The NBA trade deadline and “buyout season” triggered a call up event unlike any we have seen the last couple seasons. There have been 13 different players called up in the last two weeks!
An exodus of talent with that magnitude should leave the D-League a desolate, talent-less pool of players, but not this season. There are still quality shot-blockers, microwave scorers, elite shooters and Swiss army knife-type wings to fill voids on NBA rosters.
The Step Back has been tracking the top prospects all season, but this past week we reached out to executives, coaches and a couple of NBA scouts for insight for our rankings. The following top-10 list has been compiled based on game play and insight from those individuals.
Read More: Suns’ Derrick Jones oozes potential
Note — NBA draft rights players are not included in the call up rankings as their rights are held by their NBA club. This means only that team can call them up. (Examples – Dakari Johnson & Abdel Nader)
10. J.P. Tokoto, SG, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
2016-17 Stats: 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.5 steals
35.2 mins; 49.4% FGs, 34.4% 3Ps, 68.3% FTs
This is Tokoto’s second season in the D-League and we’re starting to see real improvement in his overall game. Coming out of UNC, Tokoto was known mainly as an athlete who could defend, and possessed great court vision for a wing player. The only foreseeable reason why Tokoto has not been in the NBA is due to his lack of outside shooting. He’s just 23-years-old and is ultra versatile at 6-foot-6. He has the ability — and lateral foot speed — to guard positions 1-3 at the NBA level and with the league loving small-ball it’s a wonder he’s still in the NBADL.
In his three college seasons combined he tallied 21 3-pointers made. He only hit 16 3s last year for the OKC Blue, but this season that number has catapulted to 56 and he’s truly a threat from deep.
9. Jordan Crawford, PG/SG, Grand Rapids Drive
2016-17 Stats: 23.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals
29.6 mins; 47.6% FGs, 36.4% 3Ps, 86.3% FTs
Crawford continues to show his abilities as a chameleon at the guard position. He’s manned the lead guard spot, ran the 2, started and come off the bench proving he can add value to matter where teams need him. He’s still a fill-it-up-first type of player and while analytics frown upon trigger happy guards, Crawford possesses the tangible skill of being a microwave off the pine. Fans often lose sight of scoring off the bench as an actual skill, because so few guys are able to consistently do it.
Steezus’ assist numbers don’t look great, but he boasts a healthy assist rate of 21.13 coupled with a low turnover rate at 8.51 percent. Consider his usage at 30.46 percent and those numbers are even more impressive.
8. Marcus Georges-Hunt, SG, Maine Red Claws
2016-17 Stats: 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steal
36.8 mins; 46.3% FGs, 39.6% 3Ps, 87.4% FTs
Georges-Hunt is a 22-year-old, 6-foot-5 bulldog on the wing. His attacking style works so well in Maine’s run-and-gun system and the trio of MGH, Jalen Jones and Abdel Nader gel perfectly. He recently earned a 10-day audition with the Miami HEAT, but was ultimately let go to keep refining his game in the D-League.
He’s hitting almost 40 percent of his 3s (4.1 attempts) and possesses NBA athleticism. Don’t be surprised to see Georges-Hunt earn another shot in the NBA this season.
7. Anthony Brown, SG, Erie BayHawks
2016-17 Stats: 20.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steal
37.9 mins; 47.0% FGs, 47.1% 3Ps, 80.8% FTs
Brown was the golden child for Lakers’ fans last season. He’s from Los Angeles, attended Stanford and then was selected no. 34 overall by the Lakeshow. Unfortunately for Brown he was unable to knock down 3s when given playing time and ended up a casualty this offseason.
He’s been lights out from 3 for Erie this season as he’s hitting 47 percent (5.2 attempts) from distance. He’s already earned two NBA call ups from New Orleans and Orlando, but again struggled from deep shooting a combined 7-of-27 in those stints. At 6-foot-7, Brown should be considered more than a 3-and-D option as he’s shown the ability to playmake and attack the rim as well.
6. Jarrod Uthoff, SF, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
2016-17 Stats: 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.7 blocks
31.5 mins; 55.6% FGs, 47.1% 3Ps, 90.3% FTs
Jarrod Uthoff is playing like a top-5 player in the league right now. He started the season with the Raptors 905 after attending camp with Toronto, but wasn’t getting the minutes he deserved so they traded him to Fort Wayne. The Mad Ants hit the jackpot in this deal as the 6-foot-9 Uthoff has been a menace on both ends since joining their club. He’s a fixture in the starting lineup and is flourishing on offense attacking the rim, hitting shots out of the mid-post and knocking down 47 percent of his 3s (1.7 attempts).
The stats above only encapsulate his 10 games with Fort Wayne and he is one of three players (Keith Benson and Christian Wood are the others) to play at least 10 games and average at least 17 points, 9 boards and 1.5 blocks this season. I said it in the preseason and I still believe it — Uthoff is an NBA player and some team is going to get really lucky when they realize it.
5. Keith Benson, C, Sioux Falls Skyforce
2016-17 Stats: 20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks
32.5 mins; 60.2% FGs, 50.0% 3Ps, 76.1% FTs
Benson leads the league in double doubles at 26, is one of two players (along with Shawn Long) averaging 20/10 and is second in league in blocks at 2.5 per game. He’s extended his range to 18-feet with consistency (35-of-69 for 50.7 percent) and at 6-foot-11 could be a solid big off the bench in the league. Most point to his age (28) as the first excuse but players close to his age have earned call ups this season already (Gary Neal at 32, Reggie Williams at 30, Justin Harper at 27 and Quincy Acy at 26) so I don’t buy it.
Mike Tobey has been the only traditional center called up this year, so the market for non-stretch 5s is simply really thin. Benson certainly deserves a shot and furthermore is in the MVP conversation this season in the D-League.
4. Eric Moreland, PF, Canton Charge
2016-17 Stats: 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 blocks
32.9 mins; 56.8% FGs, 33.3% 3Ps, 40.6% FTs
Eric Moreland is the Tony Allen of power forwards right now. He quite simply cannot shoot the basketball — as evidenced by his 40.6 percent from the charity stripe — but he adds so much value in other aspects of the game. He leads the league in rebounds at 11.7, is fourth in blocks at 2.3 per game and is the only player in the top-20 in terms of rebounding to average more than 2.5 assists (2.7).
He’s the garbage man NBA teams would love to have. Unfortunately, in the spacing era of the NBA, quality players like Moreland are consistently overlooked until the right team comes calling and fans wonder “how did my team miss this guy?” Moreland has dealt with numerous injury problems in his young career, but at 25-years-old is still improving and can help an NBA club.
3. Edy Tavares, C, Raptors 905
2016-17 Stats: 10.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocks
24.2 mins; 57.8% FGs, 73.6% FTs
There is literally no reason for this 24-year-old, 7-foot-3 center to be in the D-League. He’s an NBA player and shows it nightly for the best club in the NBADL; largely due to his defense. Early in the season he was gaining traction while seemingly getting into shape, and now he’s one of the more disruptive forces in the league. He’s recently shown the ability to switch onto smaller players in the pick-and-roll, move his feet and hinder shots at the rim as the player tries to attack.
Mobility is key for a player Tavares’ size, because simply being huge in the NBA does not cut it. He’s also displayed amazing court vision out of both the low and mid-post areas tallying three or more assists in four of his last six games.
2. Jalen Jones, SF/PF, Maine Red Claws
2016-17 Stats: 21.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists
36.2 mins; 44.7% FGs, 34.3% 3Ps, 74.5% FTs
Jones has been a top-5 prospect all season long and while he has yet to earn a call up, his play has stayed consistent. In the past top players have talked about the frustration of not getting a call up, but Jones has really remained level-headed for Maine. He’s 6-foot-7 and plays like Draymond Green lite. He’s not near as versatile with his passing or vision overall, but he’s able to guard positions 1-4 with his quick lateral foot movements and strength in the post as well.
His 3-point percentage is steadily climbing as the season wears on and 34.3 percent is certainly a respectable number. Jones does sometimes have a propensity to get tunnel vision with the ball in his hands, but he’s a quality player who will eventually be an NBA rotational player. If Draymond Green is too lofty of a comparison, then think JaMychal Green and that’s who Jones could easily become.
1. Pierre Jackson, PG, Texas Legends
2016-17 Stats: 26.5 points, 7.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals
37.2 mins; 50.9% FGs, 42.2% 3Ps, 81.5% FTs
Pierre Jackson is the most electric player this league has seen over the past few seasons. There have been greats like Tim Frazier, Seth Curry and Jonathon Simmons to name a few, but Jackson plays with an energy and fervor that’s just infectious.
He’s been tabbed previously as a gunner, but his efficiency this season dispels monikers like that. If not for a hamstring injury Jackson could still be playing for the Dallas Mavericks right now, but despite setbacks, Pappy Jack keeps moving forward. Earlier this season I made the comparison between Jackson and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and it still rings true. This isn’t the last the NBA has seen of Pierre Jackson.
*All stats from stats.nbadleague.com and accurate through Mar 3