According Eric Smith of the FAN590, Nathan Jawai is making his return from the D-League to finish off the season with the Raptors. The Aussie big man was sent down to the D-League back in February to play for the D-League team, the Idaho Stampede. I did a little digging to find out that the Idaho Stampede are the NBDL affiliate for the Toronto Raptors (they need an NBDL team in Canada!) and the Portland Blazers. Former Raptor, Rafer Alston also played with the Idaho Stampede and Mobile Revelers before playing with Toronto. Most NBA teams call up a lot of players from the D-League to fill in holes when their rosters gets thin, or send down players like Nathan Jawai when teams' think they could get better NBA development in the D-League as opposed to sitting at the end of an NBA bench.
I got a chance to do a Q&A with Scott from the D-League blog, Ridiculous Upside. Scott has a vast knowledge and an inside track on the development league, so I asked him a few questions on Nathan Jawai, Pops and the scoop on Boom Tho!
HHN: How has Nathan Jawai been doing with the Idaho Stampede since joining them in February? Do you think he has the skills to grind it out with the big men in the NBA?
Scott (Ridiculous Upside): Overall, I like him, but I don’t see him ever becoming a starter in the NBA. I think once he gets his cardio back and is in better shape, he’ll be a serviceable NBA player. Leon Powe-esque. He can be dominant, but it’s going to be in short bursts.
Not sure about his motor, at least since coming into the D-League. It could be attributed to what I call Pops syndrome - maybe he just hasn’t turned it on since he’s playing in the D-League, but he just doesn’t seem to give it his all consistently. His hands are great when receiving passes, but his rebounding hasn't impressed me in games I've seen. Tips the ball more than bringing it down.
He does have good back to the basket moves, but it seems his footwork isn’t quite where it needs to be. This could obviously be attributed to limited basketball playing. He’s quick, very agile down low, but if he’s matched up against someone taller (I'm estimating him to be closer to 6'8" than the 6'10" he's listed), he's not as effective.
Biggest problem he's been running into is foul trouble. In six of his 10 games, he's had at least four fouls and is averaging just 25 minutes per game. Regardless, if he spends the rest of the season in the D-League, I think getting good playing time will help him quite a bit.
HHN: Pops Mensah-Bonsu has recently joined the Raptors after his stint with the Spurs but was also a D-Leaguer before that, what can Pops offer the Raps that we haven't seen from him yet?
Scott (Ridiculous Upside): I know you've seen the blocks and tenacity on the boards, which are the two things I think he brings to the NBA that will make him stick. Something I know he's been working on is a mid-range jumper. While he's better off roaming the lane and scoring garbage buckets off rebounds, if he's forced to use it, his mid-range game can be effective. Not pretty, technically speaking, but it is an added bonus, especially since post moves aren't really where they need to be.
He's also a tremendous leaper, which can result in some dunk contest-worthy dunks. I believe he's done well overseas in a couple dunk contests.
HHN: Who is currently one of the best players in the D-League that has yet to be called up?
Scott (Ridiculous Upside):This is a tough question, as the D-League is more talented this season than in years past, meaning a lot of the guys in the D-League have been in the NBA at one point. As of my last call-up rankings, I had just one player that hasn't played in the NBA - Othyus Jeffers. Jeffers is a 6'5" wingman. A rookie out of Robert Morris (NAIA), in 24 games as a starter, he is averaging 22.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game, shooting 53% from the field. He's probably this seasons best kept secret. Jeffers didn't start a game until mid-January, but since he's been inserted into the starting lineup, he's been very impressive. Watching his last couple games, I'm not sure there's a better defender in the D-League now that Dontell Jefferson has been called-up. He's the definition of "pesky". He's got a great story behind him, and whenever he steps on the court, it's not hard to tell that he's had to work for everything he's achieved thus far in life - and is still working just as hard. Along with being a great defender, he's very assertive and gets to the rim quite often. He's got a very quick release on his shot as well, which will help at the next level.
HHN: Rod Benson, is a D-League baller but also a blogger, for those who don't know anything about him, what's the story on him?
Scott (Ridiculous Upside): Rod's an interesting guy. Being based in Bismarck, where Rod's played the majority of his D-League career, I know him pretty well. He's real. He plays Madden at two in the morning. He plays blackjack at a $25 max table in a smoke-filled bar in North Dakota. He makes music videos talking about his quest for a Boom Tho girl - in fact, he invents random phrases/movements, a la Boom Tho!
His story off the court is that he's marketing himself amazingly for a post-basketball career. He blogs on Yahoo! along with his own blog, TooMuchRodBenson.com, he's on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, makes music videos, everything that he probably shouldn't be (see Villanueva and the Twitter incident). But it's who he is. He's real. Benson is easily the most popular D-Leaguer due to this along with being one of the better bigmen in the D-League.
Since being traded to the Reno Bighorns, Benson has blossomed. He wasn't having fun anymore in Bismarck, and with Benson, it's all about the perfect mix of fun and basketball - you can't play/practice basketball 16 hours a day, no matter who you are. With Reno, he's averaging 15.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocked shots in just 32 minutes, starting four of his nine games thus far. He's a very capable rebounder, he's an energy guy, and there's a noticeable difference in his size this year. He's bulking up and has improved his shooting, the two things that were said to have been the biggest reason he hadn't yet made the NBA.
Thanks to Scott for taking the time to answer our Q&A, check him out at RidiculousUpside.com