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: Cliff Alexander, Ramon Galloway and Branden Dawson
Returners: Alex Davis and Lewis Jackson (trade)
Draftees: Anthony Brown, Shevon Thompson, T.J. Price, Reggis Onwukamuche and Brandon Raley-Ross
Tryouts: Michael Lyons and John Petrucelli
Potential NBA Assignees: Stephen Zimmerman and Mario Hezonja
What can Brown do for Erie (and for how long)?
Anthony Brown made the No. 1 overall selection in the D-League Draft a very easy choice for the Erie BayHawks. The 24-year-old, second year wing was surprisingly let go by the Los Angeles Lakers after training camp and now he’s up for grabs. The Lakers have a barn full of young horses and there simply wasn’t room for a developing, 6-foot-7 forward apparently.
Brown is a solid defender and came into the league billed as a dead-eye shooter after knocking down 45 and 44 percent of his 3s over his last two seasons at Stanford. A guy who can knock down 3s at that rate of consistency with Brown’s size can be very valuable in the NBA. During his rookie season Brown failed to live up to the hype as he struggled even when on assignment with the D-Fenders, hitting just 32 percent (47 attempts) during his seven games there.
Look, he’s still very young and will be a coveted prospect, especially once 10-day contracts come into play. Someone will find a home for this kid, if he can rediscover the game that once made him an early second round pick in the NBA Draft. He will have all the shots and opportunities he could hope for in Erie, as they will hand him the keys and hope he can lead them out of the cellar.
Alexander looks to show off more polished game
The BayHawks also bring in another NBA castoff in Cliff Alexander. The once 5-star recruit for Kansas is about to turn 21-years-old and still has plenty of time to prove he can be a viable NBA forward. He’s an undersized 4 at just 6-foot-8 and right now has no real jump shooting range to speak of. He’s an energy guy at this point and needs to show he can be effective as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, play solid defense and rebound the heck out of the basketball all with a smile on his face.
Last year he went undrafted but ended up making the Portland Trail Blazers after training camp. He only appeared in eight games but in 36 combined minutes he put up 10 points, six rebounds and shot 5-of-10 from the field, so again, all is not lost with this one. Frankly, we have yet to see Alexander play substantial minutes, so seeing how he moves, his reads on both ends and his demeanor will give great insight into a prospective future in terms of the next level.
Hezonja in Erie would be all of the fun
Mario Hezonja seems to be the odd man out so far in the Frank Vogel era for the Magic. The 21-year-old Croatian simply has not gotten the time of day playing just under 17 minutes a night while averaging 6.3 points and 2.4 rebounds on 33.3 percent shooting. The Magic made some puzzling offseason moves indicating they think they have the talent to compete right now. That leaves little development time for their 2015 lottery pick.
Super Mario was a draft darling back in 2015, but much of what happens early in a prospect’s career relies on confidence, playing time and improvement. Hezonja hasn’t seen much of those aspects, but maybe an assignment to Erie could spark something in the exuberant forward. Erie will run the same schemes and use the same verbiage in their sets, so allowing Hezonja to spend some time here honing his skills could be the perfect antidote for his early career woes.
As mentioned above, Erie has other NBA talent on the roster, so Hezonja wouldn’t be left on an island (although he probably wouldn’t mind being the D-League Jordan) and the live game action could really benefit him. There isn’t much precedent for top-10 picks spending extended time in the D-League, but each situation is unique and who knows, maybe this revives the “European J.R. Smith” out from the crypt.