2017 D-League report

January 31, 2017. ...Unquestionably, the NBA D-League is more healthy than at any time previous. Despite expansion, the pool of players, that could see NBA minutes at some point in their careers, is crowded. As we annually do, we devoted a significant chunk of our time scouting and doing a statistical audit of the D-League.

We observe the D-League directly after having watched NBA games almost exclusively since the first pre-season contests were played in early October. The thinking behind this process is that it makes it easier to identify "NBA athletes". The D-League provides their annual Showcase each January. This year the event that covers five days and sees all 22 D-League teams play two games each, was held in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

After crunching the numbers from the first half of the 2016-17 NBA D-League season, and closely observing games (with note taking), we came up with more than 30 names that interest us as possible NBA players. Some are more early in the "prospect" stage than others. In the interest of not going too far with our obsession, we edited the list from 30 down to 16 players.

Elgin Cook is a defensive minded player we like.

As always, we are looking for everything. The complete player. We have seen 95% of these players previously in summer leagues, pre-season games, or in college games. The important thing to remember is that players dedicated to the game will improve. If a player is serious about getting better, his game at age 26 should be much more efficient than it was when he was 22 years-old.

None of the players in the D-League are perfect. Each guy in the minors is there for a reason. There are players that impressed us with their feel for the game, and others that left us scratching our head due to their poor basketball I.Q.

Ultimately, our way is to present thoughts on the key players we think have a shot to play in the NBA. Other sites include prospect rankings for the D-League. One thing we purposely did was ignore those lists. We always want the Hoop Obsession content to offer a view that may or may not be in-line with the herd. Also, it is important to note that we are not affiliated with any player agents or teams. We always offer independent thinking.

So... who do we like? Let's start with the most crowded positron in the D-League; shooting guard.

Elgin Cook - Santa Cruz Warriors. ...Our favorite D-League prospect is 24 year-old Elgin Cook. He did not play in the Showcase due to a sprained ankle. Cook just turned 24 years-old and that is a bit of a concern for a guy that still needs to improve his perimeter shooting. Clearly, Cook's 31% 3-pt. shooting must improve for him to reach his full potential. But we believe Cook has the ability to become better. He improved each college season at Oregon. He was just hitting his stride when he was named MVP of the 2016 Pac-12 Tournament. Cook was undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft. He found his way on to the Sacramento Kings summer squad. However, Cook was barely used in Las Vegas, playing a total of 61 minutes. ...So far this season, in our opinion, Cook has been the best two-way player in the D-League. Cook is valuable because of his ability to defend opposing two-guards. At 6'5", 200 lbs., Cook has the size to compete with success in the NBA. His defense is ahead of his offense. That said, Cook is the kind of player that finds a way to score 16 points per game (on 55% FG). He grabs 5.6 rebounds per game as well (through 18 games played). His shot is not broken. He shows good touch at the free throw line where he nets 76% of his shots. Cook's 31.8% from three-point land is not great. But consider the three-point percentages of these NBA shooting guards: Eric Bledsoe 31%, DeMar DeRozan 24%, Justin Anderson 31%, Evan Turner 28%, Tony Allen 30%, Rodney Stuckey 31%, Kent Bazemore 30%. ...Defense is half of the game. Elgin Cook plays D and he is getting better on O. He is a prospect we would invest in.


David Nwaba - L.A. Defenders. ...Nwaba is one of the best defensive guards in the D-League. He has NBA athleticism and he can shadow his opponent like few are able to do. Nwaba is 6'4", 210 lbs. He played at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo and went undrafted in 2016. Nwaba is not a player who is a consistent threat from deep range. He has attempted just ten 3-pt. field goals this season. Instead, Nwaba finds ways, usually off of great cuts, to score near the hoop. He is shooting 63.9% FG in 2016-17. He willingly moves the ball, and has more assists than turnovers. Nwaba is 24 years-old. If Nwaba were called up, he would be able to defend NBA guards right away. However, he would likely struggle as a shooter, allowing his opponent to cheat off of him. ...Nwaba is a winner. The only time in school history Cal-Poly SLO went to the NCAA Tournament was in 2014 with Nwaba. The following season, Nwaba hurt his wrist which required surgery. He was also ill, and doctors discovered he had an irregular heartbeat. Now, two years later, Nwaba is healthy and productive. He is a 24 year-old player that every NBA team should have on their radar.

Darius Morris - Rio Grande Valley Vipors. ...Morris is now 26 years-old. He was a second round pick of the Lakers in 2011. While we have never been a fan of his game previously, we have to say he looked good at the Showcase, and his numbers this season back-up the eye-test. Morris sees the floor well. He also provides rebounding from the guard position. In the D-League, he is a triple-double threat. He is averaging 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. Morris has never been known as a three-point shooter. While he has improved in that area to some degree, he is still just 33% from deep. ...Morris' last stint in the NBA was in 2014-15 when he played 38 games for the Brooklyn Nets. His overall skill level as a playmaker could get him back into the NBA.

Vander Blue - L.A. Defenders. ...Blue (6'4" 195 lbs.) can get to virtually any spot on the floor with his combination of quickness and dribbling ability. He is much more of a scoring guard than a point guard. Blue is averaging 25 points per game. The shooting numbers are there too (39% from 3-pt.). Blue gets to the foul line often where he connects on 82% FT. We think Blue could score in the NBA. ...Defense and decision making are other questions. Blue simply does not strike fear in an opponent as a defender. When he plays point guard, the decision making (68 assists, 60 turnovers) is not good enough to think Blue could run an NBA team. If Blue was inserted into an NBA game we think he could do fine as a scorer.

Small Forwards

Trahson Burrell - Long Island Nets ...Burrell is a 6'7", 190 lb., 24 year-old that played college ball at Memphis (undrafted in 2016). He is averaging 11.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. Burrell is an excellent defensive player and he has a nose for the ball. He is among the best offensive rebounding forwards in the D-League. Burrell hits just 30% of his three point shots which is why he is a D-Leaguer.

Axel Toupane - Raptors 905 ...Toupane continues to show his two-way game in the D-League. I enjoy watching him play because he never takes a play off. He is presently averaging 16 points, four boards, and three assists per game. He raised his 3-pt field goal percentage to 33.9% so far this season which is a sign of continued progress. He won the Most Improved Player award in the D-League last season. He earned a call-up to the Denver Nuggets last March. ...Toupane is a good defender, and like many on our list, his defense is ahead of his offense. He is 24 years-old.

Abdel Nader - Maine Red Claws. ...Nader was the 58th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft (Celtics). The 6'7", 225 lb., swingman from Iowa State possesses a smooth looking jump shot. Nader is hitting 40% of his three point attempts, making him one of the few wing players in the D-League that has NBA shooting ability right now. Nader's defense is not terrible but he is nothing special defensively either. His decision making is NOT up to NBA standards for a wing player. He presently has more turnovers than assists. ...Nader is 23 years-old.

Luis Montero - Sioux Falls Sky Force. ...Montero is among the best defensive wings in the D-League. The 23 year-old from the Dominican Republic spent time with the Portland Trailblazers and was a late addition to the Miami Heat in October 2016. He is 6'7", 205 lbs. Like many young wings, Montero struggles with his deep shooting (just 32% 3-pt.) but his ability in transition is at an NBA level. His overall feel for the game is decent but we would like to see Montero become much more aggressive offensively.


Joshua Smith - Rio Grande Valley Vipors. ...The best BIG in the D-League, by our estimation, is Joshua Smith. He does what a good pivot does in the modern game. He rebounds, he blocks shots, and he doesn't take bad shots. Smith is shooting 63% FG. He has great hands and his body, while still not in NBA shape, is better than it has been previously. Standing 6'10", and weighing in at 290 lbs., Smith sets screens that free up teammates. His defensive rating is significantly better than the team DEFRTG of the RGV Vipors. ...Smith is 24 years-old. Since these players figure to play bench minutes if they crack the NBA, Smith's inability to play long stretches should not be an issue. He could absolutely come into an NBA game and hold his own for 12-15 minutes.


Edy Tavares - Raptors 905. ...At 7'3", 260 lbs, Tavares has more than enough size to fit into the NBA. He is a defensive presence that blocks or alters shots at a high rate. At this stage of the 24 year-old's development, it is simply about having more of a feel for the game. Tavares can erase shots as a rim protector. However, in the next play, he might cough up a turnover due to not gripping the ball tightly enough when a guard digs at him. ...We do feel he is making progress though. At one point in his career, Tavares would turn it over three times for every one assist. Now, he is still in the negative, but he is improving (32 assists, 42 turnovers this season). ...Tavares is 24 years-old. He shoots 72% FT.

Jeff Ayres - L.A. Defenders. ...Ayres is past the development stage. He is 29 years-old. He is without question one of the best BIGs in the D-League. Ayres (formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph) has six seasons of NBA experience. He is back in the D-League trying to return to the NBA. Ayres is a fantastic face-up shooter with range out to the three-point line. He is a rare BIG that makes his free throws (92.4% FT this season!). Defensively, Ayres is capable of guarding 4's or 5's. His decision making is sketchy. He is not a guy you want trying to make plays. His role is rebounding, spot-shooting, and defending. ...We would like to see Ayres shoot the the three-ball more often. He could resurrect his career as a stretch four.

Power Forwards or Stretch Fours

Shawn Long - Delaware 87'ers. ...Long went undrafted in 2016 after being the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year at Louisiana-Lafayette. Delaware is much better defensively when Long is on the floor. He is a monster on the defensive glass, and he is an underrated shot blocker. Long stays efficient because of his scorer's mentality. Because he stays aggressive, Long is always a threat on offense. Surprisingly, Long has struggled to connect on his deep-shot attempts this season (23% 3-pt.). In the Summer League for the Sixers it was exactly opposite. Long hit over half of his three point attempts while playing for the Sixers in July in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.


Alex Poythress - Fort Wayne Mad Ants. ...Poythress is a NBA athlete without question. He stands 6'7", 238 lbs. He can guard multiple positions. Despite being 6'7", Poythress falls more into the category of an old-school "beast four" at this stage of his career. His long-range shooting simply is not consistent enough (31.6% 3-pt.). There is hope though. Poythress shows good touch. He makes 76% of his free throws. Unfortunately, Poythress also commits two turnovers for every one assist. So why do we like him at all? He plays hard. He plays effective defense and he is athletic. Certainly, he is a prospect more than a player ready to perform in the NBA today. He was cut by the Indiana Pacers during their training camp after going undrafted out of Kentucky. Poythress is 23 years-old.

Point Guards or Combo Guards

Jordan Crawford - Grand Rapids Drive. ...Crawford is known as a scorer, but he can also be a creative passer and playmaker as a point guard. His 1.95-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is not going to earn him a starting PG job in the NBA but to hold down the fort and provide energy and scoring as reserve - we think he is more than capable. Crawford showed us again that he can be dynamic. Crawford is scoring 22.8 points per game, and he's making 38% from three-point land. He hits 84% of his foul shots. ...Crawford spent four years in the NBA (last with the Celtics in 2013-14). He played in China last season, averaging 43 points per game.

Briante Weber - Sioux Falls Sky Force. ...Weber is averaging 16.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 3.0 steals per game as the leader of the Sky Force. The team is 20-9 and in first place in their conference. Weber is a fierce on-ball defender that we have written about, Tweeted about, and talked about for some time. We think he is an NBA guard. Weber played seven NBA games with Memphis and Miami in 2015-16. ...In the D-League, Weber owns a 2.43-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he is shooting 37.7% from 3-pt. over the last two D-League seasons. An NBA team would be smart to sign the 24 year-old.

Quinn Cook - Canton Charge. ...Cook is averaging 25.2 points, and 6.1 assists per game. He still leans toward being more of a scoring guard than a point guard. His 1.74-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is not quite NBA PG stuff. He shoots 36% from three-point range, which is good. ...We think, in his case, Cook's offense is ahead of his defense. Cook gives an honest effort but he is somewhat limited by his God given tools.

Others we liked: Jabril Trawick, J.P. Tokoto, Gary Payton II, Travis Leslie, and Cory Jefferson.

Notes: The L.A. Defenders will morph into the South Bay Lakers for the 2017-18 D-League season. ...The Erie BayHawks meanwhile will become the Atlanta Hawks D-League affiliate and they will move to College Park, GA. for the 2018-19 season. ...The teams that do not have a direct D-League affiliate (or public plans to create one): Denver, L.A. Clippers, Minnesota, New Orleans, Portland and Washington.