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January 7, 2010
D-League Translations
The Top Prospects

by Kevin Pelton

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In yesterday's part one of Basketball Prospectus' look at the D-League, we studied how statistics compiled in the NBA Development League have historically translated to the NBA for players who have been called up or sent down. Today, we continue by putting those translations in practice using this year's top D-League performers. Throughout this article, we'll use translated D-League figures that can be compared head-to-head with NBA production on a relatively level playing field.

Granted, that is far from a guarantee any of these players will perform like this in the NBA. Sample size is still an issue, since the D-League starts play so late and teams have played 14 or 15 games. Also, there are the typical issues that accompany a leap from one level of play to another higher one. An undersized player may be less effective going up against players his own size, for example. Despite these issues, I think the translated numbers shed some interesting light on the D-League's best prospects.

We'll start with the overall top performers. One effect of the translation is that stats accumulated by big men--blocks, rebounds, two-point percentages--tend to carry over better than guard stats. If we were to look simply at the top 10 players, it would almost entirely be made up of power forwards and centers. Instead, I've looked at the top two players at each position. After that, we'll look at the top players in terms of certain skills that NBA teams may be seeking. Note that throughout the article, only unassigned players currently in the D-League and available to any team are eligible.

PGs                 Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Maurice Baker      DAK   .463   .493   .167    8.5   0.80   3.9
Mustafa Shakur     TUL   .462   .498   .189    5.6   1.46   3.6

The best of the point guards, far and away, was Idaho's Sundiata Gaines (translated .525 winning percentage), who was signed to a 10-day contract by Utah on Tuesday and made his NBA debut last night in a win over Memphis. Dakota's Maurice Baker takes over as the leader, though he is really more of a combo guard. In particular, the numbers like his ability to contribute on the glass. Baker has been around a while since he was briefly with a couple of teams back in 2004-05, but veteran point guards are one of the D-League's top commodities, and with Randy Livingston now an assistant coach in Maine and Eddie Gill playing in Belgium, Baker is one of the best available. Arizona product Mustafa Shakur offers a nice combination of scoring and passing from the point, though like Baker he has not been especially efficient shooting the ball. Both players have high steal rates, as reflected in the last column, which is combined steal plus block percentage.

SGs                 Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Mark Tyndale       IOW   .508   .503   .199   10.3   0.18   4.2
Tony Bobbitt       MAI   .454   .565   .145    5.3   0.19   5.1

Mark Tyndale, whom you probably remember from his time at Temple, is actually coming off the bench in Iowa City. Nonetheless, he's averaging 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. His rebounding from the wing has always been an asset, though Tyndale isn't as efficient or prolific a scorer as you would like at the shooting guard position. Tony Bobbitt spent one season with the L.A. Lakers, and his claim to fame is shooting. Bobbitt's translated 41.5 percent accuracy beyond the arc is second among D-League players with at least 25 attempts.

SFs                 Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Reggie Williams     SF   .505   .575   .204    7.9   0.17   2.7
Carlos Powell      ALB   .449   .521   .200    7.6   0.47   3.3

Not to be confused with the former Georgetown star of the same name, Reggie Williams put himself on the map by averaging 27.8 points per game as a senior at Virginia Military Institute. Adjusted for strength of schedule, his college numbers were fairly good, and he continues to score at an efficient clip in the D-League thanks to translated 55.1 percent accuracy on twos. His rebounding is subpar, but the reports on his defense are positive. Carlos Powell is back in the D-League after a good run with Dakota in 2007-08. He's a very good passer for his size, averaging 4.5 assists per game (in more than 40 minutes a night).

PFs                 Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Diamon Simpson     LAD   .611   .455   .191   16.4   0.08   7.3
Rod Benson         REN   .510   .471   .173   13.0   0.06   7.0

Diamon Simpson is the oddity in this group, a player the stats like much, much more than the scouts. DraftExpress doesn't have him among its list of top 25 potential callups, but he rates here as the best player in the D-League. The big issue is Simpson's size. As a 6'7" power forward, he might not be able to compete in the NBA. Even his numbers show some red flags, as his translated True Shooting Percentage would make him an extremely inefficient scorer in the NBA. Still, there are some things to really like. Simpson has been a beast on the offensive glass; his translated 14.7 percent offensive rebound percentage would put him sixth in the league, just behind DeJuan Blair. His steal percentage is also phenomenal for a big man, and Simpson blocks plenty of shots too. Oddly, Simpson's statistics last year as a senior at St. Mary's were nowhere near this impressive.

The name of Rod Benson is certainly much more familiar, but Benson has been unable to translate consistently solid D-League performance into a shot in the NBA. One possible reason is that teams might frown on Benson's popular blog, which he recently decided to give up in order to focus on earning a callup. Benson is not rebounding as well as I thought and won't be a big scorer in the NBA, but his defensive versatility is excellent.

Cs                  Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Greg Stiemsma       SF   .587   .464   .123   17.2   0.04  11.8
Dwayne Jones       AUS   .578   .582   .136   18.2   0.03   5.0

One of the most interesting prospects in the D-League, Greg Stiemsma was a bit contributor at Wisconsin (he never averaged more than 11.7 minutes per game) who looks like a Mark Eaton-style late bloomer. At 6'11", 260, Stiemsma has legit size, and his blocked-shot numbers for Sioux Falls are entirely off the charts. His translated block rate of 10.3 percent of opponents' two-point attempts would trail only Washington's JaVale McGee (10.8 percent). Stiemsma can rebound too, so he's not a one-dimensional player despite being a non-contributor on offense. Dwayne Jones is a fairly well-known commodity, having played for three teams in the last four years without ever making a major impression. He's capable, but Ridiculous Upside points out that Jones' numbers this season have been inflated by his domination of an overmatched Kevin Pittsnogle (translated winning percentage: .310).

You're Looking for ... a Scorer

Player              Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   Score
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Reggie Williams     SF   .505   .575   .204    7.9   0.17   115.4
Morris Almond      SPR   .417   .549   .239    7.1   0.02   113.8
Andre Ingram       UTA   .403   .587   .143    6.5   0.08   111.6
Rob Kurz           FWM   .505   .574   .157   14.1   0.11   110.5
Dwayne Jones       AUS   .578   .582   .136   18.2   0.03   110.0

This group is ranked by a junk stat that uses points per 100 shooting possessions (essentially True Shooting Percentage expressed in a different form) adjusted by one point per each extra percent of usage rate above or below 20 percent. Essentially, it estimates how many points per 100 shooting possessions a player would score in a neutral role in an offense.

Williams, by this measure, has the best combination of efficiency and usage in the league. Right below him is Morris Almond, the former Utah first-round pick. There should be no doubt that Almond can put the ball in the hoop, but until he decides he needs to do more than score I'm not sold he's an NBA player. Andre Ingram is one of the best shooters in the D-League and tremendously efficient, but not really a prospect. Rob Kurz grew on me last season in Golden State after I was initially baffled as to why he made the roster. His performance in the D-League this year continues to indicate he's an NBA-caliber stretch big man.

You're Looking for ... a Shooter

Scorers             Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   Shoot
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Tony Bobbitt       MAI   .454   .565   .145    5.3   0.19    2.25
Andre Ingram       UTA   .403   .587   .143    6.5   0.08    1.72
Ron Howard         FWM   .383   .508   .213    4.8   0.25    1.44
Anthony Tolliver   IDA   .484   .542   .179   13.8   0.08    1.43
JamesOn Curry      SPR   .390   .512   .151    5.5   1.55    1.35

With apologies to Notre Dame alum Kyle McAlarney, I enforced a minimum winning percentage of .380 here so we're looking only at players who legitimately might be of interest to the NBA. With that in place, Bobbitt has far and away been the league's best shooter (as measured by a combination of three-point percentage, threes per minute and free throw percentage). Ron Howard, who went to training camp with the Knicks, is a strong three-point shooter who has had much less success inside the arc. JamesOn Curry, who spent a year with Chicago without ever playing a game is shooting the ball pretty well this season and also showing some ability as a playmaker. Still, the most interesting name on the list is Anthony Tolliver, who was briefly up with the Portland Trail Blazers. Like Kurz, Tolliver is a good shooter for his size with solid athleticism for a power forward. He'll likely get another NBA shot before long.

You're Looking for ... a Passer

Player              Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass
---------------------------------------------------------
Cedric Jackson     ERI   .407   .403   .178    7.7   3.56
Will Blalock       MAI   .360   .436   .115    6.2   3.54
Curtis Stinson     IOW   .435   .441   .158    7.4   3.48
Keith McLeod       ALB   .460   .472   .195    4.9   2.77   
JamesOn Curry      SPR   .390   .512   .151    5.5   1.55

A Cleveland State product best known for beating Syracuse with his 60-foot buzzer-beater in December 2008, Cedric Jackson has been a quick study as a passer during his D-League rookie season and is contributing on the glass, but will have to improve his scoring to have a chance at the NBA. Former NBA player Will Blalock is still playing despite suffering a stroke in June 2008. According to reports, he's out of shape, and has been useful only as a passer. His former Iowa State teammate Curtis Stinson offers a little more balanced production, but NBA teams looking for a pass-first point guard would do best to go with Albuquerque's Keith McLeod, who spent four years in the league with four different teams.

You're Looking for ... a Rebounder

Player              Tm   Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   SB%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Dwayne Jones       AUS   .578   .582   .136   18.2   0.03   5.0
Greg Stiemsma       SF   .587   .464   .123   17.2   0.04  11.8
John Bryant        ERI   .421   .492   .166   16.9   0.04   3.7
Kurt Looby         RGV   .508   .433   .093   16.6   0.00   9.5
Diamon Simpson     LAD   .611   .455   .191   16.4   0.08   7.3

Former Santa Clara star John Bryant was a favorite of the numbers coming out of college, but has already seen the effect of his physical limitations. Bryant is a mountain of a man who moves about that fast, so while he's continued to be effective on the glass, he hasn't been a great scorer in the D-League. Kurt Looby is even more limited offensively than Stiemsma--look at that translated usage rate--but has been an impressive rebounder and shot blocker in limited minutes off the bench.

For more on the D-League, let me recommend the thriving blogosphere that has grown up devoted to the league. Of course, Draft Express does an excellent job of covering the D-League as well as NCAA and international prospects, while Ridiculous Upside and newcomer D-League Digest focus specifically on the NBA's minor league.

Join Kevin Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10 a.m. Pacific to chat about the NBA at Baseball Prospectus. If you can't make it, leave your question now.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
How Good is Cornell? (01/07)
Next Article >>
Around the Rim (01/08)

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