Latavious Williams isn’t the best player to ever waltz through the D-League, but could be among the most influential. After being declared academically ineligible to play for Memphis prior to last season, Williams opted to still pursue a domestic route to the NBA. Rather than follow the Brandon Jennings model and grab a quick paycheck before making his NBA debut, Williams blazed a trail of his own, and declared for the D-League draft with absolutely no college or professional experience.
Now, Memphis recruit Will Barton is running into similar eligibility issues. He has a much higher profile than Williams ever did as a prospect (Barton was ranked the 11th best recruit in his class by Rivals, and the 2nd best shooting guard prospect), but the doors to the our nation’s most prestigious academic institution will remain closed to him. Bummer.
But they say that every time the basketball gods close the door to Memphis, they open a window into the officiall NBA minor league affiliate. Barton has a chance to follow either Williams or Jennings, should the concerns over his eligibility not be cleared up, and a path through the D would likely be best for both Barton and, more obviously, the league.
The problem, as Scott Schroeder noted at Ridiculous Upside, isn’t that a trip through Europe would necessarily harm Barton’s NBA stock or even his development. If he chose to go overseas rather than play in the D-League, it’s very unlikely that his career would be suffer any kind of significant negative impact. Yet as the competition in the D continues to get better and better, Barton would get a head start working with NBA-style coaches and talent evaluators.
Barton could impress league scouts without having to worry about a language barrier, culture shock, or getting a consistent paycheck. There are definitely European leagues out there better than the D-League in terms of competition and talent, but if Barton wants a place where he can really showcase his skills (Jennings was hardly allowed such a luxury) while working to get better under the watchful eyes of NBA decision-makers, the D is an obvious choice.
Whether Barton goes to Memphis, the D-League, or overseas, he looks like a potential lottery pick in 2011 or beyond. Yet if you’ll allow me to dip into my bag of cliché, the journey matters here far more than the destination. Barton’s pre-NBA career could hold a significant impact on the paths lottery level talents take to the big leagues, and if he manages to improve the reputation and the audience of the D-League in the process, NBA teams across the board stand to benefit.