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NBA Daily: Power Ranking The Two-Way Standouts, Part I

With trade season in the rearview mirror, Ben Nadeau takes stock of the NBA’s impressive collection of two-way standouts.

Ben Nadeau

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On Thursday, the NBA’s trade deadline hit all zeroes — along with plenty of fireworks — and now buyout season is right around the corner. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline passed recently without much fanfare. Last month, the deadline to sign players to two-way contracts occurred — so where does that leave affairs?

As a reminder, since 2017, two-way contracts have granted a team to carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G League for up to 45 days in a season. While these two-way standouts will be ineligible to compete in the playoffs — sorry, Chris Boucher — franchises are able to convert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so.

For franchises that have their eyes already set on the 2019 NBA Draft, it’s a simply a question of that prospect’s potential sticking power. Generally speaking, two-way players have still had a tough road to the league since the rule’s inception, that certainly hasn’t changed — but that hasn’t stopped a handful of success stories already. Quinn Cook, originally a two-way player for Santa Cruz in 2017-18, went on to average 10 minutes per game in the playoffs for last year’s eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors.

Allonzo Trier, an undrafted second-rounder, began this season on a two-way deal and played so well for the Knicks that it was quickly converted. Trier, now a New York-worthy building block, sports a contract at two years and $7 million — the biggest deal for a two-way player yet. Gary Clark, who has played 36 games for the Rockets already, also ditched two-way status in December after signing a three-year contract that’ll amount to about $3.7 if he stays through 2020-21.

With all that in mind, here are the current power rankings for the NBA’s very best two-way athletes.

Next Up: Jaylen Adams, Atlanta Hawks; Joe Chealey, Charlotte Hornets; Brandon Sampson, Chicago Bulls; Thomas Welsh, Denver Nuggets; Vincent Edwards, Houston Rockets; Davon Reed, Indiana Pacers; Julian Washburn, Memphis Grizzlies; Trevon Duval, Milwaukee Bucks; C.J. Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves; Trevon Bluiett, New Orleans Pelicans; Isaiah Hicks, New York Knicks; Donte Grantham, Oklahoma City Thunder; Haywood Highsmith, Philadelphia 76ers; Wenyen Gabriel, Sacramento Kings

Honorable Mentions: J.P. Macura, Charlotte Hornets; Rawle Alkins, Chicago Bulls; Deng Adel, Cleveland Cavaliers; Kalin Lucas, Detroit Pistons; Marcus Derrickson, Golden State Warriors; Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers; Jared Terrell, Minnesota Timberwolves; Deonte Burton, Oklahoma City Thunder; Troy Caupain, Orlando Magic; Jawun Evans, Phoenix Suns; Troy Williams, Sacramento Kings; Tyler Cavanaugh, Utah Jazz; Drew Eubanks, San Antonio Spurs

30. Alex Poythress, Atlanta Hawks

Poythress has been sharpening his claws in the G League for years and he’s starting to prove his worth at long last. Over 46 games in 2016-17, Poythress averaged 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds for Fort Wayne. With Erie this season, Poythress has upped those numbers to 24.8 and 9.4, respectively, albeit in the smaller sample size of just 11 contests — but he’s had his moments for the Hawks as well. He’s not played for Atlanta since Dec. 31 but the athletic forward could prove useful as the Hawks gracefully soar toward another high-lottery pick this spring.

29. Ben Moore, San Antonio Spurs

28. Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks

So, admittedly, the younger Antetokounmpo gets a late mention on the list simply on family name alone. If there’s even a slight chance that Kostas is half the player of his brother Giannis, current world-destroyer and the will-be MVP finalist, then he’s worth mentioning. Still, the raw Greek prospect struggled in his one season at Dayton and then only went with the final selection of the previous NBA Draft. Thus far, he’s spent his entire rookie campaign with the Texas Legends, where he’s pulled down 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

But at 6-foot-10 and filled to the brim with that famous bloodline, keeping an eye on Antetokounmpo is the wise thing to do.

27. George King, Phoenix Suns

26. Yuta Watanabe, Memphis Grizzlies

Watanabe had big dreams of reaching the NBA this summer and he’s done exactly that so far. In 10 appearances for the Grizzlies, Watanabe has had little impact on the pro-level, but he’s been a staple for the Memphis Hustle. Although his nightly statistical lines aren’t as gaudy as many names higher on this list, Watanabe is young, efficient and a strong defender — for Memphis, now headed firmly for a rebuild this summer, he should be a shoo-in culturally. With 14 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game, it’s been an encouraging start to his career, even in the G League. On Thursday, Watanabe played a career-high 27 minutes for the Grizzlies and tallied 10 points and five rebounds — so expect to see a bunch of the Japanese-born forward between now and April.

25. Brandon Goodwin, Denver Nuggets

24. R.J. Hunter, Boston Celtics

He’s back in Boston! It’s been a long road for Hunter, the Celtics’ former first-round selectee in 2015. After playing 36 games as a rookie, Hunter was waived and subsequently went on to play for the Bulls, Rockets and three different G League franchises in the span of two years. Now starring as one of the Maine Red Claws’ best and brightest, Hunter has continued to put up strong numbers as he tries to reach the famous Garden parquet once more. Over 31 contests this season — between the Erie BayHawks and Maine — Hunter has averaged 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.

The Celtics are loaded at the guard position, as usual, so Hunter is unlikely to log time in the NBA this season. In any case, he’s well-versed in head coach Brad Stevens’ offense and the 6-foot-5 scorer has never been low on talent.

23. Bonzie Colson, Milwaukee Bucks

22. Kadeem Allen, New York Knicks

Of the Celtics’ three 2017 second-round draftees, it’s been Semi Ojeleye to leave his pro-level mark — but don’t count out Kadeem Allen just yet. The 6-foot-3 Allen was named to last season’s All-NBA G League Defensive Team and has earned early plaudits with Westchester already. Through 32 games, Allen is averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He has 18 games worth of NBA experience with Boston — albeit on a much shorter leash — but the tenacious defender has rounded out his game quite nicely in the G League.

The Knicks, now in full-on tank mode ahead of an eventful offseason, have used Allen in the last six games and could make him a rotational staple down the stretch.

21. Daryl Macon, Dallas Mavericks

20. Naz Mitrou-Long, Utah Jazz

Mitrou-Long is no stranger to the Jazz’s well-oiled systems, now in year two with the franchise’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. The creative point guard has led the solid squad for a large part of the campaign again, even tallying 16.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.2 three-pointers per game on 43.1 percent from the floor. The 25-year-old won’t show up on any league leader tables, but consistency can be key for any parent NBA team — that, perhaps, is one of Mitrou-Long’s greatest skills. Although the Jazz likely won’t need Mitrou-Long with Ricky Rubio running things for this playoff-bound franchise, it shouldn’t be long before he gets a real NBA opportunity.

19. Johnathan Williams, Los Angeles Lakers

18. Duncan Robinson, Miami HEAT

Through 30 games, Robinson is the G League’s most impressive shooter — and, honestly, it’s not even close. His 138 made three-pointers is a 19 more than second place, but that’s not all. Robinson is doing it at a nearly unreal clip of 48.3 percent, which absolutely has a place at the NBA level. Unfortunately, Miami’s rotation is loaded with plenty of longtime veterans and massive contract-holders, so Duncan has only featured in five games in 2018-19 so far. Robinson, 24, was an efficient shooter during his three collegiate seasons at Michigan, but this current streak puts him amongst the elite.

Robinson’s 20.7 points per game are 13th-most in the G League, proving that the 6-foot-8 forward can do more than just spot up from the arc. If the HEAT head in a new direction this summertime, it’ll be interesting to see how they proceed with this talented marksman.

17. Damion Lee, Golden State Warriors

16. Jaron Blossomgame, Cleveland Cavaliers

As of late, Blossomgame has become quite the popular two-way figure within the Cavaliers’ organization. This week, Basketball Insiders’ Spencer Davies caught up with the G League standout about his efforts to grab some important minutes with the basement-dwelling franchise.

“I mean, some G League teams have two-way players, like Sioux Falls and Miami, where you don’t have the luxury of being able to just drive 45 minutes away to the NBA team or back-and-forth, vice-versa.

“Just being able to drive back-and-forth, that’s pretty convenient for me.”

And so far, it seems to have paid off. He’s played in 26 games — and started four to boot — for Cleveland since early December. Before this long run of NBA experience, Blossomgame was notching 18.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 30.9 minutes per game for the Canton Charge. On top of all that, Blossomgame was even named to the All-NBA G League Third Team in 2017-18 as well.

Of course, the Cavaliers will need to make a decision on his two-way deal sooner rather than later, for now, however, the undrafted forward is definitely earning his keep.

15. Devin Robinson, Washington Wizards

14. Isaiah Whitehead, Detroit Pistons

Another G League staple has returned stateside for a new chance — this time, it’s former Seton Hall-standout Isaiah Whitehead. After starting 26 games as a rookie for his hometown Nets, the former No. 42 overall pick saw his playing time plummet in year two. The 2017-18 campaign was largely spent in Long Island, where Whitehead often dominated to the tune of 22.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists — including a wild 52-point explosion to cap things off.

During the following offseason, Whitehead was filler in the Nets’ trade for Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and, most importantly, another first-round draft asset. The Nuggets waived Whitehead and the 23-year-old ended up crafting his trade in Russia this fall. In 18 games for Lokomotiv Kuban, Whitehead averaged 11.3 points and 3.3 assists — but the 6-foot-3 guard was always searching for his path back into the NBA.

He’s yet to feature for the Pistons but Whitehead has fast become one of the Grand Rapids Drive’s leaned-upon scoring options. Through nine games in the G League, Whitehead has tallied 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and a far more constrained 2.1 turnovers per game. Given his measured success as an NBA second-rounder already and now with a world-traveling bid under his belt, betting on Whitehead to get another shot seems like completely fair odds.

13. Shake Milton, Philadelphia 76ers

12. Edmond Sumner, Indiana Pacers

Comparing Sumner’s rookie season statistics to his sophomore year efforts, there are not a ton of differences to be found outside of his games (16 in 2018-19 so far) and minutes (9.6) tallies. In any case, Sumner, 23, has seen a salivating leap in the G League for Fort Wayne. In double the minutes, Sumner has averaged 23.9 points — the fifth-highest total in the entire league — and 3.6 assists on 40 percent from three-point range. The recent addition of Wes Matthews will mean even fewer opportunities for Sumner during the remainder of the season — but it’s not all doom and gloom for the point guard’s fan club. With Tyreke Evans out at the end of January, Sumner drew two consecutive starts for Indiana — one of them versus the Warriors, nonetheless — and then scored a career-high 17 points in 17 minutes in that blowout victory against the Lakers a week later.

Some good things will be worth the wait — Sumner looks like one of them.

11. Johnathan Motley, Los Angeles Clippers

With a little detective work, it’s not impossible to narrow down the ten remaining names on the list but their order will need to wait for another time. The G League has proven again and again to be a strong cultivator of NBA-level talents and this year has been no different. Although the two-way path can be shaky, it’s offered another slew of prospects the opportunity of a lifetime — through the first half of the 2018-19 season, these players have certainly made the most of their chances.

Check out Part II and the top ten two-way players next week!

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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G-League

Report: G League to Expand to Mexico for 2020-21 Season

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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.

Source: NBA

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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.

Matt John

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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.

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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.

Matt John

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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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