Injuries are inevitable and hard work pays off. Just ask Chris Johnson (Blazers) and Garrett Temple (Bucks), former teammates at LSU and the two most recent NBA call-ups from the D-League. These two were the benefactors to open rosters spots due to a rash of injuries on the Bucks (Brandon Jennings, John Salmons) and Blazers (Marcus Camby, Greg Oden).
In 27 games with the Dakota Wizards, Johnson was averaging 17.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game when Portland came knocking at his door. Temple, a defensive specialist, was putting up 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists with the Erie Bayhawks before he got the call to play from Milwaukee earlier this week.
“I feel very blessed to get an opportunity,” Temple told Erie Times-News’ Duane Rankin. “I’m very thankful to the Bucks for giving me (a 10-day contract) to showcase my talents, do well and try to make it another 10 days.”
Currently, 83 NBA players have D-League experience — including those on assignment — and the numbers continue to rise at an auspicious rate. The talent in the D-league is evident, as is the current turnover trends in the NBA, a reason why players can and often do get called up at any given time. Let’s take a look at five D-League standouts who deserve a shot at the big time and the teams that need them most:
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Sean Williams — The Houston Rockets are 21-25, out of the playoff picture and in desperate need of a revamping. While they have several players they could use as trade bait, it seems like they always get left in the dust when big-name players become available. Their need for a top-tier star won’t come from the D-League, but they could still benefit from the minor league to fulfill their void at center with Yao Ming out of the picture. As well as Chuck Hayes may play, he is still a 6-6 undersized center and will get bullied against the NBA’s elite bigs.
Williams is a polished defensive presence who can rebound (9.8 rpg) and block shots (3.3 bpg). Along with his great athleticism, the 6-10 former NBA first-round draft pick can score when he needs to, contributing 15.1 points in 24 games with the Texas Legends. He has developed a strong work ethic with the Legends and would fit well in Coach Rick Adelman’s system.
Curtis Stinson — As the Toronto Raptors continue to reel in the Post-Bosh era, GM Bryan Colangelo needs to do something to revitalize his squad. While picking up Trey Johnson is a step in the right direction, another call-up can’t hurt. With Leandro Barbosa seemingly riddled with injuries this season, a high-energy shooting guard off the bench could be that oomph the Raps are missing. Enter Stinson. The former Iowa State spark plug is relishing his opportunity in the D-League, recently nabbing Performer of the Week honors posting 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 3.5 steals as he led the Iowa Energy to a 2-0 record last week. He has impressive playmaking abilities, can score at will, and seems to have a hand in every point the Energy score. Instead of signing Sundiata Gaines for the rest of the season, the Raptors should at least check out Stinson and see what he has to offer.
Marcus Cousin & Cedric Jackson — The Cleveland Cavaliers are in shambles. They’ve lost 27 of their last 28 games, given up 21 straight on the road, and need help in every facet of the game. With the loss of Anderson Varejao for the year and Mo Williams in and out of the lineup because of hip flexor issues, the Cavs could use a boost in the front and backcourt. Besides, they already boast former D-Leaguers in Alonzo Gee and Samardo Samuels; what’s a couple more?
To answer their interior problems, look no further than late-bloomer Marcus Cousin. He has a solid offensive skill set for a 6-11 center, capable of hitting perimeter shots and physically exploiting opposition in the paint. Through 23 games he’s averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds with just over one block per game, not to mention 55.9% from the field and 83.7% from the stripe. Ranked 26th in the League in rebounding, the Cavs could use his proficiency on the glass. With the Cavs preferring to pick up players with some NBA experience, point guard Cedric Jackson seems to be the best option, having already played a few 10-day contracts already. He possesses great court vision and seems to have a strong grasp of the point guard fundamentals. Defensively he’s always active and is a pest to opposing guards. In 11 games with the Idaho Stampede he is collecting 8.4 dimes to go along with 14.1 points and 2.4 steals.
Marcus Landry — Coming off their longest losing streak in 11 years, which included losses to Detroit and Memphis, the Dallas Mavericks clearly have hit a rough stretch. They could use someone (preferably a small forward) to pick up the slack in lieu of Caron Butler’s absence to season ending injury and Dirk’s relatively slow adjustment into the starting lineup after a knee injury. If they don’t want the headache of working out a trade, they could look to Landry to help bolster their bench. Coming off a strong performance at the D-League Showcase, Landry is putting up 17.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26 games for the Reno Bighorns. He has shown he can spread the floor with his high efficiency from three and is a tough, gritty player who can rebound and defend, much like Butler.