An Inside Look at How the NBA Uses the D-League

By Josh Cohen | March 30, 2017

Talent Evaluation

There’s always a diamond in the rough out there to be discovered. Some players are late bloomers. They may not have stood out during their college years or pre-draft workouts and were disregarded initially. But, with a platform like the D-League, talent evaluation doesn’t stop on draft night.

NBA scouts and other front office staff spend a lot of time watching D-League games. There are countless questions asked throughout the appraisal process. How has each player adapted to the professional environment? What’s their attitude and work ethic like? Have any players altered the way they played since leaving college? Which players possess skills that are lacking with our big league team?

If the D-League didn’t exist, it would be nearly impossible for NBA teams to track talent down domestically. If that was the case, would guys like Hassan Whiteside, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Seth Curry and JaMychal Green be where they are today?

Player Development

Young players need time, a stage and resources to improve their skills and become NBA-ready. Some may argue that all but very few (like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis) need time in a D-League setting to get acquainted to the grind of the NBA. How many rookies throughout NBA history have come into the league and right away had a major impact? The answer is very few and, in fact, the number lessens each season.

With more D-League teams moving closer to NBA locations, it’s very possible we will see more rookies (and second year players) spend some time with the D-League affiliates. If the travel is not strenuous, a player can play in a D-League game on a Monday night, for example, and then return and play in an NBA contest the next night.

D-League facilities have pretty much the same amenities as NBA facilities. Players have access to the best workout equipment, they play in terrific venues and they are getting coached up the same way as NBA players.


D-League games provide an opportunity to try out some things that otherwise could never be adopted into the NBA without appropriate testing. For instance, a few years back the D-League started exploring ways to penalize flopping. They started handing out technical fouls for in-game flopping. The D-League had also experimented with ball advancement in the final two minutes without teams having to call a timeout. They have since altered that rule. It is now a “Reset Timeout” (teams can advance ball without using timeout and make unlimited substitutions).

The D-League is also in the process of experimenting with having four and five referees on the court instead of the customary three. The NBA will then determine whether having more officials has a positive or negative impact.

Player Rehab

We hear about it in baseball all the time. A player gets injured, he recovers and then works his way back into rhythm in the minor leagues. Well, the same routine is starting to unfold in basketball.

Several notable NBA players, including C.J. McCollum, Nerlens Noel, Marcus Smart, Eric Bledsoe, Rajon Rondo and Shaun Livingston, have utilized the D-League to rehab injuries. Rather than jump right back into NBA action and risk worsening an injury or fail to be effective, players can go to their team’s D-League affiliate and train. Some go to the D-League just to practice and work out while others suit up and play in games.

With more D-League teams opening up near NBA franchises (like Lakeland), don’t be surprised if we see this happen regularly whenever an injury pops up.

Great Live Entertainment

D-League games feature much of the same entertainment that we see at NBA games. There’s music, dancers performing, mascots having fun with fans, halftime acts and fan involvement during timeouts and between quarters. At an extremely affordable price, families that live close to D-League venues can have a wonderful time and get an up-close view at some of the greatest athletes in the world. Most of the games in Lakeland will be played on weekends which is another benefit for families with children.

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