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NBA AM: A Day In The NBA’s G-League

Life in the NBA’s G-League isn’t as glamorous as the big leagues, but the focus and attention teams have on the task at hand is still impressive, Steve Kyler spent a day with the Northern Arizona Suns with an All-Access look at a day in the minor NBA leagues.

Steve Kyler

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7:00 A.M. comes early in the G-League, especially when you are the Northern Arizona Suns and you got into Lakeland the day before and had to take a 90-minute bus ride from nearby Tampa International Airport, but that’s life in the NBA’s minor league.

Referred to as the “NAZ,” the team prepared to play the Lakeland Magic. Basketball Insiders got a chance to spend the day with them “all-access” style, sitting in on all of the meetings and conversations that take place during game day.

Unlike NBA teams, G-League teams travel light. The NAZ traveling party consists of their healthy roster players (injured players are left behind to rehab at home), three coaches, trainer/equipment manager Jervae Odom and general manager Louis Lehman.

The typical game day for the NAZ starts with head coach Cody Toppert having some breakfast around 8:30 A.M. and reviewing game film. He usually watches at least four games of an opponent, and usually watches those games more than once. G-League coaches usually have about 36 hours to prepare for a team, and the coaches waste little opportunity to get an advantage.

Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Nick Friedman has the responsibility to scout the Magic and put together a game plan. The NAZ assistant coaches split up the scouts, and try to balance the workload.

Friedman’s job against the Magic was to break down what each opposing player does well and craft a plan to take away their strengths, as well as exploit weaknesses that surface in the stats and the game film. He is responsible for cutting up the game film into packages that showcase players strengths and weakness.

The coaches usually convene for breakfast in the same room around 9:00 A.M. to review film, and after the meal, dig into the film and game plan together. It’s an open communication. Each coach tosses out thoughts and concerns. They debate what a player does and how to combat it.

The coaches’ review of the plan is usually about 45 minutes, and in this case, ran pretty smoothly. All three coaches weigh in on how they viewed the games and the areas of advantage for their team. Defensive coordinator and associate head coach Tyler Gatlin and coach Toppert work through who will guard who and lock in a plan to deliver to the team.

The NAZ players arrive just after the coaches finish their review at 10:00 A.M. and get breakfast while the coaches introduce the players to their opposition.

There is a tremendous amount of efficiency to the process. The NAZ coaches are mindful of trying to overload their players with too much information and usually stick to the things the players need to know about their opposition, with a specific focus on how to gain an advantage to what the opposition does.

After breakfast, the team piles onto a small 20-passenger minibus for morning shootaround at the arena at 10:30 A.M.

The NAZ coaches try and keep shootaround positive and light, pumping music into the routine. Cheering and encouraging their players and really pushing the effort.

Shootaround for the NAZ has a couple of parts—stretching and getting loose, getting up game shots and reviewing the defenses.

The NAZ coaches identified that their “diamond” defensive scheme would be very effective against the Magic’s base offense, so a lot of time was spent on making sure the NAZ players knew where to be and when to get there.

Shootaround lasted a little more than an hour, with the team adjourning for lunch and some downtime.

As circumstance would have it on this particular day, the Phoenix Suns were playing an afternoon game in Boston, so the coaches and Lehman, who is as much a part of the staff as anyone, gathered in the hotel lobby to commandeer a TV to watch the game.

What ensued next was almost comical as getting the game on the TV proved to be harder than expected. Between slow internet, funky League Pass connections and getting the TV on the right input, watching the match proved to be challenging. Fortunately, Coach Gatlin, fresh from a haircut, was able to deliver the much-needed iPad adapter which got the technology working.

Unfortunately, though, the Suns’ struggles in Boston were hard to watch.

With lunch in hand and the game on TV, the staff starts to wind down a little.

Around 2:30 P.M., the group breaks up for a nap.

Gameday naps are huge in basketball, and from this experience, almost necessary to survive the day with any semblance of energy.

With the group headed in their own direction, Coach Friedman works on the pre-game highlight reel. The NAZ staff puts together a reel of good NAZ plays. Before the game, the reel is played for the team, with a NAZ player selecting the music that will play under it. Friedman takes his time on this part of the processes selecting the right mix of team-oriented plays, dunks, and threes.

The team rejoins at 4:30 P.M. to head to the arena for game day, piling back into the 20-passenger minibus. The coaches get properly caffeinated with a stop at a nearby Starbucks.

Upon arrival at the arena, the players immediately take the floor and begin warming up and shooting. What’s impressive about the warm-up period is the intensity in which the players work. The routine feels more like a training session or a practice than getting warm and lose before a game.

Magic assistant general manager Adetunji Adedipe offers to rebound for the NAZ to help keep the routine moving; the prevailing thought was it was a nice gesture from the opposing team, although some jokingly suspected he might be doing some player scouting, too.

The warm-up period runs for almost 90 minutes, before the players return to the locker room for pre-game. The coaches convene together before they address the team, reminding each other of the details they agreed upon with GM Lehman adding his two cents to the equation. The lack of ego among the staff is impressive, while there is clearly an organizational chain, none of that plays out in the room or in conversations. There aren’t any competing agendas; the four minds come together on how to deliver the plan to their players.

Because this is Friedman’s scout, he again delivers the plan to the players. Since the morning review, Friedman has added more clips to his film deck, including some players that he didn’t have game film for in the morning. The messages are pretty much the same. The plan has not changed.

Each coach weighs in on the plan and what the team needs to do, with the player locked into to the message.

The whole process was efficient and succinct.

Before the players take the floor, the highlight reel is queued up, and Derrick Jones, Jr is tapped to provide the song. The highlight reel is a hit. The players cheer for each other, hooting and hollering at each play and rim-rattling dunk.

It’s game time.

The NAZ coaches were concerned that their team would start slow—something they have struggled with in previous games. They identified that Magic guard Troy Caupain was going to be a handful and he was, right out of the gate. The NAZ coaches also had concerns about Magic big man Khem Birch, which also proved to be valid.

After the first quarter, the game was tied 35-35, the game plan played out as scripted. The areas where the NAZ should have had success, they did. The areas the coaches identified as being a problem were.

The second half was much of the same. The Magic kept abusing the NAZ inside, Caupain was getting looks wherever he wanted them. After a 27-28 second quarter, the Magic were up by one at the half.

The coaches met in their locker-room before addressing the team. It was clear there needed to be some changes. Forward Alex Peters was getting beat too frequently at the four spot, so it was decided to shift him to the five. The coaches were also hopeful that Wizards two-way player Mike Young could stay out of foul trouble in the second half as it plagued him early in the first.

The message to the players was surprisingly calm and clear.

“We got this.”

“Our offense is fine, no problems there.”

“Tighten up our defensive effort, and we’ll open up a double-digit lead.”

As the NAZ took the floor for the second half, everything the coaches believed would happen did. The defense tightens up, the pace of play picked up, and the NAZ notched a 43-point quarter blowing past the Magic’s 25 points.

As the fourth quarter begins, the NAZ come down to earth a little, but so does the Magic. The fourth quarter ends 23-17 with the final score being 128-105. It wasn’t always pretty, but the NAZ coaches will take it.

The coaches and Lehman convene in the coaches locker-room and talk up the things that went well. It was a good day’s work for the staff. Friedman nailed the right places to focus. Gatlin and Toppert’s defensive assignments and changes at the half proved to be critical. The “diamond” defensive scheme proved to be too much for the Magic players.

Lehman’s thoughts at the half were spot on and proved to be part of how the NAZ pulled away. As much as it’s easy to focus on the team on the floor, it was impressive how well the team on the sidelines put the whole thing together with such unity and clarity of vision.

The coaches then addressed the team. It was fairly quick, mostly focusing on the 7:00 A.M. departure time for the airport. The team enjoyed the news that they were getting a non-stop flight back to Phoenix, as most of the cities G-League teams play in require changing planes. The news of a non-stop flight seemed to be more meaningful than winning the game.

In all, this wasn’t a bad showing for a coaching staff that had been together for less than a month. There was connectivity that was uncanny and perhaps resulted from the selflessness each person in the equation had.

There was a singular sense of purpose from all of the staff—it was about getting the players ready to play.

The coaches applauded the players for executing, saying repeatedly they wanted to turn the team over to the players and while that sounds a little cliché, the truth of the matter is everything done in the day was about that end goal. Put the players in a position to be the best version of themselves and the players really responded well to that.

As the team cleared out of the locker room to head off to whatever mischief they could find in Lakeland or the surrounding area, the coaching staff conveyed for a meal together. The talk was a little bit about the game, but mostly it was friends enjoying each other’s company and a pretty good meal.

As you would expect, there were lots of stories—stories about sharing rooms and traveling together. The meal went on for about two hours and then it was time to get some sleep.

This was game 11 of the season. Things are starting to come together for the NAZ, but there are a lot more games in front of them, the staff has to constantly be aware that roster change could come at any moment.

The Suns have a roster choice to make as they will need to convert current two-way player Mike James to a full NBA contract in the coming days, which means creating a roster spot. The NAZ are also hosting a Wizards player that could be called back to Washington at any time, so while progress is important, there are things that are out of the staff’s control. That is a part of life in the G-League.

All of the coaches mentioned this concept in their own way, which is an interesting truth. Team success will bring individual success. All of the guys on the NAZ roster dream of being full-time NBA players. Having real success at this level is the doorway to that, which is an interesting contradiction for a coach.

Ultimately, coaches need stability and continuity to really win, however, if they really win, there is a better chance than not that they will see their best players promoted or signed away. The NAZ staff seemed to embrace that as a good thing, even though it may make their jobs more difficult.

Maybe that’s why the NAZ players seemed to have bought into the plan and process the coaches have put on the table. Maybe it’s why there was no talk about salary or other opportunities. The focus seemed to be where its supposed to be—on the game at hand and the team in the locker room, which was unexpected and pleasantly surprising.

The NAZ players worked really hard and got a win as a result. It was just one day in their life, but it was an interesting look into a world that doesn’t get nearly enough exposure. It’s going to be hard not to want to watch from afar to see how the season plays out; there was a special vibe from the NAZ—one that was completely unexpected in the G-League.

On a personal note, I wanted to thank NAZ GM Louis Lehman and head coach Cody Toppert for allowing me to tag along and sit in on all of their meetings. There were no restrictions placed on where I could go and what I could listen in on, so I saw the whole day and process unfiltered. Coach Friedman and Coach Gatlin took time to educate and enlighten me, even though they had a hundred tasks to complete. Thanks to the entire team and organization. Go NAZ! Look for more interviews with some of the NAZ players and staff tomorrow and Thursday.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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G-League

Report: NBA to Increase Salaries for G-League Players

Basketball Insiders

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The N.B.A. is instituting a long-anticipated salary increase in its developmental league, the league announced Tuesday.

Effective next season, players signed to G League contracts will earn $35,000 — or $7,000 per month — in addition to housing and insurance benefits over the course of the league’s five-month regular season.

Players under G League contracts previously earned either $26,000 or $19,000. The increase will represent a pay raise of 35 percent or 84 percent, depending on the player’s classification.

The N.B.A. pays all player salaries in the G League.

Source: Marc Stein of The New York Times

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G-League

Andre Ingram Gets Call-Up to Lakers After 10 Years in G League

Basketball Insiders

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Andre Ingram was expecting to go through his G League exit interview the same way he has done for 10 consecutive years when he was asked to come to the Los Angeles Lakers/South Bay Lakers practice facility a day earlier than scheduled. As the 32-year-old veteran shooter with salt and pepper hair answered questions about how he thought the G League team’s season went, Ingram noticed Lakers team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka standing in the room full of South Bay Lakers brass.

It wasn’t long before Ingram was informed that his dream of being called up to the NBA would come true after a decade of grinding in the NBA’s minor leagues. In a heartfelt moment that was captured on a video that went viral on Monday, the Lakers surprised Ingram by signing him for the remaining two games of the NBA season.

Source: Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN

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G-League

Joel Bolomboy is Dreaming of Another Shot in the NBA

Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming, and he’s worked those dreams into an NBA reality.

Dennis Chambers

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Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming.

When he was four years old, his parents picked up and moved halfway across the world from Ukraine to the United States. At the time, he was an only child. His parents wanted to start a life full of opportunities for their growing family, which would soon accompany Bolomboy with three younger sisters. The best way to do so was to chase the American Dream.

Throughout his life, both personal and on the basketball court, Bolomboy continues to carry that dreamer’s mentality to further himself with the opportunities his parents provided him nearly 20 years ago. To understand the success he’s been able to find on his journey, you first need to understand the route he chose to get there.

For Bolomboy, his path to professional basketball didn’t start with a plastic Fisher-Price hoop and a cliche story of him making his first basket before he could even walk. Playing basketball wasn’t even the first sport he gave his full attention to when growing up.

After moving from Ukraine to Texas, Bolomboy spent his time in adolescence doing a lot of the same stuff every kid in America does. He watched TV a lot, he got acquainted with a skateboard, he tried every sport under the sun. Tennis, track, football, anything to keep him occupied as he became integrated into the American culture. As the 6-foot-10 sweet-shooting big man says himself, “I can play any sport you can think about.”

When the Texas heat became a bit too unbearable for the outdoor sports, though, Bolomboy shifted his focus to basketball. Towering over most middle schoolers at the time, standing at 6-foot-2 in eighth grade, Bolomboy was nudged in the direction of the hardwood by his best friend’s father, Gerald Sledge.

Sledge was the coach at Central High School in Keller, Texas. With his free time, he would come down to Bolomboy’s middle school to try to find players for his team, while simultaneously offering advice and workouts to the students. That’s where it all began for Bolomboy.

“(Sledge) would come in a few times a week,” Bolomboy said. “And like, nobody would go over there except for his son, and his name was Lawrence. So, I was like, maybe I should go over there. You know, I was playing football and I wasn’t really into it just because there were so many guys. It was an outdoor sport and growing up in Texas, it was really hot, always hot. I just felt like it wasn’t for me. So, I just kept going to basketball working on my game. And I just got better and better at and just kind of went from there.”

Go from there, he did. Bolomboy used his size advantage coupled with the natural athleticism he displayed growing up to play his way onto the radar of college basketball coaches around the country. His future in the sport looked bright. Colleges like Florida State and Clemson expressed their interest in signing Bolomboy, but those offers from high-major programs didn’t connect with the high schooler at the time.

Instead, it was mid-major Weber State and Phil Beckner who won the services of Bolomboy, not knowing at the time they were signing a player who would go on to be one of the most decorated in program history.

“Those schools like Florida State,” Bolomboy said. “I remember them telling me that if I go there, they wanted me to be a redshirt my first year. It just didn’t seem right. You know, kind of bigger schools, they felt like they were just kind of hearing about me and came into the picture and they really know, who I was, about my game.

“I think the main reason why I picked Weber State just because the coaching staff they had in place and all the guys that were there, I kind of like them a lot,” Bolomboy said. “And just like, the main reason is because they believed in me and they had a plan for me. They also showed me a long-term plan because they had a guy named Phil Beckner and he’s the one who recruited me and he was really good at developing players. But, Dame, he always says like Coach Phil, the coach who recruited me, he’s the biggest reason why he’s in the NBA. So, I took that into consideration.”

Getting to the NBA is no easy task for any player. Every year thousands of college basketball players line up for a chance to be drafted in one of the 60 slots, and the rest scramble to fill in summer league invites and training camp opportunities. When a player has the pedigree of a Kentucky or Duke, sometimes life is a bit easier in landing that chance.

Coming from Weber State? Well, the work was cut out for Bolomboy.

All he did during his time in college was dominate, though. In 2016, Bolomboy was named Big Sky Player of the Year. He left Weber State as the program’s all-time leading rebounder, too.

The mid-major to NBA road is one less traveled, for sure, but Bolomboy was never worried about that standing in the way of his chances.

“I knew that getting into the NBA would all come eventually,” Bolomboy said. “The main thing for me was to continue to get better and just being stronger. And if you could play, you’re an NBA caliber player, those guys, that’s what they get paid for. Those scouts, they find you out there.”

When Bolomboy made his way to the NBA Draft Combine ahead of the 2016 draft, he found himself around all of those same players from the high-major schools that passed him over. It was his opportunity to prove to himself something he knew all along: that he belonged in the same gym with all of those guys.

“What really put me over the top was when I did all of my athletic testing,” Bolomboy said. “And I felt like I was much better and more explosive than those guys. When we started playing, I was playing good and I was playing better than a lot of those guys. I was finishing at the rim, hitting my three’s, rebounding and doing what I normally do.”

The impressive combine performance led to another dream few ever realize: being drafted into the NBA. In the second round, with the Utah Jazz picking 52nd overall, Bolomboy saw his name pop up on the screen while surrounded by friends and family.

“It was such a good night just to hear my name called,” Bolomboy said. “I teared up and stuff like that just knowing all of my hard work and everything I did, just to hear my name called, it all paid off. It was just the start of everything.”

Once life in the NBA begins, nothing is guaranteed. Unless you’re a first-round pick, the money usually isn’t, either. Getting to the league is a battle in its own right, but the real fight begins once you’re there. For Bolomboy, his journey since seeing his name flash across that screen has been a prime example of that grind.

After spending his rookie season with the Jazz among the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Trey Lyles, opportunities for court time came few and far between. It was in that first season that Bolomboy experienced the back and forth of being on both an NBA squad and a G-League squad; he appeared in 24 games for the Salt Lake City Stars. Spending time down in the G-League helped keep Bolomboy sharp throughout the season.

This season for Bolomboy has been spent primarily in the G-League, with the Wisconsin Herd. Taking the learning experience he gained last year while around the Jazz, the forward has turned in one of the most impressive seasons the developmental league has seen. Averaging 17 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 59 percent from the floor, Bolomboy has once again found himself squarely on the radar of NBA clubs.

With the way the game of basketball is evolving, more big men are asked to step out to the three-point line. After attempting just one three-pointer in his first two years of college, Bolomboy has developed into a legitimate shot-maker from beyond the arc. Last season in the G-League, he made 21 of his 46 attempts.

“Coaches always told me if I’m open to shoot it and don’t even hesitate,” Bolomboy said of his G-League experience last season. “It will make defenses respect you more because for me when I am on the perimeter and for a guy to sag off me two to three feet, that’s disrespectful.”

From Ukraine to America, Bolomboy has developed more than a jump shot. He’s developed the opportunity to succeed, not just on the basketball court, but in life as well. His parents dreamed of a better life when they moved to the United States, and Bolomboy grew up dreaming of a shot at the NBA. Both things have come true, for the most part.

While Bolomboy waits for his next opportunity on the big stage, don’t expect him to just sit around and dream about it, though. He’ll be working harder than ever to make that dream a reality.

“Whoever is going to give me that chance, I won’t let them down,” Bolomboy said. “That’s for sure.”

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