What D-League players can learn from the NBA playoffs

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Last night’s Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets matchup included technical fouls, flagrant fouls, and ejections, and that’s the subject of a million blog posts today, I’m sure. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m trying to carve out some niche territory. And that’s exactly what D-League players should be trying to do.

Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest. You aren’t ever going to find these players on a D-League roster. These are core pieces of playoff team. But no championship team puzzle is complete without the role players. Think of the Spurs with guys like Bruce Bowen, Steve Kerr, and Robert Horry or the Lakers with players like Brian Shaw, Rick Fox, and, well, Horry again. Superstars may win championships, but role players help them get there.

And there are two perfect examples of the kind of role player you want in this series both of whom once toiled in the obscure basketball underground we lovingly refer to as the D-League. I’m talking about the Lakers’ Shannon Brown and the Rockets’ Chuck Hayes. Both players came from strong college basketball programs: Michigan State and Kentucky, respectively. And both are currently making the most of their talents simply by knowing their strengths and doing the things they do well.

For Hayes, that means banging down low on the block. In two games he’s managed to frustrate the Lakers two biggest, most skilled big men, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, by using his lower body strength and defensive toughness to body them off their spot on the low post and make them work hard for every shot.

On the offensive end, his contributions may seem minimal, but he’s not being asked to be a scorer. As TNT’s Doug Collins said, any point Hayes scores is “found money,” but he sets good, solid picks, and he’s always active on the offensive glass.

For the Lakers, Shannon Brown has been a surprise blessing early in the 2009 NBA playoffs. With Derek Fisher’s shot struggling and Jordan Farmar unable to defend the bigger, stronger Deron Williams, Brown saw significant time playing point in the Lakers’ opening round series against Utah. And he thrived simply by being a high-energy guy. His athleticism was a welcome change of pace from the veteran stalwart Fisher, and it didn’t hurt that ShanWOW (as Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold calls him) was shooting lights out from long distance either.

The point is, Hayes and Brown aren’t the focal point of their teams. However, they have carved out a niche and given their coaches reason to play them regular rotation minutes. D-League players, take note. This is your calling. Rarely is a D-Leaguer going to get called up as a scorer. The NBA is loaded with guys who can score.

But if you’re a shooter or a stopper, a banger or a ballhandler, you may be exactly the piece an NBA team is missing to complete their championship puzzle. The D stands for development.

So, I challenge the D-Leaguers out there to watch the players that aren’t selling jerseys or starring in commercials. Look beyond the box score and really watch the game. Take note what happens when the bench players get their minutes. There’s no shame in being the 8th or 9th best player on a championship team. That’s something future BayHawks should want. To complement LeBron James or Andre Iguodala is no small feat. Make it happen, and you’ll earn a compliment from me to boot.


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About this blog/blogger

Blog Talk BayHawk is an unofficial Erie BayHawks blog covering the NBA D-League. It features opinions and information about the NBADL and the Erie BayHawks. Blog Talk BayHawk is written from a basketball fan’s perspective to fill In the gaps left by professional journalists’ coverage of BayHawks basketball and the Erie professional basketball scene.

Matt Hubert is a 25-year-old writer and basketball fanatic born and raised in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. Matt's not wavering from his stance as a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but he will cover the BayHawks' NBA affiliates in Cleveland and Toronto when it makes sense to do so throughout the year.

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