Friday, the 2014 NBA D-League Select Team will look to continue its very strong play from last year, where they were one of four teams (along with Golden State, Phoenix, and Chicago) to go 3-0 during the group stage, before defeating Minnesota in the second round and losing to Charlotte in the 5th to last game of the entire tournament. They finished with an overall record of 4-1, finishing with the third best winning percentage of all teams, behind finalists Golden State and Phoenix.
Despite these accolades, the D-League Select team will face its fair share of challenges. Chief among them, will be the stigma that still goes hand in hand with the name “D-League.” The idea that these players aren’t good enough to play in the NBA, that they can’t compete with the high-level draft picks. Less esoterically, this team also lacks much of the experience of last year’s team, which was comprised of several veteran high-level D-League contributors (Brian Butch, Zach Andrews, Stefhon Hannah) mixed with a few guys with actual NBA experience (Kyle Weaver, Darnell Jackson, Mickell Gladness).
This team has a much less impressive roster on paper, but as the old platitude says, they don’t play games on paper. They also don’t play against the likes of Russ Smith, Adreian Payne, and Quincy Acy on paper. Here’s a breakdown of the players comprising this year’s D-League Select Squad.
D-League Select Summer League Roster
Ron Howard, G: the 2013-14 D-League Co-MVP (along with Iowa’s Othyus Jeffers), Ron Howard was the best player on the best team in the D-League this season, sweeping all six playoff games en route to the first championship in Fort Wayne Mad Ants history earlier this year. After becoming the D-League’s all time leading scorer this past March, Howard, 31, will be looking to finally stick with an NBA team after training camp invites with Milwaukee and Indiana in the past two seasons. A veteran of nearly 250 D-League games, Howard, a graduate of Valparaiso University, found second life after moving to handle point guard duties at the start of the 2012-13 season for Fort Wayne. Never the most ball-dominant guard, he found himself in better situations to take advantage of shoddy pick and roll coverage to post per 36 averages of 21.4 points, 4.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals on .473 shooting from the floor, .280 from deep, and .834 from the line. As you can probably tell from that line, he’s not much of a three point shooter, generally working from 17 feet or so and in. He’s not an explosive athlete, nor is he an immediately noticeable defender. He simply gets things done through his craftiness around the rim and his quick decision making in the PnR to gouge teams. As a top five guy in most offensive categories, he’s one of the longest tenured and most successful players in league history. Who better to lead the Select team?
Former NBA Players/Draft Picks
Josh Akognon, G: Formerly of the Dallas Mavericks, shooting guard Josh Akognon looks and shoots the part of the classic gunning tweener guard. After appearing in only 3 games for Dallas in 2012-13, Akognon found his way to the D-League last season, averaging 20 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds per 36 in 15 games for the Delware 87ers, which proves that he’s at least trying to become more of a point guard, which, given his size (listed at 5-11, 185 pounds) is what he’ll have to do to ever crack an NBA rotation. Still, he can score from all over the court (.420 career three point shooter in the D-League), and will certainly make someone look bad at least once.
Devin Ebanks, F: Although former Lakers’ Star of the Future (not to be confused with Future Laker) Devin Ebanks flamed out of the league rather surprisingly, he turned himself into a pretty good D-League player, posting per 36 averages of 22.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.3 blocks on .464/.336/.801 shooting in 54 games over three separate seasons for four teams. He’s a part of perhaps the biggest subset of players in the D-League: athletic combo forwards without a true position defensively or a true role offensively, and if nothing else, his D-League career has helped define the latter, as the former was never really in question.
Terrel Harris, G: As the only guy on this team with a Championship ring, Terrel Harris is in the inexorably unique position of having to prove himself to the NBA despite having already reached its pinnacle. Sure, that’s because he only played around 300 minutes for that Miami team, but it’s still rather odd. Jarvis Varnado finds himself in this situation as well. As a player, Harris is a classic 2 guard type, standing 6-5 and weighing a shade under 200 pounds. He’s a bit like Ron Howard in that his athleticism leaves something to be desired, but he’s a better shooter than Howard, and more importantly, a better defender. In 142 career D-League games, Harris has averaged 14.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game on .462/.380/.744 shooting. At 26 years old, Harris has more than enough time to prove himself as a 3 and D guy in the today’s NBA.
Tony Mitchell, F: The two-time defending D-League dunk contest champion, Tony Mitchell was one of the other major cogs in Fort Wayne’s title run this season. After bursting onto the scene in 2012-13 with Fort Wayne, Mitchell sought a bigger payday overseas before returning to the Mad Ants this past season for 30 games, spending 3 games with Milwaukee in the interim. A high-level athlete, Mitchell doesn’t have an off switch and will look for anything and everything he can get whenever he can get it, averaging 23.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per 36 in 36 total games for Fort Wayne last season. His prowess as a dunker and a gunner are, at this point, established. It’s everything else that he needs to prove himself with to stick in the NBA.
Damen Bell-Holter, F: A consistent presence off the bench for the Maine Red Claws, Alaska’s Bell-Holter, 24, is very much still a work in progress as a big man. He has good size and moves well, and should see solid minutes in Vegas.
Matt Bouldin, G: One of those guys who seems destined to hover around the fringes of the NBA for his entire career, Matt Bouldin has good size for either guard position and a solid understanding of what to do and how to do it. He’s not a killer shooter from deep, nor is he a natural creator. Still, he’s put up a solid 11.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.1 steals per 36 in 55 career D-League games, more than earning his way here.
Olek Czyz, F: After starting the year with Fort Wayne, Poland’s Olek Czyz is a veteran Summer Leaguer, having appeared in 2012 with Chicago. He’s a little too slow to guard most threes and a little too small to guard most fours, but he manages to be effective regardless, posting per 36 averages 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in 37 combined games for Fort Wayne and Canton last season, only 12 of them starts. He’s still only 24 and will only get better and better the more experience he gets against American opponents.
Bryan Davis, C: Another young, promising big who got his first taste of the D-League last season, Reno’s Bryan Davis brings nearly four years of international experience to Las Vegas, where he looks to showcase his status as one of the premier garbage men in the D-League. Rebounding is always needed, and his 10.9 boards per 36 (to go along with 17.1 points) will be a big factor for this team.
Travis Hyman, C: After splitting time with Tulsa and Los Angeles in 2012-13, seven foot Travis Hyman spent all of last season with the D-Fenders, the Lakers affiliate, responding with per 36 averages of 13.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 2.1 steals, and 1.6 assists on .514 shooting from the field, anchoring the middle of the team that finished with the best record in the West Division. Last season, he saw scant minutes on the Lakers’ LVSL team. This year, he should see more than that for a D-League in dire need of legitimate size.
Tre Kelley, G: Perhaps the most established player on this roster outside of Ron Howard, South Carolina’s Tre Kelley has bounced around Europe, Asia and the D-League for seven years now. He has spent over 103 games as a bench guard for seveal D-League teams, most prominently the Austin Toros, San Antonio’s affiliate. Per 36, his averages of 16.3 points, 5.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals mark him as an occasionally explosive presence, as evidenced by once scoring 54 in China after replacing Jarvaris Crittenton. He’s a good shooter from deep, at .425 in 103 D-League games, and should be a major presence in the backcourt.
Trent Lockett, F: A smooth athlete who spent summer league and training camp with the Kings and then the season with the Kings affiliate in Reno, Lockett has good size (6-5, 210) for a wing and can shoot from all over the floor (.423 from deep). His per 36 numbers are solid (14.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals) and he profiles fairly well defensively. At 23, he’s one of the younger players on the team, and possibly the one with the biggest sleeper potential.