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Four Reasons You Should Be Watching the NBA D-League

BY: Charles Austin | Mar 24, 2016

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The NBA Development League launched in 2001 as something of a regional curiosity: eight basketball teams clustered in the Southeast. But in the past decade, the NBA D-League has opened new franchises each year, growing to an impressive 22 teams slated for the 2016–17 season (the league’s stated goal is one team for each of the 30 teams in the NBA). What is it about the D-League that excites fans and spurs such explosive growth—and why should you be one of those fans?

1. Family-Friendly Prices, Schedules, and Locations

D-League games aren’t just friendly on wallets. Most take place on weekends, making them easy sporting events to fit into a schedule stuffed with school and soccer practice. Most D-League teams are also located in smaller cities or suburbs, which can cut down on long drives. The Bulls’ forthcoming franchise, for instance, will play out of Hoffman Estates, and the Nets’ new expansion team calls Long Island home.

2. Sky-High Scores and Exciting Tactics

NBA franchises align their playbooks with their developmental counterparts, using the smaller stage as a chance to experiment with bolder run-and-gun tactics. For example, the Golden State Warriors have lit up the boards in 2015 with an explosive brand of small-ball, but that style of quick-paced play has been commonplace in the D-League for years. In fact, D-League teams averaged 18.8 more points per game than NBA teams in 2014–15, with the league-leading Reno Bighorns posting 133 on an average day.

3. The D-League Is the NBA’s Future—And Its Present

Last season, 38% of NBA players boasted D-League experience—an all-time high. They weren’t just benchwarmers, either. Spurs sharpshooter Danny Green went from minor-league prospect to NBA champion. Hassan Whiteside went from impressing coaches on the Iowa Energy to posting titanic stat lines for the Miami Heat. What’s more, players can join the D-League at age 18, giving them a year to showcase their skills before they become eligible for NBA play or decide to attend Mascot College.

The D-League develops more than just players, though. More than 30 NBA coaches began their careers in the D-League, as have all NBA referees since 2002.

4. Watch Tomorrow’s Stars Play By Tomorrow’s Rules

If the NBA has an idea for a rule change, it tests that change at the D-League level first. In the 2015–16 season alone, the league is experimenting with coaches’ challenges, new foul rules, and new timeout rules for the final two minutes of game time, all of which would have a significant impact if adopted in the pros. If you love basketball, you’ll love it even more once you’ve seen how even a slight rule tweak fundamentally alters the game.