New Orleans invited former Pacer and D-Leaguer Courtney Sims to training camp last week. Does he have what it takes to stick? Where can he help us out? I talked to SBNation's resident D-League expert Matt Moore (also of AOL Fanhouse and Hardwood Paroxysm fame) to get a feel for Sims.
MM: A stastical model is something we're working on, but it's hard to do because there's just not enough of a stable model. Guys will get called up and spend no time on the floor (Lance Allred) and some guys will get called up and spend significant time on the floor and do well. Others will get thrown on the floor for too much time and get murdered (the Heat last year). The gap is wider between the D-League and the NBA because there hasn't been enough of a relationship developed. The first few years of the league was spent just trying to stabilize the franchises. Under the new management of President Reed, that's all been taken care of. There are only one or two teams that I think are risks to fold. And as the assignment process gains value with what people saw with people like Ramon Sessions and what they're likely to see from several sophomores this year, the gap will close and the formal relationship will become more solid. In the 2011 CBA restructuring, there's likely to be new provisions for roster spots and having them not count against the cap if they're not called up, and the ability to send players down to rehab injury. And that will boost a lot.I will tell you this. There is a lot of bad basketball in the D-League. If you're down there, you're down there for a reason. But the teams that have strong affiliate support, along with good coaching and personnel support? I will take either of the D-League finalists in a seven game series against last year's Sonics, Timberwolves, or Heat without D-Wade and Matrix. I'd also take them to beat any NCAA team from last season outside of Memphis and Kansas, and even then it's close. The D-League is fascinating because it shows you what happens when you put rookies into the game in long stretches without people to defer to. Seasoned vets in the D-League absolutely KILL them. It shows those guys what it takes and shows you how much work their body needs. These guys can play. The big thing with D-League players is to give them enough time to get into rhythm, but not enough to hang themselves. Anyone needs time to warm up. It's hard to go into a game cold, play for two minutes, and show anything of value, especially with nerves. But if you integrate them and put them in the best situations, these guys are still some of the best basketball players on the planet, and they have a ton more motivation than your average NBA player because their money isn't guaranteed.
MM: You're actually pretty much spot on. There's a reason the D-League employs a special strength and conditioning coach. Most of the big men are tall and long, but dont' have the upper body mass to bang in the NBA. He's got killer length, that's why people have taken long looks at him. And he's actually got nice touch. But he just doesn't focus enough on rebounding. And that's going to get him KILLED in camp. I talk to D-League coaches and players, and the one thing they always tell me is this. NBA coaches aren't bringing these guys in to score 20 points a game. They have guys to do that. They don't need stars. They need guys to come in and if they're big men, to rebound and play defense. He's also got a low basketball IQ when it comes to blocks, which is normal for his age being in the D-League. It also means he's got the capacity to improve. He's got the physical tools, he just has to show he can put it together. ONe thing that might help him is running in the Hornets' offense in camp. It could do wonders for his development.
MM: Oh, man. Yes. The short answer yes. The first one I'd probably tell you is Rod Benson. Benson's a rare case where he's noticable because of his blogging, but everybody glosses over the fact that in a D-League game last year, Benson grabbed 28 rebounds. I'll say that again. He got 28 rebounds. He gets a rap as being soft, but if you put him in at a power forward spot, he can muscle up with anyone, and he can get out and run. He's got insanely high floor IQ and doesn't go for the big shot block as much as he used to. Elton Brown is, in my opinion, the best D-League big man from last season. He's in camp with the Bulls, but he's got killer work ethic and honestly, he's just a bully on the floor. You want toughness? That guy's tough. Another guy that I think would be a great fit is Chris Alexander. He's a shot blocking machine, has some more muscle, and plays really well in the kind of system the Hornets run. He's in camp with the Thunder. The thing is, though, Sims is a project-type guy and the NBA has not had a really good system for developing those guys until now. If he's put the time in over the summer, he could very well make the jump. Another option is to sign him and assign him. You guys don't exactly have a deep roster anyway, why not develop some talent? Also, your affiliate has a brand new coach and is getting heavy influence from the Rockets, so they're further ahead of the curve than you'd think for their market.
MM: I think Desmon Farmer has a great shot with the Spurs. They need scoring guard depth and Farmer can hit from pretty much anywhere on the floor. His big knock has been defensive intensity and coachability, but he's matured in both those areas and when I saw him in Vegas, he's actually added more muscle. He's a basketball powderkeg. You can't coach natural scoring ability, and Farmer has it. I would have said Elton Brown would be a lock, but he went with Chicago. I'm worried they'll feel they have too many bigs on roster. If the Wolves ask Blake Ahearn to be a shooter and not run point, he could definitely make the Wolves roster. He's like the anti-Wolves guard. Less athleticism and flash, more pure shooting and work ethic. The guy has a ton of focus on defense and has the leadership qualities you want in a point, so he can run backup, too. If Nick Fazekas has added the upper body muscle he needs to, I can see the Nuggets taking a flyer on him. He's got pretty much everything you look for in a big man, except for upper body strength. Fazekas is one of those guys who's not going to go away for long. He's got a great attitude and too much natural talent.
I can tell you that an assistant coach on the Sixers is very big on Corey Underwood, and that the Wolves have a very close relationship with Nate Tibbets, who coached Chris Richard last year. Richard showed up for Summer League in tremendous shape.
MM: Raw strength is not a necessary attribute in a backup in Scott's system. You guys tend to lean towards long athletic types, and Sims fits that mold. On the other hand, you need some smarts to work in a system with Chris Paul. And he's being brought in to rebound. If he doesn't dramatically improve in that aspect, I can't see him sticking around.
MM: You'd think that, wouldn't you? There are certainly D-Leaguers I'd take over Hilton Armstrong. I don't know if I'd take Sims, just because Armstrong at least has some muscle and knows the pro game. The jump is big, and for a team that's competing for a championship NOW, the devil you know is better.