Charlotte Hornets

Are NBA Assignees Hindering Development?

The Greensboro Swarm have a lot of big name players and talent on their roster, but the team isn’t clicking at the moment. Are the veteran assignees holding the younger players back?

The Greensboro Swarm lost their third straight game on Thursday night, a 99-92 defeat to the Los Angles D-Fenders. The loss brings their record to 5-12, which is not what Charlotte Hornets and Swarm fans hoped for. However, the losses bring up many valid questions.

A Repeat of the Bobcats?

Naturally, there were quite a few people who were excited when the Hornets announced they were bringing the Swarm along as a D-League expansion team. Some people probably expected the team to lose a lot, but as both a fan and analyst/writer of the game, it should be a sin to expect mediocrity. Sure, a young team will lose a bit, but that’s mostly because teams have to learn how to win games. One problem for the Swarm has been the inability to hold onto sizable leads.

However, it’s hard to accept because the team has so many big name players. Who would’ve ever thought that Rasheed Sulaimon, Mike Tobey, and Perry Ellis would all end up on the same team? Who also would’ve predicted that Ellis would perform the worst among them? Probably not many. Some fans are attracted to the Swarm simply because of the names on the roster. And that’s perfectly fine, but not when they are underperforming.

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It’s obviously a little early to call this the repeat of the Bobcats, but the fact that the team acquired so much young talent and big-name players through draft picks and isn’t producing is eerily similar and slightly discouraging. Learning to win games takes time, especially in the D-League, but some of us are impatient. It’s not all their fault, though. Rotations change almost nightly in the D-League, so it’s hard to know what to expect as a player.

Consistently Inconsistent

The D-League is known for the constant change. Players are called up and reassigned on a weekly basis, and February is busy because many NBA teams want to acquire talent before the trade deadline. Some players, like Jeremy Lin, get pulled up midseason and end up signing for the rest of the year. But others, like Aaron Harrison, will get called up and reassigned multiple times during the season.

Harrison definitely needs some development; his defensive struggles are well documented. But the problem with NBA veterans playing in the D-League is that they often assume control and try to do everything. Both Harrison and Goodwin have done this for Greensboro.

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The Swarm’s best player is Xavier Munford, who averages 18.4 points, 5.1 boards and 5.1 dimes per contest. He’s an all-around player, and his last two games shouldn’t be the norm (combined  4-21 from the field, 0-8 from 3FG). Harrison averages 22.2 points and 5.3 boards, but he shoots a lot of shots. Harrison was an aggressive driver in college who could sometimes shoot, but he wasn’t consistent. That bad habit has followed him.

Archie Goodwin, acquired from Phoenix earlier this season, also averages 20.5 points and 4.9 boards, but only shoots 38.7% from the field. Both he and Harrison take a lot of shots, and therefore, Munford has the ball in his hands less. Munford basically has to take a backseat anytime those two are on the floor with him, and it is clearly affecting his play. In the loss against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Goodwin took (and missed) the potential game winning shot instead of Munford. Amongst the guards, the Swarm coaching staff almost always prefer the veterans to take the shot instead of letting the young guns prove themselves.

For the big men, Christian Wood (acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers) has been great (17.6 PPG, 9.5 RPG) but also takes a lot of shots. He plays well alongside Shonn Miller, a product of UConn who was picked up in the Expansion Draft. These two often play together because Miller doesn’t shoot a lot and isn’t a scoring threat. As a result, the team sometimes plays 4-on-5 on offense, and center Mike Tobey comes off the pine.

Tobey can produce in either role. He’s averaging 12.2 points and 9.0 boards, and his consistency on the glass often keep Greensboro in games. However, there’s only one ball on the court, and it’s simply not possible for Wood, Tobey and Miller to all get the minutes they need to develop.

Another interesting story is Rasheed Sulaimon. A decent scorer out of Duke and Maryland, Sulaimon has been spectacular at times. When he starts, Sulaimon averages 14.6 points, 3.8 boards and 3.1 dimes on 41.8% shooting. When he comes off the bench, Sulaimon only averages 6.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 2.2 APG on 37.8% shooting. Clearly, when Harrison and Goodwin return, Munford isn’t the only one who is affected. When a player comes off the bench and gets fewer minutes, it’s natural for them to overthink instead of just playing. This often results in poor, forced shot selection and multiple turnovers.

Ultimately, when the three veterans play for Greensboro, sacrifices (ie, playing time) must be made. Usually, Prince Williams, Ralston Turner and Frank Rogers don’t play when the veterans return. How can these players develop when the NBA vets are taking all the shots (and minutes)?

This is a conundrum that countless D-League coaches have to deal with, and it’s an adventure for the players. Everyone wants to go to the NBA, but the reality is not everyone can make it. Since that is the case, I think most people would agree that the unproven players should get more opportunities. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer” as the saying goes, and it certainly applies here. If Greensboro wants to turn their season around and help their other players, they should try to involve them more instead of pushing them to the end of the bench. Hopefully, Greensboro can find some momentum and consistency after the New Year.

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