Starting January 5th, NBA teams can sign free agents to 10-day contracts. And while there’s nothing that demands those 10-day contract signees need come from the NBA D-League, it logically follows that it’s a good place to start looking. Whether a team is struggling and looking for new blood, or just looking for injury cover, the seamless call-up system allows them to plunder the D-League for reinforcements for a week and a half, as an extended midseason tryout. Here’s a list of the top call-up candidates, in no order other than when they were thought of.
Courtney Fortson – 18.8ppg, 6.2 apg, 5.5 rpg: Fortson’s decision to declare early for the draft looked especially ridiculous after he wasn’t able to progress beyond the Romanian league in his first season. Since then, however, he’s turned his career around and managed a few NBA looks. Fortson’s speed, aggression and handle haven’t changed, and now come with a much improved jumpshot and better decision making. But he’s still not a proven halfcourt point guard, and he’s still only 5-foot-11.
Justin Dentmon – 19.7 ppg, 4.0 apg, 5.0 rpg: Unashamedly a scorer as well, Dentmon is the leading scorer on the D-League’s second-highest scoring team. He too cracked the NBA on multiple occasions last season, on account of the quality of his jumpshot (432 from three in his D-League career) and his ability to create them. To stick in the league in any more than a peripheral role, though, he’ll need to be as lucky as Eddie House.
Walker Russell – 14.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.9 rpg: Russell played his way from D-League benches to the NBA within five years, a working demonstration of the league’s developmental qualities. The purest point on this list, Russell played almost all of last season with the Pistons, but struggled at the NBA level. He is unspectacular, unathletic and undersized, without three-point range on his shot and now with 30 years on the clock. But his knack for finding open players and controlling the offense puts him ahead of the rest, should those be the desired qualities.
Chris Quinn – 18.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 3.0 spg: Knocking on 30′s door, Quinn has returned to the D-League to play two games, after beginning the season in Spain. This is possibly his last chance to make the NBA, and even if he can’t defend his position, he can certainly contribute as both a playmaker and shooter.
Ben Uzoh – 16.1ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.9 rpg: The most athletic player listed, Uzoh thrives in transition, and has the size to project as a quality defense player. However, he isn’t at this point, and as he’s not a pure point and is a sub-par shooter, his usefulness in the halfcourt is limited.
Chris Wright – 16.3 ppg, 7.7 apg, 5.5 rpg: Reports last year that Wright’s career was in jeopardy after a diagnosis of MS were clearly premature, as Wright is performing to a high standard. His all-around game is very solid, and although he still lacks for consistent three-point range, his game management and pick-and-roll abilities stand him in good stead.
Troy Hudson – 11.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.8 rpg: Hudson’s comeback started well with some good shooting performances. However, it soon tapered off, and by this time, he is a fairly average soon-to-be-37 year old D-Leaguer. The speed has gone, as has the hair.
Orien Greene – 15.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 4.1 rpg: Former Celtic Greene is mostly playing two guard alongide Fortson. In the process, he is proving that he can still defend both spots. He’s also improved his jumpshot over the years, and is shooting 40 percent from three on the season.
Stefon Hannah – 14.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 4.3 rpg: Perennial nearly-man Hannah is slowly becoming more and more of a three-point shooter offensively, taking eight of them a game and hitting 41 percent last season. He’s also the reigning D-League Defensive Player of the Year; however, neither big nor quick, it’s unclear as to how well this effort may translate.
Andrew Goudelock – 20.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg: Goudelock is one of the D-League’s best go-to men, able to create for himself from mid-range and long range, and willing to attack the basket. He’s also in the midst of proving that it’s entirely possible to be a good shooter when only hitting 28 percent from three-point range.
Travis Leslie – 16.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.8 apg: Waived by the Clippers just before opening night after they had pushed back his contract guarantee date, Leslie has been doing a solid DeMar Derozan impression for the Santa Cruz Warriors, exploiting the mid-range and transition games on his way to 56 percent shooting. However, without three-point range or advanced ball handling, and never getting to the line, Leslie’s offensive contributions are nonetheless limited. He needs to focus his tremendous physical tools on becoming a defensive game-changer.
Andy Rautins – 11.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg: Functioning purely as a shooting specialist for the Tulsa 66ers, Rautins is doing well in the role, shooting 42 percent from the three-point line. It is, however, the only trick he brings.
Chris Roberts – 16.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.8 apg: Another example of the developmental qualities of the D-League, Roberts has flourished into a disruptive defensive influence and improved offensive player, who would be best served in the NBA as the former. It feels odd to espouse the call-up credentials of a man whose most transferrable skill is deflections; then again, it worked for Mario West.
Morris Almond – 18.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 apg: Almond sports a career 24.2 ppg average over five seasons in the D-League, much of which is off of pull-up jumpers. The story on him is well established: decent size, very good jumpshot, not so good off screens, prolific scoring, no playmaking for others, adequate defense. It’s an NBA calibre story, despite its flaws.
Coby Karl – 13.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.8 apg: Back in the D-League after three years away, and turning 30 next March, this is Karl’s last crack at the NBA. With his numbers way down on his career averages across the board, however, a return is a long shot.
Mark Tyndale – 10.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.8 apg: Always underrated, Tyndale is versatile, decently athletic, tough, smart and extremely efficient. He rebounds, slashes, and can play some point forward, very controlled in pick-and-roll situations. The only thing he can’t do is shoot from 25 feet away.
Luke Harangody – 20.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg: Since being waived by the Cavaliers, Gody has only played two games in the D-League. In those two games, he has shot 36 percent from two-point range and 80 percent from three. Despite his college career, these numbers evidence what he may need to reform his game into if he is to make it back long term.
Micah Downs – 16.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.6 apg: When his 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game are also included, Downs could be said to be the D-League’s version of Andrei Kirilenko, if only statistically. Formerly an athlete with underdeveloped skills and no obvious role to play, Downs has improved all aspects of his game over the last three years, developing a strong driving game and always bringing the energy. It’s not without mistakes along the way, but his very good combination of athleticism is certainly NBA ready, and now the production matches it.
Demetris Nichols – 16.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 apg: The Timberwolves signed Nichols for about half an hour in training camp before waiving him, a deliberate ploy to get him to their affiliate club, Sioux Falls Skyforce. Injuries and limited ball-handling skills haven’t seen Nichols develop his game much since drafted. Nevertheless, he is a good enough athlete, shooter and defender to merit repeat looks.
D.J. Kennedy – 19.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.3 apg: Playing in the D-League allows Kennedy to grow into his point forward role, and he’s responding. He just needs to add the jumpshot.
Christian Eyenga – 16.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.5 bpg: The open-court and less regimented style of play of the D-League allows Eyenga and his dominant athleticism to thrive in a free-roaming defensive capacity, while also frequently leaking out for easy twos down the other end. A bit more defensive discipline might see him back in the NBA as the best 6-foot-5 shot blocker since Dwyane Wade’s heyday.
Damion James – 14.8 ppg, 7.1 ppg, 1.2 bpg: Much of what has been said of Eyenga and Downs above could be said of James, too. Or of Paul Harris (15.0/10.3/0.7), Tony Mitchell (14.4/6.3/1.2), Carleton Scott (12.8/7.4/1.4), Justin Holiday (13.8/6.0/1.8) or Mychel Thompson (10.3/4.4/0.7). All of them boast decent wing size, good athleticism, solid rebounding contributions, and versatile defensive potential. Scott and Holiday can also shoot. But if size and athleticism is sought, Downs wins, and if defense potential is sought, Eyenga wins. Or the next guy….
Jamario Moon – 8.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 2.8 spg: Now 32 years of age, believe it or not, Moon still has his athleticism. For as long as he has that, he has a chance as a potentially disruptive defensive presence. Is it too late for him to learn how not to bite on pump fakes?
Gary Flowers – 16.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.6 bpg: Flowers started out backing up Moon, then outperformed him, and now starts alongside him. An undersized four making the transition to the three — with a perfect frame and athleticism combination to make the switch — Flowers has enhanced his chances by adding a 44 percent three-point shooting touch to the mix. The defense is also marginally improved, although not as good as the numbers suggest.
Marcus Landry – 17.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg: Carl’s brother has fully completed his transformation into three-point specialist, with 79 of his 143 field goals this season being from behind the line, as opposed to seven free throw attempts. But he’s hit 36 of them, so that’s all right.
James Mays – 19.7 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg: Often times a training camp signing, Mays’ production must be tempered by the 40 percent field goal and 61 percent free throw shooting on which it comes. Nevertheless, his inside/outside scoring punch has developed since college, and he brings athleticism, strength and toughness.
Darnell Jackson – 16.0 ppg, 8.1 ppg, 1.5 spg: Jackson’s smooth and efficient offensive production is as ever on show, but so are his defensive concerns, with too many lazy swipes and fouls and not enough footwork. Nonetheless, efficient mid-post offense is rare.
JaJuan Johnson – 12.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg: A first round pick only 18 months ago, Johnson has thus far underperformed this season, increasingly overdependent on the jumpshot and still not tough enough on the glass. There’s no point pretending Johnson will become something he’s not, as he will always be a thin finesse player. But he’ll need to produce much more than this.
Justin Harper – 11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg: Another player still drawing a guaranteed NBA paycheck, Harper has underperformed even more than Johnson thus far, and has even lost his starting spot. It’s fine if Harper projects to a stretch four specialist, but as of today, he doesn’t have NBA three-point range, and he won’t make it without that.
Chris Wright – 15.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg: Residing somewhere between being a small forward or a face-up four, Wright is adding range to his repertoire this season, adding consistency to the jumpshot he has always preferred to use. He can still slash, cut and post, with good effort on the glass, and improved effort and awareness on the defensive end. He has the physical tools to make it back if he can put forth consistent production and effort.
Henry Sims – 16.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg: The late-blooming Sims’ versatile game is translating well to the D-League, with his shotblocking, passing and high IQ all on show. For it to further translate to the NBA, he needs to prove he is tough enough to defend the interior in the NBA.
Sean Evans – 13.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg: Also a late bloomer, Evans was the steal of the D-League draft, a mere fifth rounder who has since taken Harper’s starting spot. Always unafraid to mix it up, Evans’s athleticism, effort and toughness combination has seen him put up four double-doubles already, including a 34-point, 22-rebound effort last month. Never a skilled passer, handler, shooter or refined offensive player, Evans’ chronic turnovers are an acceptable by-product of his playing style when he’s producing this much, and his confidence has never wavered.
Jerome Jordan – 11.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.0 bpg: Jordan has only played four games in the D-League so far, after averaging 18/8.6/2.8 in five games on assignment last year. He showed in his one NBA season thus far that he has the smooth skills, but questions about his physicality remain.
Sean Williams – 5.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg: Williams has committed 19 fouls in 90 minutes thus far this year, which submarines the production. It surely won’t be long, however, before he’s producing his usual big man numbers. The fouls, a direct by-product of his desire to block every shot and bump every guard, will always only ever make him a bit-part NBA player, if an NBA player at all. But over the years, Williams has expanded his offensive game, including a better handle and jumpshot. He has NBA talent and always has.
Keith Benson – 11.1 rpg, 8.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg: Talented and productive, Benson’s numbers come in only 25 minutes per game. He does however increasingly favour his face-up game, and needs to shoot better than 42 percent to justify that.
Solomon Alabi – Alabi has played only one game in the D-League this year, and would rather not be there, having originally signed in the much more lucrative Chinese league. In that one game, he posted a double-double in only 16 minutes. Alabi’s rebounding, interior defense and size are already NBA calibre; he doesn’t even foul too much. But the offense needs plenty of development.
Brian Butch – 9.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg: Even though he’s not hitting them too well to start this year, Butch is a prototypical jumpshooting centre, whilt also being the D-League’s third-best rebounder per minute. (Arinze Onuaku is first, by a long way, while Rick Jackson is second.) Butch would have made the NBA already were it not for bad luck with injuries, and he still awaits his chance.
Mickell Gladness – 7.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.2 bpg: In his fourth season, Gladness is finally a D-League starter, which wouldn’t be weird if he hadn’t spent much of last season in the NBA. Now 26, Gladness has still progressed little beyond the shotblocking ability. He is still incredibly good at this, but that doesn’t necessarily equal elite defense.
Hassan Whiteside – 10.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg: Whiteside has put up these numbers in a mere 16.4 minutes per game, and has looked fully recovered from the knee and ankle injuries. He is now starting in the spot once occupied by Jarvis Varnado, and is offsetting his loss exceptionally well.
Chris Johnson – 11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.0 apg: With experience at three different NBA stops, Johnson’s athleticism and intriguing shot blocking prowess is known to all. He can run the floor like few other bigs, and is able to shoot in addition to that. But he struggled in the NBA with foul and turnover problems, and couldn’t stick in two years of trying. Now 27, he still has a chance, but there’s others ahead of him in the queue. Like, say, Hassan Whiteside.
Micheal Eric [sic] – 6.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg: Eric’s averages come in only 19 minutes per game, as he splits time with the aforementioned offensive rebounding and layup specialist Onuaku, who averages 14/12. Working in Eric’s favour as a prospect was the three-year contract he signed with Cleveland this offseason, a strong endorsement of his potential. Working against him was the fact he was waived in spite of having $300,000 of $473,604 guaranteed. Eric intrigues, but the offensive game needs more development first.
Vernon Macklin – 12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 0.8 bpg: As opposed to all the athletic shot blocking specialists on the centres list, Macklin is an old school gritty rebounder, as evidenced by the 14/14 he averaged on assignment last year. Aged 26 already, and slightly undersized, there probably doesn’t exist much upside, but the NBA always need rebounders.