For those unfamiliar with the NBA Development League (D-League), it was established in 2001 as the NBA’s official minor league. Its purpose was to, well, develop players. Until recently, the D-League carried a stigma; more known for players who didn’t fulfill their potential, those who were drafted late in the second round and hadn’t raised any eyebrows, or those who had accumulated massive gambling debts and gone bankrupt after successful NBA careers (see: Walker, Antoine).
But anyone who follows college basketball would know that better players, even first-round draft picks, are being sent down to D-League affiliates with increasing frequency. Just this season, 19 players have been either sent down to, or called up from the D-League. That list includes six first-round draft picks from the 2012 NBA Draft alone. Also, the D-League held its annual draft earlier this month, and it included a handful of players that NBA fans would recognize.
It’s not hard to understand why teams are increasingly using the D-League as a developmental tool rather than a player dungeon. Heck, the first place any baseball draft pick goes, no matter how high he is drafted, is the minor leagues. The majority of NBA rookies simply aren’t prepared for pro-level competition when they come into the league, and the place for most of them up until recently was at the end of the bench. But it just seems logical for teams with such players to give them a taste of the competition at the D-League level. Why let a player gather rust on the bench when they can be playing valuable minutes for your minor league affiliate? It just makes sense.
According to the D-League website, 27 percent of players in the NBA at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season had D-League experience, including at least one from every team. It is now being touted as “the fastest way to the NBA” for prospects, as well as referees, coaches, and executives. It should be interesting to see how much basketball’s minor league develop to resemble those of major league baseball.