Each and every season D-League rosters are chalked full of talented players who may, or may not, get an NBA opportunity. While, the season is now over, the work and exposure for players does not stop.
The NBA D-League is holding their eighth annual Elite Mini Camp May 8-9 at Chicago’s Quest Multisport gym. This is yet another chance for players to show their worth in front of NBA scouts and executives. Playing well at the Elite Mini Camp will often lead to NBA summer league roster spots for these players, so the spots fill up rather quickly. The other side of that coin is some players feel they performed well enough during the season and will turn down this invite.
The event is not meant as a “best the D-League can offer” type of showcase, however these are some of the more hungry players who will do whatever it takes to earn an opportunity.
Alumni of this event who have gone on to make the NBA are Jonathon Simmons (San Antonio), Hollis Thompson, Treveon Graham (Charlotte) and DeAndre Liggins (Dallas). While the NBA is the ultimate goal for anyone playing professionally, many of these players are here to put on a show for international scouts as well. D-League salaries have not taken the necessary jump to retain most players for multiple seasons, so if players can show out here against some of the league’s top talent, then it could equal six figures overseas next season.
Here are some of the statistics from last year’s D-League Elite Mini Camp:
- 38 players attended the camp in Chicago
- 35 of those players earned a roster spot for NBA summer league
- 22 players signed international deals
- 13 players returned to the NBA D-League
- 4 players made an NBA training camp
- 2 players (Treveon Graham & DeAndre Liggins) made NBA rosters
- All 19 D-League teams were represented by at least one player
This year there will again be 38 participants and you can see the full list here. After perusing this list one thing to note is that only 19 of 22 teams will be represented at this year’s camp. This will likely be a trend moving forward as more and more teams join the league, due to the limited spots available. The three teams without a player attending are the Raptors 905, Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
The 905 and Vipers players are coming off a Finals matchup and their players could be looking for some rest after a grueling season. My sources tell me that each of the three teams had players invited, but they declined their invites for various reasons.
The familiar names
Each year there are some names of guys you might not expect to see and this year is no different with Russ Smith, JaKarr Sampson, Ray McCallum and Cliff Alexander on the roster.
Russ Smith is J.R. Smith trapped in a 6-foot-1, too-fast-for-my-own-good type of frame. It’s easy to see his blazing quick moves, speed up and down the floor and handle are at an NBA level, but his cons outweigh his pros at this point. Smith still hasn’t developed the skills necessary to be trusted as a backup point guard or third point guard on an NBA roster. He turns the ball over too much, doesn’t get teammates involved enough and is below average on defense. He’s 26-years-old and is should be focused on getting another big deal overseas.
JaKarr Sampson could be on the right NBA roster next year. He’s 6-foot-9 and showed during his time in Philadelphia that he can run the floor, crash the glass and plays hard-nosed defense. Sampson would have a 15-year NBA career if he played during the late 90s or early 00s, but he doesn’t, so his lack of shooting ability will always keep him on the fringe of the NBA.
If Ray McCallum and Russ Smith could mesh their bodies into one professional basketball player, he would be a potential NBA starter. McCallum is like Paul Pierce was in his prime in the sense that he isn’t quick or fast, but somehow gets to where he needs to be at will. McCallum’s main hindrance to staying power in the NBA is lack of a 3-point shot. He only hit 31.1 percent of his bombs this year. He had a respectable 2.61 assist/turnover ratio this year while averaging 7.0 assists per game for Grand Rapids, so an NBA team searching for an inexpensive third point guard option could come calling.
Cliff Alexander is an absolute animal on the glass. He spent time with both the Erie BayHawks and Long Island Nets and really flourished with the latter. Over his last 15 games Alexander averaged 22.6 points and 11.1 rebounds with 10 double-doubles while shooting 57.7 percent from the floor. Cliff is still just 21-years-old and will definitely have more NBA opportunities and the fact he’s willing to show up and prove himself at this camp is an indication he’s willing to fight for that chance.
Should be on an NBA roster next year
Last year two guys ended up making NBA rosters following their performances at this camp, and this year there should be at least two more. It’s still a shock that not one team took a flier on Jalen Jones this season. He played 46 games with the Maine Red Claws averaging 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3. He’s 6-foot-7 and has been known to be called Draymond Lite by the person writing this article. He can guard positions 1-4 with his 220 pound frame and moves fluidly with, or without, the ball in his hands. He has to work on his court vision and improving his 3-point shot, but there’s no reason for him not be on an NBA roster to start the season next year.
Jameel Warney improved each and every game for the Texas Legends. The charismatic big man showed off an array of quality skills as the season wore on; mainly crashing the offensive glass and finishing through contact. He’s a 6-foot-7 post player who did not shoot a single 3 all season long, so he’s basically Paul Millsap before he developed the 3-ball. He’s a stout 260 pounds, but can move well laterally in spurts when switched onto smaller players.
My ultimate sleeper on this roster is Chris Obekpa from the Santa Cruz Warriors. Obekpa is extremely raw in every aspect of the game not involving rim protection. He would sometimes get lost on defense or sell out for blocks and leave the offensive glass wide open, but the man averaged 2.3 blocks in just 15.1 minutes per game! His block rate this season was a silly 11.18! He’s a 23-year-old, 6-foot-9 project, but one that may be worth the gamble.
Obekpa’s teammate Elgin Cook was humming along this season before an injury derailed his rookie year. He also came off the bench for Santa Cruz and he was explosive on the fast break. His athleticism and strength to finish over defenders was something to behold. He needs to work on his level of engagement in the half court and improve his almost nonexistent 3-point shot, but Cook is a strong 6-foot-5 wing who could be a nice 11-15 guy on someone’s roster.
Alfonzo McKinnie is from Chicago. He played for the Windy City Bulls this season and now gets the opportunity to play on a big stage in his hometown yet again. McKinnie made the team as a tryout player and was their best non-NBA assignee all season long. He averaged 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds and played all 50 games for the Bulls. He’s a bouncy 6-foot-8 athlete who seemingly expends all of his energy on offense, because his defense really needs some work. The effort is there, but he was out of position so often, he couldn’t really make the proper impact given his athleticism and quickness. He’s another tweener, and while the NBA is a long shot for him right now we could see the 24-year-old McKinnie make a roster in the next two to three years.