Playing time. That's what every player needs in order to develop to their potential.
The Blazers feel Armon Johnson needs those precious minutes in order to pull his game to the next level. That's why today they have assigned him to the team's Developmental League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede. Armon becomes the second blazer rookie to be assigned to Idaho this season; Luke Babbitt averaged 18.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in four games back in December.
Upon being called back up to the blazers after that fourth game, Luke said he couldn't get to the airport fast enough for the one-hour plane ride back to the Rose City (which, if you consider the time zone difference, is actually a zero-minute ride!).
Of course, all of these guys want to play on the highest stage in the world, and that's the NBA. That's why Luke was in a rush to get back from his stint in Boise. However, sometimes these guys can use some fine tuning. Luke's numbers look great in his D-League action, but how are they helping him become a better NBA player. True, we haven't seen much evidence of what he may have picked up during those four games because he simply has not played enough minutes to showcase his skills.
Luke saw just under nine minutes in Thursday's game against the Celtics. he was 1-2 from the field with the miss coming from a three-point attempt which appeared to be rushed. He had no rebounds nor assists in the game, but his defense seemed to be pretty decent. The main thing is that he didn't make any major mistakes. maybe that's what he learned with the Stampede.
Many players may consider being sent to the D-League as a punishment. They must have done something wrong for their NBA team not to need them on the bench; even if it's at the end of the bench.
Yes, the Stampede and the Blazers are on two separate levels. Yet, I see the D-League as a very short-term stepping stone for some players to help them adapt to the faster pace of the professional game. For lack of better description, I would say the D-League is at a level between elite college and the NBA.
There are some encouraging signs for players like Luke, and now Armon. Last year's lone Blazer to be assigned to the Stampede, Patrick Mills, had a splendid five games in Idaho; he averaged 25.6 points per game and 5.4 assists, including two starts. Patrick has been a real spark plug for Portland this year and has emerged as the backup point guard. While everyone new he had skills from college and his country's national team, you can't help but wonder if he picked up just one small part of his game from his time in the D-League.
What does this mean for Armon? We don't know how long he will be with Idaho. Luke was called back up by the Blazers due to injury reasons. Armon might play a game, or 10 games for the Stampede.
What it does mean is that Armon should get some playing time, an opportunity to work on his game and perhaps even a chance to pick up a tip or two. My hope is that he seizes the opportunity to get better, and come back to the Blazers stronger and even hungrier than before.
The only way that's going to happen is with some playing time.