NBA D-League Shatters Record for Most Call-Ups
Cartier Martin is not a superstar. But he can hit from the arc, play fundamental defense, and give you minutes with effort. And now, he's notable for something else: after being signed by the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, he became the 30th call-up from the NBA D-League, setting a new record. He was soon followed by Cedric Jackson of the Bayhawks (also to the Wizards) and Mustafa Shakur, who was free for about three days before OKC signed him (and immediately assigned him to the Tulsa 66ers).
We could talk about Martin, who's had cups of coffee with several NBA teams and should do fine in Washington, but honestly, Jackson is a much better prospect. And we could talk about Shakur, who was one of the best point guards available for call-up this season and deserves the NBA contract he just received. But the real story? A breakthrough year for call-ups, not just in number, but quality.
Simply put, the NBA is getting it.
Sundiata Gaines hit a game winner. Alonzo Gee has people up in arms because the Wiz let him walk. Reggie Williams is tearing it up in Golden State, alongside Anthony Tolliver and Chris Hunter. There haven't just been more call-ups this season than ever before, the quality of them has improved. You're seeing more signings for the rest of the season beyond the 10-day contracts, and many of them with partially guaranteed contracts for next season.
D-League proponents (like yours truly) have argued for years that the D-League represents an opportunity for teams to invest in younger, cheaper talent rather than simply filling out the end of their bench with a retread veteran. Teams are coming around to that way of thinking, and it shows. The league is accomplishing like never before one of the central goals it was constructed to do: provide quality talent for teams to invest in.
What's best in this case is that there's a variety of purposes the players are being used for. In Washington, Martin and Jackson are primarily placeholders. In Golden State, Williams, Tolliver, and Hunter are central components. In San Antonio, the Spurs are preparing for the future while competing for now. And the Rockets have integrated their affiliate with the big league team, assigning, calling up, and then sending back down players to improve.
All of a sudden, D-League prospects are viable options as opposed to unemployed veterans. Many come in with system fundamentals in place and are already in game shape and eager to do whatever it takes. It's a great setup for the team, the players and the league.
There's still work to be done, convincing teams that a player deserves a fair shake, and that they need to start investing in teams so they know what they're getting. One source I spoke with today said that the scouting benefit of investing in the D-League alone was worth the cost of their investment.
It's a copycat league, and the D-League is becoming a fad. If your team hasn't embraced the league, it might be time to ask why.