In life, in love, in highly competitive games of Scattergories, and of course, in basketball, there exists a delicate balance between convention and innovation. Knowing when to stick to the “tried and true” and when to take the leap is what separates the good from the truly great. Such discretion should be the ultimate goal of Donnie Nelson and Evan Wyly as they try to mold the yet unnamed Frisco NBDL team, and the earliest returns show them to be doing just that.
In my mind, the Spurs are the model. Though Marcus Williams, Ian Mahinmi, Malik Hairston, and the rest of the Austin Toros crew (bothpast and present) have yet to make a serious NBA impact, the organization seems to be doing things…ahem, the right way. Patience is a must when it comes to this process, as simply being at the helm of a D-League franchise doesn’t improve the intrinsic value of its parts. But if you put in the time and the effort from scouting to system implementation, you’re going to see results.
The notification that the Frisco Blankers will be running Rick Carlisle’s system is a wonderful start. First and foremost, Frisco will be a Mavs’ farm team. D-League assignees will be able to get some burn in the minors, but in the same in-game contexts that they’ll see in the big leagues. There obviously won’t be any Dirk Nowitzkis in the NBDL, but getting that in-game experience is vital for understanding the spacing, movement, and roles in Carlisle’s sets. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but those things are pretty important, especially for role players on the cusp of making it into the lig.
That’s exactly what’s going on in Austin, where D-Leaguers are learning the nuances of Gregg Popovich’s defense, and the proper ways to stand in the corner and nail threes. The Toros have already begun to bear fruit for SanAn, as Anthony Tolliver and a slew of Austin alumni served as rotation players late last season. They weren’t brilliant, but they were competent, and that’s exactly what the Mavs should expect to see coming out of Frisco. And that’s exactly what Del Harris, newly appointed general manager and old friend of the organization, will be looking for.
If given the opportunity, this system will produce role players. Donnie knows his way around the D-League block, as J.J. Barea was mined from that very system. That’s a pretty sizable asset to conjure out of thin air, and expect Donnie to find more and more serviceable players as this venture goes on.
But what’s important to remember in all of this is that the Mavs are not the Spurs, despite what Avery Johnson may have once led you to believe. Even if the Spurs-Toros connection is the blueprint, it’s essential that Nelson and Wyly aren’t afraid to step outside their bounds. Do what works, and to hell with what’s been done before. The D-League is the perfect place for experimentation, which is why I found great pride in the announcement that Nancy Lieberman will not only be the first female head coach in the NBA sphere, but also the coach of our soon-to-be-beloved Frisco squad. That’s absolutely tremendous, as the Mavs are not only exploring new avenues to scout playing talent, but coaching talent as well. No other NBA team employs a female coach on their staff, which puts the Mavs in a position to not only be progressive, but also opportunistic.
Nancy Lieberman knows basketball. It’s impossible to predict exactly what kind of coach she’ll be, but no one will know until the Mavericks do. That’s a terribly convenient position to be in. And though the common fan may not associate the Mavs with the avant garde, their extension into the D-League represents this organization’s mentality in the Mark Cuban era: keep thinking, keep trying, and keep flying.