Warriors Taking Advantage of NBA D-League
So far this season, Williams is averaging 14.9 points for the Warriors; Tolliver, 11.4 points and 6.9 rebounds. For the month of March, following an increase in minutes, Hunter is averaging 7.4 minutes and 4.6 rebounds.
The Warriors are consistently knocked at the organization level. There are questions about their coaching, system, ownership and player development. Yet of all the teams in the NBA, they find the talent best suited to play significant minutes for them. Two questions arise from that point. One, what is it that makes their scouting department so successful in calling up D-League players? And two, why don't the Warriors own a D-League team outright? (Please, no "They already own one, the Warriors!" jokes.)
The first question begs a chicken-and-the-egg quandary. Does the Warriors' system allow for certain guys with specific skill sets to flourish? Or are these players only putting up numbers because of the Warriors' crazy, run-and-gun, offense-only, Nellieball system? It's difficult to answer, but given the success of other D-Leaguers outside the Warriors, I think it's reasonable to suggest that these guys can play. After all, they are being defended by teams with better defense than the Dubs, right?
However, what the Warriors have done is select specific players that fit well into their system. This sounds like a pretty simple thing, but it's tremendously difficult to pull off. Consider the Spurs, who have made seventeen call-ups total in the history of the D-League, but have yet to acquire a real role player from those call-ups. This has little to do with the Spurs scouting, and more to do with the overall talent on San Antonio thanks to their front office drafting and free agency moves, as well as the complex system they run which relies on a high basketball IQ, something difficult to find in the D-League. So the Warriors have a system that speaks to the talent in the D-League, scoring wings with athletic talent. Despite the size available in the D-League, guards and wings have had much more success in translating to the NBA.
All in all, the Warriors scouting department has done a great job in locating talent that can be used in their system for big minutes at the NBA level, and players whose games translate to the NBA.
So the question is, then, why don't the Warriors own a D-League team? You may have thought like I did at first glance, well if they're having so much success with it, why not invest in it? But in reality, the Warriors have no pressing need for ownership of a D-League affiliate. Once you get past Chris Cohan's questionable decision-making as an owner and the impact adding an affiliate as an asset would have on a potential sale, there's the fact that the Warriors have to fix things in the short-term before they can look at the long-term, and that's the real advantage of a D-League team.
The Warriors primarily use the D-League for call-ups, not for assignments. They've only assigned four players in their history, and none are currently on the squad (miss you, Richard Hendrix). So they're using the D-League to find talent they can use now, not develop talent they already have. To each his own. But owning an affiliate does not help them at all with that, and it's a major reason why a lot of NBA teams are hesitant to invest in the D-League. Why pump money into a team and help players get better who may end up heading for greener pastures? The Rockets have invested considerable time, money, and resources into Mike Harris, and they nearly lost him to the Wizards.
There are ways around that problem. The Spurs put money into Curtis Jerrells and have done so with other players to keep them in their system. But the Warriors are essentially plucking talent from the work of others (including the work of the players, of course, who deserve the reward of a call-up). So why put money into the system when there's no drawback to benefiting from the costs of your opponents?
Don't think the D-League isn't aware of this issue. It's why they've implemented groundbreaking ideas like the hybrid system used in RGV, and have worked with teams to find ways to make their investments pay off. At the same time, this is an issue that absolutely must be addressed during the 2011 CBA negotiations if the league is going to go forward. While the Warriors' use of the D-League is good for the league by proving the talent there is viable if given the chance, there's a cost in that it outlines a concern for teams in the benefit, if their primary concern is not long-term development of signed players.
In the meantime, it's hard to see a downside in Williams, Tolliver, and Hunter making their big break count. It speaks to a valuable lesson for those teams who so often turn to retread veterans with little to contribute. If you give them an opportunity, the D-League guys can produce.