Four impact players in the D-League who need more minutes

Mar 16, 2016; Des Moines, IA, USA; Stony Brook Seawolves forward Jameel Warney (20) speaks to the media during a practice day before the first round of the NCAA men
Mar 16, 2016; Des Moines, IA, USA; Stony Brook Seawolves forward Jameel Warney (20) speaks to the media during a practice day before the first round of the NCAA men /

The NBA D-League is a stepping stone league, meaning it was not designed for players to be lifers in the NBA’s minor leagues. Some players are here longer than others, but one thing remains constant from season to season — players need time on the court to showcase their talents for all to see.

We are right around a third of the way through the D-League’s 50-game season and a few players have really jumped out as guys needing more minutes. The important thing to note here is not only will increased minutes for these four guys help them individually, but would also provide a team benefit. Talented players will almost assuredly produce increased statistics if given more time, but coaches have to look at the long term benefit to their franchise.

An offensive boost

C.J. Leslie, Raptors 905, PF
2016-17 Stats: 22.1 mins, 11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists
On/Off Court: On Team PPG 112.0; Off Team PPG 96.3 — +15.7

On the surface, this appears to be a tough sell. The Raptors 905 are 11-4 overall and 8-2 over their last 10 games. Coach Jerry Stackhouse has the team humming and their calling card is their stout defensive as they hold teams to a league best 97.1 points per game. However, the team struggles on offense as they currently rank 16 out of 22 in points per game at 103.9.

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The 905 are essentially playing 10 guys 20 or more minutes per night (Uthoff and Moreira are just under 20) and while it’s working right now, players in this league expect more minutes when they produce. Leslie is a versatile, 6-foot-9 power forward who provides the 905 a solid post up option, a pick-and-pop player and a guy who can guard positions 3-5 on the opposite end.

Even more importantly Leslie’s offensive production does not replace the exemplary defensive of another player. The team is basically allowing the same points to opponents (On – 97.1; Off – 97.3) when he’s on or off the court. Leslie’s minutes have risen from a  mere 14.5 per game in November to 24.5 in December, but the 905 would be wise to give him 30+ minutes a night.

Elgin Cook, Santa Cruz Warriors, SG
2016-17 Stats: 24.1 mins, 16.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals
On/Off Court: On Team PPG 114.1; Off Team PPG 98.6 — +15.5

Cook is a 6-foot-5, 23-year old rookie who has the ability to weave in and out of traffic while attacking the lane. He’s slithery for a bigger guard and it helps him tremendously, because he has yet to show a proficient outside shot to accompany his attack mode. Adding a 3-pointer as a wing is definitely the next step for Cook if he wants a real shot at the NBA.

The Santa Cruz Warriors are 8-8, but have looked better over their last 10 as they’re 6-4 after an abysmal 2-6 start. Cook has been a catalyst for the second unit and Coach Casey Hill thinks that’s the ideal role for him with their club. There’s no issue there, but the second best scorer for a team which ranks 12th in scoring, needs to play more than 24 minutes a night. He’s the second leading scorer despite being eighth in minutes per game! He’s scoring efficiently as well shooting 56.7 percent from the field and getting to the line 5.3 times a game in his limited minutes.

Like Leslie, Cook does not hurt the team defensively either as they are slightly improved (On – 104.6; Off – 107.0) with him on the court. Cook started one game so far this season and posted 22 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes, but the team lost. In fact, in the four games Cook has played 30+ minutes, the team is just 1-3 but that appears to be an indictment on the team as a whole over simply Cook himself.

Defensive helpers

Jameel Warney, Texas Legends, PF
2016-17 Stats: 25.5 mins, 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
On/Off Court: On Opp PPG 103.2; Off Opp PPG 119.5 — +16.3

Warney became a bit of a household name last year as he led Stony Brook to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Now, he’s on a Texas Legends club with known commodities in Manny Harris, Pierre Jackson, Quincy Acy and Tony Wroten and he’s trying to find his footing. He’s been better than advertised as a cleanup man, who can contribute without plays being called for him. He finds most of his offensive opportunities within the natural flow of Coach Bob MacKinnon’s uptempo, pick-and-roll heavy offense.

The Legends are 9-6 and have really turned things around since adding Jackson and Acy a couple weeks ago. Warney has been an unsung hero amidst all the praise for the two Baylor Bears, and while notching almost 26 minutes as a rookie is great, he should be playing more. Texas is second in the league in scoring, but ranks 20th in opponents points per game. They have a plus .500 record because they are outscoring teams, but as the season wears on, defensive prowess becomes increasingly more valuable.

Warney makes winning plays. He’s a team-first guy who has really sacrificed his offensive attack for the benefit of the team. When he’s in, he’s aggressive enough on offense, but really allows his more talented teammates to carry the bulk of the load. However, he’s making his mark alongside Acy on the defensive end as well. He’s an undersized 4 at 6-foot-7, but his 260 pound frame allows him to guard 4s and 5s, while his lateral quickness allows him to switch onto opposing wings in short spurts as well.

Texas is 3.7 points worse on offense with him on the court, but the defensive addition heavily outweighs what they lose on offense.

David Nwaba, Los Angeles D-Fenders, SG
2016-17 Stats: 25.1 mins, 11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks
On/Off Court: On Opp PPG 105.8; Off Opp PPG 121.3 — +15.5

The Los Angeles D-Fenders 13-4 overall, 8-2 over their last 10 games and have won four straight, so it’s safe to say they’re having a great start to the season. The team lights up the scoreboard to the tune of 120.3 points per game (first in the league) but also ranks dead last in points allowed at 114.1 per game. They have big scorers in Vander Blue, Justin Harper and the gift of NBA assignee Ivica Zubac on occasion.

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They lack any kind of defense-first player. Josh Magette is a pest, but really isn’t a lockdown defender either. David Nwaba is that guy and has found his niche with this club, and likely in pro basketball moving forward. Nwaba is a 6-foot-4 jumping bean who can guard positions 1-3 in this league and provides endless energy by attacking in transition, playing passing lanes and blocking shots from the weak side. The team is last in opponents points per game, but when Nwaba is on the court that number (105.8 points allowed) would place them ninth overall.

The kicker here is that Nwaba — unlike most traditionally defense-first players — helps on offense as well. The team is 4.3 points better on offense with him on the court. His shot selection is key for context. Almost 80 percent of his points are in the paint which allows to score efficiently, when paired with his trips to the charity stripe.