The NBA D-League is about to kick off its season, and that means it is time for the annual Bakersfield Jam preview!
The Jam had a busy off-season, making many changes after their inaugural season as the D-League affiliate of the Phoenix Suns.
Front Office and Coaching Changes
First, there were significant changes to the front office and coaching staff.
Bubba Barrage remains the general manager for a second year, but gone is long-time Jam front office member and assistant GM Brian Levy, who left to take over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Levy is a well-respected figure in the D-League, and his presence is likely to be missed by the front office. Replacing him is Louis Lehman, who will simultaneously serve as Basketball Operations Coordinator for the Suns.
The coaching staff was dramatically changed. Despite a strong season (or perhaps because of it), coach Nate Bjorkgren was moved into a full-time player development position with the Suns. All of his assistants have also moved on.
The new head coach is Chris Jent, a former professional player who had stops and stints in the NBA, Italy, Australia and Greece. In something of a rarity for the D-League, Jent has head coaching experience: he was the interim head coach for the Orlando Magic in 2004-2005. He has worked with the Cavaliers, the Kings, as well as the Ohio State Buckeyes, all as an assistant coach.
Jent will be joined by a slew of new assistants: Tyrone Ellis, Ira Newble and Tyler Gatlin. Ellis played on the fringes of the European scene for a number of years, and has been coaching in the D-League since 2012. Newble is a former NBA player who had stints with the Spurs, Hawks, Cavs, Sonics and Lakers, before moving into coaching. He has been an assistant in the D-League since 2011, most recently for 3 years with the Austin Spurs. Gatlin spent the last 5 years with the Texas Legends.
The roster has overgone a pretty dramatic turnover, even for a D-League team. Gone are stalwarts Joe Jackson (Korea), Jerel McNeal (Greece), Elijah Millsap (Jazz), Casey Prather (Australia), Jamil Wilson (Texas Legends), Earl Barron and Mac Koshwal. Of players who appeared in at least 25 games, only Xavier Munford and Renaldo Major return. They'll look to lead the team this season.
The Jam were movers and shakers before the draft and after the draft, trading away picks, players and rights. Here is a breakdown of what the training camp roster looks like, broken down by the way in which the player was acquired.
Xavier Munford (6'3, G) - Munford played his college ball at Rhode Island, where he was a two year starter after transferring from Iowa Western, a junior college. In his rookie season last year, Munford was part of the dynamic Jam backcourt rotation, arguably the best in the D-League. He had his growing pains, averaging 22 mpg and 11 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal per contest. However, perhaps a good sign for his growth, Munford was significantly improved in the playoffs, averaging 22 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals per game over 3 games. He goes into the season as a presumptive starter.
Renaldo Major (6'6, G/F) - Major is a veteran player and one of the most experienced D-League players around, having played in 7 consecutive D-League seasons, the last 4 with the Jam. Major was a reliable bench presence last season, primarily as a 3 point threat, as he averaged 41% from beyond the arc. He'll likely try to fill the same role this season.
Joshua Freelove (6'2, G) - Freelove's was picked up on the waiver wire after he was cut by the Maine Redclaws before playing a single game. Freelove finished his (rather eclectic) college career at Buffalo in 2013-14, under Bobby Hurley. Freelove didn't actually play last season, and it is a toss-up whether he actually makes the team. His Twitter feed, however, is a pretty fun exploration (@freeworld199).
LaQuentin Miles (6'5, G) - Miles was a 3 year starter at Central Arkansas, where he was a high usage, penetrating guard. He played 10 games for the Delaware 87ers last season, before being picked up on the waiver wire by the Jam and promptly de-activated. His big flaw is he absolutely cannot shoot the 3, and this might limit his chances to make the team.
Kyle Casey (6'7, F) - Casey was a 3 year starter at Harvard, and was a solid, if unspectacular player. He spent last season in Slovenia, where he was solid, if unspectacular, in what is not a particularly strong European league. He parlayed that into a camp invite this year with the Suns, but he was unable to get on the court in the pre-season.
Deonte Burton (6'1, G) - Burton went undrafted out of Nevada in 2014, to the surprise of many. A 4 year starter, he won a slew of college awards and averaged 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game over his college career. Burton spent last season in the German BBL, which ended up being a really rough experience. However, he looked decent in the Utah Summer League, and will hope to slide into the starting lineup.
Terrico White (6'5, G) - White is a 6th year player out of Ole Miss. He spent the season with the Pistons in 2010-11, but didn't appear in any games and was cut before the beginning of the 2011-12 season. He then spent 2011-12 with the Idaho Stampede, where he put up average numbers in 18 games. After that, he moved overseas, playing in Serbia, Israel and finally Russia. He showed some growth in his game in his time in Europe, but struggled against higher level talent in the EuroChallenge with both his Israeli team and his Russian team.
Askia Booker (6'2, G) - Booker was a 3 year starter at Colorado, where he was All Pac-12 Honorable Mention (2014) and All Pac-12 Second Team (2015). In college, Booker was a dynamic scorer, but struggled with consistency. He played a few games in the top Greek league before declaring for the draft. His rights were acquired after the draft by the Jam.
Earl Clark (6'10, F) - Clark is surely a man who needs no introduction to Suns fans. Drafted by the Suns in 2009, Clark spent 5 full seasons in the league before struggling to find a place last season, appearing in just 10 games for the Nets. He played for the Rio Grand Valley Vipers for a handful of games late in the season last year, where he displayed a competent three point shot for the first time in his career. Look for him to play minutes at the 4 and 5 spots this season (he's one of the largest players on the roster...)
Javier Carter (6'8, F) - Carter was taken in the 4th round. A third year player out of South Alabama, Carter spent the last two seasons playing in low-level leagues in France and Spain. In Spain, he was a pretty valuable player, if not dominant, and a low-volume, high efficiency three point threat (39.5%).
John Dickson (6'6, F) - Dickson, a 3rd round pick, is a third year player out of Sacramento State. He has bounced around lower-tier leagues the last two years, playing in Australia, Colombia and Chile.
Jordan Downing (6'5, G) - Downing, a 4th round pick, is a rookie out of Presbyterian. He was a 3 year starter for the Blue Hose, and put up respectable numbers. In college he was a volume scorer, though not particularly efficient, and will need to develop a greater ability to play as part of a team, now that he is surrounded by better talent.
Reggis Onwukamuche (6'10, C) - Onwukamuche is one of the bigger question marks on the team. A 2 year starter out of Prairie View A&M, Onwukamuche averaged 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 24 minutes per game. 6th round picks in the D-League draft don't have a straight shot to making the roster, but the team is somewhat short on size, so he has a chance.
Sam Coleman (6'10, C) - Coleman is a 6th year player out of Coppin State. He has bounced around lower level leagues since then, playing in the D-League, Mexico and Montenegro. Last season in the Balkan League he averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
Derek Cooke Jr. (6'9, F) - Cooke was a starter on last season's surprisingly good Wyoming team. He has an inside-the-arc offensive game, but is fairly efficient, and definitely an athlete. He struggled in 3 games in the Greek league before declaring for the D-League Draft.
Maurice McNeil (6'9, F) - A fifth year player out of Houston, McNeil is another bouncer. He has played in Spain and Argentina, as well as playing in Qatar. In his time in the Spanish LEB Gold (2nd tier), he averaged 9 points and 6 rebounds per game.
Anthony Stover (6'10, C) - Stover was once a prized talent at UCLA, but was dismissed for his inability to remain eligible. Since then, he has struggled to find a home. He played with the D-Fenders in ‘12-13, but struggled mightily. Last season, he played with the Rochester Razorsharks of the PBL, and for the Santa Monica Jump of the IBL the year before that. Yeah. Not great.
Like last season, individual game tickets are not available for the Jam. Also like last season, however, games will be streamed live on Youtube for those interested in watching. The D-League has announced that more games will be made available on NBA TV and ESPN this year and next, but as of yet it is unclear which games or when.
It seems likely that the Suns intend to use the Jam as a developmental spot for their youngest players, like in previous seasons. However, the team is not quite as young as it once was, and its youngest players (Len, Warren, Goodwin and Booker) are now guys who may fit in the rotation more than in years past.
I will be providing weekly coverage of all Jam happenings this season, and will provide more in-depth coverage when Suns players are sent down.
Follow the Jam on Twitter @BakersfieldJam.