While Basketball Insiders has searched for answers both inwardly and outwardly in recent weeks by examing areas of concern and potential trade chips, there’s a third path to improvement that’s generally less taken. Over the years, the G-League has grown immensely in popularity and once the New Orleans Pelicans add an affiliate next season, there will 28 franchises in play — a far cry from the paltry eight that kicked it all off back in 2001-02. It’s always been a difficult road to reach the professional level via these alternative methods, but thanks to two-way contracts, it’s now a much more palatable path. From Yogi Ferrell to Trey Burke and Georges Niang and many others in between, it’s no longer a far-fetched fantasy reserved for a select few.
In fact, officials even announced their new college alternative route in October, giving elite prospects another way to reach their loftiest goals and dreams. But with teams looking evolve at every corner, signing players out of the G-League is always an option and it’s never too early to look at candidates on that frontier. Of course, those signed to two-way and fully guaranteed contracts won’t be included here — sorry, Allonzo Trier — but if these minor league studs keep it up, their next big-time opportunity could be on the horizon soon enough.
John Jenkins — Westchester Knicks
He’s the hottest face in the G-League that isn’t currently tied up through a two-way deal — but if John Jenkins maintains his torrid pace, he won’t be there for long. Through eight games, Jenkins has averaged 28.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.8 three-pointers per game on a blistering 50 percent from deep. Jenkins went No. 23 overall to the Atlanta Hawks back in 2012 before bouncing between Dallas and Phoenix until he took his sharpshooting talents overseas for a season. Although his stint with the San Pablo Burgos lasted just one year (12.7 points, 1.3 assists), it was enough for Jenkins to sign a training camp deal with the Knicks this fall.
Jenkins, 27, has recently stated his desire to jump from Westchester to New York — even crediting Knicks’ head coach David Fizdale for his recent scoring uptick — but he’ll have to wait until the aforementioned Trier gets his two-way deal converted first. Trier, naturally, was supposed to play in these contests alongside Jenkins, but the former immediately stuck with New York and has averaged 23.2 minutes per game. If Westchester doesn’t roll the dice on Jenkins, somebody will. This is a former first round-worthy talent that’s hitting three-pointers at an elite clip, a skill that NBA franchises will always need.
Chasson Randle — Capital City Go-Go
It’s been a hectic two-month swing for Chasson Randle, but he’s not letting it impact his on-court game whatsoever. Signed by the Washington Wizards for training camp, Randle was then cut, added to the training camp roster for the Go-Go, signed again by Washington and then finally waived once more a few weeks ago. Randle rejoined the Go-Go shortly thereafter and has been tearing up the floor ever since. In his three appearances thus far for Capitol City, Randle has pulled down 27.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and three steals per game, the type of line that will have franchises paying attention before too long. As a 6-foot-2 point guard, it was always going to be a tough initial battle to make Washington’s backcourt-heavy roster — but he nearly did so anyway. Randle has played in just 26 NBA games since he went undrafted in 2015, even stopping for stints in the Czech Republic and Spain as well.
Randle, 25, had a chance to make the Knicks’ roster last season before he was waived in order to facilitate the Carmelo Anthony trade with Oklahoma City. Instead of taking the G-League route, Randle signed up for a season overseas with Real Madrid, winning trophies next to wunderkind Luka Doncic — albeit in a reserve backup role. Still, Randle has sticking potential as outside factors have seemingly aligned against him time and time again in his professional journey. Should the Wizards blow it up — or even look for a change of pace in the second unit — Randle could be the next man up. Now an international champion, the hard-nosed Randle has certainly paid his dues, he’s just waiting for his chance to prove it.
Of note, both Randle and Jenkins were recently selected to the USA World Cup Qualifying Team and will play against Argentina and Uruguay over the next week.
Terrence Jones — Erie BayHawks
Yes, that Terrence Jones! The same Jones that was one of the top-rated high school players in his class, won an NCAA championship in 2012 with Kentucky and then went No. 18 overall a few months later. Sure, Jones, 26, has struggled to stay on a roster, but his talent has never been questioned — perhaps now, finally, it is his time to shine. Through six contests, Jones is averaging a healthy 25.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game on 53.5 percent from the floor. Always viewed as a potential game-changer defensively, Jones’ athletic nature could be a tantalizing gamble for a franchise come January.
Following short stays with the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks in 2016-17, Jones took detours to both China and the G-League. Jones was released from the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles after a confrontation with the head coach last year, but he had been averaging 22.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game at that time. Upon his return from China, Jones then latched on with the Santa Cruz Warriors, holding his own over 16 games as well. It’s surely disappointing that Jones didn’t work things out his first time through the rodeo, but he’s proven to be a capable player at almost every stop — NBA, G-League and overseas.
On Friday night, Jones was unstoppable during the Bayhawks’ massive win over Greensboro, tallying 33 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and two steals — so, yes, there’s plenty of talent left in this project. Given his shaky off-court history, Jones’ next opportunity may be hard to come by, but it has the potential to pay off massively.
Willie Reed — Salt Lake City Stars
The case of Willie Reed is certainly intriguing — but even at the age of 28, he still has the resume and experience to make it back to the NBA. Reed played for four different G-League teams between 2012-15, earning the reputation as a fearsome rim protector and a high percentage scorer in the paint. After averaging 16.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over 48 games, Reed would finally get his well-deserved shot with the Brooklyn Nets. Although an early injury initially kept Reed off the floor, the 6-foot-11 big man still barely featured for the bottoming-out Nets. From there, Reed would join the Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers over the next two seasons, building steadily on his former successes and even earned his first-ever $1 million-plus contract in the process.
Last season, Reed was suspended for six games as a result of a domestic violence incident that occurred after he signed with Los Angeles. Although his wife requested that the charges be dropped, Reed was eventually penalized by the league, shortly following the Detroit Pistons’ acquisition of him. Subsequently, Reed was promptly traded to the Chicago Bulls, who then immediately waived him. As of now, it’s unclear if Reed’s off-court issues will impede his chances of getting another opportunity. It hasn’t for others in the past and he was still the No. 1 overall pick in the recent 2018 NBA G-League Draft.
Since then, Reed has averaged 23.9 points, 12 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over 30.2 minutes per game.
At the end of the day, the calendar hasn’t even flipped to December yet, but it’s naive to think that franchises haven’t poured over these early-season G-League statistics either. From undrafted grinders to former first-round burnouts, there are plenty of capable athletes just waiting for an audition on the big stage. For some, they need to prove that they still belong. while others are searching for a chance they weren’t afforded beforehand.
If their parent franchises don’t scoop these four up soon, there’s always the worry a more in-need roster may do so instead. Until then, however, Jenkins, Randle, Jones and Reed will continue to tear up the G-League and catch the eye of the important decision-makers around them.
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.
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