It’s often said about players drafted in the second round that they’re facing an uphill struggle just to get their professional careers off the ground. Everything is earned — a training camp invite every season, every minute of playing time, a second contract. Nothing is easy for players who essentially start their careers behind the eight ball. Whether or not it’s correct or fair is up for debate, but that’s the reality.

If there’s one player to whom all of the above applies, it’s the Mavs’ second-year wing Ricky Ledo. Drafted 43rd overall last season after spending more than a year away from competitive basketball, Ledo has taken as humble a road as a hot prospect can through one season, and his battle hasn’t stopped yet.

He played just 33 minutes for the Mavs last season, as ahead of him on the depth chart at the 2-guard spot were proven veterans like Monta Ellis and Vince Carter. As a result, he spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Mavericks, where he scored 13.3 points per game in 39 contests and added six boards and three assists. He was assigned, recalled, then reassigned back to the D-League six times last season, an extended back-and-forth ordeal that routinely saw him take private planes to the Northeast to join the Mavs and then a commercial flight out west with his D-League teammates all in the span of 72 hours. It’s not a glamorous way for a young player to earn his stripes in pro ball, but in Frisco Ledo got exactly what he needed: minutes on the floor.

“My main thing was playing. I wanted to play,” Ledo said of his up-and-down rookie season. “If you’re a competitor, you want to play. (The Legends) put me on the court, and I hadn’t been on the court in so long. It just felt good to play. I actually wanted to stay down there as long as I could just to develop my game and get back into that groove I was in before I stopped playing.”

Ledo began the ’13-14 campaign on somewhat of a rocky start, as he’d sat out his entire freshman season at D-I Providence. That alone led to his draft stock falling into the second round, even when, based on skill alone, he was very well a first-round talent. Still, his time spent off the floor showed toward the beginning of his rookie campaign, as he struggled to put together consistent performances with the Legends.

But by the end of the season, Ledo clearly found something. In his final five games with Texas, he averaged 22.2 points, seven boards, and five assists on 59 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc. He’d arrived, and just in time.

“I just felt like I found my groove and I started to play, and I came into my own,” Ledo said about his end-of-season surge. “I felt like I was taking control at the time, and I felt like I had to and I had something to prove. I showed that I can play with the best of them. I showed that at the end of the year.”

Legends Director of Player Personnel Travis Blakeley, who also doubles as a Mavs Summer League assistant coach, worked with Ledo on a daily basis all throughout last season and into this summer, and has seen firsthand the early glimpses of Ledo’s polished game.

“We look at these kids who go from one year of college and come in and play — some of them find success, and some of them don’t,” Blakeley said. “Ricky didn’t even have that chance. He literally came off the AAU tournament floor and, with a few scattered college practices in between, onto an NBA court. I think that type of shift can throw anyone off, but I think Ricky handled that pretty well, and has grown, and I think the results are really starting to manifest themselves.”

Added Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle, who followed Ledo’s progress from a distance while the 21-year-old played primarily in Frisco last season: “He’s learned a lot in a year’s time. He’s gotten in better shape. He’s gotten more immersed in what the NBA life is all about, with the NBA process and how to be a pro and those kinds of things. This is a big summer for him. He’s worked hard to this point, but we’re expecting him to set things up, and so far he’s doing a good job.”

Ledo has stood out during the Mavs’ first three Summer League games in Las Vegas, as he’s scored 17.7 points per game. His field goal and three-point percentages have increased through each game, as have his assist totals.¬†Blakeley said Ledo’s ability to drive past his defender and create for others — a skill especially on display in the Mavs’ 88-57 win against the Toronto Raptors on Monday — is perhaps the element of his game most vital to the youngster’s playing time prospects with the Mavs this season.

“I think for him that’s going to be one of the skills that he has to put forth each and every day,” Blakeley said, “because he’s not going to be called upon to be a 20 points a night scorer for the Mavericks. It’s just not in the cards right now in his career. But if he can facilitate, if he can cause problems by coming off the pick-and-rolls and getting into the paint, facilitating for others, drive-and-kick, that kind of thing, and then work his way to the free throw line, I think that’s how Ricky’s going to find his way on the court for Coach Carlisle and maybe earn a few extra minutes this year.”

What else must he do then to earn steady playing time this season? The Mavs have reloaded at the wing position and will yet again trot out one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. Ledo will undoubtedly need to continue to improve his game every single day to earn every single minute of playing time, but that’s fine with him, because that’s life in the NBA for a second-round draft pick.

“I’m a competitor, so I always want to be on the floor,” Ledo said. “I want to play every day.”

And he has played every day — occasionally, even, with former Mavs great Michael Finley. Ledo said “Coach Fin” focuses primarily on the swingman’s footwork and other little off-court things about what it takes to be a pro. That’s a phrase you’ll hear nearly every young player and head coach alike say: be a pro. It’s the mantra of the hungry, and Ledo is as hungry as anyone for a chance to show his stuff.

If Ledo can continue improving his game on the floor and his mindset off of it, he’ll be a pro for a long time. The latter has been aided, he said, simply by being around Dirk Nowitzki — “He just teaches you how to work hard,” Ledo said. Next up for the shooting guard is proving to Mavs coaches that he deserves an NBA roster spot this fall, and then, in his own words, the sky’s the limit.

“I’ve just got to keep working,” Ledo said. “I feel like if I keep working, I’m the only one who can hold myself back. I truly feel that, and I truly feel like I’m going to be a great player in this league.”

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