C.J. McCollum became the poster child for the value of the D-League this past season after earning a bigger role for the Portland Trail Blazers and winning the 2016 NBA Most Improved Player award.
The Golden State Warriors felt McCollum's improvement first hand on a couple of key occasions during their 2016 campaign, first when he dropped 21 points on them during their biggest loss of the season in Portland and next when he scored 20+ points (albeit on low efficiency) in the final four games of the second of the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
The point is not to dissect McCollum's game as much as it is to note that he's a player who got his feet wet in professional basketball in the D-League with the Idaho Stampede before gradually developing into a starter and MIP candidate in his third season. As Daniel Ferrara of the NBA's D-League site wrote, "McCollum is just the latest case which proves the importance of the D-League for NBA franchises — a hub for stashing prospects, taking fliers on undrafted free agents and rehabbing injured players."
The Golden State Warriors have yet to achieve that level of success with the D-League prospects that have come through their organization despite getting into the affiliate game relatively early and even moving the team to Santa Cruz to make development more convenient. Seth Curry might their greatest D-League success story during the Lacob regime, playing 38 games in his first season in Santa Cruz before bouncing around a little and eventually finding success with the Sacramento Kings this season.
But the Warriors probably won't lack for opportunity to experience their own D-League success story this season as they'll have a few guys who'll fit some combination of categories Ferrara described.
The jury is still out on 2015 first round draft pick Kevon Looney, who played a handful of games in the D-League last season during his ongoing recovery from hip surgery. 2016 first round draft pick Damian Jones, who will similarly enter his rookie season injured, will likely see some time in Santa Cruz as he adjusts to life as a professional athlete. And as of yesterday, Elliot Williams will have a chance to become a veteran who spent some time in the D-League in an effort to rehabilitate his career.
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Williams reached an agreement with the Warriors on a "significant partial guarantee" with a chance to make his mark in the league with an organization he's already familiar with.
Williams, 27, will receive a significant partial guarantee on his deal to compete for a roster spot in camp, sources said...will have a reserve guard role open after the departures of Leandro Barbosa and Brandon Rush.
Williams is a veteran looking to overcome more than his fair share of injury misfortune to make it in the NBA with the organization who he hit the pinnacle of his professional career thus far with in the form of a 2015 D-League title. But Williams' attempt to make the Warriors roster will also reflect a benefit of having a D-League affiliate close by that the Warriors have touted for years: he'll arrive in training camp with a leg up on other players by already having some familiarity with the system and philosophy as Golden State and Santa Cruz have made an explicit effort to run similar stuff in an explicit effort to enhance the developmental process.
And Williams did display some attributes in Santa Cruz that bode well for success in Golden State, as described by former Golden State of Mind contributor Amanda Edwards back in December.
"For me, it's not about the assists. It's about being consistent. Points, I'm not worried about...those come within the flow of the game," Williams said. "I was happy about my 11 assists and I was happy my teammates were able to follow through with them. We are getting better as a team."
Not only would I describe Elliot as humble, but he's optimistic.
"We were able to get some good shots despite missed opportunities. They are a good team but we'll get them next time," Williams said.
Putting the numbers aside — not ignoring that he won 2015 D-League MVP and led the league in scoring in 2016 — a humble unselfish player who's familiar with the Warriors organization and will accept a cap-friendly contract after putting together a team with four current All-Stars (and a 2015 NBA Finals MVP) seems somewhat ideal on paper. As suggested in our previous article, his unselfish attitude shows up in the numbers: Williams had a league-high 31.3% assist percentage in the 2014-15 D-League season and a respectable 25.4% this past season.
However, Williams' 34.3% 3-point percentage in the D-League is certainly better than his 31% in his 109 NBA games with five teams, but it's not outstanding and you have to wonder how much improvement he has left in him at 27. At 6-foot-5, he has the length that you'd like to see from a guard in a switchy defensive scheme, but his D-League steal and offensive rebounding percentages aren't quite at the level of any elite disruptor on defense.
NBA execs use a balance of "traditional" scouting and analytics to evaluate D-League prospects and most good ones would tell you not to read too much into these numbers — there's no magic formula for D-League success. The problem is that this jump from D-League to NBA is probably a bit larger than fans hope it is when looking for the next diamond in the rough and that's where you come back to the sobering reality of the Warriors track record: even if you do everything right and put all the right structures in place for development, there are no guarantees of success.