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Grades at 20 Games: Central Division

Twenty games into the season we check out how the Central Division teams stack up.

John Zitzler

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On Monday Cody Taylor gave his quarterly assessment of the Southeast Division and today we are going to do the same with the Central Division. You could argue that no division underwent more changes this past offseason. In Detroit, the Pistons brought in Stan Van Gundy to help lead the franchise back to its winning ways. The Bulls landed Pau Gasol in free agency to help bolster their frontcourt and further strengthen their championship hopes. The Bucks, somewhat controversially, sent Larry Drew packing and reached a deal with the Brooklyn Nets to make Jason Kidd their new head coach. Lance Stephenson and the Pacers were unable to agree to terms on a new deal, allowing their play-making wing to head to Charlotte. More importantly the Pacers lost their centerpiece, Paul George, for likely the entire season after he suffered a horrific leg injury. While those moves all made headlines, they pale in comparison to the news of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and the Cavs’ subsequent trade to acquire Kevin Love. With so many changes, the Central Division has become one of the most intriguing divisions in the NBA.

Now, onto the grades:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-7)

The return of LeBron James and the acquisition of Kevin Love has brought back a level of excitement to Cleveland that had been absent ever since James took his talents to South Beach just a few years ago. The fans in Cleveland once again have reason to believe that the Cavs could deliver them a title. Fair or not, with the talent on their roster many expected the Cavs to be near unbeatable from the start. New head coach David Blatt, a proven winner overseas, faced the enormous task of bringing together the now title favorite Cavs.

The season got off to a rocky start and many were quick to panic after the Cavs won only one of their first four games, including a loss in Utah to the Jazz. The slow start had fans already questioning Blatt. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Cavs experienced some growing pains as they learned to play together. However, it didn’t take long for the Cavs to find their stride, going 11-4 in their last 15 games, and they are now in the lead in the Central. James has done a tremendous job creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, averaging 7.9 assists per game. James’ play-making has allowed Kyrie Irving to be aggressive looking for his own shot. Despite being 21st in the league in pace, the Cavs are still in the top 10 in points per game, scoring at 103.4 a night. They have been one of the more efficient teams in the NBA, shooting 46.5 percent from the field. As the Cavs continue to mesh, expect them to improve on their already impressive offensive numbers.

Grade: B

2. Chicago Bulls (12-8)

The Bulls have been hampered by injuries early on this season. Unfortunately, Derrick Rose once again headlines the list of players who have already missed extended action. Not only has Rose sat for stretches, but other major contributors like Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson have been sidelined as well. The Bulls have been able to battle through those injuries and remain right in the mix for the division lead.

While their record might not blow you away after 20 games, you have to consider the tough schedule the Bulls have played. They have played only seven of the first 20 games at home. Jimmy Butler has exploded into a star; he is having a career year thus far. Butler is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 21.7 points per game and playing big minutes once again at almost 40 per night. Even while playing heavy minutes, Butler has been able to shoot 48.8 percent from the field. Butler, along with Gasol, have been huge as the Bulls look to keep pace with the Cavs. If Rose can stay healthy, expect the Cavs and Bulls to be neck and neck in the Central Division all season long.

Grade: B

3. Milwaukee Bucks (11-11)

After finishing last season with a league-low 15 wins, expectations weren’t great in Milwaukee. Newly hired head coach Jason Kidd has immediately made his presence felt and has the Bucks shockingly thinking about the playoffs. Adding a healthy Larry Sanders back into the mix hasn’t hurt either. Early on, the Bucks look like a completely different team from that 15-win squad of a season ago.

While the Bucks’ record is clear proof of their early improvement, it’s how their winning games that should encourage fans the most. Kidd has entrusted the future in the team’s faces of the franchise Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both have proven that they can handle big minutes and they’ve been key contributors to the Bucks’ success this year. Parker has started in all 22 games and is the Bucks’ second leading scorer and rebounder at 12.4 and 5.9 respectively. Antetokounmpo started the season coming off the bench, but has since settled into the starting rotation; he continues to make eye-popping plays nearly every night. Just as impressive has been Kidd’s impact on Brandon Knight, who at only 23 years old is having his most efficient season as a pro, scoring 17.6 points per game while shooting 44.7 percent the field and 40.2 percent from three.

The Bucks certainly look to have things heading back in the right direction after a long 2013-14 season. They may not be ready for a deep playoff run quite yet, but with the way their young talent continues to develop, they should be a team to watch in the future.

Grade: B+

4. Indiana Pacers (7-14)

When Paul George went down this summer, many wrote the Pacers off completely. Not only would they be without George, but they’d be missing Lance Stephenson, who rejected the Pacers’ five-year, $44 million offer, as well. Both players were catalysts behind the team’s run of success over the past few seasons.  As expected, the Pacers haven’t been the same team without George and Stephenson. However, they have continued to compete hard every night.

Not only are the Pacers missing George, but starting point guard George Hill has been out as well. Backup big man Ian Mahinmi also just went down for several weeks. The Pacers have been forced to play much of the season shorthanded. With the rash of injuries that the Pacers have suffered, offense has been tough to come by. The Pacers are 28th in the league in offensive rating and are scoring only 93.4 points per game. They are without a true go-to scorer and are currently being led by David West, who after returning from injury, is averaging 13.2 points per game.

It’s going to be a uphill battle all season long for the Pacers but there is no quit in this team. The Pacers aren’t the same team they were last year but they are still a tough match-up night in and night out.

Grade: C

5. Detroit Pistons (3-18)

Outside of the Sixers, no team has been worse than the Pistons and unfortunately, unlike the Sixers, the Pistons didn’t come into the season trying to position themselves for a top draft pick. Things have certainly not started as well as Stan Van Gundy would have hoped. This is uncharted territory for him, as he’s never coached a team that finished under .500 before, let alone had the kind of struggles this Pistons team is enduring.

Despite having some talented pieces like Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe, the Pistons have not played well together. Offensively they struggle mightily to score to ball, shooting only 40.7 percent as a team. The team’s three leading shot takers – Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Jennings – are shooting well below 40 percent from the field. They are just average on the defensive end and have not been nearly stingy enough to overcome their offensive woes. Van Gundy certainly has his work cut out for him going forward.

Grade: F

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA Daily: Turner’s Elite Defense Crucial To Pacers Playoff Push

The Pacers are 6-1 in February, and Myles Turner’s outstanding work on the defensive end is a huge reason why, Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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When a star player sustains a serious injury, it’s a gut-wrenching blow to any type of momentum his team has established.

Let’s rewind to about a month ago. The Indiana Pacers were rolling right along on January 23 with a 31-15 record. Among the top teams in the NBA, they were engaged in an entertaining battle with the Toronto Raptors that night. The Pacers ended up winning the game, but it cost them an unexpected, steep price.

Hustling down the floor to get back in transition, Oladipo’s leg gave out at the 4:07 mark of the second quarter. Just like that, the All-Star guard had ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his right knee. His year was finished.

While earning an emotional victory over the best squad in the Eastern Conference at home was a commendable response to such devastation, it was one game. Many predicted Indiana would have a significant drop due to the loss of Oladipo. After all, this was their leader on the court and in the locker room. They did drop four consecutive games afterward, too.

What people were quick to forget, though, is the resilience Nate McMillan had instilled in this group—and it continues to show. Sure, they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first-half season finale before the All-Star break, but they were on a six-game spree going into it.

In February, the Pacers are 6-1 with an average margin of victory of 12.8 points. As evidenced by 27.4 assists per game, the ball is moving as it should be and they’re getting results because of it (congratulations on Player of the Week honors, Bojan Bogdanovic).

Remember: Good offense comes from great defense, which is exactly why it’s been such a productive stretch. This month, Indiana is holding opponents to a lowly 28.2 three-point percentage and boasting the No. 1 defensive rating in the league at 98.1 opponent points per 100 possessions.

Although the physicality and technique of his teammates are a big help, Myles Turner is the true anchor of this stout Pacers’ defense. Is it fair to say that the blossoming fourth-year center isn’t getting nearly enough love from the masses as he should be?

This man is an absolute force underneath. The easiest way to put it is by using his league-high 2.7 blocks per game average as proof. In addition, Turner has recorded 81.6 percent of Indiana’s rejections since the beginning of the month. He had 10 swats against both Los Angeles teams at home.

Don’t get it twisted—the impact goes beyond blocks. Turner is simply dominating whoever tries him on the floor.

Per Cleaning The Glass, the Pacers’ defensive rating is 103.8 with him playing, a figure that ranks in the 93rd percentile among every talent in the NBA.

Up against guys who have averaged at least 20 minutes in a minimum of 25 games, Turner places fourth in the league overall in DRTG. Coincidentally, teammate Cory Joseph is right there with him.

Consider the elite competition he has faced. Looking at NBA.com’s matchups page, Turner has done fine work of holding highly-regarded big men in check. In two games, for example, the 22-year-old has stymied Rudy Gobert for just 10 points in 72 head-to-head possessions.

Citing more familiar assignments in the East, All-Star Nikola Vucevic has been a net 4.8 points per 100 possessions worse when facing off against Turner. Joel Embiid is a net minus-1.2 using the same scale. It’s also of note that Brook Lopez, a more spaced out center, has also had his struggles with Indiana’s fast-rising man in the middle, shooting just 33.3 percent from the field.

If you want to really tie a bow around these figures, see how consistent the numbers are. ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus system has Turner ranked third, just behind Gobert and Hassan Whiteside as the top defenders in that category regarding starters. Basketball Reference’s version of this statistic also has him in the top three, trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Gobert in Defensive Box Plus-Minus.

Throw in the fact that Turner is knocking down a career-best 40.7 percent of his triples on the offensive end and the Pacers have really benefited from the Texas product’s development as one of the most promising two-way centers in the NBA.

It’d be remiss of us to forget mentioning Thaddeus Young, who has been a headache for almost every player he bodies up on a nightly basis with his in-your-grill style on defense. He forces the opposition to make costly decisions often, which in turn helps Turner and Indiana create momentum with either stops or steals.

In all honesty, you could pick a name on the Pacers and that person will have contributed in some way, shape or form. That’s just the way McMillan has run things since taking over the club in 2016.

Indiana isn’t only in this thing to get into the playoffs. At 38-20 seeded third in the East, they’re set on making plenty of noise to avenge the loss of their superstar and doing something special.

And Turner just may be the man to ensure the Pacers get their wish.

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NBA Daily: The Impact of the Buyout Guys

With buyout season in full effect, Matt John takes a look at who among newly signed players will make the biggest impact for their new team.

Matt John

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If there’s a holiday to compare this year’s trading season, it’s Thanksgiving. We had a lot of juicy trades leading up to the deadline, so many in fact that it may have been a little too much to digest. To make a long story short, we got our money’s worth on Feb. 7. (especially if you are betting on basketball)

If Thanksgiving is the only apt comparison for the trade deadline, then buyout season so far has been like Black Friday. We’re seeing quite a few productive players get picked off the market for discount prices. That happens every year, but not at this volume, and not with players as good as this year’s class was.

Wesley Matthews, Enes Kanter, Markieff Morris, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph is kind of a loaded class for buyout season. Those guys are slated to be paid almost $100 million combined, and they either have been or will be added for the veteran’s minimum.

Now usually when players get bought out, where they go is usually get dictated by what their motive is. There are only three motives for why a player signs with a team after getting bought out.

A. His next payday
B. Getting a ring
C. Both

The players who opt for option A usually do because they believe they’ll get the most touches, which in turn will make them look better for interested parties this summer. The players who opt for option B are usually at the end of their days in the NBA so they want one last shot at success before they call it a career. Option C pretty much explains itself.

So far, the majority of the players who have latched on to new teams after being bought out have opted for option A. Some have already played a few games with their new team, while others are eagerly awaiting to start a new chapter with their new squad – even if it’s likely to be pretty brief.

As we wait for the NBA season to resume days from now, it’s time to look over what we should expect from the guys who have joined their new teams via buyout season. None of the players mentioned are stars, but they could play a part in their team’s playoff success this season.

Wesley Matthews – Indiana Pacers

This couldn’t have worked out any better than it has for Matthews.

He got traded by the team that he had no future with, and now he gets to play for a team that had a void that he fills at shooting guard and has a chance to make things interesting in the postseason.

Matthews’ role on the team is pretty clear. He’s a 3-and-D swingman who should fit snugly into the Pacers’ roster of high-end role players who know exactly what their role is. Now, Matthews doesn’t boast efficiency – he’s currently shooting 40 percent from the field this season – but his 37.1 percent  shooting rate from distance this season should be perfect for Indy since they shoot the exact same percentage as a team – good for sixth overall in the league.

Since Wes shoots almost six threes a game on average, and Indiana currently ranks 28th in three-point attempts per game (25.4), his presence could also boost the Pacers’ offense, which currently is rated 17th-highest in the league (109.9).

Matthews hasn’t exactly had a brilliant start in his first two games – eight points, four rebounds, 2.5 assists on 23.5 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from three. In his defense, he’s been on three teams in the past couple of weeks. Going through that much change of scenery is bound to lead some to jetlag.

When he gets past said jetlag, Indiana going to be an even tougher out for whoever faces them in the playoffs and eases the presumed death blow that was Victor Oladipo’s knee injury.

Enes Kanter – Portland Trail Blazers

Remember when the Blazers gave Kanter that four-year/$70 million offer sheet back in the summer of 2015? Looks like this was a pairing that was truly meant to be.

And why shouldn’t it? According to NBA.com, Portland’s bench averages 35.4 points a game, which ranks 19th in the league. Kanter eats second units for breakfast thanks to both his elite low-post scoring and rebounding. Averaging just 25.6 minutes per game this season, Enes is recording 14 points and 10.5 rebounds a night.

Now, some regression is due in Rip City since the Blazers have understandably better offensive options than the Knicks did this season. Still, Kanter is more likely than not going to help what is already the fifth-highest rated offense in the league. He’s also probably going to make Portland’s rebounding, which already ranks third in total rebounds on average (47.6), better. Especially since their bench ranks ninth in rebounding average (17.9).

So, to sum it up, Enes will probably make Portland’s strengths all the stronger on offense. The question is, will he hurt them on defense?

Anyone who’s anyone knows Kanter’s shortcomings on D. The man definitely tries but he’s a liability on that end of the floor which makes him perfect against second units. Portland currently has the 16th-highest rated offense in the league (110.2), so he’s probably not going to make that better.

This season, the Knicks’ defense was plus-3.9 with Kanter on the floor. That’s not good. It’s not dreadfully bad either. It’s not bad enough that Kanter would be an overall liability. It may help Enes to not have to play in the 26th-highest rated defense in the league like he did in the Big Apple.

It’s not picture perfect, but Enes Kanter brings another dimension to Portland. Even if it’s not a dimension that’s as desired around the league as it once was.

Markieff Morris – Oklahoma City Thunder

The one resource that OKC needed in this stretch run was a knockdown shooter. In ‘Kieff, they got a shooter that fits the label of “eh.”

Morris’ 33.3 percent shooting from deep this season – and 33.8 percent for his career – isn’t going to intimidate anyone. It feels as though that’s not why the Thunder brought him aboard. They brought him aboard for one reason above all else: Be better than Patrick Patterson.

Patterson has been a colossal disappointment in Oklahoma City. Originally brought on to be the designated stretch big, Patterson’s percentages have gone down the drain, shooting 37.8 from the field and 33.8 percent from three. To make matters worse, the Thunder are minus-14.7 with him on the floor.

If Morris proves to be just a reasonable upgrade over Patterson, then that can make a world of difference for Oklahoma City’s second unit, who currently ranks 26th in points per game with 31.2 points a game. Markieff doesn’t have to be a knockdown shooter in order to do that. He just has to continue to be the guy he’s been since 2013.

Markieff can also spell minutes for both Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel at center. This season, he’s played 64 percent of his minutes at the five according to Basketball-Reference. That percentage is definitely going to take a dive with the Thunder, but it gives them another option. A team that already thrived on its versatility found yet another facet to make it stronger.

Morris also adds a little sizzle to the Thunder. His brash attitude on the court could make what’s already been the league’s stingiest defense all the more unforgiving. For a team that needed as much help as it can get as entering the toughest part of the schedule, getting Morris should prove to be a no-brainer.

Jeremy Lin – Toronto Raptors

This will be the first playoff-caliber team than Jeremy Lin has been on since his time in Charlotte in 2016, and it is the best team Lin’s been on since his days with Houston Rockets. If all goes well, things could get Lin-sane in Toronto.

All puns aside, adding Lin was a must for the Raptors after trading Delon Wright in the Marc Gasol deal and losing Fred VanVleet for the next month or so. Even with VanVleet, the Raptors needed a playmaker in that second unit. Granted, Gasol probably helps a lot with that. Lin just adds to it.

This season, Toronto’s bench is currently ranked 20th in scoring with 35.2 points a game and is ranked 26th in assists with seven per game. Adding a veteran like Lin won’t magically change all of that, but he’s an improvement over what they had.

Jeremy has also proven to be an overall plus this season. Keep in mind, he played half the season in Atlanta, but the Hawks were a plus-4.1 with Lin on the floor. It primarily came from his defense, where the Hawks were minus-6.3 with him on the floor. Toronto has the seventh-highest rated defense in the league, so he should help in that regard.

Running the second unit isn’t the biggest task, but it’s consequential enough that it needs a man who can be up for the job. Getting a virtuoso in that department like Jeremy Lin should Toronto’s hopes of getting past their playoff demons.

There are others as well, such as Shelvin Mack going to Charlotte and Wayne Ellington going to Detroit, but those moves likely won’t be as impactful.

Who’s to say we’re even finished yet? There are rumblings of a Robin Lopez buyout in Chicago. Ditto for Frank Kaminsky. Several of these buyout guys still remain unsigned. Who knows who else might be finding a new team in the next week or so? Oh, and there’s a certain Carmelo Anthony lurking in the distance.

That last line was only partially a joke.

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G-League

NBA Daily: Power Ranking The Two-Way Standouts, Part II

With trade season in the rearview mirror, Ben Nadeau takes stock of the NBA’s impressive collection of two-way standouts.

Ben Nadeau

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Last week, the NBA’s trade deadline finally came and went — along with plenty of worthwhile fireworks of their own — and buyout season is officially in full swing. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline occurred recently without much fanfare. In January, the cutoff to sign players to two-way contracts passed — so where does that leave affairs headed into the midseason break?

Check out SBG Global Sportsbook for the latest odds.

Previously, Basketball Insiders took a swing at ranking the 30-best two-way players but, quickly, it became clear that there would need to be a Part II. Since then, the Pacers signed Edmond Sumner to a contract that extends through the remainder of the season, plus a team option in 2019-20. Our No. 12 selection has a home in Indiana and — with All-Star Victor Oladipo sidelined with a serious injury — Sumner has proven his worth in the postseason-ready rotation. And, funny enough, Chris Boucher — who was spotlighted in the introductory paragraphs in Part I as a would-be ineligible roster member for Toronto — earned his own multi-year contract as well.

If you’re in need of some honorable mentions and Nos. 30-11, the Part I rankings can be found right here.

But as a rapid-fire recap: Since 2017, two-way contracts have granted a team to carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G League for up to 45 days in a season. While these two-way standouts will be ineligible to compete in the playoffs, franchises are able to convert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so. With that out of the way, here’s the best of the bunch — beginning with a very special (and retconned) honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

So, the top ten list is officially a top nine with Boucher moving to the Raptors full-time, excellent news for the deep conference frontrunners. Previously, the former Oregon Duck would’ve been ranked at No. 2 and, well, it was a deserved spot. Boucher averaged a whopping 27.6 points, 11 rebounds and 4.2 blocks over 23 games with the 905. For what it’s worth, these numbers slotted Boucher second, fourth and first, respectively, league-wide. In college, Boucher was a highly-touted prospect before a torn ACL sent him tumbling down and, eventually, out of draft boards. After one season as a two-way player for Golden State, Boucher ended up in Toronto — now, he’s a member of the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad.

His NBA-level statistics certainly aren’t as eye-popping, not even close — but now Boucher can receive minutes on Finals-worthy contender. Being behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will cap any short term potential, but the shot-blocking scorer can learn from some of the very best at his position. In 17 games, Boucher has averaged 3.8 points and 0.9 blocks, still, the sky may just be the limit for this talented 26-year-old. Undeniably, Boucher has earned his new multi-year contract with partial guarantees — now can he keep rising?

9. Amile Jefferson, Orlando Magic

Jefferson has been a G League standout since he went undrafted out of Duke in 2017 — now the 6-foot-9 forward has been a rebounding force for two different teams in two consecutive seasons. In 2017-18, Jefferson was named to the All-NBA G League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team after he posted 17.7 points and 12.8 rebounds over 46 games for the Iowa Wolves. This season, now with the Eastern Conference-leading Lakeland Magic, not much has changed.

With nearly identical numbers, Jefferson remains one of the G League’s most consistent forces to date. As the third-ranked rebounder, Jefferson gobbles boards and scores at an effective rate too, with his 58.2 percent mark from the field coming in at 13th-best during the calendar year as well. Notably, the Magic’s frontcourt depth is absolutely loaded, so unless injuries strike the postseason hopefuls, Jefferson will remain behind Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and the recently-shelved Mohamed Bamba.

8. Danuel House Jr., Houston Rockets

Earlier this season, two-way standout Danuel House Jr. ran out of eligible days with Houston — but when the Rockets offered a guaranteed three-year deal, the sharpshooter declined it. That decision meant that House would stay with the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Barring a change in heart from either side, House, 25, will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Over 25 games with Houston, House averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, even starting 12 contests throughout his rapid ascent in the playoff-destined organization.

House has another full year of prior NBA experience too and tallied 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over 23 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2017-18. The Vipers are currently two games behind Santa Cruz for the G League’s best record and House, as of late, has been instrumental in that chase. Last Friday, House helped Rio Grande down the South Bay Lakers with 24 points, seven assists and the game-clinching free throws with just seconds remaining. Although House cannot play another game for the Rockets on his current two-way deal, his successes this campaign still enters him fairly high on our list.

7. Theo Pinson, Brooklyn Nets

As far as new revelations come, the Nets’ Theo Pinson may just take the cake. After four successful seasons at North Carolina, including an NCAA Championship in 2017, Pinson went undrafted. During that senior campaign at UNC, Pinson tallied 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 29 minutes per game — solid, if not spectacular. More importantly, Pinson was a poor three-point shooter, hitting on just 25.7 percent of his attempts at the Division-I powerhouse. Scooped up after the draft by Brooklyn, Pinson has been a nice surprise for the talented prospect-developing franchise in the Northeast.

Over 25 games on Long Island, Pinson has averaged 20.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists — thanks to those efforts, the point guard landed on the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad too. In one of the more positive storylines of the season, Pinson has even become an above average shooter from deep and now makes three three-pointers per game at a very respectable 37.3 percent clip. Perhaps best of all, Pinson recently provided a burst of energy for Brooklyn too. In a close battle against the Knicks, Pinson exploded for 19 points and eight rebounds on 3-for-5 from three-point range over 26 minutes.

Either way, in the last year or so, Pinson has improved massively on his biggest weakness, dominated the G League and made an impact at the NBA level — not a bad way to start your once-undrafted professional career by any means.

6. Jordan Loyd, Toronto Raptors

First and foremost, Loyd, too, was named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference team, in a theme that will continue sharply from here on out. Still, distilling Loyd’s massive 2018-19 to a single honor would be a disservice to the rookie. Loyd has done a little bit of everything for the Raptors 905, although he was passed over by Toronto to sign Malcolm Miller instead. The 6-foot-4 guard has averaged 21.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals over 34.9 minutes per game. His fine tandem with the aforementioned Boucher seems to be dead for now, but the pair continuously tore up the G League alongside each other for most of the stat-stuffed campaign.

On Jan. 28, Loyd even pulled down a triple-double against Windy City by tallying 24 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists. Back in 2017-18, Loyd was one of Israeli Premier League’s biggest stars, earned an All-Star Game berth and finished the season as the third-highest scorer (17.4 PPG), Again, the Raptors’ loaded backcourt — Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Norman Powell, and, by the postseason, Fred VanVleet — has hindered Loyd’s potential impact in the NBA. Honestly, that’s fine: Just stand aside and watch with wonder as Loyd pushes the reigning champions back into the G League postseason all by himself now.

5. P.J. Dozier, Boston Celtics

The Maine Red Claws may be a disappointing subplot to the latest G League narrative but newcomer P.J. Dozier has been an absolute dream. Through 33 games in Portland, Dozier has averaged 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game over a 35-minute clip. Not to be a broken record, but, of course, Dozier was another easy selection for the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster too. Dozier has featured in four games for Boston, a total double that of his appearances with Oklahoma City as a rookie last season — but his G League numbers have seen a major rise since then as well.

The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging about 8.5 more points per game, but his greatest rise has been the boost in assists, nearly tripling from his 2017-18 campaign. Progress, particularly from within the Celtics’ organization, is nothing to ignore. Like teammate R.J. Hunter, Boston’s other two-way player, his potential for the season, if not longer, is capped. Of course, that could change this summer depending on where the Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier chips end up falling in free agency, but Dozier has become an absolute force since joining Boston.

Dozier has averaged just 1.8 points over a paltry 2.5 minutes per game for Boston — regardless, he’s officially a prospect worth keeping tabs on.

4. Alan Williams, Brooklyn Nets

You guessed it: Alan Williams is yet another Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster honoree. And, after his tumultuous journey, it’s a well-earned award for the 6-foot-8 big man. Through many world-traveling tribulations — outlined here — Williams signed a multi-year contract with Phoenix in July of 2017. Unfortunately, that feel-good story was short-lived as Williams underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in September, rehabbed until March, played five meaningless games and then was waived at season’s end.

Thankfully, the Suns’ loss became the Nets’ gain and Williams has dominated in the G League for Long Island. The affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Sauce’ has averaged 20.6 points and 13.2 rebounds over 28 games, numbers that place him as a top ten scorer and the second-best board-snatcher league-wide. During Williams’ only major appearance for Brooklyn this season thus far, he grabbed eight points and eight rebounds in eight minutes — a line he’s proven capable of repeating over and over with the proper court burn.

It feels like a matter of time before Williams gets his next chance at the NBA level — but who will scoop up the elite rebounder?

3. Yante Maten, Miami HEAT

At this rate, Yante Maten will be a household name before too long in NBA circles — if he isn’t already. Maten was a four-year standout — 19.3 points per game as a senior — at Georgia before he went undrafted and landed one of Miami’s two-way deals this summer. In return, all Maten has done is tallied 26.4 points (second) 10 rebounds (fifth) and 1.2 blocks per game for the Sioux Falls Skyforce this season. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Jan. 2 but he and teammate Duncan Robinson — ranked at No. 18 in Part I — were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster last week as well.

Maten has not featured for the HEAT in 2018-19 but his scoring prowess is quickly making himself a name. During an early December win against the Stockton Kings, Maten dropped a blistering 42 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks on 15-for-21 shooting. Miami only averages 105.1 points per game, the 27th-worst mark in the entire league — bested by three free-falling franchises: Chicago, Cleveland and Memphis — so injecting Maten’s scoring punch could provide a much-needed lift.

For now, we’ll have to settle for a healthy return from the inactive list — sadly, it’s been far too long since Maten torched the G League. If things break right for him, it won’t be much longer before he gets his NBA call-up either.

2. Angel Delgado, Los Angeles Clippers

Your current rebounding leader is, handily, the Clippers’ Angel Delgado. At 17.3 points and 14.6 rebounds on 58.8 percent shooting, Delgado’s looming presence has been well-known all season for Agua Caliente. In more recent news, Delgado made his NBA debut for Los Angeles on Feb. 8 and chipped in three points and four rebounds over 14 minutes against the Indiana Pacers. Following their trade that sent Tobias Harris across the country to Philadelphia, the Clippers have some intriguing paths to end this season — many scenarios of which include Delgado’s growth.

As of publishing, Los Angeles holds the conference’s eighth and final postseason berth, winning two of their last three games post-Harris’ departure. Delgado, 24, is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with Seton Hall, where the frontcourt menace tallied 13.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Pirates. In January, Delgado pulled down an otherworldly 31 rebounds against the OKC Blue — no, that’s not a type. For now, at least, Delgado is behind Montrezl Harrell, one of 2018-19’s breakout stars, newcomer Ivica Zubac and G League teammate Johnathan Motley, the latter of which has played in 15 games for Los Angeles this season.

Of note, both Delgado and Motley were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster.

1. Jordan McRae, Washington Wizards

And, in a reveal that shouldn’t surprise anybody: Jordan McRae is basketball’s best two-way player — at this point, the resume is too much to ignore. Yes, McRae is a Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference awardee, but he’s also an NBA Champion. So far, McRae has seen it all: Finals experience, another previous D-League All-Star selection, a trip (albeit a short one) overseas to play with a prestigious club, Baskonia, and remains the current scoring leader in today’s G League. McRae, 27, has averaged a dominant 30 points per game — which that would rank him behind just Antonio Blakeney (32.0) for the highest single-season PPG tally in G League history — along with 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals.

With 78 NBA games and counting under his belt, McRae is both seasoned and untapped. In an inspired drubbing of the Red Claws last month, McRae poured in 54 points and nine rebounds on 18-for-31 shooting — and there are plenty of other MVP-worthy efforts to choose from as well. The Wizards, struggling to stay afloat without All-Star John Wall, could certainly use McRae’s talented efforts. Ultimately, a combination of developmental and financial cap reasons may keep him from getting his contract converted by season’s end, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote in January. Through 19 games, McRae has averaged 4.3 points and 1.1 rebounds — but make no mistake, he’s one of the best scorers the G League has ever offered up.

There they are! From top to bottom — and split over two articles — there’s a definitive list of the NBA’s best two-way players. While some are still feeling out basketball at the post-collegiate level, there are plenty of hardened, consistent contributors already. There are high-ranking scorers and rebounders, but other newcomers arrive with overseas experiences, national championships and difficult injury histories. The G League has always given athletes an intriguing — if not unlikely road to the league — but thanks to the two-way deals, those narratives have often become downright compelling.

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