Should The Charlotte Hornets Have An NBA D-League Team?


Are the Charlotte Hornets missing out on an important part of player development?

In the 2014-15 NBA season, 17 different NBA teams had an affiliated NBA Developmental League organization, where they could stash injury replacements and fringe role players in case they were ever needed by the big league team.

The Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers all have their own specific D-League team they can use to develop their players.

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Meanwhile, the other 13 NBA teams(Hornets, Hawks, Nets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pacers, Clippers, Bucks, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Blazers, Raptors, and Wizards) all share an affiliation with an independently owned D-League team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

According to, 33% of all players currently in the NBA have played in the D-League at some point in their basketball careers. Most teams with an affiliated D-League team assign players on the end of their roster to their affiliate to get more playing time and to hone their skills. It makes a lot of sense for a young player who is not getting much playing time to work on their game against live competition in the D-League, rather than during the hectic practice schedule of the NBA.

Noah Vonleh, as an example, the first round draft pick of the Charlotte Hornets, was assigned to the NBA D-League this season where he played just two games before being recalled back to the Hornets after news of Al Jefferson’s groin injury.

While in the D-League, Vonleh played just 27 minutes in those two games, hardly the kind of playing time and development he deserved to get. Now imagine if instead of playing for the independently owned Fort Wayne Mad Ants, instead he played for a team owned and operated by the Hornets themselves. Suddenly, Vonleh could have been playing 30 minutes a night for most of the early part of the season.

He could have worked on his shooting and learned the same kind of offensive system the big league Charlotte team runs. Now, when Al Jefferson goes down with an injury, you get a rookie who knows the offense and is ready to contribute right away instead of someone who has spent the last two months watching from the bench.

Having the same offensive system is key, as many teams, the Houston Rockets for example, run the exact same or similar offense in the D-League as they do in the NBA. This allows guys to smoothly transition from one team to another even if they have never played a game with their new teammates. That way, when an NBA player is injured, his replacement can come in knowing what is expected and with the confidence to actually contribute.

Imagine for a second that this year the Hornets draft a guy like Mario Hezonja, whom Sports Illustrated’s mock draft has going to Charlotte, someone who will immediately get hit with culture shock while also trying to learn a new basketball system. Now, with its D-League affiliate in place, the Hornets assign Hezonja to the D-League, where he learns the offense and gets more comfortable both in the United States and with the style of play he is going to see in the NBA.

Then, around January, he gets called up to much fanfare, and is instantly ready to contribute. He knows the offense, he knows the NBA game, and there is no rust whatsoever. His first play on the court results in a wide-open look at a three point shot, and he nails it! The crowd cheers and the media praises the organization for its player development. Hezonja is bombarded with media requests about his first game heroics. Welcome to the NBA, Mario.

Or… imagine instead Hezonja is drafted, but instead of going to a Hornets run organization in the D-League, he ends up riding the pine while trying to learn the offense during the few practices that an NBA team actually gets during their crazy schedule. Suddenly foul trouble or an injury hits the Hornets during a four-in-five nights stretch. Now Hezonja is shoved into the game with no real clue what to do or expect.

Kemba Walker drives into the paint and swings the ball out to where Hezonja should be, except that Hezonja did not know the play and instead cut to the basket. The Miami Heat are now on the fast-break and Dwyane Wade just posterized poor Noah Vonleh. The Charlotte crowd boos. Walker looks over at his new teammate with a glare. Head coach Steve Clifford yells over “What the hell are you doing Mario?”. After the game, the media is asking questions like “Was drafting Hezonja a mistake?”. Hezonja’s girlfriend calls him a scrub and dumps him, and eventually he decides to just go back to Europe.

Which scenario sounds better to you?

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