The 2015-16 season saw 32 D-League players called up to the NBA, 68 NBA players assigned to the D-League (a record), and 174 former D-League players finish the year on an NBA roster (39%, also a record).
In short: The NBA Development League is more of a farm system for the NBA than ever.
But in between that moving and shaking were dozens of other moments that signified the minor league’s growth, produced a constant stream of YouTube highlights and/or took off in the basketball Twittersphere.
Here are 10 of the most memorable:
November 30: The Return of the Jimmer
Whether Jimmer Fredette has what it takes to stick at the NBA level remains to be seen — even after he put up 21.1 points per game on 46/41/90% shooting and led the Westchester Knicks to the playoffs.
But in late November, it was Jimmer Time again as Fredette threw it back to his BYU days. Two days and two practices after he joined the “Dub Knicks,” he scored 37 points and dished out eight assists in his season debut.
Fredette would make more headlines in February when he earned NBA D-League All-Star MVP honors with a record 35 points and, nine days later, earned a Call-Up to the New York Knicks.
Quite a debut for @JimmerFredette!
— NBA D-League (@nbadleague) December 1, 2015
December 5: Bobanmania in Austin
Who is that giant on the end of the Spurs’ bench?
Many were asking that question before three-time Serbian League Boban Marjanovic took the court in San Antonio. Then the 27-year-old, 7-foot-3 rookie offered a glimpse into what he can do while on assignment with the Austin Spurs. Boban wreaked havoc on the Reno Bighorns with 34 points on 16-of-18 shooting and 13 rebounds in just 29 minutes of action.
December 19: Brandon Jennings Rehabs in Grand Rapids
Minor-league baseball stadiums around the country welcome major leaguers rehabbing from injuries every season. From Eric Bledsoe to C.J. McCollum, the NBA D-League had seen its share of rehab assignments over the years.
But none had matched the buzz surrounding the return of Brandon Jennings. About 11 months after tearing his Achilles, the Pistons guard took the court in Grand Rapids, Mich., on his road back to Detroit. He put up 11 points and 12 assists — including on off-the-backboard alley-oop on his first play — and was used as trade bait to acquire Tobias Harris two months later.
Rockets Sam Dekker and Donatas Motiejunas later rehabbed with the affiliate RGV Vipers, while Warriors rookie Kevon Looney and Bulls vet Mike Dunleavy rehabbed with the Santa Cruz Warriors, though Dunleavy did not appear in a game.
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A photo recap of Brandon Jennings' return to the court! @detroitpistons @grdleague 🏀🏀🏀 "I think most [injured NBA players] should do it,” Brandon Jennings said. “The thing about the D-League, the guys play hard every night…I wasn’t trying to get crazy numbers or anything like that. I just wanted to have a great time and play…It felt really great. I’m happy I got a chance to play, and now it’s time to move forward.”
December 29: 5 Minutes, 6 Threes and a 21-Point Comeback
The Erie BayHawks trailed the Texas Legends by 21 points with four minutes and 23 seconds left when rookie Tyler Harvey went into ultimate “heat check” mode.
The lefty proceeded to make six consecutive three-pointers over that final stretch before a steal in the final seconds allowed the BayHawks to tie the game. They went on to win in overtime, with Harvey making two more threes to give him eight in the final 10 minutes, 23 seconds of game time.
Harvey, who led the nation in scoring and threes as a senior at Eastern Washington, was one of six second-round 2015 NBA Draft picks who were stashed in the NBA D-League as rookies; the Magic own his rights after selecting him with the No. 51 overall pick.
January 7: Raphiael Putney Makes a Name for Himself
The NBA D-League Showcase is made for players like Raphiael Putney. A four-year player at UMass, Putney received little NBA interest out of college, instead taking the minor-league route through the RGV Vipers’ open tryout.
He made the team, played sparingly as a rookie last season, then exploded this season as a combo forward with the athleticism and shooting range that teams covet in today’s game. His rise culminated at the NBADL’s marquee event, where he went off for 38 points — including five threes in the first half — and 18 rebounds.
The others on NBADLeague.com’s 2016 All-Showcase Team: Erick Green (Reno Bighorns), Sean Kilpatrick (Delaware 87ers), Josh Richardson (Sioux Falls Skyforce; assigned by Miami Heat), and Jordan Mickey (Maine Red Claws; assigned by Boston Celtics).
February 13: Epic Dunk & Three-Point Contests
Before Klay Thompson and Zach LaVine lit up Toronto at All-Star Weekend, the NBA D-League’s best shooters and dunkers put on a show of their own.
5-foot-9 guard John Jordan of Toronto’s first-year affiliate, Raptors 905, became the latest jump-out-of-the-gym athlete to take the event by storm. He bested D.J. Stephens and his record-setting vertical to take home the dunk contest crown.
But Jordan wasn’t the only one making highlight reels. D-Fenders guard Andre Ingram, the NBADL’s all-time leader in three-pointers made, set a three-point contest record by making 39 of 50 shots.
March 4: Welcome Back, Baron Davis
On May 6, 2012, New York Knicks backup Baron Davis raced for a layup in a first-round NBA Playoff game against the Miami Heat, planted his right foot inside the foul line and felt his knee give out. That gruesome injury — later diagnosed as a torn ACL and MCL — was basketball fans’ final memory of Davis … until this March.
Eyeing an NBA comeback, but really just trying to find “peace of mind” and end his career on his own terms, Davis signed an NBA D-League contract and was eventually claimed by the Delaware 87ers. He dunked for his first points, sunk a three from Curry range and landed back on SportsCenter for the first time in four years.
The 36-year-old two-time NBA All-Star’s stint lasted six games in all in which the two-time NBA All-Star averaged 12.8 points and 3.5 assists in 22.5 minutes.
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"Being carried off in The Garden on a stretcher was not my ideal situation for leaving the game. So now it’s just making my way back…For me [this opportunity] is just like working my way up. I want to start from the bottom and go as far as I can…Last summer, I started playing regularly and working out with guys before training camp, and I caught the bug again…It’s tough. It's like having a sweet tooth and walking into a candy store. And you haven’t been to a candy store for a year, so you want to eat everything. The bug, you just feel something. It’s in your soul. It’s a happiness and joy and it was something that I hadn’t experienced for a while…I couldn’t sleep for [the past] two days. I’m just waiting for the game. I need to get this first game under my belt. … It doesn’t have to be [in] an NBA uniform. It’s just being on a team, being around guys – that camaraderie is something that I didn’t realize I missed, just being at home watching it on TV.” #ThisIsWhyWePlay 💭 Baron Davis, on joining the @delaware87ers. He is slated to play at 7pmET, live on NBADLeague.com!
March 23: Smith Scores a Russdiculous 65 Points
In January, 87ers guard Jordan McRae scored a record-setting 61 points during a weekday matinee game in Delaware. Three months later, his teammate did him four better.
Former Louisville star Russ Smith vaulted himself into the record books in a primetime game against the Canton Charge on ESPNU, shooting 24-of-42 from the field and 16-of-20 from the line.
Idaho Stampede guard Pierre Jackson and Reno Bighorns wing Dar Tucker were the previous co-record holders at 58 points.
NBA Jam turned reality in Des Moines, Iowa, when the Iowa Energy trio of Andrew Harrison, James Ennis and DJ Stephens connected on the most perfect alley-oop sequence you’ll ever see.
The made-for-Vine play ended up on SportsCenter and Bleacher Report and SI.com and pretty much anywhere that covers basketball on the internet.
It wasn’t the first or the last time that Stephens threw down a jaw-dropping jam or blew up on the internet. The former Memphis Tiger owns the highest recorded vertical in NBA Draft Combine history (45 inches) and put it on display again and again and again this season — leaping on to the NBA radar in the process.
Last season, the Miami Heat’s affiliate nearly 2,000 miles across the country delivered a hidden gem in guard Tyler Johnson and helped Pat Riley & Co. land center Hassan Whiteside.
This season, the Sioux Falls Skyforce reached a whole new level of success. In their third year as Miami’s single affiliate, the ‘Force finished an NBA D-League all-time best 40-10 in the regular season. They then rolled through the playoffs, posting a 6-1 record en route to their first NBADL title.
And they did it by bringing a dose of South Beach to South Dakota: Seven of the 10 players who suited up in the Finals against the L.A. D-Fenders (Lakers affiliate) had spent time with the Heat, and Sioux Falls was led by two Heat lifers in GM Adam Simon and head coach Dan Craig.