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Utah’s NBA D-League Ties Run Deep

By Brian Kotloff | March 24, 2015

Tuesday’s purchase of the Idaho Stampede puts a stamp on what the Utah Jazz have already shown this season: They’re going all-in in their investment in the NBA Development League.

This year’s up-and-coming Jazz team runs deep with D-League ties, from the head coach to the 15th man on the roster.

The rundown:

Head coach Quin Snyder gained his first professional head coaching experience with the Austin Toros.

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After his departure from Missouri, Snyder turned to the NBA D-League to reignite his coaching career. He led the Toros (since renamed the Spurs) to a 94-56 record over his three seasons while working closely with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, then the Spurs’ assistant GM, to help seven players get Call-Ups to the NBA.

Both the win and Call-Up totals led the league over that three-year span.

“I called it basketball school,” said Darvin Ham, a player under Snyder in 2008 and later an assistant coach alongside him on the Hawks’ bench last season. “There’s no other place to me where you could master different aspects of how to coach professionals than in the D-League.”

Jazz star Rudy Gobert played eight games in the NBA D-League last season.

Before he became the nationally known “Stifle Tower,” Gobert was a raw rookie who gained seasoning with the Bakersfield Jam, Utah’s affiliate last year before it entered into a single affiliation partnership with Idaho.

Gobert showcased his immense potential during his eight games, posting huge numbers that have translated to the next level this season.

Rudy Gobert Per-36-Minute Statistics
PTS REB AST BLK STL FGM/FGA (FG%)
Bakersfield (2013-14) 18.5 15.1 0.5 4.0 0.8 6.7/9.0 (74.1%)
Utah (2014-15) 11.0 12.9 1.8 3.4 1.1 4.2/6.9 (60.7%)

The Jazz have called up seven NBA D-League prospects this season — more than any other NBA team.

During Snyder’s first season as head coach, Utah has made a clear effort to give players on the fringe of the roster an opportunity.

The Jazz made their first Call-Up in December, signing Iowa Energy sharpshooter Patrick Christopher and even inserting him into the starting lineup for a game. Christopher was waived after sustaining a season-ending knee injury less than a month into his tenure.

They’ve since handed out 10-day contracts to six different players: Elijah Millsap (Bakersfield Jam), Elliot Williams (Santa Cruz Warriors), Chris Johnson (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Jack Cooley (Stampede), Bryce Cotton (Austin Spurs) and Jerrelle Benimon (Stampede).

Cotton, a 2015 NBA D-League All-Star, eventually signed a multi-year contract to remain in Utah, while Millsap has emerged as a diamond in the rough. Undrafted out of UAB in 2010, he grinded his way through Summer League stints with five different NBA teams, five stints in the NBA D-League and three overseas to emerge as a rotation player with this year’s Jazz.

“To watch the sacrifices and watch the things that he’s done to get to where he’s at today, it’s great. I’m so proud of him,” older brother and former Jazz forward Paul Millsap said at NBA All-Star Weekend.

Guard Ian Clark and forward Grant Jerrett have played with the Stampede on assignment from the Jazz this season.

With minutes scarce in Utah, Clark and Jerrett have combined to play 11 games with Idaho this season.

Clark spent nearly three weeks with the Stampede from late February through mid-March, averaging 14.0 points while shooting 18-of-40 (45%) from beyond the arc. Jerrett has suited up almost exclusively with the Stampede since being acquired from Oklahoma City in the Enes Kanter trade, posting 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds over four games.

The ability to send players back and forth between the NBA and NBADL — where they can play in the same system, use much of the same terminology and run many of the same plays — while monitoring their work load and progress is one of the many advantages of owning a one-to-one affiliate.

Sundiata Gaines.

Called up from the Stampede on Jan. 5, 2010; hitting a game-winning shot against LeBron James’ Cavaliers nine days later.

The story still resonates:

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