Three Stories From The G-League
Over the last couple of days, we have focused the AM feature on the G-League’s Northern Arizona Suns (the NAZ), as you can imagine, when you spend a full day around so many people, many stories of interest emerge. Rather than lump them all into a massive 7,000-word piece, we decided to break them up a little.
On Tuesday, we walked through a day in the life of a G-League coaching staff, yesterday we dove into Anthony Bennett’s quest to get back into the NBA and today we’ll look at three players trying to make their way, in very different situations.
NAZ guard Xavier Silas has been around the proverbial block. He’s had stints in the G-League league, he’s played internationally, had stints in the NBA on 10-day contracts and even in Ice Cube’s Big3 league.
For Silas, the dream of being an NBA player is real, mainly because he’s been so close so many times.
“I have been so close so many times that I feel like just can’t give it up,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I mean last year for the Phoenix call up, I was one of two names they had on the board, and they went with the other guy, you know what I mean.
“Then that happened a little earlier in the season and that happened before, the year before when I was in Bakersfield, so I feel like the odds have to fall in my favor one of these times. I feel like it won’t happen if I give up on it go somewhere else where I can’t get out of a contract or something like that. Playing in the Big3 helped give me some freedom to stay here and do this.”
Silas was one of the inaugural players in the Big3, and earned the kind of payday that made sticking around in the G-league viable.
“My wife is always about going after it and staying with it and not giving up on it,” Silas said of his dream. “I think that if maybe there was some pressure coming from that way, it would be [harder to turn away bigger money]. But right now, I’m not even thinking about it.”
Silas has played in a number of different leagues, but continues to explore the G-League, in part because of how the teams play.
“With me just I like the style of it,” Silas said. “I like the style, the NBA style of it. European basketball is completely different, and you have to be in the right system for it to fit and it’s just a lot of different factors that go into it. Here, it’s like how we grew up playing basketball, you know what I mean. It’s a natural way of playing for us and that’s what I enjoy.”
Silas is having a pretty solid season for the NAZ, his hope is that it translates into a real NBA opportunity this time around.
At first glance its hard to not notice the last name Hollis-Jefferson on a G-League roster. However, the Hollis-Jefferson playing for the NAZ isn’t Rondae, the 22-year old phenom with the Brooklyn Nets, but his older brother, Rahlir. The 26-year-old brother of the Nets emerging star is trying to make his own way as a professional.
“I enjoy watching him play at a higher level,” Hollis-Jefferson said of his brother in the NBA. “I just continue to watch and work. I try to work hard so I can get there with him.
“We trained together over the summer. We don’t really talk about it much during season. We just focus on what we need to do. I’m proud of everything he does, all of his achievements. This year he’s playing really great and I’m definitely proud of him for being focused and going out there and doing what he needs to do.”
Much like his younger brother, the elder Hollis-Jefferson has a unique skillset that has put him on the NBA radar, in part because of the success his brother is having in Brooklyn.
“It’s very possible that people may be coming to that analysis,” Hollis-Jefferson said with a smile.
“We’re kind of similar in terms of play. We both are slashers, I just think I’m a better shooter… watching him play, I’ve got to learn a bit.”
At 26, the elder Hollis-Jefferson has a tougher hill to climb, but the season he’s having with the NAZ, combined with his brother’s emerging success in Brooklyn make Hollis-Jefferson believe in his ability to get a chance in the NBA—something that seem unlikely when he was coming out of Temple.
The Guy On Loan
Not every NBA team has their own G-League affiliate, so from time-to-time, franchises without their own team assign their player to other team’s minor league team. In the case of Mike Young, he is a two-way player for the Washington Wizards who has seen time in Delaware and most recently with the NAZ Suns.
On the surface, you would think being associated with another NBA franchise would be awkward, but the NAZ coaches embraced Young’s skillset and he’s a big reason for some of their success.
“The most strange part is the move,” Young explained. “We had a game Friday with Delaware, we get back to Delaware Saturday, Sunday morning I wake up, they’re like ‘Hey, you’re leaving to Phoenix tomorrow,’ so I think that’s the strangest part.
“Coming to this team, you know, it’s like going to any new situation, I got to learn these guys, they got to learn me, off the court, then on the court we got to figure out each other’s games. It took me three or four games, but we’ve been rolling the last couple of games, and everything’s been good. I’ve been playing better. Everybody’s been playing better, so it’s been good.”
Young tried his best to keep up with the Wizards from afar, knowing that he could be headed back at any point.
“Pretty much everybody calls and checks in, from the Assistant GM, to the player development, to the players on the team,” Young said. “I was with them all preseason, summer league and training camp, so, I’ve built a relationship with pretty much everybody, so everybody texts me. Whenever I play well, I get texts. Whenever I don’t play well I still get texts, you know it’s part of the game.”
Young does his best to focus his attention to his NAZ team and the situation in front of him, something the NAZ coaches appreciate, because it would be easy for a player on loan to not buy into to the plan.
Over the years, the NBA’s commitment to its minor league system has grown from what was an afterthought to most NBA teams five years ago to a mechanism teams are investing considerable time and resources into.
As a result, more and more players are looking at the G-League as a real opportunity to make their way into the NBA, that is something that is evident in talking with G-League players. They understand it’s up to them and that the G-League is simply the stage for them to make their mark.
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Report: G League to Offer $125K Salaries to Elite Prospects
The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA. The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.
“Select Contracts are an answer to the basketball community’s call for additional development options for elite players before they are eligible for the NBA,” said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner. “The supporting infrastructure surrounding these newly-created Select Contracts is designed to provide a rich offering of basketball and life skills developmental tools for top young players to grow along their professional paths from high school to the pros.”
Report: Darius Bazley Opt to Not Join G-League
Darius Bazley blazed his own path in the basketball world when the top-10 prospect in the 2018 high school class announced his decision in March to decommit from Syracuse and enter the NBA G League. Now, Bazley tells The Athletic that he has decided not to play in the G League and will instead use the year to train and prepare himself as a professional.
“Talking about it over with my group, we felt confidently that the G League wasn’t going to be needed and now I can use this time to work on my craft,” Bazley told The Athletic. “It’s mainly me talking to [agent] Rich [Paul], he knows so much, and whenever he speaks my ears perk up. When Miles [Bridges] was in Cleveland for his predraft workouts, whenever he got a chance to work out in front of NBA teams, I was working out in the gym, too. So that played a part in it, me playing well in those workouts for us to say there’s no upside in the G League. If you play well, it’s expected. If you don’t play well, you’re not NBA-ready. That’s what they’ll say. For me, working out and preparing is the best route.
Source: Shams Charania of The Athletic
The Los Angeles Lakers’ Success with the G-League
The Lakers effectively used the G-League to develop players and add depth to their roster when needed this season, writes David Yapkowitz.
The NBA recently announced that player salaries in the G-League will increase beginning with next season. In addition, players will also receive housing and insurance benefits. The league will also expand to 27 teams with the newest franchise being the Capital City Go-Go’s, the affiliate of the Washington Wizards.
The G-League has seen an increase in popularity and coverage, and five-star senior Darius Bazley withdrew his commitment from Syracuse in favor of spending a year in the league preparing for the NBA draft. Teams are now beginning to utilize their G-League affiliates more; this season saw a record of 50 players called up to the NBA.
One team that has found success with their G-League team is the Los Angeles Lakers. By the end of the season, the Lakers had seven players on the roster who either started the season with the South Bay Lakers or spent time being called back and forth. With a rash of injuries the last month or so, most of those players featured prominently in the rotation.
“The G-League has turned into a great resource for the NBA, for the development of young players and for finding people who help your team win,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to their final game of the season. “You look across the league, almost every single team at some point this year has got a lot of help from someone either on a two-way or who they signed for ten days. These guys have grown up their whole lives playing too. They’re hungry, they mostly have an edge, they have a chip on their shoulder because they haven’t had the same opportunities.”
Most teams took advantage of the new ability to sign players to two-way contracts, having them split time between their NBA team and G-League affiliate. The Lakers originally had longtime G-League standout Vander Blue and Alex Caruso signed to two-way contracts. But they cut Blue in January and replaced him with Gary Payton II.
Payton, the son of former NBA star Gary Sr., has had some NBA experience prior to this year He was a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2016-17 season and he began this season with them before being cut in December. He caught on with the Lakers on a two-way contract and he spent most of the season with the South Bay Lakers.
He started out his career in the G-League after going undrafted out of Oregon State in the summer of 2016. He started out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before being called up by the Bucks. He’s also spent time with the Wisconsin Herd.
“The two years I’ve been in the G-League going back and forth has really helped develop my game, and it’s transferred over,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Down there they really help develop player’s games. I get my opportunity to just come in and help facilitate.”
Payton only appeared sparingly in six games as a rookie and was inactive during the Bucks 2017 first round series against the Toronto Raptors. This season started out with more of the same. He saw 12 games of action with the Bucks, mostly in garbage time, while shuffling back and forth with the Wisconsin Herd.
When he signed with the Lakers, Payton immediately made an impact with South Bay. In 17 games, he put up 17.2 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and dished out 5.1 assists. When South Bay’s season came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of the Austin Spurs, Payton rejoined the Lakers.
Injuries to key players saw Payton thrust into the rotation for the final few games of the season. On the final night of the regular season, Payton had his best performance as an NBA player in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 25 points on 11-19 shooting, including 3-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.
“I just do what I do, try to carry over what I brought in the G-League and just try to be aggressive,” Payton said. “They tell me every time I’m up here and get an opportunity to just be aggressive and make plays for my teammates.”
Another player who has used the G-League to get an opportunity with the Lakers is Payton’s South Bay teammate Travis Wear. Wear is no stranger to the NBA. He went undrafted out of UCLA in the summer of 2015 but was able to make the New York Knicks roster following a strong training camp.
With the Knicks, Wear saw action in 51 games and displayed an ability to stretch the floor by shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line. A back injury cut his rookie year short and he went overseas the following season. He returned stateside to begin the 2016-17 season and ended up in South Bay, when the team was still known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Now that he’s back in the NBA, Wear credits his experience in New York as helping him learn what the NBA is all about.
“I kind of knew what to expect coming into this NBA game and the style in which it’s played,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “It definitely prepared me. It was three years ago but I was able to look back on that experience and change some things from the past.”
Wear had a breakout season in the G-League this year and that strong play was what caught the Lakers’ attention. He was one of the best players in the G-League all season long. He put up 16.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and shot 41.9 percent from three-point range. Wear is a high energy player who is active around the rim and can draw opposing defenses to the perimeter with his shooting ability.
He shot 36.2 percent from downtown in the 17 games he received playing time after being called up to the Lakers. On Mar. 16, in a one-point loss to the Miami HEAT, he scored 11 points and shot a perfect 3-3 from long range. On Mar. 24, in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored 11 points and had two steals while shooting 3-7 from three.
Wear believes his time in the G-League has really helped prepare him to make an easier return to the NBA.
“Since I’ve been here, I pretty much come in, space the floor, knock down shots and play good defense,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “They know I can shoot so that’s how they’ve been utilizing me. I was definitely refining my skills down there. I just got a lot of confidence in my shooting ability from the G-League. It gave me the confidence to come up here and do the same thing.”
While Wear has had a successful end to the season, there is no guarantee that he’ll be back with the Lakers next year. His contract was only guaranteed through the end of this season. The Lakers have an option to extend him a qualifying offer this summer, which would make him a restricted free agent.
Although he wouldn’t mind sticking with the Lakers, Wear knows that the NBA is a business. He feels he’s shown enough that if it doesn’t work out in Los Angeles, another team will surely come calling.
“Whoever I can get an opportunity to get a contract with somewhere. There are things I need to improve on my game in the offseason and come back better,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s been phenomenal, a dream come true.”