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NBA Daily: A Step Forward, But Not The Answer

The G-League’s new “Select Contract” is a good step forward, but it is not really the answer it might seem to be.

Steve Kyler

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A Step Forward, But Not The Answer

The NBA G-League announced that it would be rolling out a new contract structure geared towards high-level players that may not want to attend college and start their professional career right of high school. They are calling this contract a “Select Contract,” and it will pay the players awarded those deals $125,000 for the five-month G-League season.

On the surface this sounds a lot better than the $35,000 a player would earn this season, but at the end of the day – while it’s a better alternative – it’s not exactly the solution some are making it out to be, and here are some of the reasons why:

Not Available To Everyone

The G-League is still sorting through exactly how they will manage and administer this new contract format. While the Select Contract does come with substantially more money, the real benefits might be the other parts of the Select Program such as veteran mentorship, financial planning classes and an in-depth development program geared towards preparing these players for professional life, on and off the floor.

The G-League is planning to hire a program manager, and along with a committee of experts, they will determine which high school level players will be eligible to be in the Select program. It’s not going to be available to everyone. Most experts believe it will likely be less than 15 players a year that qualify and likely just two or three per season that explore this option. That could change when it’s a real option, but it doesn’t seem very likely this is going to impact a huge group of players, especially considering the ambiguity of determining who is eligible.

College Still Offers Better Exposure

While it’s great to have options, college basketball and all of its flaws still offer the best path to the NBA for a couple of reasons. The coaching in college still eclipses that in the G-League, and while the G-League is getting better every year, it still not remotely close regarding the quality of coaching and resources high-level college programs have to offer.

College also offers a better lifestyle than the G-League. Currently, G-League teams travel on commercial flights and stay at modestly priced hotels. In comparison, most high-level college teams travel by charter and stay in four and five-star hotels.

You’d also have to live in a cave to think that college players are not receiving money to play in college. While that is usually under the table, it is happening and will continue to happen. That will get even harder to restrict once some of the new NCAA rules get enacted to allow players in college to have agents and earn money off their likeness.

The fact that college basketball is played in primetime and in front of a packed audience is still going to win out against the modest crowds G-League games draw. That may change over time, but the elite prospects are still likely going to consider the elite schools over the G-League.

The one advantage the G-League can offer that may win in some player’s minds is the ability to sign endorsement deals right out of the gate. That is something even the new expected college rules won’t allow, so there that could be a factor too.

Players Still Have to Go Through The Draft

The G-League process will still require players to enter and go through the draft, meaning while a player may play for a G-League team operated by an NBA team, that NBA will have no rights to the player. That player will still have to enter and go through the NBA draft process, just as if he were coming from college despite playing on a team controlled by an NBA team.

The fact that the parent NBA team won’t have any advantage to the player creates something of a mixed agenda in terms of playing time and coaching.

Advocates of this program like the idea of getting to know a player in an in-depth way, especially a player’s work ethic and coachability.

The downside is the motivation of the G-League staff is usually to win games. The veteran players on the team are trying to make their own careers, not step aside to develop a young guy. Equally, the coaches are trying to advance their careers and win games. There is something to be said about proving you can develop a player, but ultimately it’s going to be harder to stand out in the G-League, and that could have a negative impact on player’s draft stock versus being the prime focal point of a major college program.

It’s a Stop Gap

In the end, this is a good step forward in creating a new option for players who may not want to fake their way through a year of college, or, more importantly, want to spend all of their time training and developing for the NBA. However, the reality is the NBA’s age limit is likely going away in 2022, meaning this is a three-year stop gap at best.

It is believed the program will still exist after the age limit is lifted and be a good landing spot for high school level players that opt for the NBA draft, but fall out of the draft.

It will be interesting to see what exactly the fully formed program offers to players who take it. Because so much of this program is still to be determined, its hard to say if this will be a great option in the long-term, but in the short-term it is an option some will explore.

Former Syracuse commit Darius Bazley was believed to be headed towards the G-League when he opted to turn pro rather than go to college. Since that decision, he has hired Klutch Sports as his agency and is planning to use the next several months to train and develop on his own rather than test the G-League.

It was recently announced that Bazley signed a huge multi-year deal with New Balance that will guarantee him $1 million and the chance to be one of the faces of New Balance’s entry in the basketball shoe space.

So, time will tell if Bazley ends up being the professional he hopes he can be, but with the New Balance money guaranteed towards him, the decision may not be as silly as it seemed when it was announced.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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

NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong

Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.

Jordan Hicks

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The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.

Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.

Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).

In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.

In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.

Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.

Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.

“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”

Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.

“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.

When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.

“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”

Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.

Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.

Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”

Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.

After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.

“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”

As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.

Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.

Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.

“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”

The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.

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G-League

NBA Daily: Cavanaugh, Lyles Developing In G-League

Jordan Hicks catches up with Tyler Cavanaugh and Jairus Lyles to discuss their G-League stay with the Salt Lake City Stars and what they’re doing to get to the next level.

Jordan Hicks

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The atmosphere is buzzing.

On one side of the court, bleachers are almost to capacity with roughly 1,200 people in attendance. The other side has been cleared out to welcome multiple bounce houses for the children. It’s Pirate Night. There are foam swords and pirate hats galore.

This is the NBA G-League.

The Salt Lake City Stars – affiliate of the Utah Jazz – welcomed Miami’s developmental squad, the  Sioux Falls Skyforce, to town on January 4th.

The game was highly entertaining. In a matchup that featured high-flying slam dunks, deep three-pointers and superb defense on both sides, the highlight was a go-ahead three-point shot by Trey Lewis – a former collegiate teammate of budding NBA superstar Donovan Mitchell.

Sioux Falls point guard Briante Weber and an SLC Stars superfan engaged in some smack talk. It was all in good fun, but not something you typically see in an NBA game. It made you feel like you were actually part of the game, that you actually had a say in the outcome, creating a wonderful environment for all involved – truly a unique experience.

In a game that was eventually decided by five points, the Stars came out on top in a 110-105 victory where defense seemed to be the difference.

“[The Skyforce] shoot the third most threes in the league and they shoot the third highest percentage in the league,” Stars head coach Martin Schiller told Basketball Insiders. “And they have the most effective transition offense. So if you put one and one together they shoot transition threes. So our big thing was that we wanted to have our fingers up at all times, we wanted to limit attempts and pull percentages down.”

Near the end of the game with the score tied at 105 apiece and about 30 seconds remaining, Schiller drew up a play for Trey Lewis to shoot an above-the-break three. Basketball Insiders asked SLC’s coach his thought process behind it.

“That’s what [Trey Lewis] does,” Schiller said. “His rookie season he was a fantastic shooter and a clutch performer.”

Schiller recounted that he was familiar with Lewis from his rookie season playing overseas in Germany. Hitting the big shot was nothing new for the 26-year-old guard. In an exciting night capped by a go-ahead shot in the closing seconds, multiple Stars had big games to help put this one in the “W” column.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with both Tyler Cavanaugh – current two-way player for the Stars and former regular for the Atlanta Hawks – as well as Jairus Lyles – a former standout at UMBC, the first 16-seed in the NCAA tournament to knock off a one-seed.

Cavanaugh finished the game with 23 points, nine rebounds and two assists. He ended the game playing the five and was a huge factor in the final result.

Playing over half the season for the Atlanta Hawks last season, primarily as a three-point shooting stretch four, Cavanaugh finds himself in quite a different role this season. While he is currently on a two-way contract with the Jazz, he is playing consistent minutes for the Stars where he is featured as one of the primary players on a nightly basis.

“The G-League is a grind, I have a lot of respect for all of us that play in this league,” Cavanaugh told Basketball Insiders, “It’s a great opportunity to continue to get better and play extended minutes every single night and work on my game. And I just feel like I’m continuing to improve and that’s what’s most important.”

And improve Cavanaugh has. He’s averaging 15.3 points a night while knocking down 41.4 percent of his attempts from three. Playing just 11 games in last year’s G-League for the Erie BayHawks, Cavanaugh is already at 22 games played this season in Salt Lake City and there are still a bunch of contests left.

While his shooting percentages are slightly down compared to his G-League numbers last year, he’s averaging more points, more assists and, most importantly, more free-throw attempts per night. Noticeably finishing well through contact well in the Stars’ win, Basketball Insiders asked him what he’s been working on.

“[I’m] doing a lot of finishing drills around the rim, staying in the normal routine,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh also pointed to continually working with trainers in the weight room to prepare himself for extended minutes on game day.

Looking at the other aforementioned standout, Jairus Lyles was a huge reason the Stars stayed in the game in the first half. He finished with 15 points and four assists on the night, but did the bulk of his scoring in the first two quarters. He finished the night on highly efficient clips of 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.

A former standout at UMBC, Lyles scored 28 points on 11 shots to help his 16th-seeded team knock off the number one seed Virginia in last year’s edition of March Madness. Basketball Insiders asked him about his transition from NCAA hero to G-League regular.

“It’s definitely a different transition, you know a lot of ups and downs especially your first year being pro,” Lyles told Basketball Insiders. “It’s always frustrating when you’re not at the highest level so you gotta keep working and keep working.”

He went on to say that how you handle yourself through the growing pains is what defines you as a player.

On this night, Lyles seemed to shoot from either behind the three-point line or at the rim. With an ever-evolving game and teams are opting to take more and more efficient shots, it’s necessary to go with the flow.

“The NBA is changing, you gotta adapt,” Lyles told Basketball Insiders. “[There’s] a lot of three-point shots going up, it’s either at the rim or three-point shots, people don’t really like the mid-range shots, but you gotta take what the defense gives you.”

Both Cavanaugh and Lyles stressed that their ultimate goal is to make it to the NBA. The former has had a taste. The latter is still working on it.

But Lyles already has an idea of how he’ll take his path to the association.

“Being more of a point guard, different types of passes, seeing the court better,” Lyles said. “And then, defensively. Defense is most important because at my size I’m going to have to guard the ball great. Defense is the most important thing.”

Even coach Schiller has aspirations to make it to the next level, however, he knows what he and the Stars are doing has a real impact.

“[Quin Snyder] really wrapped his arms around us and took us and put us in the [Jazz] family,” Schiller said.

As the G-League continues to evolve and adapt, whether it’s testing future rule changes for the NBA or developing future role-players, it will continue to serve an important purpose.

Everyone at this level is grinding – from the coaches to the players, training staff and everyone else involved. The players in the league are all hoping for that one chance to get called up and prove their worth.

Many things can be said, but one thing is certain: G-League games are highly-entertaining and feature incredibly skilled players simply trying to improve their craft.

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G-League

Sources: DeMarcus Cousins to Practice with G-League Team

Basketball Insiders

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Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins is expected to practice with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors on Monday, a source told @espn @TheUndefeated.

Source: Marc J. Spears on Twitter

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