Even though the playoffs are happening, and supposedly they’re pretty exciting1 it’s hard not to feel the doldrums of the offseason.
So in looking ahead to next season, what might make for an interesting storyline or bit of context to the Jazz’s season?
Surprisingly, the D-League/Idaho Stampede/Salt Lake City Stars came to mind.
On one hand, it’s hard to get excited about the D-League because, well, it’s the D-League. But, on the other hand, with this much being invested in it—time, money, resources—maybe there’s more to it than we even realize.
The Jazz purchased the Idaho Stampede in March 2015 for about $4.2 million and an organization as fiscally smart as the Jazz wouldn’t lay out that amount of money without expecting some sort of return on the investment—though I doubt the return they’re looking for is exclusively financial.
So, what’s the point, then?
This has been discussed by many folks over the last year, but a few areas of interest are:
The D-League is a perfect avenue for less-heralded rookies to get in-game experience which can’t be recreated any other way. Even if the talent level in the D-League isn’t the same as in the NBA, there’s no other way to duplicate the speed and intensity of a game, and those minutes in the D-League can still be valuable for developing players and teams.
When the announcement that the Idaho Stampede would move down I-15 to become the Salt Lake City Stars, Andy Larsen of KSL.com wrote an insightful piece, highlighting some of the above:
The move closer to home is desirable for the Jazz for a number of reasons. The biggest is probably creating continuity of culture between the NBA team and the D-League team: having the Stampede and Jazz coaches in the same rooms more frequently will help standards remain consistent across the two teams. For players recovering from injury, a short rehab appearance for the local D-League team may make sense in some circumstances.
I may be reading between lines that aren’t there, but aside from player rehab and development, having the consistency of culture and standards among the coaches not only benefits the players, but the coaches, as well, in their development.
Andy also discussed how proximity between a D-League and its NBA counterpart enabled quick shuttling of players for frequent assignments and recalls:
Josh Huestis, a late first-round pick with the Oklahoma City Thunder, was shuttled up and down from the Thunder to the Oklahoma City Blue, their D-League franchise, 30 times this season. That allowed Huestis to practice with the Thunder and be available for Thunder games if needed on short notice, while still getting him maximum playing time with the Blue. In other words, Huestis had the best of both worlds.
The flexibility afforded with having a team just across town can’t be underestimated. For example, Tibor Pleiss played in 12 games with the Jazz during the course of the 2015-2016 season, averaging 6.8 minutes per game, for a total of 82 minutes on the season. With the Stampede, he played ten times that much—882 minutes—in 28 games, averaging 31.5 minutes per game. Again, yes, the quality of the competition is nowhere near the same, but for a young, 7’3’’ center who is acclimating to the NBA and its rules and its speed, there’s no better teacher than in-game experience. Pleiss was shuttled between Idaho and Salt Lake City one-third as often as Huestis. The Jazz had to be much more strategic in when they assigned or recalled Pleiss; they planned around road trips, homestands, etc.
Additionally, there’s something to be said for being able to play for longer chunks of time than the Jazz’s roster would allow for Pleiss. There was a fascinating article and interview with George Karl in the Sacramento Bee a couple days ago, and this line in particular stood out:
“I kept telling Mike (Bratz), ‘Darren Collison, Ben McLemore and Marco Belinelli are too similar. Trade one of them because you can’t keep three (shooting) guards happy.’ And I wanted to play Seth (Curry), but you can’t give a player seven minutes here, seven minutes there, and think they can gain any confidence.”
When Pleiss was given significant minutes with the Stampede, and when he was there for more than a couple games at a time (December, February, and March), he seemed to not only help his team more—as evidenced by his +/- stats—but his individual stats were better: he fouled at a lesser rate, he kept his turnovers under control, he rebounded at a good clip, and he maintained an excellent free-throw percentage.
This may seem like insignificant ramblings to some, but for a team that’s looking for any competitive advantage it can get in a small market and short of an elite superstar, the D-League can help the Jazz on the margins. Since Pleiss didn’t have much professional experience—at least not at an NBA level—the D-League provided an opportunity for him to develop, so that hopefully next year he can make the leap to being a contributing NBA player.
I think everybody thinks for sure that’s it was a tough situation for me [to bounce back and forth between the Jazz and Stampede], but for me it was a great experience this year. You know, I went to the D-League; I played a lot; I was on the court for 32 minutes per game. So, I really improved my basketball skills, and it helped me lots to be on the court.
I hopefully, I want to play for the team here, for the Utah Jazz. That’s why I came here. I didn’t came here to play for the D-League team. I came here to play for the first team, to be a part of the team, and to help. So, I really look forward for next year.
If the D-League’s Salt Lake City Stars help the Jazz find and develop players who can help them, this might turn into a very solid investment.