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.
Report: G League to Expand to Mexico for 2020-21 Season
The NBA G League, the NBA’s official minor league, and Capitanes, a professional basketball team based in Mexico City, today announced that Capitanes will join the NBA G League as its first team from outside the U.S. and Canada.
Capitanes becomes the NBA G League’s 29th team and will make its debut for the 2020-21 season. The team will play its NBA G League home games at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City.
Miye Oni — A Rare Breed
Matt John has a chat with Utah Jazz rookie Miye Oni about being the only Ivy League player currently in the NBA, the importance of education and adjusting to a new city.
Ivy Leaguers are hard to come by in professional basketball.
Coming into this season, there have only been 45 players in NBA history whose alma mater come from Ivy League schools. The most notable names among them have been Bill Bradley (Princeton), Rudy LaRusso (Dartmouth), Chris Dudley (Yale) and, of course, the most recent one, Jeremy Lin (Harvard).
This makes a fair amount of sense. As impressive as it is to get into a university as prestigious as an Ivy League institution, their basketball programs don’t get much exposure in the NCAA. There are plenty of colleges out there who may not have the same prestige as Harvard or Yale, but still provide great educational opportunities as well as top-notch basketball programs like Duke and UCLA.
In and of itself, it’s actually pretty impressive to be both a top-notch scholar and a top-notch athlete in the college ranks. However, because universities like Cornell or Brown don’t boast well-repped basketball programs, we don’t see a lot of their alumni make it to the NBA. Even when they do, they don’t last too long.
When Jeremy Lin wasn’t re-signed by anyone this summer and headed overseas — which by the way is still ridiculous — the NBA seemingly didn’t have anyone in the league who hailed from an Ivy League education at first glance. Upon further inspection, there actually still is one NBA player who’s an Ivy League guy.
He can be a little hard to miss because it’s his rookie year, but Miye Oni, who was drafted 58th overall by the Utah Jazz back in June, played his college ball at Yale. As the only player currently in the NBA who played basketball in the Ivy League, Oni believes he can do more to influence the younger generation.
“It’s crazy. I was talking about it with my friends yesterday that I feel like should do a little more with that,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a good platform to reach out to kids and let them know that education is important.”
Emphasizing the importance of education is obviously a great message to send to our children. For Oni, he believes that what he’s learned from his own story of becoming both a professional athlete and being a student at a top-notch university can send an empowering message about what it takes.
“Control as you can control it if you take care,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “I wouldn’t have been where I’m at without my education. At times it seems like I wasn’t going to play college basketball, so I always had my education to fall back on. I knew that if I had that, I would be able to have an opportunity to play and that’s what happened.”
In his three years at Yale, Oni majored in Political Science. In this modern-day and age, athletes are speaking out more and more about social issues that go beyond the sport they play in. In Oni’s case, he stresses that athletes should speak their mind because of what their point of view could do for the public.
“It’s important to an extent,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Some people maybe try to overdo it a little bit, but… athletes have a large influence over a large amount of people, so it’s good to get a point of view from a different group.”
Again, most Ivy League basketball players don’t make it to the pros, and the ones that do usually don’t have long and prosperous careers. Oni could potentially be an exception to the rule. Even with the odds stacked against him, he was the first Ivy League player to be drafted into the NBA since 1995.
The reason why players who come from such well-respected schools don’t last for long in the pros is that the smarts a college athlete can have in the classroom usually don’t translate as well on the court. Salt Lake City Stars head coach Martin Schiller thinks the 22-year-old rookie on his roster is very much to the contrary.
“Often, smart school guys are not smart basketball players,” Schiller said. “In his case, I think it goes together so I sense a good smartness on the court from (Oni).”
Now, it’s led him to the Jazz. Much like a fair amount of rookies nowadays, Oni’s starting his career out with Utah’s G-League affiliate — in his case, the Stars — but Oni credits the team for helping him adjust to the next level of basketball.
“It definitely helps,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Training camp was good. We learned a lot. We’re just getting more reps offensively and defensively, so it’s been good.”
Now, Oni starts his career off in Utah. As competent as the Jazz are as an organization, adjusting to Salt Lake City can be a tough — one, from the weather alone. Oni grew up in the hot and humid atmosphere that is Los Angeles before moving to the cold tundra that is the northeast. And so, he gets to start his professional basketball career in both a cold climate and at a high altitude. Even though the environment has changed around him a fair amount over the years, that doesn’t phase Oni.
“The altitude here is for sure crazy but you’re fine after the first day,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably the biggest change playing-wise, but I don’t think it impacts me there.”
As for his potential as a pro long-term, what Schiller’s seen of his abilities has gotten him to believe that Oni’s all-around game could make him a keeper for the Jazz.
“Miye is a very capable defender,” Schiller said. “Miye is a very capable driver to the rim. He will also develop into a good shooter. The last thing is… he can actually pass the ball. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s got the quality of potentially being a real three-and-D guy on the next level.”
Given the Jazz’s development with some of their young guys who have also played with the Stars in the past — Royce O’Neale and Tony Bradley as a couple of examples — Schiller’s analysis may not be too far off the mark.
Kyle Collinsworth In Familiar Territory
Kyle Collinsworth has been making his mark for the Salt Lake City Stars, which shouldn’t feel too different to him since he’s dominated in Utah basketball before. Matt John writes.
For Kyle Collinsworth, playing basketball in Utah is nothing out of the ordinary.
The 28-year-old grew up in Provo and went on to become one of the most storied basketball players in the history of Brigham Young University. Since graduating from BYU in 2016, he’s bounced around a bit in the NBA. He’s had stints with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and the Toronto Raptors. When the Utah Jazz added him this season to play for their G League Affiliate, the SLC Stars, Collinsworth was excited for home aspect alone.
“It’s always good to be home,” Collinsworth told Basketball Insiders. “My family’s here. My wife’s here. We’ve got a house here, so it’s just nice to be able to be home and do what I love at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Even though Collinsworth grew up and played college basketball in the mountainous region, he surprisingly didn’t grow up a Jazz fan. In fact, the team he grew up rooting for happened to be the only one that has given him legitimate NBA minutes in his professional basketball career — the Mavericks.
Going from a Mavericks fan to a Mavericks player was an experience Collinsworth truly treasured, especially since he got to play with his boyhood idol.
“It was incredible,” Collinsworth said. “Growing up, (we were) huge Mavericks fans. (With) Dirk being my favorite player, being teammates with him was surreal.”
In 2016, Collinsworth was brought in to play for the Mavericks’ G League affiliate, the Texas Legends, before being called up at various points to play for Dallas. In the 2017-2018 season, Collinsworth played 34 games in Dallas. Collinsworth didn’t mince words when praising the organization and how they’ve been able to get to where they are now.
“It’s just another testament of consistency. Those guys, day in and day out, bring the work, and that’s why they are champions,” Collinsworth said.
Following his stint with the Mavericks, Collinsworth is now back where it all began for him. However, it’s not just the Utah climate that he’s used to. He’s also pretty used to filling up the box score when he’s on the court.
Back when he played for the Cougars, he was renowned for his all-around game. In his four years in college, Collinsworth’s total points scored (1,707) placed him 11th all-time among BYU men’s basketball players, while his total rebounds (1,047) and total assists (703) placed him first. In fact, his 12 triple-doubles are the most any player in NCAA history has recorded over his collegiate career.
His game has continued to shine through in the G League this season. In the three games he’s played for the Stars, Collinsworth’s all-around game has shined for the team, as he’s averaged 12.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Stars head coach Martin Schiller praised Collinsworth for what he brings to the floor.
“His all-around game, offensively and defensively, as well as leadership-wise, his game impacts the team a lot,” Schiller told Basketball Insiders.
With Collinsworth being the oldest player on the roster at 28 years old, his experience has made him quite the influence in the locker room, which has served very well for his younger teammates.
“It stabilizes us,” Schiller said. “The guys listen to him. The guys believe in him. He played legit NBA minutes, so the guys respect him and therefore it’s very important to have him.”
When the Stars faced the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Friday night, they found themselves down by double digits in the second quarter. The Stars rallied back and were able to come up victorious for their first win of the season. SLC was never deterred even when the odds were stacked against them, which is exactly what Collinsworth has emphasized in the example he sets for his team.
“Just (be) Steady Eddie,” Collinsworth said. “Always bring the energy and just stay steady (because) there’s a lot of games…You have to keep your head up and stay positive, through the good games and the bad.”
Previous BYU alumni have opted to go different routes in their professional basketball careers. After failing to find a place in the NBA, Jimmer Fredette has gone on to become an icon for various leagues overseas. His former college teammate Brandon Davies has also played in various foreign professional basketball leagues.
Others have gone back and forth between the NBA and overseas. Eric Mika has played in several foreign leagues before signing with the Stockton Kings this season. For Collinsworth, his path has steadfastly remained the same in order for him to achieve his one goal — to play in the NBA.
“Back in the NBA is the goal for sure,” Collinsworth said. “That’s why I’m back in the G League. I’m trying to make that happen.”
Everyone has to pay their dues to make their dreams come true. For Kyle Collinsworth, that means showing Utah what he’s got in the G League.
It may not be ideal — but for him, at least it’s familiar terrain.