The Grand Rapids Drive opened up their season Saturday night with a nice 113-101 win over the Delaware 87ers, and look to sport a talented roster with numerous players with NBA experience or outstanding production at the highest levels of college basketball.
The Drive's inagaural season as a D-League franchise was a bit of a roller coaster ride. Amidst constant roster turnover, the Drive were in good position to make the playoffs for much of the year, but faded in the end to a 23-27 record and no playoff berth.
They look like a good bet to improve on that this year if their roster stays intact, but the nature of the D-League tells us that's unlikely, as player movement is the name of the game. So why not try and predict what the movement will be?
Here are the five Drive players most likely to be snatched up by an NBA team. Maybe even the Pistons!
5. Sam Thompson
Grand Rapids spent the seventh pick in the D-League Draft on Thompson, who will be an immediate infusion of athleticism on the wing for the already high-flying Drive.
Thompson was unable to crack the roster of the wing-starved Hornets this preseason, so there's no compelling reason to think the Pistons are interested in him at the moment. But there's no archetype more coveted in the NBA than a 3-and-D wing, so if Thompson can prove that the "3" part of his game has come around, he's likely to merit some extra attention from the Pistons.
4. Lorenzo Brown
Brown was called up by the Timberwolves last year following an impressive half-season in Grand Rapids, and he's back in Michigan now since the Wolves brought on Tyus Jones and Andre Miller as backup point guards.
He was only called up last year because of a crazy injury situation in Minnesota, and he'll have to beat out Boatright for playing time. But he played well enough to get to the NBA last year, so it's not impossible that it could happen again, and it's not impossible that team could be the Pistons, given their well-documented struggles at backup point guard.
3. Henry Sims
The Drive picked up Sims on Thursday, a 6'10 D-League veteran who played 73 games with the Sixers last year. Sims is a max-effort center who played in the 2013 D-League All-Star Game, so he's a great pickup for the Drive, who were lacking in size.
It might be a bit of a long shot, but he could see some run with the Pistons if Andre Drummond or Aron Baynes goes down with an injury and the team desperately needs a center. They'll have a closer look at him than anyone else, and he's at least got some experience.
2. Ryan Boatright
The Pistons signed the 22-year-old Connecticut product specifically to waive him and send him to Grand Rapids as an affiliate player, meaning he is the only player on the roster that cannot be claimed by another NBA team. The waterbug point guard had a big last year as a Husky, connecting on 41 percent of his threes and averaging 17.4 PPG.
Given the Pistons' uncertainty at the position, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him with the big club at some point. Until then, he should be putting up big numbers in Grand Rapids as the likely starter at point guard.
1. Adonis Thomas
Pistons fans are probably familiar with Thomas from his audition with the Pistons this summer. Thomas was the only player to start all 50 games for the Drive last year, leading the team with 19 points per game. He's not much of a distributor or defender, but he's a good shooter and great athlete with an NBA body who can create for himself. He was particularly lethal offensively when the Drive unleash him as a stretch four.
The Pistons will have their eyes on him to see how he bounces back from an injury-plagued training camp, and if he excels while the Pistons' bench struggles to score, they should be giving him a call. Thomas and Boatright are the two players Detroit has clearly exhibited interest in the past, which is why they occupy the top spots on the list.
What about Pistons players going to Grand Rapids?
Well, here are the three most likely candidates, as far as I can see.
3. Reggie Bullock
Bullock is a young player still on his rookie deal who hasn't gotten many minutes so far this year, so there's at least some chance he could play for the Drive.
There are still more logical selections for the D-League on the roster than Bullock, given that the Pistons already picked up his fourth-year rookie option and he'd be unlikely to be considered for an extension if he can't earn a meaningful role with the Pistons. Bullock would be most likely be a rental for a high-profile tournament, similar to the Drive nabbing Luigi Datome for the showcase last year.
2. Spencer Dinwiddie
Dinwiddie came down to the Drive to help lead them to a runner-up placement at the D-League showcase tournament last year, and had a couple other short stints as well. So they're familiar with him and would always appreciate his services.
So far Dinwiddie has been behind Steve Blake in SVG's rotation, so if Brandon Jennings comes back and looks like himself it could easily leave Dinwiddie as the odd man out.
1. Darrun Hilliard
Considering Stanley Johnson is already averaging over 20 minutes a game in Stan Van Gundy's system, it's unlikely you'll be able to see the Pistons' 2015 first-round pick on the cheap unless he has to rehab an injury. But Hilliard, the 38th selection, hasn't played a minute as a Piston yet, so he's a natural candidate to get some run in the D-League to help SVG get more information about what he has.
The Villanova sharpshooter didn't have the best summer league, but he'd have a pretty clear opportunity to convince the organization he deserves NBA minutes if he can excel in Otis Smith's fast-paced, four-out system, which he is a natural fit for.
All in all, the Drive boast a large amount of NBA talent and look to be an exciting, fast team to watch. Any NBA fan in West Michigan should make the trip to see them play this year.