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OKC Thunder paves the way for D-League success

The relationship between OKC and its affiliate in Tulsa, and its success at producing key players, is the model for the continued success of the NBA Development League.
by Anthony Slater Published: February 4, 2014

Playing his more natural position as a versatile shooting guard, Roberson no longer has an hour limit for practice time. He no longer has classes to attend. Instead, he spends his days working on his jumper or chasing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook around the practice court.

And when he needs game work, Roberson has stout competition waiting just up the road, with a coaching staff whose main focus is player development, not wins and losses. He has already been assigned to Tulsa five times this season, playing an average of 35.2 minutes in his 12 games.

“It's a big level up from college,” said Perry Jones, who played 15 games for the 66ers last season. “There's guys with more experience, stronger, faster. The game just moves a lot quicker.”

And it's not just the NBA assignees who see the budding league as better option than college. It's some of the nonroster players who remain hopeful of an NBA shot.

Grant Jerrett is the perfect example. He's a 19-year-old who could be starting as a sophomore for the second-ranked Arizona Wildcats this season. But instead, he jumped in the draft and eventually landed in Tulsa.

It was a decision he was criticized for, but one he doesn't regret.

“You know, everybody's different,” Jerrett said. “For me, the goal and dream was to make it in the NBA.”

And he felt the D-League would prepare him quicker.

It's a league that, unlike college, plays with NBA rules. Shorter shot clock, quicker pace, more condensed schedule, professional accountability.

“Some people are college players, some people are pro players,” Jerrett said. “It's different for everybody.”

“We think a lot of it is about timing and purpose for the experience,” Presti said. “There is no question that adjusting to the NBA rules, and more specifically to our system of play, is an invaluable opportunity for the players who are in Tulsa.”

And an invaluable tool for the organization's long-term sustainability, as shown through the recent success of Jackson, Lamb and Jones.

Oklahoma City has laid the blueprint. And across the NBA, many franchises have started to follow, adopting a more progressive approach to the D-League.

Of the 17 minor league teams, five are owned by an NBA franchise and eight are being operated with a hybrid model, where an organization runs the basketball side of things without actually owning the team.

There remain some kinks to be worked out and some advancements to be made. But relatively speaking, the league, which began play in 2001, is still in its infant stage, yet growing at a solid pace.

“The teams are ready to advance the league, but the infrastructure has to be there to support those advancements and initiatives,” Presti said. “Once some of that ground is made up and there is clarity of purpose, I think you will see a big leap forward for the D-League as an entity and as a supplemental brand to the NBA.”

Good news for professional basketball. Potentially bad news for the college game.

by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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