D-League alums to watch at the Orlando Summer League

Jan 25, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UNLV Runnin
Jan 25, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UNLV Runnin /

The NBA offseason is in full swing and though it’s the free agency moratorium period, teams are wheeling and dealing with reckless abandon. Not to be lost in the shuffle of billions of dollars being doled out, though, are the prospects trying to grab final roster spots with clubs next season.

The Orlando Summer League kicks off on Independence Day and runs through July 10th. There are nine teams involved (technically 10 because the Magic have two teams, Orlando White and Orlando Blue) and every single one of them has at least one D-League player from the 2014-15 season in uniform.

The D-League alums making the trip to Orlando are looking for as much exposure as possible, including from international teams. Here’s a look at some of the guys you could see on NBA rosters at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

Eric Griffin – SF – 6-8 – Los Angeles Clippers

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Not only is Griffin an elite athlete, he’s also a premier wing defender. He played for the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate last season, the Texas Legends, and averaged a robust 19 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.4 blocks. More impressive were his shooting splits of 46/37/77, further proving his worth as a legitimate 3-and-D wing in any league.

There is absolutely no reason why a team shouldn’t swoop him up on a cheap contract this offseason. It helps that he can do THIS:

Adreian Payne had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Griffin finished the season earning All D-League Third Team and All Defensive Second Team. Somebody sign this man!

Khem Birch – PF/C – 6-10 – Brooklyn Nets

Jan 25, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UNLV Runnin
Jan 25, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UNLV Runnin /

Birch is another quality prospect who, at only 22-years-old, has a bright future ahead of him.

Last season, Birch was the last Heat waiver after training camp and if not for the insane success of Hassan Whiteside, we might have seen him earn a call-up from Miami. As it stood, nobody took a chance on him, which is shocking considering what he provides.

Birch averaged 11.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in only 26 minutes of playing time. Oh, did I mention he also shot 70 percent from the field? Because he shot 70 percent from the field. He’s long, athletic and can run the floor like a gazelle. He isn’t a guy you can drop the ball to on the block and watch go to work, but that’s not what an NBA team would expect from him. He’s going to provide high energy, quality rebounding (20.5 rebound percentage) and shot blocking as a backup off the bench.

Birch reportedly has a deal to play with Usaf Sportif in Turkey if an NBA team doesn’t make him an offer.

Willie Reed – C – 6-11 – Miami Heat

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

Reed was the best post prospect in the D-League all season long and, somehow, did not earn even a 10-day call up. Teams flat out missed the boat on him. He split time between the Iowa Energy and the Grand Rapids Drive, averaging 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a night. He’s a defensive-minded big who rebounds and blocks shot at an elite level.

On offense he’s still somewhat raw, but he is a traditional big man capable of posting up, creating space for easy looks and scoring out of the pick-and-roll. He can finish with both hands around the rim and always seems to find the open spot available for guards to find him.

Reed is 25-years-old and could be a solid third big or even backup for some teams. Last year, he was in camp with the Brooklyn Nets before being waived. This year, he’s looking to stick somewhere, and he’s certainly got the talent to do so.

Aaron Craft – PG – 6-2 – Charlotte Hornets

Mandatory Credit: Matthew O
Mandatory Credit: Matthew O /

The revolution of small, pesky defenders is upon us! The NBA has seen success stories with Patrick Beverley and Matthew Dellevadova; Craft could be the next guy to follow in their footsteps.

Craft played and started all 50 games for the D-League Champion Santa Cruz Warriors, averaging 9.2 points, 6.2 assists and 2.5 steals per game. The scoring clearly isn’t at an NBA level, but that’s not what Craft brings — he has a competitive grit that is difficult to quantify until his team is holding up a huge trophy at the end of the season.

Craft was tied for second in steals (2.5) with David Stockton and was third in AST/TO at 3.56. His on-ball defense was unquestionably the best in the league, and at 6-2 had no trouble matching up with any point guard and even some off guards. His shooting did show some improvement as the season progressed, but he still finished with splits of 43/26/79 — the troubling number is the 3-point shooting at only 26 percent.

Craft will also be playing in Las Vegas with the Golden State Warriors.

Semaj Christon – PG – 6-3 – Oklahoma City Thunder

Mandatory Credit: Jim O
Mandatory Credit: Jim O /

Christon is throwback player in the sense that he’s not a pass-first point guard, but he’s not a shooting point guard either. He always seems to make the right play, and that’s my lasting impression anytime I watched the Blue this year. Like the others on this list, Christon did not earn an NBA call-up this past season, but his situation was different: Because he was drafted by the Thunder in the second round, they retained his draft rights, making him off limits to every other team in the NBA.

Christon played in 44 games and averaged 18.6 points, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 44 percent from the field. Again, he’s not a prototypical outside shooter and he knows it — he only attempted 48 threes all season long (25 percent). He’s a slasher and plays well to his strengths.

Once teams started keying in on him as a scorer, Christon utilized the pick-and-roll to get others wide open looks, as you see above. As the season wore on, Semaj became more and more comfortable in the pick-and-roll, which is important for a young point guard trying to bust into The Association.

Christon reminds me of Reggie Jackson, and if he can impress in Orlando, he may find himself with the big club come opening night.

Others to watch: Kevin Murphy (Charlotte), Adonis Thomas (Detroit), Jarell Eddie (Indiana), Jordan Bachynski (Orlando) and Glen Rice Jr. (Orlando)