We too often dwell on the voids in a player’s game rather than appreciating the skills they excel at. Look no further than James Harden for the archetype of this argument — there are swarms of fans who dispel his offensive gifts in the guise of caring so much about his flaws at the defensive end of the court. Pragmatic as they may be, these thoughts can be damaging when searching for players on a lower level who are deserving of an NBA opportunity.
Put simply: Specialists can still be extremely valuable and should be lauded as such.
We all fall prey to the “yeah but they can’t do (insert skill)” thought process at some point, myself included. The danger here is potentially missing a player who can add value to a franchise with the skills they already possess. NBA teams are shooting more 3s than any other time in the league’s history and deep-threat specialists should be in high demand. Perhaps the most broad term consistently used for added value of such a marksman is spacing.
Read More: NBA D-League prospect rankings
While 3-point attempts are rising, the players taking them in abundance are not always the best shooters on the team. Russell Westbrook has taken 427 3-pointers (top-10 in the league) despite making just 33.7 percent of them this year and just under 31 percent for his career. Westbrook is not the lone offender and as the league keeps digging the long ball, more offenders will come to light.
Over the last couple seasons, the D-League has transitioned into a true minor league where NBA teams can find meaningful, long-term pieces. Think of Jonathon Simmons, Hassan Whiteside, Robert Covington, Danny Green and many more. Other than Whiteside, however, the vast majority of players mined from the D-League are role players.
There have been 34 call-ups (25 different players) from the D-League this season, with eight of those guys earning multiyear deals. Again, those teams are not looking for their next foundational piece to build around — if they find one, then Yahtzee! — but role players are vital to a team’s overall depth and success as the grueling 82-game season wears on.
There are four wings in the D-League who can provide stellar catch-and-shoot ability from 3-point range. These guys range in age from 25-27, have professional experience both abroad and in the NBA and can all hit the long ball with deadly accuracy.
We’ve focused on guys who can hit the 3 off the catch purposefully. Most D-League call-ups aren’t going to get the Yogi Ferrell treatment of being handed the keys to the Ferrari out the gate. Finding players to come off the bench for 10-15 minutes and provide lethal outside shooting instantly is a prize of its own.
Each player has hit 85 percent or more of their 3s off an assist from a teammate. Earlier this season, The Step Back detailed Kevin Murphy’s shooting prowess and while he’s the elder on this list he also scores the most points (22.2 per game). Murphy is likely considered more of a scorer than a shooter because he’s able to create his shot much better than the other three players highlighted.
Jarell Eddie has been a curious watch this season. He started with the Austin Spurs and struggled to hit open and contested shots. They subsequently moved him in a trade to the expansion Windy City Bulls and my-oh-my has he flourished. Eddie earned a call-up previously and spent a full season with the Washington Wizards before being let go after camp this year. He might have the quickest trigger of the bunch and he’s also the youngest. His pre-catch footwork is impeccable and his long 6-foot-7 frame allows him to get good looks even when contested.
James Southerland is the wild card of the bunch. He joined the D-League mid-December as the Santa Cruz Warriors claimed him off waivers, so his numbers aren’t as vast as the others. Now he’s one of a pair (Scott Wood also plays for Santa Cruz) of deadly outside threats on the wing. Southerland starred at Syracuse before playing briefly in the NBA, then heading to France and Germany before making his stateside return. James is the tallest out of the group at 6-foot-8 and 62 of his 64 made 3s this season have been assisted. One might point to his lack of creation skills as a negative, but he’s playing to his strengths and knocking down plenty of 3s off the catch.
Scott Wood is the clear winner here. His 139 made 3s are second in the league (behind only Brady Heslip at 144) so his 42.8 percentage is highly impressive due to the large quantity of shots he’s taking. Wood is playing with one of the league’s top passing point guards in Phil Pressey and he’s benefiting greatly from the pinpoint precision with which Pressey delivers his passes. Wood is the shortest of the group at 6-foot-5, but is right with Eddie in terms of his lightning fast release.
Any of these players would be a welcomed sight on teams who struggle from outside. Shooting is not the only important skill for professionals to possess, but it’s slowly becoming a prerequisite for players looking to breakthrough in non-traditional ways.
And make no mistake, chicks still dig the long ball.