Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace says the D-League is one of the tools at the NBA's disposal.
On Thursday, Wallace showed he was willing to use that tool differently than other clubs have by assigning Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, to the Dakota Wizards.
Thabeet, who made his debut with the Wizards on Friday, is the highest draft pick ever assigned to the D-League, which is why his assignment drew national attention. But when Wallace was GM of the Boston Celtics, he had success with sending first-round draft pick Gerald Green to the D-League, and he said there was no reason not to try it again.
"No matter what level you're at, there's nothing that beats actual playing," Wallace said. "You can practice all you want, lift weights, watch film, but you've got to get on the court in game situations. Then you have to take what you've been taught now and apply it. That's what the D-League provides us."
The 7-foot-3 center out of Connecticut is averaging 2.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
His playing time with the Grizzlies has diminished of late. With the Wizards playing six games in a span of 10 days, Wallace said that now was the perfect time to get Thabeet some minutes.
Hamed Haddadi, who was assigned to the Wizards last season, has emerged as the backup center for the Grizzlies. Wallace said that even though the Wizards have a different coaching staff this year, Haddadi's progress with the Wizards made the decision to assign Thabeet easier.
"It worked well with Hamed," Wallace said. "When he came back with us, he was sharper, more focused and more motivated, because he got the chance to play."
It is likely that Thabeet will return to the Grizzlies after Dakota's game against Los Angeles on March 7, but Wallace said it depends on how the assignment goes.
"I don't want to say that's definite. I don't want to put a time-limit on it," Wallace said. "The Wizards play six games by March 7, then have a week-long gap. We'll reevaluate at that point."
Due to travel difficulties, Thabeet was scheduled to arrive in Erie, Pa., just a few hours before Friday's game, but Wizards coach Rory White said he was enthusiastic about working with him.
"It's very exciting," White said. "We want to see those guys develop, and we want (NBA teams) to have the confidence to send them through organization."
Thabeet is known mostly for his defensive skills, which he used to lead UConn to the Final Four last season. His offensive game is still a work in progress.
"He'll definitely be on the floor, and we want to help him with his low-post game and get better offensively," White said. "We also want to concentrate on why he's in the NBA, the way he can play defense, block shots and runs the floor."
Former Wizards coach Dave Joerger, now an assistant with the Grizzlies, said he thinks Thabeet can benefit from the assignment.
"He runs the floor and he blocks shots, but he needs to keep working on rebounding, and overall court awareness - being in the right place at the right time," Joerger said. "He can go and get some low-post touches. ... We have a lot of offensive guys, and he's not going to be a go-to option with the way team is currently constructed. He can get the chance to set good screen-and-rolls, rolling to basket, things like that."
Wallace said he isn't expecting miracles from Thabeet's stay in Bismarck, just some extra playing time.
"You don't get huge jumps in a skill category in six our seven games," Wallace said.
Thabeet likely won't be the only player making the trip from Memphis to Bismarck. Barring injuries to the Grizzlies backcourt, Wallace said he will likely assign point guard Lester Hudson to the Wizards on Sunday.
Hudson has played 24 games in the NBA this season, eight with Memphis and 16 with Boston. He is averaging 2.3 points and 0.5 assists in a little more than five minutes per game. Hudson has also spent time in the D-League this season, averaging 14.6 points, 4.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in five games with the Maine Red Claws.
"He's a very tough, high-soring, offensively talented guard," Wallace said. "For him to flourish in the NBA, he'll need to develop his point guard skills, and it's hard for us to get him major minutes.
"... We'd like to get him down there and playing right now, get him those minutes, and figure out where we go from there."