The Basketball Tournament is Back
Imagine a single-elimination, high-stakes tournament similar to March Madness, except anyone could put together a team to compete. Teams could consist of NBA veterans, overseas stars, D-League players or even your next-door neighbor. Anyone over 18 years old can apply for free and then fans vote to determine which teams are in the field. Oh, and unlike the NCAA Tournament, players could earn money since the winning team would take home a large monetary prize to be split among its players.
Last year was the inaugural TBT, but it was still a somewhat small affair. The tournament featured 32 teams competing for a $500,000 prize, the championship game was only available for viewing through an online stream and all of the contests were held at Philadelphia University or Boston University.
While the idea was excellent, there were still some questions that needed to be answered. Would the event be organized well and go according to plan? Would notable players want to participate in the tournament? Would there be mainstream interest from the public?
It quickly became clear that the answers were yes, yes and yes – and the tournament was a success.
With word spreading and The Basketball Tournament gaining popularity, this year’s TBT will be significantly bigger and have a much more official feel. The prize has doubled to $1 million, the field has tripled and games will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN. In mid-July, first-round match-ups will take place in four different cities – Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles – and be aired on ESPNU. The championship game, which will be played on August 2 in New York, will be broadcast on ESPN.
The goal when TBT was founded was for this to be an annual tournament that grew each year – with the field and prize continuously growing – and it certainly seems to be heading in that direction.
“Last year, we were able to prove that the concept of a high-stakes, democratic tournament, with an exceptionally skilled collection of players was an entertaining event,” Mugar said. “Our partnership with ESPN, along with our market expansion, further validates that we are on the track to grow even beyond what we had hoped for in year two.”
One reason The Basketball Tournament has become popular and attracted the attention of ESPN is because it features plenty of notable players and teams.
Last year, the 2010 Cornell Sweet 16 team and the 2009 Villanova Final Four team each reunited to participate in TBT. In addition, alumni from Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Maryland, Temple, Princeton and Air Force registered teams. Notable college players like Marshall Henderson, Kenny Kadji and Matt Walsh played as well, which excited NCAA basketball fans across the country.
NBA fans also had some recognizable players to watch, with league veterans like Dahntay Jones, Hakim Warrick, Josh Selby, Smush Parker, Josh Boone, Andre Barrett, Rob Kurz and Chris Wright competing for various teams. After the tournament, some of these players starred overseas or signed back in the NBA (with Jones joining the Los Angeles Clippers), proving there was legitimate talent in last year’s field.
Many of the same recognizable players from last year will play again this July, and they’ll be joined by even more talented players in what will be a stacked tournament.
Former NBA players competing this year include Nate Robinson, Jamaal Tinsley, Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, Brian Scalabrine, Josh Selby, Hakim Warrick, Donte Green, Dominique Jones, Michael Sweetney, Royce White, Fab Melo, Jermaine Taylor, Von Wafer, Sam Young, Jamario Moon, Terrence Williams, Pooh Jeter, Damien Wilkins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ike Diogu, Josh Boone, Marcus Banks, Luke Harangody, Ryan Gomes, Willie Reed, Smush Parker, Renaldo Balkman, Chris Wright, Tyshawn Taylor, Xavier Silas, Bobby Brown, Earl Barron, Sundiata Gaines, Dijon Thompson, DerMarr Johnson, Stephen Graham, Derrick Caracter, Alex Kirk, Rob Kurz, Mardy Collins, Scotty Hopson and Hamady N’Diaye.
Current NBA players cannot play due to contract restrictions, but they can still be involved in TBT. A number of notable NBA players – including Ty Lawson, Jamal Crawford, Nick Young, C.J. McCollum, Frank Kaminsky and Matt Bonner – have signed up to be a coach, general manager or booster so that they can support teams. Some, including Swaggy P, will even be on the sideline coaching their squad. A number of celebrities (to be announced later) have also agreed to be boosters, and some will be in attendance for the tournament games.
As if fans needed any more reason to get excited, TBT incentivizes participation from supporters. Five percent of the $1 million prize goes to a fan that supported the winning team. Last year, a fan named Elizabeth Lawler won $25,000 (five percent of the $500,000 prize) after being responsible for thousands of votes for the winning team.
The first TBT exceeded all expectations and was an enormous success. Now, with even better players, more teams, a bigger prize, games taking place all across the country and ESPN’s backing, The Basketball Tournament shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Notre Dame may have had a disappointing last-second exit from the NCAA Tournament, but the school’s fans can get behind another Fighting Irish basketball team that’s competing in a high-stakes tournament.
The Notre Dame Fighting Alumni – as the group of former Notre Dame players call themselves – were the winners of the first TBT last year and they are back in this year’s field to try to defend their championship. Shortly after they won their prize last year, they huddled up and chanted “BACK-TO-BACK!”
The team first came together when former Notre Dame walk-on guard Kieran Piller heard about the tournament and decided to organize a squad with his old teammates. He asked Fighting Irish alumni such as Rob Kurz, Tyrone Nash, Ryan Ayers, Tory Jackson, Torin Francis, Ty Nash, Russell Carter, Chris Thomas and Zach Hillesland. The players all agreed, but some of the players were initially skeptical.
“My immediate impression was, ‘That sounds way too good to be true,’” former NBA player Kurz said with a laugh. “But because they were playing the games directly across from where I played high school in Philadelphia, I figured even if it’s B.S. it’d be kind of fun to go back there and play together with a bunch of my college friends who I hadn’t seen or played with in years. We looked at it as a fun college reunion. Then, of course, it was legitimate and it ended up being really fun.”
Notre Dame took the tournament pretty seriously compared to other teams, meeting up at Germantown Academy in Philadelphia before the event to practice and put in some plays. They knew that their chemistry would give them a huge edge, but they also wanted to be organized and have a solid game plan.
While their preparation certainly helped, their experience together was the biggest factor in their success. Their players were always on the same page and even though they hadn’t played together in years, Kurz said it was very easy to get back into a rhythm with his teammates.
Even though Notre Dame wasn’t the most talented team, they were an organized, tight-knit group that knew what they were doing. The fact that they ran plays separated them from some teams that just approached the tournament with a pick-up mentality. They also had a balanced attack, with a different leading scorer in each of their five wins.
In the championship game, the Fighting Alumni defeated a team with several former NBA players such as Dahntay Jones, Josh Boone and Andre Barrett. Despite facing such a stacked squad (that was considered the frontrunner to win the championship throughout the entire tournament), the Fighting Alumni won, 72-68, and became the first TBT champions.
“The championship game was definitely the toughest,” Kurz said. “But there was a lot of good talent throughout the whole tournament. Some players who are in the NBA this year played in the tournament last year, so it wasn’t easy.
“The fact that we won was just a blast, but more importantly we just had a great time being together again. Those guys are some of my best friends in the world and to get together again after years was great.”
The players received a ton of support from Notre Dame fans as well as their school, with head coach Mike Brey flying to the championship game and the PR department pushing fans to vote for the squad over social media.
“Everyone from Notre Dame was so excited,” Kurz said. “Before the championship game, we were getting texts from the coaching staff, our trainer and everyone who was a part of the program and the family. Everybody really got into it, especially once we went to the championship.
“In terms of fan support, Notre Dame has such a great following and people were just excited that we were a part of something cool. We actually had a great crowd [of Notre Dame fans] that showed up to the championship game. It was just a lot of fun.”
After winning the title, the cash prize was split up equally among the Notre Dame players and the group also decided to donate $40,000 to the Coaches vs. Cancer Foundation.
This year, the Fighting Alumni feel very confident entering the tournament. Because they won last year, they will get a bye until the Sweet 16. This, coupled with their chemistry and TBT experience, should give them an edge over many of the teams.
They’re expected to bring back all of their key contributors and may add some talented pieces. Luke Harangody and Tim Abromatis traveled to the TBT championship game last year to support the Fighting Alumni from the stands, and it’s possible they may play this year. Kurz feels that this Fighting Alumni squad is even better than last year’s, and they’ll be more prepared because they’re going to practice for a full week this time in advance of the tournament.
“Our roster may have a couple of additions; we’re going to put some guys on the roster who are still playing at a really high level in Europe and guys who played in the NBA, so I think we’re going to have an even better team this year honestly,” Kurz said. “We’re all going to Notre Dame the week before the tournament to practice and play pick-up. We’re in the Chicago bracket, so it’s not far away and that gives us a chance to be on campus and prepare.”
While Kurz likes Notre Dame’s chances, he knows that being the last team standing out of the 97-team field will be difficult. He expects there to be some loaded teams with $1 million on the line.
“I’ve heard that it’s going to be even tougher this year – that a lot of talented players are entering,” Kurz said. “The competition will be intense, and I know that the tournament is going to be 10 times bigger this year. I can’t even tell you how many people have told me that they’re trying to enter a team this year. Even my former agent is thinking of putting a team in. I mean, with $1 million on the line, there are going to be a ton of people trying to get involved.”
One new team that is getting involved – and following the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni model – is the Syracuse Alumni squad.
This Syracuse team features Donte Green, Hakim Warrick, Eric Devendorf, Demetris Nichols, Rick Jackson, Baye Moussa Keita, Josh Pace and Brandon Reese among others. The program’s former basketball manager Kevin Belbey had the idea, ran it by Jim Boeheim (who was all for it) and then contacted the players to see who could participate.
Syracuse has a very talented roster that is currently the No. 1 ranked team in the Northeast region, and they lead all registered TBT teams in fan votes. Green and Warrick both played several years in the NBA, and some of Syracuse’s other players have had successful careers overseas.
“We’re a confident bunch because we have a lot of experienced guys who played in the NBA, played overseas and played in college, but we know that a lot of teams will be talented,” Devendorf said. “We’re confident, but we’re going in with the mindset that we have to play hard. You can lose at any time [in a single-elimination tournament].”
Like the Notre Dame team, Syracuse’s squad has strong chemistry. All of the players have an in-depth understanding of Boeheim’s system, which they’ll use throughout the tournament.
“I think the chemistry is a huge edge for teams like us and Notre Dame,” Devendorf said. “It’s great that all of our players come from the same team and played for the same coach – Jim Boeheim – so we all know the system. We don’t have to go over anything or learn anything new because guys already know what’s expected of them and what they need to do. Knowing each other and coming from the same system is definitely an advantage for us.”
Another advantage is that the Syracuse squad may play a 2-3 zone, according to Devendorf, which would make them even tougher to match up against. The 2-3 zone can cause trouble for collegiate opponents who spend significant time preparing for it, so just imagine how tough it would be to face in a tournament like this.
“If we want to switch to a 2-3 zone, we’re capable of doing of that,” Devendorf said. “No problem.”
Devendorf is planning to get everyone together on Syracuse’s campus in early June to practice. It’ll also give the team a chance to bond and catch up with one another before they head out for the competition.
“We’ve all kept in touch throughout the years; just to get this whole group of guys back together is really exciting and it’s going to be a great time,” Devendorf said.
Syracuse fans are equally excited about the reunion and have given the squad a ton of support. Within hours of the team being registered on TBT’s website, they received hundreds of votes to be included in the field. Fortunately for those fans, it sounds like the Syracuse Alumni team will try to participate in TBT every summer going forward.
“I think it’d be a really good idea to make this something we do annually,” Devenforf said. “It would be a way for us all to catch up every summer.”
While Notre Dame and Syracuse are receiving a lot of attention because of their talented rosters and early registration, other college programs are planning to put together rosters too.
Several other schools that will be involved are Connecticut (which may have a star-studded team), Indiana, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida Gulf Coast (led by Dunk City stars Sherwood Brown, Brett Comer and Chase Fieler), Saint Louis (with Jordair Jett and Willie Reed), La Salle, Cornell (which played last year, bringing together their 2010 Sweet 16 team), Xavier, Drexel, Colorado and Temple – giving this even more of a March Madness feel.
When $1 million is on the line, there’s bound to be a ton of interest and talented teams ready to play.
And Kurz believes this is only the start. He envisions The Basketball Tournament becoming a national phenomenon in the near future.
“It’ll keep growing,” Kurz said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this will blow up. Think about it: there’s $1 million on the line for this year’s tournament and it’s only the second year. What is it going to be next year, after people have the chance to see it on ESPN and ESPNU? It’s going to grow exponentially every year.
“The money – and the tournament itself – will only get bigger from here.”
Full Disclosure: Alex Kennedy has become a booster for the South Region’s TeamBDB, which features Josh Selby, Dominique Jones, Jermaine Taylor, Willie Reed, Aquille Carr and Durand Scott among others. For more information about their team, click here.
NBA Daily: Turner’s Elite Defense Crucial To Pacers Playoff Push
The Pacers are 6-1 in February, and Myles Turner’s outstanding work on the defensive end is a huge reason why, Spencer Davies writes.
When a star player sustains a serious injury, it’s a gut-wrenching blow to any type of momentum his team has established.
Let’s rewind to about a month ago. The Indiana Pacers were rolling right along on January 23 with a 31-15 record. Among the top teams in the NBA, they were engaged in an entertaining battle with the Toronto Raptors that night. The Pacers ended up winning the game, but it cost them an unexpected, steep price.
Hustling down the floor to get back in transition, Oladipo’s leg gave out at the 4:07 mark of the second quarter. Just like that, the All-Star guard had ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his right knee. His year was finished.
While earning an emotional victory over the best squad in the Eastern Conference at home was a commendable response to such devastation, it was one game. Many predicted Indiana would have a significant drop due to the loss of Oladipo. After all, this was their leader on the court and in the locker room. They did drop four consecutive games afterward, too.
What people were quick to forget, though, is the resilience Nate McMillan had instilled in this group—and it continues to show. Sure, they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first-half season finale before the All-Star break, but they were on a six-game spree going into it.
In February, the Pacers are 6-1 with an average margin of victory of 12.8 points. As evidenced by 27.4 assists per game, the ball is moving as it should be and they’re getting results because of it (congratulations on Player of the Week honors, Bojan Bogdanovic).
Remember: Good offense comes from great defense, which is exactly why it’s been such a productive stretch. This month, Indiana is holding opponents to a lowly 28.2 three-point percentage and boasting the No. 1 defensive rating in the league at 98.1 opponent points per 100 possessions.
Although the physicality and technique of his teammates are a big help, Myles Turner is the true anchor of this stout Pacers’ defense. Is it fair to say that the blossoming fourth-year center isn’t getting nearly enough love from the masses as he should be?
This man is an absolute force underneath. The easiest way to put it is by using his league-high 2.7 blocks per game average as proof. In addition, Turner has recorded 81.6 percent of Indiana’s rejections since the beginning of the month. He had 10 swats against both Los Angeles teams at home.
Don’t get it twisted—the impact goes beyond blocks. Turner is simply dominating whoever tries him on the floor.
Per Cleaning The Glass, the Pacers’ defensive rating is 103.8 with him playing, a figure that ranks in the 93rd percentile among every talent in the NBA.
Up against guys who have averaged at least 20 minutes in a minimum of 25 games, Turner places fourth in the league overall in DRTG. Coincidentally, teammate Cory Joseph is right there with him.
Consider the elite competition he has faced. Looking at NBA.com’s matchups page, Turner has done fine work of holding highly-regarded big men in check. In two games, for example, the 22-year-old has stymied Rudy Gobert for just 10 points in 72 head-to-head possessions.
Citing more familiar assignments in the East, All-Star Nikola Vucevic has been a net 4.8 points per 100 possessions worse when facing off against Turner. Joel Embiid is a net minus-1.2 using the same scale. It’s also of note that Brook Lopez, a more spaced out center, has also had his struggles with Indiana’s fast-rising man in the middle, shooting just 33.3 percent from the field.
If you want to really tie a bow around these figures, see how consistent the numbers are. ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus system has Turner ranked third, just behind Gobert and Hassan Whiteside as the top defenders in that category regarding starters. Basketball Reference’s version of this statistic also has him in the top three, trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Gobert in Defensive Box Plus-Minus.
Throw in the fact that Turner is knocking down a career-best 40.7 percent of his triples on the offensive end and the Pacers have really benefited from the Texas product’s development as one of the most promising two-way centers in the NBA.
It’d be remiss of us to forget mentioning Thaddeus Young, who has been a headache for almost every player he bodies up on a nightly basis with his in-your-grill style on defense. He forces the opposition to make costly decisions often, which in turn helps Turner and Indiana create momentum with either stops or steals.
In all honesty, you could pick a name on the Pacers and that person will have contributed in some way, shape or form. That’s just the way McMillan has run things since taking over the club in 2016.
Indiana isn’t only in this thing to get into the playoffs. At 38-20 seeded third in the East, they’re set on making plenty of noise to avenge the loss of their superstar and doing something special.
And Turner just may be the man to ensure the Pacers get their wish.
NBA Daily: The Impact of the Buyout Guys
With buyout season in full effect, Matt John takes a look at who among newly signed players will make the biggest impact for their new team.
If there’s a holiday to compare this year’s trading season, it’s Thanksgiving. We had a lot of juicy trades leading up to the deadline, so many in fact that it may have been a little too much to digest. To make a long story short, we got our money’s worth on Feb. 7. (especially if you are betting on basketball)
If Thanksgiving is the only apt comparison for the trade deadline, then buyout season so far has been like Black Friday. We’re seeing quite a few productive players get picked off the market for discount prices. That happens every year, but not at this volume, and not with players as good as this year’s class was.
Wesley Matthews, Enes Kanter, Markieff Morris, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph is kind of a loaded class for buyout season. Those guys are slated to be paid almost $100 million combined, and they either have been or will be added for the veteran’s minimum.
Now usually when players get bought out, where they go is usually get dictated by what their motive is. There are only three motives for why a player signs with a team after getting bought out.
A. His next payday
B. Getting a ring
The players who opt for option A usually do because they believe they’ll get the most touches, which in turn will make them look better for interested parties this summer. The players who opt for option B are usually at the end of their days in the NBA so they want one last shot at success before they call it a career. Option C pretty much explains itself.
So far, the majority of the players who have latched on to new teams after being bought out have opted for option A. Some have already played a few games with their new team, while others are eagerly awaiting to start a new chapter with their new squad – even if it’s likely to be pretty brief.
As we wait for the NBA season to resume days from now, it’s time to look over what we should expect from the guys who have joined their new teams via buyout season. None of the players mentioned are stars, but they could play a part in their team’s playoff success this season.
Wesley Matthews – Indiana Pacers
This couldn’t have worked out any better than it has for Matthews.
He got traded by the team that he had no future with, and now he gets to play for a team that had a void that he fills at shooting guard and has a chance to make things interesting in the postseason.
Matthews’ role on the team is pretty clear. He’s a 3-and-D swingman who should fit snugly into the Pacers’ roster of high-end role players who know exactly what their role is. Now, Matthews doesn’t boast efficiency – he’s currently shooting 40 percent from the field this season – but his 37.1 percent shooting rate from distance this season should be perfect for Indy since they shoot the exact same percentage as a team – good for sixth overall in the league.
Since Wes shoots almost six threes a game on average, and Indiana currently ranks 28th in three-point attempts per game (25.4), his presence could also boost the Pacers’ offense, which currently is rated 17th-highest in the league (109.9).
Matthews hasn’t exactly had a brilliant start in his first two games – eight points, four rebounds, 2.5 assists on 23.5 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from three. In his defense, he’s been on three teams in the past couple of weeks. Going through that much change of scenery is bound to lead some to jetlag.
When he gets past said jetlag, Indiana going to be an even tougher out for whoever faces them in the playoffs and eases the presumed death blow that was Victor Oladipo’s knee injury.
Enes Kanter – Portland Trail Blazers
Remember when the Blazers gave Kanter that four-year/$70 million offer sheet back in the summer of 2015? Looks like this was a pairing that was truly meant to be.
And why shouldn’t it? According to NBA.com, Portland’s bench averages 35.4 points a game, which ranks 19th in the league. Kanter eats second units for breakfast thanks to both his elite low-post scoring and rebounding. Averaging just 25.6 minutes per game this season, Enes is recording 14 points and 10.5 rebounds a night.
Now, some regression is due in Rip City since the Blazers have understandably better offensive options than the Knicks did this season. Still, Kanter is more likely than not going to help what is already the fifth-highest rated offense in the league. He’s also probably going to make Portland’s rebounding, which already ranks third in total rebounds on average (47.6), better. Especially since their bench ranks ninth in rebounding average (17.9).
So, to sum it up, Enes will probably make Portland’s strengths all the stronger on offense. The question is, will he hurt them on defense?
Anyone who’s anyone knows Kanter’s shortcomings on D. The man definitely tries but he’s a liability on that end of the floor which makes him perfect against second units. Portland currently has the 16th-highest rated offense in the league (110.2), so he’s probably not going to make that better.
This season, the Knicks’ defense was plus-3.9 with Kanter on the floor. That’s not good. It’s not dreadfully bad either. It’s not bad enough that Kanter would be an overall liability. It may help Enes to not have to play in the 26th-highest rated defense in the league like he did in the Big Apple.
It’s not picture perfect, but Enes Kanter brings another dimension to Portland. Even if it’s not a dimension that’s as desired around the league as it once was.
Markieff Morris – Oklahoma City Thunder
The one resource that OKC needed in this stretch run was a knockdown shooter. In ‘Kieff, they got a shooter that fits the label of “eh.”
Morris’ 33.3 percent shooting from deep this season – and 33.8 percent for his career – isn’t going to intimidate anyone. It feels as though that’s not why the Thunder brought him aboard. They brought him aboard for one reason above all else: Be better than Patrick Patterson.
Patterson has been a colossal disappointment in Oklahoma City. Originally brought on to be the designated stretch big, Patterson’s percentages have gone down the drain, shooting 37.8 from the field and 33.8 percent from three. To make matters worse, the Thunder are minus-14.7 with him on the floor.
If Morris proves to be just a reasonable upgrade over Patterson, then that can make a world of difference for Oklahoma City’s second unit, who currently ranks 26th in points per game with 31.2 points a game. Markieff doesn’t have to be a knockdown shooter in order to do that. He just has to continue to be the guy he’s been since 2013.
Markieff can also spell minutes for both Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel at center. This season, he’s played 64 percent of his minutes at the five according to Basketball-Reference. That percentage is definitely going to take a dive with the Thunder, but it gives them another option. A team that already thrived on its versatility found yet another facet to make it stronger.
Morris also adds a little sizzle to the Thunder. His brash attitude on the court could make what’s already been the league’s stingiest defense all the more unforgiving. For a team that needed as much help as it can get as entering the toughest part of the schedule, getting Morris should prove to be a no-brainer.
Jeremy Lin – Toronto Raptors
This will be the first playoff-caliber team than Jeremy Lin has been on since his time in Charlotte in 2016, and it is the best team Lin’s been on since his days with Houston Rockets. If all goes well, things could get Lin-sane in Toronto.
All puns aside, adding Lin was a must for the Raptors after trading Delon Wright in the Marc Gasol deal and losing Fred VanVleet for the next month or so. Even with VanVleet, the Raptors needed a playmaker in that second unit. Granted, Gasol probably helps a lot with that. Lin just adds to it.
This season, Toronto’s bench is currently ranked 20th in scoring with 35.2 points a game and is ranked 26th in assists with seven per game. Adding a veteran like Lin won’t magically change all of that, but he’s an improvement over what they had.
Jeremy has also proven to be an overall plus this season. Keep in mind, he played half the season in Atlanta, but the Hawks were a plus-4.1 with Lin on the floor. It primarily came from his defense, where the Hawks were minus-6.3 with him on the floor. Toronto has the seventh-highest rated defense in the league, so he should help in that regard.
Running the second unit isn’t the biggest task, but it’s consequential enough that it needs a man who can be up for the job. Getting a virtuoso in that department like Jeremy Lin should Toronto’s hopes of getting past their playoff demons.
There are others as well, such as Shelvin Mack going to Charlotte and Wayne Ellington going to Detroit, but those moves likely won’t be as impactful.
Who’s to say we’re even finished yet? There are rumblings of a Robin Lopez buyout in Chicago. Ditto for Frank Kaminsky. Several of these buyout guys still remain unsigned. Who knows who else might be finding a new team in the next week or so? Oh, and there’s a certain Carmelo Anthony lurking in the distance.
That last line was only partially a joke.
NBA Daily: Power Ranking The Two-Way Standouts, Part II
With trade season in the rearview mirror, Ben Nadeau takes stock of the NBA’s impressive collection of two-way standouts.
Last week, the NBA’s trade deadline finally came and went — along with plenty of worthwhile fireworks of their own — and buyout season is officially in full swing. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline occurred recently without much fanfare. In January, the cutoff to sign players to two-way contracts passed — so where does that leave affairs headed into the midseason break?
Check out SBG Global Sportsbook for the latest odds.
Previously, Basketball Insiders took a swing at ranking the 30-best two-way players but, quickly, it became clear that there would need to be a Part II. Since then, the Pacers signed Edmond Sumner to a contract that extends through the remainder of the season, plus a team option in 2019-20. Our No. 12 selection has a home in Indiana and — with All-Star Victor Oladipo sidelined with a serious injury — Sumner has proven his worth in the postseason-ready rotation. And, funny enough, Chris Boucher — who was spotlighted in the introductory paragraphs in Part I as a would-be ineligible roster member for Toronto — earned his own multi-year contract as well.
If you’re in need of some honorable mentions and Nos. 30-11, the Part I rankings can be found right here.
But as a rapid-fire recap: 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, franchises are able to convert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so. With that out of the way, here’s the best of the bunch — beginning with a very special (and retconned) honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors
So, the top ten list is officially a top nine with Boucher moving to the Raptors full-time, excellent news for the deep conference frontrunners. Previously, the former Oregon Duck would’ve been ranked at No. 2 and, well, it was a deserved spot. Boucher averaged a whopping 27.6 points, 11 rebounds and 4.2 blocks over 23 games with the 905. For what it’s worth, these numbers slotted Boucher second, fourth and first, respectively, league-wide. In college, Boucher was a highly-touted prospect before a torn ACL sent him tumbling down and, eventually, out of draft boards. After one season as a two-way player for Golden State, Boucher ended up in Toronto — now, he’s a member of the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad.
His NBA-level statistics certainly aren’t as eye-popping, not even close — but now Boucher can receive minutes on Finals-worthy contender. Being behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will cap any short term potential, but the shot-blocking scorer can learn from some of the very best at his position. In 17 games, Boucher has averaged 3.8 points and 0.9 blocks, still, the sky may just be the limit for this talented 26-year-old. Undeniably, Boucher has earned his new multi-year contract with partial guarantees — now can he keep rising?
9. Amile Jefferson, Orlando Magic
Jefferson has been a G League standout since he went undrafted out of Duke in 2017 — now the 6-foot-9 forward has been a rebounding force for two different teams in two consecutive seasons. In 2017-18, Jefferson was named to the All-NBA G League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team after he posted 17.7 points and 12.8 rebounds over 46 games for the Iowa Wolves. This season, now with the Eastern Conference-leading Lakeland Magic, not much has changed.
With nearly identical numbers, Jefferson remains one of the G League’s most consistent forces to date. As the third-ranked rebounder, Jefferson gobbles boards and scores at an effective rate too, with his 58.2 percent mark from the field coming in at 13th-best during the calendar year as well. Notably, the Magic’s frontcourt depth is absolutely loaded, so unless injuries strike the postseason hopefuls, Jefferson will remain behind Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and the recently-shelved Mohamed Bamba.
8. Danuel House Jr., Houston Rockets
Earlier this season, two-way standout Danuel House Jr. ran out of eligible days with Houston — but when the Rockets offered a guaranteed three-year deal, the sharpshooter declined it. That decision meant that House would stay with the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Barring a change in heart from either side, House, 25, will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Over 25 games with Houston, House averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, even starting 12 contests throughout his rapid ascent in the playoff-destined organization.
House has another full year of prior NBA experience too and tallied 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over 23 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2017-18. The Vipers are currently two games behind Santa Cruz for the G League’s best record and House, as of late, has been instrumental in that chase. Last Friday, House helped Rio Grande down the South Bay Lakers with 24 points, seven assists and the game-clinching free throws with just seconds remaining. Although House cannot play another game for the Rockets on his current two-way deal, his successes this campaign still enters him fairly high on our list.
7. Theo Pinson, Brooklyn Nets
As far as new revelations come, the Nets’ Theo Pinson may just take the cake. After four successful seasons at North Carolina, including an NCAA Championship in 2017, Pinson went undrafted. During that senior campaign at UNC, Pinson tallied 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 29 minutes per game — solid, if not spectacular. More importantly, Pinson was a poor three-point shooter, hitting on just 25.7 percent of his attempts at the Division-I powerhouse. Scooped up after the draft by Brooklyn, Pinson has been a nice surprise for the talented prospect-developing franchise in the Northeast.
Over 25 games on Long Island, Pinson has averaged 20.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists — thanks to those efforts, the point guard landed on the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad too. In one of the more positive storylines of the season, Pinson has even become an above average shooter from deep and now makes three three-pointers per game at a very respectable 37.3 percent clip. Perhaps best of all, Pinson recently provided a burst of energy for Brooklyn too. In a close battle against the Knicks, Pinson exploded for 19 points and eight rebounds on 3-for-5 from three-point range over 26 minutes.
Either way, in the last year or so, Pinson has improved massively on his biggest weakness, dominated the G League and made an impact at the NBA level — not a bad way to start your once-undrafted professional career by any means.
6. Jordan Loyd, Toronto Raptors
First and foremost, Loyd, too, was named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference team, in a theme that will continue sharply from here on out. Still, distilling Loyd’s massive 2018-19 to a single honor would be a disservice to the rookie. Loyd has done a little bit of everything for the Raptors 905, although he was passed over by Toronto to sign Malcolm Miller instead. The 6-foot-4 guard has averaged 21.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals over 34.9 minutes per game. His fine tandem with the aforementioned Boucher seems to be dead for now, but the pair continuously tore up the G League alongside each other for most of the stat-stuffed campaign.
On Jan. 28, Loyd even pulled down a triple-double against Windy City by tallying 24 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists. Back in 2017-18, Loyd was one of Israeli Premier League’s biggest stars, earned an All-Star Game berth and finished the season as the third-highest scorer (17.4 PPG), Again, the Raptors’ loaded backcourt — Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Norman Powell, and, by the postseason, Fred VanVleet — has hindered Loyd’s potential impact in the NBA. Honestly, that’s fine: Just stand aside and watch with wonder as Loyd pushes the reigning champions back into the G League postseason all by himself now.
5. P.J. Dozier, Boston Celtics
The Maine Red Claws may be a disappointing subplot to the latest G League narrative but newcomer P.J. Dozier has been an absolute dream. Through 33 games in Portland, Dozier has averaged 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game over a 35-minute clip. Not to be a broken record, but, of course, Dozier was another easy selection for the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster too. Dozier has featured in four games for Boston, a total double that of his appearances with Oklahoma City as a rookie last season — but his G League numbers have seen a major rise since then as well.
The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging about 8.5 more points per game, but his greatest rise has been the boost in assists, nearly tripling from his 2017-18 campaign. Progress, particularly from within the Celtics’ organization, is nothing to ignore. Like teammate R.J. Hunter, Boston’s other two-way player, his potential for the season, if not longer, is capped. Of course, that could change this summer depending on where the Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier chips end up falling in free agency, but Dozier has become an absolute force since joining Boston.
Dozier has averaged just 1.8 points over a paltry 2.5 minutes per game for Boston — regardless, he’s officially a prospect worth keeping tabs on.
4. Alan Williams, Brooklyn Nets
You guessed it: Alan Williams is yet another Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster honoree. And, after his tumultuous journey, it’s a well-earned award for the 6-foot-8 big man. Through many world-traveling tribulations — outlined here — Williams signed a multi-year contract with Phoenix in July of 2017. Unfortunately, that feel-good story was short-lived as Williams underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in September, rehabbed until March, played five meaningless games and then was waived at season’s end.
Thankfully, the Suns’ loss became the Nets’ gain and Williams has dominated in the G League for Long Island. The affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Sauce’ has averaged 20.6 points and 13.2 rebounds over 28 games, numbers that place him as a top ten scorer and the second-best board-snatcher league-wide. During Williams’ only major appearance for Brooklyn this season thus far, he grabbed eight points and eight rebounds in eight minutes — a line he’s proven capable of repeating over and over with the proper court burn.
It feels like a matter of time before Williams gets his next chance at the NBA level — but who will scoop up the elite rebounder?
3. Yante Maten, Miami HEAT
At this rate, Yante Maten will be a household name before too long in NBA circles — if he isn’t already. Maten was a four-year standout — 19.3 points per game as a senior — at Georgia before he went undrafted and landed one of Miami’s two-way deals this summer. In return, all Maten has done is tallied 26.4 points (second) 10 rebounds (fifth) and 1.2 blocks per game for the Sioux Falls Skyforce this season. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Jan. 2 but he and teammate Duncan Robinson — ranked at No. 18 in Part I — were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster last week as well.
Maten has not featured for the HEAT in 2018-19 but his scoring prowess is quickly making himself a name. During an early December win against the Stockton Kings, Maten dropped a blistering 42 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks on 15-for-21 shooting. Miami only averages 105.1 points per game, the 27th-worst mark in the entire league — bested by three free-falling franchises: Chicago, Cleveland and Memphis — so injecting Maten’s scoring punch could provide a much-needed lift.
For now, we’ll have to settle for a healthy return from the inactive list — sadly, it’s been far too long since Maten torched the G League. If things break right for him, it won’t be much longer before he gets his NBA call-up either.
2. Angel Delgado, Los Angeles Clippers
Your current rebounding leader is, handily, the Clippers’ Angel Delgado. At 17.3 points and 14.6 rebounds on 58.8 percent shooting, Delgado’s looming presence has been well-known all season for Agua Caliente. In more recent news, Delgado made his NBA debut for Los Angeles on Feb. 8 and chipped in three points and four rebounds over 14 minutes against the Indiana Pacers. Following their trade that sent Tobias Harris across the country to Philadelphia, the Clippers have some intriguing paths to end this season — many scenarios of which include Delgado’s growth.
As of publishing, Los Angeles holds the conference’s eighth and final postseason berth, winning two of their last three games post-Harris’ departure. Delgado, 24, is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with Seton Hall, where the frontcourt menace tallied 13.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Pirates. In January, Delgado pulled down an otherworldly 31 rebounds against the OKC Blue — no, that’s not a type. For now, at least, Delgado is behind Montrezl Harrell, one of 2018-19’s breakout stars, newcomer Ivica Zubac and G League teammate Johnathan Motley, the latter of which has played in 15 games for Los Angeles this season.
Of note, both Delgado and Motley were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster.
1. Jordan McRae, Washington Wizards
And, in a reveal that shouldn’t surprise anybody: Jordan McRae is basketball’s best two-way player — at this point, the resume is too much to ignore. Yes, McRae is a Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference awardee, but he’s also an NBA Champion. So far, McRae has seen it all: Finals experience, another previous D-League All-Star selection, a trip (albeit a short one) overseas to play with a prestigious club, Baskonia, and remains the current scoring leader in today’s G League. McRae, 27, has averaged a dominant 30 points per game — which that would rank him behind just Antonio Blakeney (32.0) for the highest single-season PPG tally in G League history — along with 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals.
With 78 NBA games and counting under his belt, McRae is both seasoned and untapped. In an inspired drubbing of the Red Claws last month, McRae poured in 54 points and nine rebounds on 18-for-31 shooting — and there are plenty of other MVP-worthy efforts to choose from as well. The Wizards, struggling to stay afloat without All-Star John Wall, could certainly use McRae’s talented efforts. Ultimately, a combination of developmental and financial cap reasons may keep him from getting his contract converted by season’s end, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote in January. Through 19 games, McRae has averaged 4.3 points and 1.1 rebounds — but make no mistake, he’s one of the best scorers the G League has ever offered up.
There they are! From top to bottom — and split over two articles — there’s a definitive list of the NBA’s best two-way players. While some are still feeling out basketball at the post-collegiate level, there are plenty of hardened, consistent contributors already. There are high-ranking scorers and rebounders, but other newcomers arrive with overseas experiences, national championships and difficult injury histories. The G League has always given athletes an intriguing — if not unlikely road to the league — but thanks to the two-way deals, those narratives have often become downright compelling.