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Top Standouts of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

David Yapkowitz breaks down five standouts from FIBA World Cup qualifying.

David Yapkowitz

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The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in 2019 in China, and different regions across the globe have already begun participating in tournaments to qualify for this event. Teams from four different regions will take part in the FIBA World Cup: five teams from Africa, seven teams from the Americas, five teams from Asia, 12 teams from Europe, and the host country China.

The qualifying tournaments wrapped up the first round of play on Monday night, and will not resume until February 2018. Although not very common, there are sometimes players who use these international tournaments as a means to boost their stock and even get to the NBA, if not put themselves on scouting radars.

Here’s a look at five of the top performers of the qualifying tournaments so far.

1. Xavier Munford – USA

Xavier Munford went undrafted out of Rhode Island as a senior after the 2013-14 season. He elected to play in the NBA’s G-League, was drafted by the Maine Red Claws, and then traded to the then Bakersfield Jam. Following a solid rookie season with the Jam, he caught the eye of the Los Angeles Lakers, playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas.

He returned to the Jam the following year and was named to the G-League West All-Star team after putting up 20.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. This time, he drew the attention of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were dealing with a rash of injuries. He played well in Memphis and even saw some playoff action. He ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Grizzlies, but they declined his option prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and he went back to the G-League.

This summer, he was a member of the USA national team that won the FIBA AmeriCup Championship, which led to him being included on the World Cup qualifying team. He was cut by the Milwaukee Bucks in training camp this year and was playing with the Wisconsin Herd of the G-League. In the two qualifying games so far, Team USA has used a balanced offensive attack with Munford putting up a team-high 13 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line. Munford is a bit undersized for a shooting guard, and if he can develop his playmaking game a bit more, he could draw some NBA interest once 10-day contract time rolls around.

2. Ding Yanyuhang – China

Ding Yanyuhang first came into mainstream prominence this past summer when he played with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team in Las Vegas. He was no stranger to fans in China, however, as he’s been a rising star in the Chinese leagues for quite some time. For the past five years, Ding has steadily improved his game while playing in the CBA.

This past season, he won MVP of the Chinese Basketball Association while playing with the Shandong Golden Stars, the team he’s played for since 2011. He put up 23.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 39 games. He had two games, one in back in January and the other in February, where he scored 43 points. To open the CBA season, back in October, Ding scored 42 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, in a 116-114 win over the Shanxi Brave Dragons, who boast the likes of Brandon Jennings and Luis Scola.

In the qualifying tournament, he’s led China to a 2-0 record while putting up 19.5 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 46.2 percent from downtown, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He’s a tall forward with guard-like abilities and range out to three, the exact type of player who can thrive in today’s NBA. He’s already caught the eye of NBA teams after his summer league performance, and it probably won’t be long until he finds himself on an actual roster.

3. Miroslav Raduljica – Serbia

Miroslav Raduljica is a name that might be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He had a couple of brief stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013-2015. Prior to that, he had a lengthy career in Europe where he’d been playing professionally since 2005. Like many overseas professionals, Raduljica started playing when he was a mere 17 years old.

Before coming to the NBA, he was already a highly decorated player, having won the FIBA Europe U20 Championship MVP (2008), the Serbian Super League MVP (2010), and winning the Serbian League title (2012). He was seldom used, however, in the NBA. Since heading back overseas, he’s had stops in Greece, Italy, and China where he currently plays with the Jiangsu Dragons.

He’s been the most recognizable player for Serbia during the World Cup qualifiers as fellow team leaders Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica are currently in the NBA. So far, he’s led Serbia to a 2-0 record in early play while putting up 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He’s a burly big man with a nice touch around the rim, and he can step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. He’s still relatively young at 29 years old and surely could help a team off the bench.

4. Markel Brown – USA

Markel Brown is another name who should be recognizable to NBA fans. He was drafted by the Wolves in the second round of the 2014 draft and immediately traded to the Brooklyn Nets. During his rookie season, he played very sparingly during the first half of the 2014-15 season before being assigned to the G-League.

The second half of that season was a different story. Head coach Lionel Hollins inserted Brown into the starting lineup at shooting guard right after the All-Star break. He gave the Nets a solid boost, scoring in double figures six times over the final 31 games. His second year in Brooklyn, he returned to his role off the bench. Since then, he’s had training camp stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and he currently plays for the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.

He’s been one of the leaders for Team USA in the World Cup qualifiers, helping them to an early 2-0 record. The U.S. has used a balanced offensive attack and during those games, Brown has averaged 12.0 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Although athletic, scoring wings are a dime a dozen in the G-League, Brown does have prior NBA experience during which he played decently. He’s in the mold of a 3 and D wing and could earn a call-up later in the season when 10-day contracts are able to be signed.

5. Anderson Varejao – Brazil

If none of the other players on this list so far were familiar to NBA fans, Anderson Varejao surely must be. Varejao spent 11 and a half seasons in Cleveland, where he emerged as one of the best backup centers in the NBA. After he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2015-16 season, and subsequently waived, he joined the Golden State Warriors.

He was seldom used with the Warriors, and in the limited minutes he received, it looked like his NBA career was nearing the end. The Warriors released him last season in February. After winning the title, the Warriors offered him a championship ring, which he accepted. At age 35, he didn’t resurface anywhere else after parting ways with Golden State, and retirement seemed a likely option.

That was until the World Cup qualifiers rolled around this fall. Varejao has suited up for the Brazilian national team since 2001, one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He’s powered Brazil to a 2-0 record and has looked like he just might have some gas left in the tank. He’s averaged a double-double with 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. The NBA game is very different, but teams could do a lot worse than Varejao as an end of the bench veteran guy. It’s likely he never sets foot on an NBA court again, but just in case, he’s showing everyone he’s still got it.

There are a few other names to watch during the World Cup qualifiers. Alessandro Gentile of Italy has looked good as the Italians are also undefeated at 2-0. Gentile was drafted by the Wolves in 2015, but his rights were traded to the Houston Rockets. He could end up being a decent wing off Houston’s bench. Germany also has a 2-0 record, and they have Isaiah Hartenstein who was a second-round pick of the Rockets this past summer. He’s put up a near double-double with 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The guys on this list, though, are probably the ones with the best chance of ending up on an NBA roster anytime soon.

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G-League

Report: Darius Bazley Opt to Not Join G-League

Basketball Insiders

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Darius Bazley blazed his own path in the basketball world when the top-10 prospect in the 2018 high school class announced his decision in March to decommit from Syracuse and enter the NBA G League. Now, Bazley tells The Athletic that he has decided not to play in the G League and will instead use the year to train and prepare himself as a professional.

“Talking about it over with my group, we felt confidently that the G League wasn’t going to be needed and now I can use this time to work on my craft,” Bazley told The Athletic. “It’s mainly me talking to [agent] Rich [Paul], he knows so much, and whenever he speaks my ears perk up. When Miles [Bridges] was in Cleveland for his predraft workouts, whenever he got a chance to work out in front of NBA teams, I was working out in the gym, too. So that played a part in it, me playing well in those workouts for us to say there’s no upside in the G League. If you play well, it’s expected. If you don’t play well, you’re not NBA-ready. That’s what they’ll say. For me, working out and preparing is the best route.

Source: Shams Charania of The Athletic

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G-League

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Success with the G-League

The Lakers effectively used the G-League to develop players and add depth to their roster when needed this season, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA recently announced that player salaries in the G-League will increase beginning with next season. In addition, players will also receive housing and insurance benefits. The league will also expand to 27 teams with the newest franchise being the Capital City Go-Go’s, the affiliate of the Washington Wizards.

The G-League has seen an increase in popularity and coverage, and five-star senior Darius Bazley withdrew his commitment from Syracuse in favor of spending a year in the league preparing for the NBA draft. Teams are now beginning to utilize their G-League affiliates more; this season saw a record of 50 players called up to the NBA.

One team that has found success with their G-League team is the Los Angeles Lakers. By the end of the season, the Lakers had seven players on the roster who either started the season with the South Bay Lakers or spent time being called back and forth. With a rash of injuries the last month or so, most of those players featured prominently in the rotation.

“The G-League has turned into a great resource for the NBA, for the development of young players and for finding people who help your team win,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to their final game of the season. “You look across the league, almost every single team at some point this year has got a lot of help from someone either on a two-way or who they signed for ten days. These guys have grown up their whole lives playing too. They’re hungry, they mostly have an edge, they have a chip on their shoulder because they haven’t had the same opportunities.”

Most teams took advantage of the new ability to sign players to two-way contracts, having them split time between their NBA team and G-League affiliate. The Lakers originally had longtime G-League standout Vander Blue and Alex Caruso signed to two-way contracts. But they cut Blue in January and replaced him with Gary Payton II.

Payton, the son of former NBA star Gary Sr., has had some NBA experience prior to this year He was a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2016-17 season and he began this season with them before being cut in December. He caught on with the Lakers on a two-way contract and he spent most of the season with the South Bay Lakers.

He started out his career in the G-League after going undrafted out of Oregon State in the summer of 2016. He started out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before being called up by the Bucks. He’s also spent time with the Wisconsin Herd.

“The two years I’ve been in the G-League going back and forth has really helped develop my game, and it’s transferred over,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Down there they really help develop player’s games. I get my opportunity to just come in and help facilitate.”

Payton only appeared sparingly in six games as a rookie and was inactive during the Bucks 2017 first round series against the Toronto Raptors. This season started out with more of the same. He saw 12 games of action with the Bucks, mostly in garbage time, while shuffling back and forth with the Wisconsin Herd.

When he signed with the Lakers, Payton immediately made an impact with South Bay. In 17 games, he put up 17.2 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and dished out 5.1 assists. When South Bay’s season came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of the Austin Spurs, Payton rejoined the Lakers.

Injuries to key players saw Payton thrust into the rotation for the final few games of the season. On the final night of the regular season, Payton had his best performance as an NBA player in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 25 points on 11-19 shooting, including 3-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.

“I just do what I do, try to carry over what I brought in the G-League and just try to be aggressive,” Payton said. “They tell me every time I’m up here and get an opportunity to just be aggressive and make plays for my teammates.”

Another player who has used the G-League to get an opportunity with the Lakers is Payton’s South Bay teammate Travis Wear. Wear is no stranger to the NBA. He went undrafted out of UCLA in the summer of 2015 but was able to make the New York Knicks roster following a strong training camp.

With the Knicks, Wear saw action in 51 games and displayed an ability to stretch the floor by shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line. A back injury cut his rookie year short and he went overseas the following season. He returned stateside to begin the 2016-17 season and ended up in South Bay, when the team was still known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders.

Now that he’s back in the NBA, Wear credits his experience in New York as helping him learn what the NBA is all about.

“I kind of knew what to expect coming into this NBA game and the style in which it’s played,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “It definitely prepared me. It was three years ago but I was able to look back on that experience and change some things from the past.”

Wear had a breakout season in the G-League this year and that strong play was what caught the Lakers’ attention. He was one of the best players in the G-League all season long. He put up 16.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and shot 41.9 percent from three-point range. Wear is a high energy player who is active around the rim and can draw opposing defenses to the perimeter with his shooting ability.

He shot 36.2 percent from downtown in the 17 games he received playing time after being called up to the Lakers. On Mar. 16, in a one-point loss to the Miami HEAT, he scored 11 points and shot a perfect 3-3 from long range. On Mar. 24, in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored 11 points and had two steals while shooting 3-7 from three.

Wear believes his time in the G-League has really helped prepare him to make an easier return to the NBA.

“Since I’ve been here, I pretty much come in, space the floor, knock down shots and play good defense,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “They know I can shoot so that’s how they’ve been utilizing me. I was definitely refining my skills down there. I just got a lot of confidence in my shooting ability from the G-League. It gave me the confidence to come up here and do the same thing.”

While Wear has had a successful end to the season, there is no guarantee that he’ll be back with the Lakers next year. His contract was only guaranteed through the end of this season. The Lakers have an option to extend him a qualifying offer this summer, which would make him a restricted free agent.

Although he wouldn’t mind sticking with the Lakers, Wear knows that the NBA is a business. He feels he’s shown enough that if it doesn’t work out in Los Angeles, another team will surely come calling.

“Whoever I can get an opportunity to get a contract with somewhere. There are things I need to improve on my game in the offseason and come back better,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s been phenomenal, a dream come true.”

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G-League

Report: NBA to Increase Salaries for G-League Players

Basketball Insiders

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The N.B.A. is instituting a long-anticipated salary increase in its developmental league, the league announced Tuesday.

Effective next season, players signed to G League contracts will earn $35,000 — or $7,000 per month — in addition to housing and insurance benefits over the course of the league’s five-month regular season.

Players under G League contracts previously earned either $26,000 or $19,000. The increase will represent a pay raise of 35 percent or 84 percent, depending on the player’s classification.

The N.B.A. pays all player salaries in the G League.

Source: Marc Stein of The New York Times

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