Why the Reno Bighorns are so important to youth development and the Kings’ long-term success

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The Reno Bighorns, G-League affiliate of the NBA, formerly known as the D-League, and up until 2016 was a minor league basketball team for the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz and the Sacramento Kings.

But on Oct. 20, 2016, the Sacramento Kings purchased the Bighorns outright to focus on younger players developing their games in Reno instead of riding the bench with the parent club here in Sacramento.

A noticeable trend we are starting to see in the league today is NBA teams owning developmental teams outright, which currently stands at 15 G-League teams owned by their parent ball club.

It’s a very “baseball” type approach in developing young players that teams feel may have an impact in the NBA 2-3 years from now.

In 2009, the Houston Rockets were the first team to own a G-league affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. As more and more teams continued to follow the parent-team owned approach, this set a precedent for the rest the league to expand its brand and continue the development of younger players hoping to make an NBA roster one day.


With the G-league becoming more of a household name thanks to the resources the NBA is providing, we are beginning to see all different types of young players joining developmental programs in the hopes of hearing their name called up.

For example, just on the Reno Bighorns roster alone you’ll see that local Sacramento State Alumni Cody Demps or Chico State graduate Michael Bethea Jr. are playing alongside players who attended the likes of Notre Dame, Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, Gonzaga, UCONN and even Sacramento’s No.15 pick out of North Carolina, Justin Jackson.

As Grant Napear would say, “It’s not the number of where you were drafted that decides your talent in the NBA, it’s what you do with that opportunity once you’re given the chance.”

The slate is cleared once you reach the professional level starting from scratch as if you were the freshman in college once again.

Even the highest profiled players coming out of college see limited action in the NBA because they are stuck behind much more experienced veterans attuned to the strains of the daily NBA grind.

Not only does this provide an outlet for developmental players to thrive but it gives NBA teams a chance to evaluate 15 more players not on the active roster.

The ability to have this extra team gives franchises a huge competitive advantage where otherwise they may have not had the opportunity to retain players they felt strongly about for the future.

CJ Watson, Chris Andersen, Jeremy Lin, JJ Barea, Hassan Whiteside, and Danny Green are very good examples of success stories who went through the G-league as younger players.

Watson spent four years at the University of Tennessee playing basketball before going undrafted in the 2006 NBA draft. Watson went on to find a home on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers eventually convincing the Warriors to sign him to a 2-year contract as a backup behind then All-Star Baron Davis with his impressive play in the developmental league in 2007.

Chris Andersen or “Birdman” was quite the journeyman in his own right whether it be from playing overseas, in the developmental league or even the five NBA teams that signed him to the active roster.

A scrappy and relentless player who found himself playing for the Chinese Basketball Association at a young age before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Fayetteville Patriots, the D-league affiliate of the Denver Nuggets in the D-league’s inaugural draft.

After impressing immediately in his first few games, “Birdman” had become the first ever D-league player to be called up to the parent club in 2001.

In 2010, Jeremy Lin went undrafted out of Harvard but stuck with his dream to play in the NBA by impressing enough teams during Summer League to earn a 2 year-deal from the Golden State Warriors.

Lin struggled to find meaningful minutes eventually finding himself with the Reno Bighorns. After playing overseas and moving up and down from the D-league, Lin had finally found his break getting picked up off waivers by the New York Knicks in 2011 and “Linsanity” was born.

JJ Barea was an undrafted prospect out of Northeastern University earning him an invite to the Las Vegas Summer League on the Golden State Warriors roster in 2006. Doing enough in those games to earn a contract offer to play for the Rocky Mountain Revue, affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.

While posting mind-boggling numbers in the D-league topping 40 points in two separate games, Barea was recalled by the Mavericks finally receiving time in the lineup in 2007. Eventually being an important piece to the 2010 Dallas Maverick’s championship run.

Hassan Whiteside, a man who has traveled all over the world to get where he is today was originally drafted No. 33 overall out of Marshall University by the Sacramento Kings in 2010. After starting the season slow, Whiteside was reassigned to the Reno Bighorns to help with his development but was later waived by the Kings in 2012.

This led Whiteside to travel back and forth overseas totaling seven different organizations in two years before finally having a breakthrough with the Miami Heat and signing a well-deserved 4-year, $98 million contract.

Danny Green was drafted 46th overall in the 2009 NBA draft after winning a national championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels in the same year. After only seeing 20 games in his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers he was eventually let go and signed by the Reno Bighorns and Austin Toros during the 2011 season.


Averaging over 20 points a game in the D-league during the 2011 season caught the eye of the San Antonio Spurs and was rightfully called up to the 15-man roster.

One common theme we see with these players is that the G-league, formerly known as the D-league, helped get to where they are today.

For your Sacramento Kings, the Reno Bighorns is more than just a minor league ball club, it’s an opportunity to find that needle in a haystack and a necessary piece to the overall goal of winning an NBA championship.

Therefore, when we see Malachi Richardson, Georgios Papagiannis, and Justin Jackson making their way to Reno to get some game action, don’t panic.

This is a necessary process that we are seeing more and more from teams looking to stash away their young bright assets for the future.

The Kings are emphasizing the development of their young guys and allowing them to get a lot of playing time instead of having them sit on the bench not benefiting them at all.


Cameron York on Twitter
Cameron York
Special Contributor to Cowbell Kingdom

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