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A Quick Refresher on the D-League from Flip Saunders

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of 13 teams who will share a single D-League affiliate next season. On Wednesday, Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach, spoke about the NBA’s minor league after his club defeated the Phoenix Suns in the opening round of tournament play at the Las Vegas Summer League.

“It’s a place where players and coaches can go to develop.” he told media, “Everyone has the same goal, and that’s trying to get better.” Later, Saunders was asked how important is the D-League for the NBA.

As of today, there are 17 D-League teams who have a one-to-one affiliation with an NBA franchise, an all-time high. Because there are so many one-to-one relationships, and not enough teams, the only way an NBA organization can create a one-to-one affiliation is to do one of the following:

  • Buy an existing team and move them, or
  • create their own team and build from the ground up.

This offseason, for instance, the Utah Jazz entered a hybrid agreement with Idaho Stampede, ending the Stampede’s previous affiliation with the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Westchester Knicks were created by the New York Knicks. New York was originally affiliated with the Erie BayHawks, who recently entered a hybrid affiliation with the Orlando Magic, prompting the Knicks to construct their own NBADL affiliate.

The Energy [the basketball team, not the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity] was purchased by the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Bakersfield Jam have entered a hybrid partnership with the Phoenix Suns.

What of the teams without 1-1 affiliates? Last season there were three D-League teams that were shared by multiple NBA teams [considered dual, or multiple affiliations]; the Iowa Energy, Bakersfield Jam and Fort Wayne Mad Ants. This season, however, the 13 teams without a single affiliate are currently designated to share a single D-League franchise in Fort Wayne. The Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets will all, accordingly, assign members of their 15-man roster to play with the Mad Ants as they see fit.

The NBDL, while mirroring the NBA’s rules for the most part, has a few key rules differences, primarily intended to be used as tests to determine whether or not the rules should be adapted in the big leagues. Below are the primary changes. Note: These could vary pending on what type of experimental changes the NBA may wish to make from year-to-year.

  • Each team gets one less timeout per game in hopes of reducing game times
  • You can hit the ball off the rim when it’s in the cylinder and not be called for goaltending (FIBA rules)
  • There’s a review period for flopping. Much like a questionable 3 pointer the official will point to the scorer’s table when they want to look at a potential flop and will do so at the next timeout or intermission. They won’t call an immediate foul during the play. If they deem the player flopped the player is then charged with a technical foul. Adonis Thomas, currently playing with the Sixers summer league team, was the first offender to be punished by using this rule.

An example of what the D-League can do for a player and vice-versa: last season, the Timberwolves assigned Shabazz Muhammad to the D-League, where he played three games with the Iowa Energy — Iowa is now a part of a single affiliation with Memphis.The Energy averaged 133 points per game while averaging a 119.4 offensive rating during that span. For comparisons sake; the Energy, pre-Shabazz, scored 113.2 ppg with an offensive rating of just 104.

As for Muhammad’s performance, here are his averages playing with the Energy.

  • 24.5 ppg
  • 9.8 rpg
  • 57% FG

Flip Saunders understands the value of a minor league affiliate, although the Wolves will enter the 2014-2015 season with their third different D-League affiliate in team history. Shabazz played more minutes, scored more points, and improved in nearly every statistical category after returning from his assignment to the D-League.

“It’s very important.” Saunders continued; “I believe when we get to a point where there’s a D-League team for every NBA team that’s when we’ve really arrived. That’s the next step.”

Big ups to Adam Johnson, Editor in Chief of SeaDubsCentral [your source for any information on the Golden State Warriors D-League affiliate, The Santa Cruz Warriors] for providing a lot of this information. 

To see Flip Saunders’ full interview, where he talks about the importance of the D-League– click this link.

Zachary Bennett