In the same town, yet worlds apart
There’s nothing minor about the Washington metro area as a producer of basketball talent. The region isn’t too shabby in football, either. Major-college rosters in both sports are well-stocked with players from the DMV.
Two of Washington’s minor-league teams in those sports share the same owner. But they’re worlds apart.
When the Wizards’ entry in the NBA G League (formerly the D-League) begins play in 2018-19, it won’t feature the likes of Markelle Fultz (DeMatha High), selected No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia Sixers. However, Ted Leonsis’ yet-to-be-named team could face the likes of a Melo Trimble (Bishop O’Connell High), who last week signed with the Sixers as an undrafted free agent.
Visiting teams at the under-construction arena in Southeast might include NBA players such as Ty Lawson (Bishop McNamara High) or Jeff Green (Northwestern High) as they rehab injuries. Opponents also might feature future NBAers making a pit stop in the developmental league, as did Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerian Grant (DeMatha).
Washington’s Arena League team can only dream about similar connectivity. In more ways than one.
True, the Washington Valor features standout defensive back Tracy Belton (Largo High) and could face teams with other DMV natives. Some players have NFL experience, primarily training camps, and seek to follow the steps of indoor-to-outdoor legends Kurt Warner, Mike Vanderjagt and Chris Canty.
Among the latest hopefuls on NFL rosters entering July are Arena League standouts Nick Truesdell (Minnesota Vikings) and Jake Metz (Buffalo Bills).
But let’s be real. The difference between the leagues is starker than the contrast between football surfaces at Verizon Center and FedEx Field.
The former is artificial and greatly confined; the latter is natural and wide-open.
Leonsis hopes the dissimilarities don’t end there.
After a 51-38 season-opening victory against Baltimore, the Valor have lost eight consecutive games. Belton, the league’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, has lived up to the billing with team-highs in tackles (40) and interceptions (3). His side of the ball has performed admirably in yielding 49.4 points per game, second in the league.
The problem begins when Washington has the ball and ends short of the goal line, resulting in a league-low 41.8 points per game.
Every other team averages at least 48 points. Quarterback Erik Myer, the 2013 AFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, started the first five games before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Second-stringer Sean Brackett has fared better statistically (104.7 passer rating compared to Myer’s 97.2), but you can’t tell by looking at the wonloss column.
Another column — containing each team’s profit/loss statement — bears watching, too.
Two other indoor leagues have helped whittle the AFL to a measly five teams, with Leonsis also owning two (Washington and Baltimore). There was talk of folding prior to this season and the league’s long-term prospects seem iffy at best.
Conversely, the Wizards’ G League franchise will play in a minor-league system that’s approaching the gold standard of Major League Baseball.
Only Denver, New Orleans and Portland now lack their own G League affiliate set to begin in 2018. But the Pelicans are weighing proposals from prospective host cities and plan to join the Wizards in debuting a farm team 17 months from now.
When the inaugural season gets underway, Washington’s players will be less than eight miles from John Wall, Bradley Beal and the big boys at Verizon Center.
With the NBA’s new two-way contracts, a couple of G Leaguers might shoot hoops against prospects in Southeast one night, and go against All-Stars in Chinatown the next.
Geography alone won’t create the proximity. It will be ideological as well as psychological, a symbiotic relationship between parent organization and its petri dish.
“The NBA G League has been a great resource for us over the years, both for calling up talent and for allowing young players on our roster to gain more on-court experience,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement last week. “Having our own team, selecting the front office and coaching staff and being able to implement our system will allow us to further enhance our player and staff development program moving forward.”
There should be plenty of homegrown talent to help fill the roster.
Kevin Durant-types might never dribble once in the league, but Prince George’s County (Md.) has produced so many other NBA players, holding a competitive 5-on-5 would be easy. Undrafted players like Trimble and Denver’s Quinn Cook and late bloomers like Grant and New Orleans’ Dante Cunningham would be perfect gateboosters for the team in Southeast D.C.
Given our region’s love for basketball beside the Association — think Kenner League and Goodman League — the baby Wizards should do just fine.
Too bad the outlook isn’t as rosy for the Valor.
And all the local football players combined can’t make the slightest difference.