Six ex-Cats hoping D-League leads to NBA opportunities

Iowa Energy

We’re almost two months into the NBA season, and the University of Kentucky continues to lead the league with 21 players on NBA rosters.

There are six players in the NBA’s developmental league working to increase that number, and the paths they’re taking in an attempt to get there are quite varied.

The top candidates are a pair of second-round picks from this year’s NBA Draft — Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson. Both are among the D-League’s top 25 prospects.

Even though they were drafted, neither Harrison nor Johnson signed with their respective teams, the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder. Those teams still hold their rights and are the only ones that can call them up to the NBA.

There’s a trio of ex-Cats with prior NBA experience. DeAndre Liggins was the D-League’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 before playing overseas this year. Former first-round picks Marquis Teague and Daniel Orton both spent much of last season in the D-League. All three are unrestricted free agents.

And finally, there is Ramon Harris. The 27-year-old is a four-year D-League veteran who won a championship with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in 2014. He has never been on an NBA regular-season roster since going undrafted in 2010.

Here is a look at how each of Kentucky’s D-League players are faring this season. Statistics and league rankings are through Thursday’s games.

Andrew Harrison

Harrison, a 6-foot-5 guard who is 22nd on the most recent D-League Prospect Watch, leads all of the ex-Cats and is 23rd overall in the league in scoring at 17.0 points through 11 games.

He has picked up the pace the past five games, averaging 21.6 points for the Iowa Energy. That includes scoring a career-high 31 on Dec. 11.

Harrison is also averaging 4.8 assists (19th in the league), 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals.

He’s getting to the free-throw line a lot. Harrison, who is shooting 71.4 percent from there, is eighth in the league in both makes and attempts.

Harrison, who shot 36.7 percent from three-point range in college, has pretty much duplicated that in the D-League. He’s 16-for-44 (36.4 percent).

Dakari Johnson

Johnson, a 7-foot center who is 25th in the D-League’s prospect rankings, started the season strong for the Oklahoma City Blue before cooling off a bit.

He had nine or more rebounds in his first seven games, but he hasn’t reached double digits in that category in the last five.

Overall, he’s averaging 11.5 points, 9.6 rebounds (seventh in the league), 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. His 3.8 offensive rebounds per game rank fifth in the D-League.

One of his most impressive stat lines came Dec. 7 when he had 17 points, seven rebounds and a season-high seven assists.

Advanced statistics favor Johnson’s work on the glass. He’s fourth in the league in rebounding percentage — the percent of total rebounds a player obtains while on the court — at 16.4.

DeAndre Liggins

Liggins, a 6-6 guard, played in Russia and Germany last season. In addition to being the D-League’s top defensive player two seasons ago, Liggins was an All-Star and made the D-League’s second team.

He has picked up right where he left off, filling the box score with 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game this season for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Miami Heat’s affiliate.

Liggins is fifth in the league in steals, sixth in minutes (38.4) and 12th in assists. However, he’s also first in turnovers at 4.7 per game.

He has recorded a steal in every game this season, including eight games with at least two steals and three games with three steals.

Marquis Teague

Teague, a 6-2 guard who spent his first two pro seasons with the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets, is potentially playing his first full D-League season.

He is averaging 14.9 points per game with a season high of 22 on Dec. 5. His 6.1 assists per game for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s affiliate, ranks seventh in the league.

Teague, who shot 32.5 percent from three-point range in college and 22.0 percent in the NBA, has started the season by hitting 41.5 percent (17-for-41) from behind the arc. That ranks 19th in the league.

He’s also second in the league in assist percentage — the percent of a team’s field goals that a player assists — at 30.7.

Daniel Orton

Orton, a 6-10 forward who averages 12.3 points per game, in second in the D-League in blocked shots with 3.1 per contest for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s affiliate.

It’s his rebounding numbers that need the most work. Orton is only grabbing 4.8 per game — 67th in the league — and his season high has been seven twice.

Part of that could be foul trouble. He’s averaging 4.9 fouls and playing 24.0 minutes despite starting all 12 of his team’s games.

Ramon Harris

Kentucky fans might be surprised to know that Harris has become quite good from three-point range. The 6-foot-7 forward was 20-for-81 at UK. That’s just 24.7 percent.

He has shot 36.7 percent in the D-League, including 37.5 last season.

He’s even better this season, hitting 15 of 34 attempts. He ranks 10th in the league at 44.1 percent.

Harris has played for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in all four of his seasons in the league. They had been unaffiliated with an NBA team before this season, but that changed when they were acquired by the Indiana Pacers.

His minutes have dipped from 24.4 per game last season to 13.8 this season. He’s averaging 4.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists.

Dennis Varney: 859-231-3514, @ExCats

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