After the Wizards throttled the Atlanta Hawks, 115-83, on Saturday, John Wall told his teammates how much he appreciated having NBA Developmental League refugees such as Othyus Jeffers and Larry Owens around. The duo, which Coach Flip Saunders affectionately calls, “the D-League all-stars” -- because, well, that’s what they were this season -- has added an extra jolt to the end of the season, playing with a hunger fueled by a desire to find a permanent home in the NBA.
“It’s great,” Wall said. “We already know coming in, it was tough getting here from they came from. They come in, giving 110 percent every time on the court, hustling for loose balls. They’re the type of guys that don’t really need the ball to score. They just play hard for us, and it’s [rubbing] off on us.”
Jeffers and Owens were part of the group -- including fellow D-League alum Mustafa Shakur, rookie Kevin Seraphin and Yi Jianlian -- that helped push a 16-point lead to 34 in the fourth quarter, over the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their hustle and aggressive style of play left an impression. “Those are the scariest dudes, man -- ‘cause they’re hungry. Those guys that haven’t tasted the NBA lifestyle,” Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. “They want to be here. They want to prove they can play at this level. Those are the most dangerous guys to me.”
The Wizards have won four out of their past six games overall and they are 6-8 since signing Jeffers to his first 10-day contract on March 17. The undersized Jeffers, who is very generously listed at 6-feet-5, had his first career double-double against the Hawks, scoring 13 points with a game-high 11 rebounds. A tenacious defender, Jeffers flustered Jamal Crawford and Williams, collecting three steals. Jeffers averages 5.2 points and 3.7 rebounds and has scored in double figures in four of his past seven games.
“We from the NBA D-League. That stands for Development,” Jeffers said. “It wasn’t that we couldn’t play in the NBA. It’s just our time wasn’t right.”
Owens signed with the Wizards after the team waived another former D-Leaguer, Cartier Martin, on Wednesday. He bypassed the D-League playoffs to pursue his dream and in his past two games, the 28-year-old rookie has matched up against all-stars Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson. He scored 10 points against the Hawks after getting nine points in his debut in Indiana.
“I got my nerves out the first game in Indiana. Now it’s just going out there and playing how I know how to play,” Owens said. “It’s an honor, to even put a uniform on. They give you a chance to show your talent. They have confidence in you and it’s an honor just to play.”
Coach Flip Saunders got his start in professional coaching in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association and has always appreciated the efforts of those who work their way up through the lower leagues. “There’s a fine line. Having coached in the minors for seven years, there’s a fine line between guys playing in that league and our league,” Saunders said. “There’s a lot of guys who go down from our league to that league and can’t play, but usually the good players in that league that come to our league, they can play at a pretty high level. They play usually so hard. That’s what those guys do, they play hard. They move the ball, they’re very unselfish.”
Owens has yet to practice with the Wizards, but he has a good feel for the game, which he showed in the first quarter, as the Hawks double-teamed him and quickly dropped a bounce pass to Seraphin for a dunk. Both Owens and Jeffers spent time with the league-leading San Antonio Spurs this season and Saunders said that it is important to have players around who are going to play hard. Those efforts will be rewarded, he said. He expressed regret for taking out Owens and Jeffers after they helped the Wizards get within four points in the fourth quarter on Friday in Boston.
“Our main players also know we’re getting more confidence in those guys so when they get in there and play well, I’m not going to take them out just to take them out. I told them if you get in there and play well, you’re going to stay,” Saunders said. “We’re going to bring in guys who are going to play hard and do things to make our players better. O does that. How hard he plays, you can’t help but get caught up in that enthusiasm. Same thing with Larry. Those guys have helped bring our energy level up, and those are the kind of players when you have good teams, those guys help. You don’t have slipoff. When your bench comes in, you get better.”
Jeffers said he’s grateful for the opportunity to finish another season in the NBA. He was with the Utah Jazz last season but had to go back to the D-League and wait for another opportunity.
“It feels good,” Jeffers said of the win over the Hawks, “but also it feels great to the point that we’re finishing up strong for next year. Hopefully, we get to be here to set the team up for the right position. If not, maybe another team can give us a chance.”