The NBA Development League was created to provide an avenue for young players to showcase their abilities and earn a shot at the highest level.
So far this season, the Idaho Stampede have done a better job than anyone at helping players make that leap. The Stampede lead the D-League with four NBA call-ups as point guard Phil Pressey (Philadelphia 76ers), shooting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones (New Orleans Pelicans), small forward JJ O’Brien (Utah Jazz) and power forward Jeff Ayres (Los Angeles Clippers) have received NBA contracts. In fact, coach Dean Cooper is just a center away from helping an entire starting lineup don an NBA jersey this season.
“It’s been great,” Cooper said. “When guys get called up, it obviously provides those guys an opportunity, and it also gives guys here who weren’t getting as many minutes a chance to show what they can do. It’s a win-win, all the way around.”
Pressey’s NBA stint came early in the season, but the three late-January recent call-ups coincided with much steadier play by the Stampede. It has created an exciting, positive atmosphere in the locker room as players look to earn an NBA opportunity of their own.
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“It just shows what winning does,” Pressey said. “When you play the right way, teams notice that. JJ, Jeff and Bryce, those guys are great team players, and that’s why they got called up — not because they were averaging 40 points per game.”
O’Brien, who recently returned to Idaho after a 10-day contract with Utah, says experiencing the bright lights of the NBA only added to his desire to stay there for good.
“It makes you even hungrier, getting a taste of it,” O’Brien said. “Playing in the NBA is the dream, and being there makes you want to stay relentless and keep working hard to get to that level.”
Idaho players have another chance to catch the attention of NBA scouts this week as they host the Los Angeles D-Fenders on Monday and Wednesday (7 p.m., CenturyLink Arena). Here’s a look at the four Idaho players who have spent time in the NBA this season:
▪ Vitals: 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, point guard
▪ With the Stampede: Averaging 12.5 points, 6 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 22 games.
▪ In the NBA: Appeared in 14 games with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 3.9 points and 3.3 assists in 12.1 minutes per game. He also played 125 games — including 11 starts — with the Boston Celtics during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
▪ Quotable: “He might be undersized in stature, but he’s not undersized in heart. That guy comes to battle every day. I was hoping he would stick with Philly, but I’m glad he’s back here with us and I’m confident he’s going to get his turn again before the year is up.” — Cooper
▪ Vitals: 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, small forward
▪ With the Stampede: Averaging 11.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 28 games.
▪ In the NBA: Received a 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz and received limited playing time in two games, marking the first regular-season NBA action of his career.
▪ Quotable: “The NBA game is a lot faster and more physical. You’re playing against guys who are the best in the world. And as far as the travel goes, you’re flying in charter planes and staying in some really nice hotels. The lifestyle is a lot different.” — J.J. O’Brien
▪ Vitals: 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, shooting guard
▪ With the Stampede: Averaging 19.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2 steals in nine games.
▪ In the NBA: Dejean-Jones is on his second 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. He has appeared in nine games, averaging 7.4 points and 4 rebounds. Dejean-Jones made his first NBA start Jan. 28 and scored 14 points in a win over Sacramento. He has started every game since, averaging 9.5 points and more than 30 minutes per night. The NBA only allows teams to sign players to two 10-day contracts per season. New Orleans has until Wednesday to make a decision on his future.
▪ Quotable: “Bryce is a very dynamic offensive player. He can drive, he can post up, and he can really shoot it. He’s also a highly, highly competitive guy — that might be his best attribute.” — Cooper
▪ Vitals: 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, power forward
▪ With the Stampede: Averaging 16.3 points and 9.5 rebounds in 23 games. Was named to the D-League All-Star Team, but will not participate because he is on an NBA roster.
▪ In the NBA: Ayres is on his second 10-day contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. He has received limited playing time, but coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Daily News he likes Ayres’ high basketball IQ and energy. Ayres is a veteran of more than 250 NBA games, averaging 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 10 minutes per night. He won an NBA championship with San Antonio in 2014.
▪ Quotable: “Jeff is a good defensive player, a good passer and a great teammate. It’s unfortunate what happened with Blake (Griffin is out for several weeks after breaking his hand during an altercation with an equipment manager), but things happen sometimes. If it creates an opportunity for Jeff, I know he’ll do very well.” — Cooper
Stampede home for four straight
▪ Monday and Wednesday: Los Angeles D-Fenders
▪ Feb. 19: Grand Rapids Drive
▪ Feb. 20: Rio Grande Valley Vipers
▪ Fan facts: All games start at 7 p.m. at CenturyLink Arena in Downtown Boise ... Tickets available at idaho.dleague.nba.com, by calling 388-4667 or at the CenturyLink box office.