Over the next couple of weeks, The Step Back will examine each of the 22 NBA D-League teams and bring bringing you an in-depth look at their roster as well as any potential storylines to watch for. Teams can retain up to 12 players, while only 10 will be active for games. This is your first look at the prospects to watch out for all season.
Affiliates: Yanick Moreira and Jarrod Uthoff
Returners: John Jordan, Axel Toupane, E.J. Singler, C.J. Leslie, Will Sheehey and Brady Heslip
Draftees: Goodluck Okonoboh, Antwaine Wiggins, J.T. Terrell, Ethan O’Day and Kendall Williams
Tryouts: Zeke Marshall, Gregory Morrow, Jeremiah Williams and Negus Webster-Chan
Potential NBA Assignees: Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet
The shooting dynamo makes his return
Two seasons ago, Brady Heslip took the D-League by storm after hitting 113 3s in just 20 games. That’s a pace of 283 made 3-pointers if he would have played all 50 games. For context, the current record for 3s made in one D-League season is 240 by Troy Daniels. Even though Heslip will not be playing in the bonkers, shot-happy system he had in Reno, expect the long range success to continue. Heslip is a sniper through and through, and continued to show that in preseason with the Toronto Raptors.
One encouraging thing from the preseason was that Brady spent time running the point. At just 6-foot-2, increased ball handling and playmaking for teammates has to be in his arsenal if he wants a real shot at the NBA. The 905 have John Jordan returning as well, but I really hope we get to see point-Heslip more often than not. Now 26-years-old, Heslip is nearing the time when NBA teams have their perception of what he is and what he can possibly become as those prospect years have come and gone. He needs to show real progress in terms of skills other than simply his catch-and-shoot prowess.
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Heslip did compile eight assists in his 45 minutes of preseason play with Toronto, and that alone shows progress as he somehow only tallied 20 assists over 619 minutes played two seasons ago.
Jarrod Uthoff is an NBA-caliber player right now
There’s no logical reason for Uthoff to be absent from an NBA roster right now. His skillset matches perfectly with what teams are seeking out in young prospects. At 6-foot-9, he’s versatile offensively and defensively, he blocks shots, he stretches the floor, he can handle the ball and he makes quality decisions. Here’s the question mark for me: Can he adapt to the exponentially faster pace in the pro game?
Uthoff played at Iowa in the Big Ten, a conference notorious for slow-it-down, grind-it-out style of play. The D-League is an up-and-down, fast-paced, get-shots-up kind of league and his transition to a more free flowing style will be important to watch. Again, he’s just 23-years-old and has a wealth of NBA potential, but plenty of players look the part and when the time comes, they falter. I believe Uthoff won’t spend much time in the D-League because once NBA clubs see his two-way potential at the 3 or stretch-4 position, he’s going to get snatched up.
In his three years at Iowa, Uthoff knocked down 137-of-358 (38.3 percent) of his 3s. He’s just an average ball handler, but can get his own shot if he needs to and has shown decent ability out of the mid post as well. His instincts on defense stand out immediately, especially as a weak side defender at the rim where he notched 2.6 blocks per game last season.
Get excited, 905 fans, because you are really going to enjoy watching Uthoff dominate for your club.
C.J. Leslie makes his D-League return in the great white North
Leslie spent his 2013-14 rookie season in the D-League where he averaged 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds between Erie and Idaho. Since then, he’s played in Korea, the Philippines and Israel, but now he’s back and even more seasoned than before. Leslie is a 6-foot-9 power forward, but is rather slight at just 205 pounds. He excels with his elite footwork both on the perimeter and in the post. Even with his smaller frame, he uses his footwork over strength to gain an advantage against defenders.
Leslie can step out and knock down 14-to-18 foot jump shots as well, making him dangerous as a pick-and-pop man in the 905’s offense. His length and wingspan allow him to disrupt opposing offenses as well. He’s adept at playing the passing lanes, and though his shot blocking numbers aren’t astronomical, he often causes opponents to change their release points, which is almost as important.
The only issue with Leslie is a potential logjam at his position. The aforementioned Uthoff will play some power forward, Lucas Nogueira will come on assignment and Axel Toupane also plays some small ball 4. If there are minutes to be had (even 24-28 per night), then Leslie will be very productive and help this team get wins.