Well the first week of D-League play is over, and the Red Claws made it out a solid .500, going 1 and 1. They're still obviously ironing out the kinks within the rotation, and trying to work Bill Walker into a starting spot of the rotation. Their roster seems to be coming along though, and DraftExpress has them ranked 8 out of 16 in their inaugeral D-League Power Rankings. For a full recap of the Red Claws' week, check out this fanpost by Celticsblog user JFoss.
Now that they've got some games under their belt, it's time we took a real deep look at what the Red Claws are working with. Prepare to embark on the promised FULL ON ROSTER PREVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA!!!
The Red Claws' roster, like most basketball teams, should be separated into tiers to be evaluated honestly. There is the 'Top Tier', usually consisting of two or three players. These would be the 'stars', and the guys who play the majority of the minutes and do most of the heavy lifting. Then, there are the remainder of the starters and the first guys off the bench. Finally there is the bottom layer, the guys who get sporadic playing time and are usually called on for specific roles (3pt shooting situations for instance).
A D-league team is like that, except with one very important difference. D-League teams need to play the guys who are assigned by their pro affiliates, regardless of chemistry or even sometimes how it affects wins. Usually the pro players do pretty well, but it is assumed that even if they do no, they will still receive playing time.
Note: This is not like the NBA where players have contracts with specific teams. In the D-League your contract is with the league. There are five ways a guy can get on the Red Claws.
One, he can be allocated by the league to a team that plays in an area where he has a vested interest, like Will Blalock, a Boston native.
Two, he could tryout like Mike Williams from Bryant College.
Three, he could've been drafted by the Red Claws in the yearly D-League draft, like Syracuse Junior Paul Harris was in this years' draft first round.
Four, he could be drafted in this past years' Expansion Draft only for new expansion teams like the Red Claws, like Billy Thomas was.
Finally, but most importantly, a player can be assigned to the D-League by the teams' affiliate team, as was Boston's Bill Walker. The Red Claws' other affiliate is the Charlotte Bobcats.
With that in mind, your Maine Red Claws!
Tier ?: The Assigned Players, Future and Present: Bill Walker, Lester Hudson and JR Giddens
Tier 1: The Top Dogs
* D-League Stats
Attended Kansas and played under Roy Williams. Set school record for made 3’s. Went undrafted in 1998. Has played for fourteen teams in ten different league on four different continents. Has played sporadically in NBA. Couldn't play overseas in 2009 because of dispute with FIBA, alleges Serbian team stopped paying him.
Thomas has a rep for having a very well rounded game, being a great locker room guy and being a professional. He's not a sharp shooter but he's got range. He's not a top tier play maker but he makes smart passes. He's not a defensive ace but he plays solid mostly mistake free defense. He's an all around good player in any league, and in the D-League he's an All-Star. The downside is he's 33 (soon to be 34 by the end of December), and he takes a lot of pride in being a professional. Think 'Crash' Davis in Bull Durham. He ought to be the leader from day one.
*stats are from 2007/2008 in NBA D-League, Blalock played 08/09 for Hapoel Jerusalem, but managed only 10 games.
Boston, MA native, played for Iowa. Drafted second round by Detroit Pistons and managed 14 games in 2006/2007 before being waived for lack of roster spot. Considered to have potential to be NBA player, but not the current skill. Regularly invited to summer teams and NBA camps, but can't seem to stick.
He'll get the majority of the point guard minutes unless Lester Hudson or another NBA player gets assigned to the team, as his only competition is Abdulai Jalloh, a D-League rookie. Blalock still has enough people excited about him to keep getting invites to camps, but as far as prototypical point guards go, he's lacking a lot of the skillset. Defensively he's got the body to contribute in the NBA but his passing and long range shot have both been knocks on him since his days at Iowa, and he's done little in the last two years to rectify that. (Austin) Ainge has said however that this team will play defense first, so while Blalock probably won't dominate the boxscore very much, he will probably see a lot of time. One of the knocks on Blalock during his last stint in the D-League were that he needed to be a better on the court leader and be more assertive. If he can mange to improve there he should look to join Billy Thomas as a veteran presence in the locker room.
|24||6'8||240||PF/SF||Rd 2 Pk 9||13.9*||5.8*||1.2*|
*stats from Ukrainian Super League
Played on the LSU team BBD and Tyrus Thomas took to the final four in 2006. Played all four years of college career, graduating in 2007. Undrafted in NBA, spent 07/08 with Gothia Basketball, Sweden, then 08/09 with Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk, Ukrainian Superleague, playing a significant role on both teams.
Unknown. This is a player that Austin Ainge or Jon Jennings must have really liked, and it was not because of his college career. Whatever secrets they know, he played well in the preseason game scoring 19 points and grabbing 8 boards in about 35 minutes in a starting effort from power forward. The rest of his season won't be so cozy however, because with Billy Walker needing minutes, and 1st round (in the D-League Draft) pick Paul Harris soon coming back from injury, it will probably be Lazare who misses out, as neither Walker or Harris will likely steal minutes from Blaylock or Thomas, so Walker will probably be bumped down to the power forward position. Regardless though Lazare has proven he's a valuable scorer and active overall player.
|23||6'5||225||SG,SF,PF||Rd 1 Pk 9
Buffalo native, played until Junior season for SU. Surprisingly went undrafted this spring despite what was by many accounts a very strong series of workouts, an exceptional Junior season, and an NBA ready body. Possesses a 6'10 wingspan. Played Summer League for T-Wolves and invited to camp with Utah Jazz.
Hard to gauge. He's still recovering from a knee injury right now, but when healthy he should see significant playing time off the bat. Because of his tweener size, he's the type of guy that is kind of built for the D-League, but will have to prove he has a bigger skillset to get a more permanent invite to the NBA. He's listed at 6'6 but that's wishful thinking. He's 6'5, or more likely 6'4. The knock on Harris since his freshmen year is that he can't shoot, and when he gets to dribbling he tries to do too much with the basketball. This isn't a professional diagnoses, but you might call it "Ron Artest Syndrome". From the beginning though he has all the tools right now to be a heck of a stopper and a finisher. He may suffer from turnover-itis at first, but he should be a stat filler right away, posting high marks in rebounding, steals, blocks, and with his literally freak athleticism he should be able to grab 12-15 ppg.
The problem of course for Mr. Harris is the unstoppable Mr. Walker. Bill Walker is 6'6, Paul Harris is 6'5 (ish). They would both be amazing 6'9 power forwards. They're both skill deficient small forwards, and Paul Harris is in an especially tight spot, because in socks he looks like a great point guard with big arms. He'll be competing directly with Bill Walker for minutes for as long as Bill Walker or JR Giddens for that matter are on the Red Claws. That's a losing battle for the hungry Harris.
Tier 2: Heavy Rotation
Fresno State alum. Undrafted. Been to the big leagues, but has also played in Europe. Usually gets invited to a camp, but usually doesn't stay.
Felix's strengths on this team are his size (there is 1 other guy taller than 6'8 on the team, and he got 11 mins in the 1st preseason game), and his athleticism. The problem is that he only has those things working for him as a player. He's shown littler improvement over the last few years and the biggest thing pro scouts are looking for from him is the ability to hang in the post. In the D-League a guy of his size and raw athletic talent should be getting more than 6 rebounds per game. Felix was a DNP the first game and I don't anticipate him starting, but this team is thin on height and thin on actual NBA experience so he'll find a significant role.
|30||6'4||205||SG||Rd 7 Pk 8||13.1*||2.3*||2.4*|
*Career NBDL stats
Graduated Cincinnati University after playing 2 years for Southern Idaho. Played brief stint with the Lakers, then with the Lakers minor league team. Played overseas.
He's principally a scorer off the bench, and Billy Thomas's main sub. He's also probably going to play the main role of sniper for the squad, and just as an example out of 11 total 3pt shot attempts for the Red Claws in their preseason game, Bobbitt took 6. Expect that kind of aggressive attitude whenever his hands touch the ball.
|28||6'6||230||PF||Rd 6 Pk 9||.6.0*||3.9*||.6*|
Went to school at UNC Wilmington. 80 games w/60+ starts. Never averaged above 9ppg after high school. Played in USBL,
A bruiser down low. Obviously not going to log much time at any position outside of 4/5. Should have significant role however, because there aren't many physical guys on the roster. Height would be a problem in the NBA but as long as he's working hard, shouldn't be a problem here. Not going to wow much with stats but he'll throw his body around.
2 years at Texas Tech, then 2 years at Robert Morris. Former ABA team, "Chicago Throwbacks," played in Attack Athletics building, same building managed by MRC's AC Mike Procopio.
Will see nights where he gets 9 mins per game and nights where he gets 25 mins per game. If Bill Walker sticks around the D-League, won't see a huge uptick in mins, but if Walker is called up and JR Giddens does not get demoted to take his place, Thomas could even be a starter at the SF. Natural scorer, but with bulk should be taking it to the hoop more than he does. Won't be asked to take many 3's but has the range. Played for the Chicago Throwbacks last season the in ABA, where he had to do everything for the team. This season will be asked to do more but if he wants to see his minutes increase needs to really up his consistency.
*Junior season at James Madison University
Made the team on a tryout basis despite missing almost all of senior season at JMU with torn rotator cuff. Spent first 2 yrs of college at St. Joe's
Both Billy Thomas and Tony Bobbitt CAN play the point, but that does not mean either SHOULD. Abdulai Jalloh looks to be the guy to fill the void at the backup point, but he's not exactly traditional either. In college he was one of those "SG's in a PG's body". He's a scorer, a defender, and a rebounder, but I don't think he's that much of a distributor. For now he's got the support of the coaching staff, logging 23 minutes per game over the first 2 regular season games, and unless Lester Hudson gets reassigned (which he has said he is not ready to do), Jalloh should keep logging those high rotation minutes.
The Rest of the Roster:
|26||5'10||183||PG||Rd 4 Pk 9||8.2||2.3||2.7|
*D-League last season
Graduated from Arkansas 2008. Previoulsy played at Miss State University.
Looks like he's the low man on the totem poll for the backup point minutes, and another case of buyer's remorse for the Maine Red Claws. Of the 8 players selected in the D-League Draft, the Red Claws have kept only 5, cutting their 3rd, 5th, and 8th round picks. Ervin was selected in the 4th round, but appears already behind Abdulai Jalloh on the depth chart, and he was only a tryout. He's not a great passer, and he's undersized as a defender. He can score proficiently and he can probably manage the ball in the D-League without too many turnover, but he's far from a traditional point. His minutes should probably hover around 5-10 per game, no matter who is brought on. He's not a realistic NBA player at this point, and with his size (listed optimistically at 5'10) he'll need to really revolutionize his game to get a look at for a call up.
Bryant College, played overseas and in ABA. Holds record for blocks at Bryant.
He's the tallest guy on the team at 6'11, but if the early season has been any indication, that will only get you so far with Austin Ainge. Ainge cut Tyrell Blair, a 6'11 center the team also had, and this is a team that is severely short on height. Williams should get around 10 mins per game if only by sheer lack of competition on the depth chart, but he'll offer a solid weakside shotblocker in the paint and he also should be getting his share of boards while on the floor.
Tier "?": The Assigned Players, Future and Present
Ah, the ringers. The pros. The guys who are actually getting paid. As I've said before, the D-League is a different game. It's not always so much about team, as it is about developing yourself as a player. In that vein, the guys the Celtics and Bobcats choose to assign down to the D-League are always going to play ahead of the actual D-Leaguers, regardless of who is the better actual player.
There are 7 players between the Celtics and the Bobcats that could theoretically be assigned to the D-League. Those players are Bill Walker (already there), JR Giddens, Lester Hudson, for the Celtics, and Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown, DJ Augustine, and Alexis Ajinca for the Bobcats.
Of those 7 guys, Gerald Henderson and DJ Augustine are probably scratches on D-League time, as they both have established roles with significant playing time on the Bobcats.
The Red Claws are currently carrying 11 contracted players, plus Bill Walker. The team saves 2 roster spots per pro team affiliate, so the Celtics can assign one more player and the Bobcats can assign 2.
If you've made it this far, you've read about 2000 words about guys you don't know, so I won't waste your time telling you about the guys you do. Click for breakdowns of the games of Bill Walker (ESPN), JR Giddens (ESPN), Lester Hudson (Draft Express), Alexis Ajinca (ESPN), and Derrick Brown (Draft Express)
The remaining players most likely to be assigned (in your humble bloggers opinion) are JR Giddens for the Celtics and Ajinca and Brown for the Bobcats. Once a player is assigned, they are thrown right into the fire. Bill Walker was assigned on a Sunday and was starting on a Monday, and has started every game since. He's currently averaging 22 points and almost 10 rebounds per game.
Giddens has already proved himself a D-League All-Star, starting 23 games last season for the Utah Flash, and just absolutely filling the stat sheet. If Walker is still on the team when he is assigned, he'll take minutes from Billy Thomas and Tony Bobbitt.
Ajinca, who is by most accounts can be considered a real NBA player in much the same way that Kool-Aid can be considered a 'juice drink', has also shown some promise in the D-League, getting about 12 pts, 7 boards, and 2 blocks per game in 11 games played last season. He'll take all of Mike Williams's minutes and eat into Anthony Terrell's time as well.
If Derrick Brown is assigned to the Red Claws, he'll send Darnell Lazare to the bench. He actually duplicates a lot of Lazare's skill, and he's one guy I could see really flourishing in the D-League.
So when I watch, what do I watch for?
Well, as Celtics fans, first and foremost watch Bill Walker. He's quickly becoming one of the more polarizing Celtics players, but you'll see why he has such a devoted amount of groupies (yours included) on the site very quickly. Beyond that though, there are still plently of things about the D-League that should endear it to the common but discerning basketball fan.
D-League games are messy, and it's not just because of the quality of play. Also, the players (not assigned by a NBA team) in the D-League are signed to yearly contracts, so each season they log they're only getting paid between $15,000 and $25,000 (2007 numbers, probably slightly higher now). They're not playing for the big bucks, they're playing because they want if not a call up from a NBA team, at least a camp invite next summer. Becaue of that when a guy is on the floor, he's trying to make stuff happen. You can't be satisfied being Bruce Bowen or James Posey in the D-League. You have to prove you have a skill a better (and better paying) team will value.
So watch to see what guys like Darnell Lazare and Will Blalock are doing with the time they spend on the floor. They're younger guys who still have to improve their games to get on with a pro club. Watch other guys like Stanley Thomas or Anthony Terrell, who are trying to prove maybe not to NBA teams but to overseas teams that they are worth a lucarative contract. Watch seasoned vets like Tony Bobbitt and Billy Thomas. They're not trying to prove they have the skills, they're trying to prove they STILL have the skills, and that at a moment's notice they're ready for a 10 day contract to be the 9th or 10th guy in a rotation, with no rust. There is drama to be had, you just have to know what you're looking at.
Images obtained from Maine Red Claws team page