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NBA Developmental League: progress still costs prospects like Bruno Caboclo

The NBA D-League is designed to develop players not ready for the NBA. What happens when the D-League fails those players too?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Our very own Kevin Yeung wrote a great piece today at Medium that we encourage you to read. The crux of the story is that the NBA's Developmental League (aka "the D-League") is a work in progress. While progress is good, often times it comes slowly, especially when there are so many parties involved with a wide variety of priorities. Unfortunately, as Kevin notes, there is collateral damage in the progress, such as the case of Brazilian prospect Bruno Caboclo:

The D-League’s rate of growth has been picking up speed rapidly, and shows no signs of slowing down — an unequivocally great thing for the league. The Knicks introduced a new, 18th team into the D-League for this season, the Westchester Knicks, to be their affiliate. From here on out, every other team will have to do the same (or at least find a private owner to buy in) The overhead cost of starting up a D-League franchise is no small deal, and that will be an obstacle to overcome. But right now, it seems like a future in which each NBA franchise has a D-League partner — similar to how hockey’s minor-league system is structured — is inevitable.


The bad part is that progress, as it oftentimes can be, is slow and ongoing, and, in the meantime, Caboclo and those that follow in his footsteps will lose out on valuable playing time. Granted, these are isolated cases, as most NBA prospects are good enough on their own to deserve their playing time, at least in the minors. The Charlotte Hornets’ Noah Vonleh, drafted in the lottery with the 9th overall pick last summer, averaged just 13.4 minutes in two games with the Mad Ants earlier this season, but he’s one of sparingly few players to suffer from his team’s disconnected D-League affiliation.

As Kevin notes in the story, the Thunder have placed a great deal of investment in their D-League team. Formerly known as the Tulsa 66ers, the OKC Blue were relocated to Oklahoma City this past season in order to build better "synchronization" with the team and recent draftees such as Josh Huestis and Semaj Criston.

The value of a D-League affiliate is always going to come down to what kind of value it can generate for a franchise. The Thunder have learned, as well as some other teams, that this value can only be realized with true investment in its assets, primarily of which is the players themselves.