There has been a lot of laughing at Hasheem Thabeet for being sent to the D-League, and I understand why, in theory. It's nobody's Plan A.
But for crying out loud, is it really so shameful? He's a young, raw, big man. The D-League exists to hone the skills of young, raw players. Why wouldn't he go to the D-League?
The Grizzlies picked Thabeet when they did knowing full well that he would not be an immediate home run. He entered the league with significant questions about his strength, lateral quickness, offensive post game and ability to stay out of foul trouble. At 7-foot-3, he had great size and had already shown at UConn how his length and shot-blocking instincts could make him an impact presence at the defensive end. But none of that made it any less clear that his game left plenty of room for nuance.
It should not come as a shock that Thabeet hasn’t set the world on fire in his first NBA season, and his getting sent to the D is not some sort of dishonorable discharge. The D-League offers exactly what Thabeet and many young NBA players laboring at the end of their teams’ rotations could use: a chance to get consistent run and fine-tune his game.
One needs to look no further than Bobcats center Alexis Ajinca to see a viable parallel for Thabeet: Another wiry man in the middle, Ajinca went to Maine earlier this season with a reputation for soft play on the interior. Over the course of half a season, he went from routinely settling for 18-footers to posting up with confidence, drop-stepping for dunks and adding a hook shot. Unfortunately, Ajinca’s story isn’t complete as he has been sidelined with an injury since late January and hasn’t returned to Charlotte yet. But while I can’t guarantee success when he returns to the next level, watching his progression through two months in the D-League this season left no question that Ajinca is a much better player than he was in November. Thabeet comes in with more raw ability, a higher ceiling and greater expectations, and I see no reason consistent minutes and daily work with the coaching staff can’t help augment his all-around game the way those benefits helped Ajinca.
Not to mention, it's not like only NBA flops make it to the D-League. The list of D-League alumni includes plenty of valued NBA players, like Aaron Brooks, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Rafer Alston, Martell Webster, Chris Andersen, Matt Barnes, Louis Williams and Ersan Ilyasova. It's hardly shameful for Thabeet to join that group.