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RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 7-April 13)

RealGM’s Player of the Week: Darius Morris (Rio Grande Valley Vipers)

Morris had an absolutely absurd week to kick off the D-League playoffs. He started with 29 points (11-18 FG, 3-4 3FG), 11 assists, and five rebounds as Rio Grande Valley topped Iowa, 146-135. Morris was even more sensational in the following game with 51 points (17-26 FG, 7-10 3FG) and 18 assists on Saturday, although the Vipers fell 145-142. After spending time with the Clippers, 76ers, and Grizzlies this season, Morris couldn’t find a permanent home and has spent the past month dominating the D-League. The 6-foot-4 point guard out of Michigan was a second round pick in 2011 and should land on an NBA roster next season. He’s still only 23 years old and will have a chance to prove himself over the offseason in the Summer League. Until then, he’ll look to have another big game on Monday to help the Vipers advance past the first round.

Game of the Week: Fort Wayne Mad Ants 97, Reno Bighorns 96

In a tight, back-and-forth contest, the game fittingly entered the fourth quarter with a tied score. Reno opened the quarter on an 11-0 run but slowly watched its lead slip away in the closing minutes. Fort Wayne grabbed a rebound and called timeout with 13 seconds left, trailing 96-95. Tim Ohlbrect’s put back on a missed lay-up with 5.3 seconds left ultimately made the difference as Fort Wayne took a 1-0 lead in the series. After the Mad Ants won again on Sunday, they’ve advanced past the first round of the D-League playoffs.

Matt Bouldin led Fort Wayne on Friday with 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Ron Howard added 19 points while Tony Mitchell chipped in 17. Sadiel Rojas had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Reno received a game-high 22 points from Mo Charlo. K.C. Rivers contributed 19 points and Willie Reed added 15 points and nine rebounds.

Five Stars

Patrick Christopher (Iowa Energy): Last week’s Player of the Week stringed together a pair of quality performances for the Energy. Christopher averaged 33 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Cal has made a statement to end the D-League season and has a chance to keep it going if the Energy top the Vipers on Monday.

Seth Curry (Santa Cruz Warriors): Curry had 44 points and seven assists while shooting 15-of-20 from the field and 9-of-14 from deep on Thursday. He went on to score 23 points (7-16 FG, 4-9 3FG), dish three assists, and grab three rebounds to help the Warriors advance into the semi-finals. The 6-foot-2 point guard from Duke played with the Cavaliers and Grizzlies this season but has only played a combined 13 minutes in the NBA. With his improvement as a steady pick-and-roll point guard, Curry should be a prospect to keep an eye on.

Troy Daniels (Rio Grande Valley Vipers): On contract with the Houston Rockets, Daniels split time between the Vipers and the big-league club this week. He averaged 28 points this past week while shooting 32 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc. It wasn’t his most efficient shooting display, but Daniels is a three-point specialist who also made a contribution for the Rockets on Wednesday. He scored 12 points in 11 minutes against the Nuggets while shooting 4-of-6 from three. Daniels is on a two-year deal with Houston and could see extended time for the big league club next season.

Cameron Jones (Santa Cruz Warriors): Jones has always been a rock-solid contributor for Santa Cruz and made a major impact this past week. He averaged 31.5 points, six rebounds, and three assists per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 50 percent (4-8) from behind the arc. The crafty, 6-foot-4 shooting guard is a savvy player with a good feel for the game.

Ognjen Kuzmic (Santa Cruz Warriors): The Golden State assignee recorded a pair of double-doubles this week for Santa Cruz. Kuzmic averaged 19 points and 14 rebounds per game while shooting an extremely efficient 76 percent from the field. The 7-footer has been a monster in the rebounding department and showed why he’s on contract with the major league club.

Call Ups

Othyus Jeffers (Iowa Energy): The scrappy, 6-foot-5 wing signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the remainder of the season after averaging 20.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game with the Energy. He spent four games with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this year, even starting in one game, as they looked to reload an injury filled lineup. Now in Minnesota, Jeffers has played 13 minutes in three games, missing his only shot attempt while grabbing three rebounds. He’s a defensive-minded glue guy who was key for the Energy this season.

Grant Jerrett (Tulsa 66ers): Jerrett was a second round pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder this past season but played exclusively in the D-League. The 6-foot-10 power forward averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in Tulsa and received his first contract with the big league club this week. He has yet to see the floor in Oklahoma City but the 20-year-old was seen as a long-term prospect since the draft. Jerrett showed good potential this season as a stretch four-man.

Dexter Pittman (Austin Toros): After the Houston Rockets waived Greg Smith because of a season-ending knee injury, Pittman earned his second NBA call-up of the season. The 6-foot-11, 285 pound center was averaging 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in Austin but has not seen the floor for the Rockets. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported that Pittman will be released after signing on Friday.

James Southerland (Los Angeles D-Fenders): Southerland signed a contract with the New Orleans Pelicans for the rest of the season and has shown promise in two NBA games. He scored 10 points (4-7 FG, 2-3 3FG) and grabbed three rebounds in only 10 minutes of action on Friday and followed with three points (1-3 FG, 1-1 3FG) and four rebounds in an additional 10 minutes on Saturday. The 6-foot-8 forward from Syracuse was averaging 14.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in the D-League but seems to be raising eyebrows at the NBA level.

Adonis Thomas (Springfield Armor): The Philadelphia 76ers signed the 6-foot-6 rookie shooting guard from Memphis who was averaging 17 points per game while shooting 47 percent from three in Springfield. Thomas has played eight minutes for the 76ers, scoring four points on 2-of-3 shooting. He has a prototypical body for the shooting guard position with plenty of athleticism. Thomas will be a name to remember this summer.

And One: After Sunday’s set of games, Santa Cruz and Fort Wayne were the only two teams to punch their tickets into the semi-finals. The Rio Grande Valley-Iowa and Canton-Sioux Falls series will require a deciding third game on Monday at 8:00 PM EST. Fort Wayne still looks to be the favorite while Santa Cruz pulled a first-round upset.

Searching For Journeymen

The Philadelphia 76ers have scoured the far edges of the NBA universe to find potential where others have only found disappointment. It’s been a running gag all season with this team. The D-League Sixers. Thaddeus Young putting his arm around a young referee pointing out to him who all of the players are perfectly encapsulates the rotating door that has been the team’s roster all year. But amidst the D-League hopefuls and marginal talent, a few players have proven themselves as NBA caliber, and deserve to have roster spots either with the Sixers or with another franchise.

Henry Sims

Who Henry Sims is: A midseason acquisition as part of the Spencer Hawes' trade with Cleveland (initially considered a throw-in), Sims went undrafted in 2012 after four seasons at Georgetown (Sam Hinkie must have an affinity for Hoyas, more on this later). He’s bounced around various D-League and Summer League squads, as well as spent some time playing for the Petron Blaze Boosters of the Philippines. 

What He Brings: When your frontcourt consists of players such as Hawes and Byron Mullens, it’s safe to say that you are lacking in muscle. Sims is big (6’10’’, 248lbs), strong, and more skilled than anyone realizes. The best part of his game however, is that he is hungry on defense.  Sims was able to come in and quickly establish himself as the team’s starting center. His verbosity on defense has won over coach Brett Brown, who has been desperate to find someone who can be a presence on the interior for this team. Since joining the team on February 20th, he has posted four double-doubles, had a 24 point, nine rebound performance against Boston where he shot 18 free throws (a career high), and was instrumental in the team’s two recent victories (for a team that has 17 wins on the season, that’s a big deal). 

What He Needs to Work on and into the Future: Sims can be a bit undersized at the center position (a recent manhandling by Charlotte’s Al Jefferson demonstrated that), and he doesn’t possess great length. He also would never be referred to as a leaper. Continuing to develop his strength should be a priority. He just turned 24, so some potential is still there. If he continues his productive play and demonstrates the kind of character that Brown and Hinkie so cherish, he should keep a spot on this team’s roster, perhaps a long term piece as Nerlens Noel’s backup. If his baseline and free throw jumper continue to improve, he could be utilized at power forward against big lineups, along with Noel.

Hollis Thompson

Who Hollis Thompson is:  Hinkie probably has a giant bulletin board with pictures of all players and staff, mapping their entire basketball careers and paying special attention to any potential intersections, similar to a television detective piecing together a case. Thompson is also a Georgetown product, and a former teammate of Henry Sims. Coincidence? Doubtful. Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel played on the same AAU basketball team when they were in high school, BABC Boston. Carter-Williams, Noel, and Brett Brown are all from the Boston area. Hinkie is looking for synergy, and Thompson might just fit the bill.  Also undrafted in 2012, Hollis played for the Spurs Summer League squad (Brown’s former team) in 2013 before landing a deal with the Sixers.

What He Brings: An athletic specimen at 6’8’’ and only 23 years old, Hollis is capable of playing the shooting guard or small forward position. He shoots the 3-ball at a very respectable clip, just under 41%.  He is fast in transition and a good finisher on the break. His combination of speed and length give him promising defensive potential on the wing. He has been in and out of the starting lineup this year, generally rotating with another former Spur, James Anderson. He recently hit a career-high six threes against the Nets, two of which came in the guts of the game that would ultimately end in a tough fought loss. 

What He Needs to Work on and into the Future:  Thompson’s ability from long range is currently his greatest offensive strength, so he should use his shooting touch to establish a midrange game this offseason, as well as develop some signature ball handling moves to create his own shot off of isolation plays (he is mostly utilized as a spot up catch-and-shoot player, very reminiscent of Bruce Bowen standing in the corner getting ready to receive the pass). Defensively, he is long but slight.  Strength-training should be heavily emphasized this offseason if he wants to establish himself as a two-way player. Like Sims, the potential is there, but Thompson’s future with the team hinges upon this year’s draft. It’s no secret that there is another 6’8’’ wing that the Sixers are targeting.

People never hesitate to point out the detrimental effects that tanking/rebuilding has on the league, but rarely do we hear about the beneficial ones. Securing a roster spot in the NBA is incredibly difficult, with athletes playing all around the world just to get their one opportunity on the one team that has a need for the position that they play. Say what you will about the Sixers this year, but players like Sims and Thompson will likely have jobs in the NBA next year, and it can be attributed not only to their hard work, but to the exposure they’ve received with this franchise.

The Draft Deadline

With the NCAA Tournament coming to a close, the annual parlor game as to whether or not the best college players declare for the NBA Draft is in full swing. Some declare too early, others too late. The NBA is a fickle beast when it comes to the draft. Over the course of a player's NCAA career, the league can fall in and out of love with their game for no real rhyme or reason. Money that was there one year can be gone the next.

Few can resist the lure of being taken in the first round and the millions in guaranteed money that comes with it. With so much money on the line, it's hard to blame any top prospect who declares for the draft, regardless if they are "ready" for the next level or not. The developmental track for every player is different - some thrive around their peers in college, others benefit from being in a more professional setting.

Once they get to the NBA, everything changes. At that level, no one cares what a guy did in college or how high they were drafted - every player in the NBA was a star in college. The only thing that matters is how much they help their team in the minutes they are on the floor. For the most part, NBA coaches are hired to be fired. They can't afford to develop young players at the expense of the win-loss column.

An NBA draft pick is like a new car - they lose half their value the second they are driven off the lot. In the months leading up to the draft, teams focus on all the things a player can or could do in the future. In the months after the draft and going into their rookie season, teams start to focus on all the things they can't. While lip service is still paid to potential, the stats are the stats and there's no massaging them.

There's nowhere to hide in the NBA. Everything a player does on the court is exhaustively measured, analyzed and parsed for what it reveals about them. Things which a player could get away with on the college level are ruthlessly exploited at the professional level. People will rush to conclusions at the earliest opportunity - Otto Porter went from can't miss prospect to prospective bust on the basis of a few summer league games.

There's just not much patience at the highest levels of the game from fans or management. With 30 teams and 15 roster spots on each, the supply of young basketball players far outstrips the demand. If a team misses on a pick, there will be another next year. If a young player gets injured or comes up short in some way, there are a dozen guys in the D-League who would kill for the opportunity they have received.

Once a player gets into the league, the clock starts ticking. If a first round pick doesn't start showing something by Year 2, their third-year option might not get picked up. By the end of their third year, the team that drafts them has a good idea of whether they will offer them a second contract. If they get dropped by their first team, they become damaged goods and there's no guarantee they get a second shot.

The money from the rookie deal, meanwhile, slips through their fingers. No matter how much money a young player makes, it's never enough. Friends, family, agents, managers, Uncle Sam - the line of people with their hand out stretches around the block. Keeping up with the Joneses and maintaining an NBA lifestyle swallows up the rest. The things you own, as the saying goes, end up owning you.

The real money, like in most professions, comes once a young guy has paid his dues and moved up the ranks. Even the No. 1 overall pick isn't paid as much as an established veteran on a long-term deal. The second contract is where the real money is made in the NBA - that's the money that can set up a player for the rest of their lives and for the lives of their children. That's the money young players should think about.

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline. It doesn't matter whether they are still in the league - the NBA isn't the only place in the world to make a living playing ball.

No matter where a player is drafted, they have to make it or not on their own. They will be cut a lot more slack and given a lot more chances at the college level than in the pros. Some guys are ready for that when they are 16, others are still figuring things out at 25. A basketball career is a marathon, not a sprint. How quickly you get off the blocks won't make a difference when you hit that second mile.

Being drafted in the lottery doesn't vindicate a player's decision to go pro anymore than slipping into the second round means they should have stayed in school. Whether or not they have game and are ready to be professionals will be sorted out in the wash soon enough. Draft position will only take a player so far - there are lottery pick who bust out of the NBA and second-round picks who get max contracts.

Coverage of the draft is like so much else in our society - no one has any patience anymore. Everyone is in a rush to get where they are going without any regard to how they are getting there. Whether a player stays or goes, if they work hard, stay in the gym and keep their ego in check, everything else will take care of itself. Far too many people act like being drafted is the end of a journey when it's really just the beginning.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 31-Apr. 6)

Great weeks for P.J. Hairston, Patrick Christopher, Justin Brownlee, Ike Diogu, Scott Suggs, Kevin Murphy and more.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 24-Mar. 30)

On Micah Downs' great week, along with strong showings from Ricky Ledo, Lance Goulbourne, Josiah Turner and Shawne Williams.

RealGM's D-League Wrap-Up (Mar. 17-Mar. 23)

On the call-ups for Seth Curry and James Nunnally, Ike Diogu's trio of double-doubles, and the five-star performers of the week.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 11-Mar. 17)

On the excellent week for Shawne Williams, along with Five-Star performances for Josh Akognon, Frank Gaines, Daniel Orton, Henry Walker and more.

Michael Curry Envisions Standardized And Universal Player Development Model

Developing great basketball players require coaches such as Michael Curry who can see beyond the basketball court and can look at each player as much more than just a basketball player, but a representative of the organization, institution and community.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 3-Mar. 10)

On Manny Harris, Tiny Gallon, Damion James, Cameron Jones, Willie Reed and more from the D-League.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Feb. 24-Mar. 2)

On Jae Crowder's excellent week, a thriller between the Legends and D-Fenders featuring 11 players with NBA experience, several Call-Ups and more.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Feb. 17-Feb. 23)

On a breakout week for Bo Spencer, strong performances from Dee Bost, Robert Covington, Damion James, Kevin Murphy, Flip Murray, along with notes on the Pierre Jackson situation.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Feb. 10-Feb.16)

On Tiny Gallon's outstanding week, Seth Curry, Courney Fells, Darius Johnson-Odom, Kevin Murphy, James Nunnally and a recap of the D-League All-Star activities.

Troy Daniels Pursuing NBA Dream In D-League

As the best shooter in the D-League, Troy Daniels could see his NBA dream become a reality very soon. Until then, heíll continue to rewrite the record books while raining threes for a championship contending squad.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Feb. 3-Feb. 9)

For the second time in three weeks, Pierre Jackson has been named RealGMís Player of the Week. Also, notes on Robert Covington, Devin Ebanks, Grant Jerrett, Adonis Thomas and Shawne Williams.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Jan. 27-Feb. 2)

On Kevin Murphy's brilliant week, strong performances from Dee Bost, P.J. Hairston, Justin Hamilton, Tim Ohlbrecht, Terrence Williams and more.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Jan. 20-Jan. 26)

On Pierre Jackson's pair of 40-point performances, Isaiah Canaan's development, Archie Goodwin's shooting, call ups for Vander Blue, Othyus Jeffers, and more.

P.J. Hairston Excellent In D-League Debut

P.J. Hairston finished with a team-high 22 points (9-16 FG, 4-9 3FG) and six steals in 28 minutes of action to lead the Legends to a 109-99 victory that wasnít nearly as close as the score indicated. He scored in a variety of ways, including high-flying dunks, mid-range jumpers, and his well-documented deep threes.

Pierre Jackson's D-League Scoring Surge

It isnít often that a 5-foot-10 point guard is scoring 40 points at the professional level, but thatís exactly what Pierre Jackson has done this season for the Idaho Stampede. Three times this month, to be exact.

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RealGM caught up with Luke Harangody to talk about his experience in Russia, playing under foreigner coach, NBA and more.

Seth Curry Developing In D-League

Seth Curry is more aggressive off ball screens and has been excelling in pick-and-rolls that he would see in the NBA. At Duke, Curry saw most of his time at shooting guard, but heís the primary ball handler in Santa Cruz while averaging 36.9 minutes per contest.

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