NBA D-League Preview: Fort Wayne stockpiling athleticism

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19: Ben Bentil
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19: Ben Bentil /

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.

Roster Breakdown

Affiliates: Alex Poythress, Ben Bentil, Julyan Stone and Nick Zeisloft
Returners: Christian Watford, Stephan Hicks, Trey McKinney-Jones and Anthony Walker
Draftees: Travis Leslie, Adam Woodbury, Chris Fowler and Jordan Loyd
Tryouts: Ashton Gibbs and E. Victor Nickerson
Potential NBA Assignees: Rakeem Christmas, Georges Niang and Joe Young

Paradoxical forwards lead the way

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants used the maximum four affiliate players allowed this season. These are players who were in camp — even if only for a short time — and can be funneled to their affiliate after they are waived. Alex Poythress was publicly known to be one of these players very early on for Indiana. Poythress spent four years at Kentucky splitting time as a reserve and starter who never really reached his expected peak in terms of production.

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The 23-year-old power forward stands 6-foot-7, 238 pounds and possesses raw, unadulterated athleticism. Numerous prospect have the ability to jump, but Poythress is truly explosive especially for his stout size. Unfortunately, he’s still very raw in many aspects of the game. While he can affect the game by attacking the glass for rebounds and running the floor as a rim runner, he doesn’t provide much else consistently. Coach Steve Gansey has his work cut out for him in terms of overall development, but the upside Poythress exudes is exciting.

Ben Bentil is the team’s other affiliate forward and his journey was a tad different, and unorthodox. After spending most of training camp with the Boston Celtics, he opted not to go to Maine and signed with Indiana, instead choosing Fort Wayne.

Bentil is not a complete player at this point in his young career, however his game is much more polished than Poythress. And he’s two years younger which bodes very well for him. At 6-foot-9, he also runs the floor very well, but has the ability to shoot 3-pointers as well as mid range opportunities out of the pick-and-pop sets. Bentil’s main area of opportunity will be his defensive effort and staying hungry on the glass. He enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at Providence last year and will likely keep that momentum going as Fort Wayne’s top scoring option.

The jumping bean makes a triumphant return

The Mad Ants had the returning rights to Jordan Crawford this season, but instead chose to deal him to Grand Rapids for a draft pick — that pick became Travis Leslie. Leslie is a 26-year-old, 6-foot-4 athletic marvel who has pro experience playing in Germany, France and Lithuania. He last played in the D-League in 2012-13 with Santa Cruz and ultimately made All D-League 2nd Team that season.

You know that guy in the gym you ask your buddy about and he says, “he can’t really shoot, but watch out because he can score”? That’s Leslie. He relentlessly attacks the basket, jumping into, over and around defenders to reach his destination at the apex of his ascent. He will assuredly be one of the top-5 most exhilarating players to watch this season and it’s clear that he’s here to shoot for a return to the NBA. He played his rookie season with the Clippers before being waived the following offseason, then had a 10-day deal with Utah in 2013, but that’s it. Now he’s had three seasons of pro experience overseas to hopefully improve upon his skillset and wreak havoc on this league as a stepping stone to The Association.

Is Adam Woodbury ready to reach his potential?

Woodbury played 138 games at Iowa, starting every game except for one. While a mainstay in the lineup, at 7-foot-1 his averages were pedestrian at 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds on 51 percent shooting. However, he improved each and every season in the college ranks and now at 22-years-old, still has time to properly morph his game to the pro style.

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Woodbury arrived at Iowa with aspirations of becoming the next big thing, but failed to fulfill many of the expectations laid before him. Some players are simply better in a pro style offense and maybe Woodbury fits that mold. Maybe his shooting touch that allowed him to knock down 70 percent of his free throws will allow him to pick-and-pop. Maybe his lack of shot blocking in college (71 blocked shots in four years) was due to system issues and he will blossom under Coach Gansey.

Maybe. That’s the question mark for Woodbury right now — even as a blossoming young prospect, are there simply too many maybes?