively. He played in just under half the season in Iowa, posting per 36 averages of 18.7 points, 6.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.4 steals on .448/.345/.836 shooting from the floor. Nothing too explosive, but he’s exactly the sort of guy who makes a roster as the 10th man and sticks for awhile. A system-oriented team with strong, guard-oriented play could do worse than making Kalin Lucas their third point guard, and for all the hidden gems and hyped rookies, that’s really what Summer League is all about. Finding those guys.

Brian Schroeder

Brian Schroeder is first and foremost a student, hoping to finish his studies at IPFW within the next solar decade. He enjoys pontificating almost as much as he enjoys using the word "pontificating." He plays more video games than you, and his work can be found at Bulls101.com, The Basketball Post, and Digital Refrain, alongside his personal blog, which you probably don't want to read.