Unless they have been assigned by an NBA team, almost every player in the NBA Development League is a free agent eligible to be signed by any of the 30 NBA teams.
The exception to the rule, however, is becoming increasingly common.
Six players currently on D League rosters were acquired as Draft Rights players in a rule change that was announced last March. The rule essentially allows NBA teams to sign their draft picks to D League contracts and stash them on their D League affiliates.
Tennessee product Jordan McRae, the Sixers’ 58th overall pick in this past June’s draft, became the latest player to enter the league in this way in March. Here’s the full rundown:
Thanasis Antetounmpo, 51st Pick, New York/Westchester Knicks
Prospect Watch: Forty minutes uptown from Madison Square Garden, the older “Greek Freak” has been putting on a weekly show for Westchester. His nonstop motor and athleticism make him a constant source of energy, whether he’s trailing the break for a dunk or chasing down a block on the other end. But while the tools are there — and it shows in his numbers (13.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks) — he’s still developing from a skills (22.9% from three) and basketball IQ standpoint.
Josh Huestis, 29th Pick, Oklahoma City Thunder/Blue
Prospect Watch: The most high-profile of this group as a first-round pick, Huestis with the Blue is an experiment both off and on the court. After agreeing to the Thunder’s plan to sign him to their D League affiliate, he was labeled as the first-ever domestic draft-and-stash player. He’s since spent the season making the difficult transition from college power forward to professional small forward, attempting 6.2 three-pointers per game while showcasing his defensive potential (10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game).
Semaj Christon, 55th Pick, Oklahoma City Thunder/Blue
Prospect Watch: Forget Christon’s label as a “tweener” guard coming out of Xavier; both he and head coach Mark Daigneault have stressed that he not only is a point guard in the pros, but he came to OKC as a point guard. It’s shown in the way he’s played, controlling the pace and finding the right balance between attacking and distributing (18.4 points, 5.6 assists per game). But his shaky jump shot (27% outside of 15 feet) still needs to be shored up.
Xavier Thames, 59th Pick, Nets/Mad Ants
From: San Diego State
Acquired: Feb. 11 after being released from Spanish team
Prospect Watch: The Mountain West’s leader in steals (1.6) and third-leading scorer (17.6 PPG) last year, Thames built himself into an NBA prospect during a breakout senior season, dropping 73 points in three NCAA tournament wins. He’s played limited minutes on a Fort Wayne team with vets ahead of him, but has intriguing potential as a two-way combo guard.
Alec Brown, 50th Pick, Suns/Jam
From: Wisconsin-Green Bay
Acquired: Feb. 16
Breakdown: The Suns are easing Brown into the pros after shoulder surgery sidelined him for seven months, but the 7-1 center has already been productive. Floor spacing and rim protection are coveted in today’s NBA, and there just aren’t many big men who can do both. Brown, the Horizon League’s leading shot blocker last season, is one of them, averaging 2.7 blocks in just 19.2 minutes through six games while making 9-of-18 from deep.
Jordan McRae, 58th Pick, 76ers/87ers
Acquired: March 5 after conclusion of Australian league season
Prospect Watch: Delaware is the latest stop for the already well-traveled McRae, and he’s been productive wherever he’s gone: Tennessee, where he led the Volunteers to a surprise Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament in March; Las Vegas, where he averaged 21.0 points and 1.6 steals in four NBA Summer League games in July; and Australia, where he finished a 27-game season as the National Basketball League’s No. 3 scorer (19.9 PPG).
The Full Draft Rights Rule
“D League players who are also on an NBA team’s ‘draft list’ may be directly acquired by the affiliate of the NBA team that holds his draft rights. Such players will be able to bypass the usual D League player selection processes, including the D League Draft and the in-season waiver wire. The new rule will take effect beginning with the 2014-15 D League season.
Under the new rule, D League players who are on an NBA team’s ‘draft list’ will have the opportunity to automatically play for their NBA team’s D League affiliate both prior to the D League Draft and at any point during the season. In the case of players who join the D League mid-season, D League teams will have 24 hours to claim or relinquish rights to the player whose draft rights are retained by their NBA parent club. An NBA team’s ‘draft list’ consists of players for whom that team holds exclusive NBA contract signing rights.
A player’s status as a draft rights player will supersede any other D League player rights, except in the case of players drafted into the NBA prior to 2014, in which case returning player rights take precedence over any other player rights for the 2014-15 season only.
Prior to the implementation of the new rule, only certain players cut from an NBA team’s training camp, not those whose draft rights were owned, were eligible to be protected by the parent club’s D League team.”