The 2015 NBA Finals will feature six players who’ve appeared in the NBA Development League during their careers, including five who played NBA D-League games this season.
It’s a sign of progress for the NBA’s minor league following a banner 14th season, but also a sign that there’s plenty of room to grow, considering that four of those players (Cavs’ Joe Harris; Warriors’ Justin Holiday, Ognjen Kuzmic and James Michael McAdoo) are still striving to carve out long-term NBA careers.
The other two, Festus Ezeli and Shaun Livingston, have a chance to make an impact of the Golden State bench after using the D-League to rehab injuries in January 2015 and March 2009, respectively.
Here are five alums who’ve put their stamp on NBA Finals in the past:
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs
It’s easy to forget that just four seasons ago, Green was an overlooked prospect grinding his way back to the NBA in Reno, Nev.
A March 2011 Call-Up brought him back to San Antonio, and two years later he was leading the Spurs against the Heat in the Finals with a record 27 three-pointers.
When San Antonio got redemption last June, Green caught fire twice: He scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then finished Game 3 with 5 steals and 15 points on 7-of-8 from the floor.
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Following in Green’s footsteps, Mills was the breakout player of the 2014 Finals, closing out the Heat with a combined 31 points and 9 three-pointers over the last two games.
The explosion capped the fifth pro season of a player who made his debut with the NBA D-League’s Idaho Stampede in January 2010.
On assignment from the Portland Trail Blazers while rehabbing from a fractured foot, Mills posted 38 points and 12 assists in his debut, made a game-winner two days later and finished his five-game stint with averages of 25.6 points and 5.4 assists.
Chris Andersen, Miami Heat
The man they call “Birdman” was just a 23-year-old rookie when he became a permanent part of NBA D-League history.
In 2001, Andersen was the No. 1 pick in the league’s inaugural draft and its first Call-Up. After two games with the Fayetteville Patriots — including an 11-point, 8-rebound, 5-block debut — he signed with the Denver Nuggets to kick off a roller-coaster 13-year career.
Birdman proved to be a veteran difference-maker off the Heat’s bench during their second straight title run, making 8-of-11 shots in five appearances and completing a career transformation.
J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks
The road to the NBA is a long one for a 6-foot point guard from Puerto Rico and Northeastern University. But the Mavericks always had their eyes on Barea.
Signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent, Barea first flashed his pro potential after being assigned to the NBA D-League’s Fort Worth Flyers. He lit up the league over two weeks in January 2007, averaging 27.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists while shooting 52% from the field and topping 40 points twice in eight games.
By the 2011 Finals, Barea was Miami’s Kryptonite, inserted into the starting lineup to average 13.3 points and 4.7 assists over the three closing games.
Rafer Alston, Orlando Magic
After his “Skip 2 My Lou” days as a streetball legend, Alston reignited his NBA career during a six-game stint with the Mobile Revelers in 2002-03.
Twenty-six at the time, Alston went the NBA D-League route after a three-year run with the Milwaukee Bucks, and his success in Mobile — 15.8 points and 9.7 assists per game — earned him the 14th Call-Up in NBA history.
At 33, he was the veteran point guard Orlando acquired at the 2009 trade deadline to fill in for the injured Jameer Nelson. He led the Magic all the way to the Finals, where they fell to the Lakers in five games in which Alston remained the starter, averaging 10.6 points and 3.0 assists.