By Alex Squadron for NBADLeague.com
On November 22, 2014, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson clashed in front of 3,250 fans at Sanford Sports Pentagon in South Dakota. Behind Whiteside’s 24 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, the Iowa Energy got the 124-104 victory over Johnson’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. Johnson had 19 points and three assists in the losing effort.
Less than two years later, Whiteside and Johnson agreed to $98 and $50 million contracts respectively, making them Miami Heat teammates for the foreseeable future. That type of stability and security was unimaginable earlier in their careers. By that November 2014 day, Whiteside had already played for four D-League teams: the Reno Bighorns, Sioux Falls Skyforce, Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Iowa Energy. He had been waived by multiple NBA franchises. After going undrafted, Johnson had been signed by the Heat in August, only to be let go two months later.
That Hollywood script applies to several players who are now NBA stalwarts. In fact, about 40% of NBA players have Development League experience. At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, there were 174 former D-League players on NBA rosters.
And the road does not end there. The 2016 free agent signee list is flooded with former D-Leaguers. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the prominent ones, besides Whiteside and Johnson:
Jeremy Lin: Remember him? Lin just signed a three-year with the Brooklyn Nets. Once upon a time, he played alongside Whiteside for the Reno Bighorns, averaging 18 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 20 games.
Kent Bazemore: Bazemore’s D-League stint was short lived, but not quiet. In seven total games, he averaged 20.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.7 steals per contest. Now he’s on a four-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks as a key part of their future.
Jordan Clarkson: The Lakers standout spent five confidence-boosting games with the Los Angeles D-Fenders as a rookie, averaging 22.6 points, 7.8 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. After agreeing to a four-year deal, he’s a cemented piece of a young, promising backcourt that Laker Nation hopes can help turn their franchise around.
Seth Curry: There are now two Currys glued to NBA rosters. Seth just agreed to a two-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks. He appeared in 81 total Development League games, making two NBA D-League All-Star appearances.
Langston Galloway: The first Call-Up in Westchester Knicks history, who averaged 16.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in 19 D-League games, recently agreed to a deal with the Pelicans — his hometown team.
Allen Crabbe: It didn’t take long for people to notice Crabbe’s talent, as well. The former University of California guard spent six games in the D-League, averaging 16.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. His success off the bench last season resulted in a four-year contract to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Willie Reed: Over a three-year span (2012-15), Willie Reed played 145 games in the Development League with four different teams, averaging 15.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. The big man’s persistence paid off this summer, as he agreed to a two-year contract with the Miami Heat.
Ian Mahimi: From 2007-09, Ian was a staple of the D-League. He played a total of 47 games with the Austin Toros, posting averages of 16.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. He is now reportedly on the books for the next four years, signing a long-term with the Washington Wizards.
Dwight Powell: The athletic big man out of Stanford spent 12 games in the Development League, posting an impressive 26.0 points and 9.8 rebounds. He just signed a four-year contract to stay with the Dallas Mavericks.
Lance Thomas: After years of navigating the Development League and venturing overseas, Thomas’s NBA dream is finally alive and well. He recently agreed to a four-year deal to remain on the New York Knicks and wrote about “Grinding For A 10-Day Contract” on The Players’ Tribune.
Of course, there are others. The long list only validates the existence of the D-League, as it continues to facilitate the growth of players who are now major contributors at the NBA level. None of these guys have forgotten their roots, however.
Galloway took to Twitter to acknowledge the Westchester Knicks upon signing his deal with the Pelicans:
Thanks so much for getting my journey off the ground!!!! https://t.co/oB5tB9HAWr
— Lang Galloway (@LangGalloway10) July 8, 2016
That’s precisely what the D-League does. It gets journeys off the ground, refusing to allow them to end. It gives players another opportunity, a fighting chance to realize their lifelong goal. It helps players reach their full potential.
For some time now, Hassan Whiteside has had the same tweet pinned to his account. It’s a slow-mo, black-and-white video of him emphatically dunking in transition with the words, “I’m from the bottom I’ll never forget that” printed above.
I'm from the bottom I'll never forget that ….. pic.twitter.com/60N6sevTh8
— Hassan Whiteside (@youngwhiteside) March 26, 2016