Lakeland Magic big man Xavier Gibson talks about playing in Japan, getting an opportunity close to home and trying to use it as a springboard to bigger things.
NBA Daily: New Two-Way Players Worth Watching
The deadline for adding players on two-way contracts came and went on Monday, so which new signings have the potential to make a difference this season?
When the NBA created two-way contracts last summer, it not only produced a new path to the professional level, but it also added another intriguing wrinkle to roster building across the league. January 15th marked the deadline to sign players to two-way contracts during the 2017-18 season, so the transaction wire was mighty busy on Monday. In some instances, teams can utilize these deals to simply protect prospects as players on two-way contracts cannot be signed away by another franchise. But in other situations, these new additions could help fill some important roles and minutes for teams now currently entrenched in a playoff hunt.
Mike James was the first two-way player to make headlines while providing quality minutes within an injured backcourt for the Phoenix Suns — but that false start has recently led him to different horizons in New Orleans. While two-way players cannot compete in the postseason, there’s always the potential of a converted contract as well, just as the Milwaukee Bucks have done with Sean Kilpatrick. More than half of the NBA swapped out a two-way signee over the last 30 days, but here are five of them that could make a difference during the next few months.
Mike James, New Orleans Pelicans
With Phoenix: 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 20.9 MPG
Mike James is the most recognizable name on the list for good reason — he’s already made it. James’ story has been well-documented at this point, but after toiling away overseas, the 27-year-old rookie wasted no time with the Suns earlier this season. In 32 games with Phoenix — including 10 starts — James averaged 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 20.9 minutes per contest. In fact, James’ play was so impressive that the Suns converted his two-way contract to a one-year regular deal in December, quickly looking like he’d be a regular mainstay in the rotation. But the sudden emergence of point guard Isaiah Canaan left James as the odd-man out and he was waived, sending him back to square one in his pursuit of a permanent roster spot in the NBA.
Thankfully, James wouldn’t have to wait long as the surging Pelicans scooped him up ahead of their playoff push. The backcourt situation in New Orleans is fluid, but it could be a fruitful opportunity for James to get back on the horse. All season, the Pelicans have run with a starting combination of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, leaving veteran journeyman Jameer Nelson (21.9 MPG) to mop up any needed bench minutes for the point guards. Snagging the 14-year veteran off the waiver wire was a shrewd move by New Orleans, but it wouldn’t be a shock for James to leapfrog Nelson before long.
The Pelicans rank dead last in bench points (23.3) and James is the type of dynamic scorer that can keep things going without the starters on the floor.
Amile Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves
G-League: 18 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 turnovers in 34.1 MPG
At long last, somebody grabbed G-League star Amile Jefferson and now the Minnesota Timberwolves are set to reap the benefits. Just a few days after dropping 29 points at the G-League Showcase, Jefferson joins a crowded frontcourt — but his high motor could be an interesting option in spot minutes moving forward. Collegiately, Jefferson started 100-plus games over five years for the Duke Blue Devils and went undrafted despite averaging 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior. Jefferson’s bright debut has seen him tally a healthy 18 points and a league-leading 13.1 rebounds per game, but his defense-first mentality is what might earn him some court time in the coming weeks.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for molding elite defenses — he reached the top five in defensive rating for four consecutive seasons back in Chicago — but he hasn’t quite reached that level in Minnesota. The Timberwolves have certainly looked better in that regard as of late, but their 106.4 rating on defense puts them in the bottom half of the NBA. For a young team looking to compete with the juggernaut powers of Golden State and San Antonio this spring, tuning up the defense remains an absolute must.
Additionally, the Timberwolves’ starters average 35 minutes per game, above and beyond the highest number in the league right now. If Jefferson can provide strong defensive minutes and allow players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson to grab some extra rest down the stretch, he’ll be a welcomed addition to this playoff-bound roster.
Markel Brown, Houston Rockets
G-League: 17.2 points, 35.8 three-point percentage, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers in 31.4 MPG
Unlike many of the names on this list, Markel Brown has plenty of NBA experience already. After the Brooklyn Nets drafted Brown with the No. 44 overall selection in 2014, the hyper-athletic rookie started 29 games for an injury-riddled squad. Brown would eventually become a roster casualty and later joined Russian outfit Khimki for one season, but he’s always remained a player to keep an eye on. During his best moments, Brown was a stat-stuffing machine and he once racked up 10 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocks with zero turnovers in 45 minutes of play as a rookie.
Athletic as they come, Brown showed defensive promise with the Nets, but he struggled to consistently convert from deep and his 29.7 three-point percentage over two seasons ultimately cost him his roster spot. Thankfully, Brown appears to have turned the corner and has made 2.9 three-pointers per game at a 35.8 percent clip over 22 contests with the Oklahoma City Blue. Of course, the Rockets attempt a staggering 43.6 three-pointers per game, nearly 10 more than the second-place Nets, so Brown could feel right at home here.
If Brown can bring some hard-nosed defense and contribute to Houston’s downtown barrage, there’s some definite potential in this two-way signing.
Xavier Munford, Milwaukee Bucks
G-League: 23.9 points, 46.5 three-point percentage, 5.3 assists and 3.6 turnovers in 35.8 MPG
As of publishing, the Milwaukee Bucks are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA, only knocking down 34.9 percent of their attempts. And at 23-20, the Bucks’ dismal showing from deep has been just one of many shortcomings for a team many expected to take the next step this season. Khris Middleton has led the way for Milwaukee with 1.9 three-pointers per game, but his 34 percent clip is his lowest mark since his rookie season. Furthermore, the only rostered player to surpass two made three-pointers per game is Mirza Teletovic (2.1), but he’s been sidelined since November due to knee surgery and the unfortunate reemergence of pulmonary emboli in his lungs once again.
Needless to say, the Bucks need some shooting help in the worst way — enter: Xavier Munford, one of the G-League’s best three-point assassins. The 6-foot-3 guard has been an absolute revelation for the Wisconsin Herd, tallying 23.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists on a league-leading 46.5 percent from three-point range. Truthfully, it’s surprising that Munford hadn’t found a home before the deadline, but he’s been gifted the perfect opportunity now. Even in spot minutes, Munford could provide the Bucks with something they’ve sorely missed through the first half of the season.
Munford can get hot and stay hot too, perhaps best exhibited by the Player of the Week honors he earned two months ago after nailing 17 of his 24 attempts (70.8 percent) from three over a four-game period. It won’t come that easy at the NBA level, but Munford is an elite shooter on a poor-shooting team — so if his chance arises, this could be a quality signing for the Bucks.
James Webb III, Brooklyn Nets
G-League: 11.6 points, 36.6 three-point percentage, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 turnovers in 27.3 MPG
The Nets are likely the only team on the list that won’t be headed to the postseason this year, but the addition of James Webb III is certainly an interesting one nonetheless. Before going undrafted in 2016, Webb III was a standout at Boise State, where he averaged 15.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In spite of shooting just 24.8 percent from three-point range in that final collegiate season, Webb III has put together back-to-back seasons at 36 percent in the G-League. Naturally, this is where Webb III can make an impression with the chuck-em-up Nets.
In his second year at the helm, head coach Kenny Atkinson has his young roster shooting more three-pointers than ever. While backcourt players like Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert have all seen improvements from deep this season, the Nets still badly need a stretch four to open things up when Quincy Acy and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson aren’t on the floor. The latter, despite his best efforts, hasn’t turned into a consistent three-point shooter and Hollis-Jefferson still sports a subpar 24.1 percent career average from behind the arc.
Acy has been one of Brooklyn’s more recent G-League successes, plucking him away from the Texas Legends just over a year ago on a ten-day contract. Over 71 games for the Nets, Acy has become a valuable contributor in the Nets’ rotation and he’s currently averaging a career-high 19.3 minutes and 1.4 made three-pointers per game. Still, Acy is as streaky as shooters come and when he’s not chipping in from three-point range, the Nets really suffer. After Acy, there’s only Tyler Zeller, Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen for three-point options in the frontcourt — so much for replacing Brook Lopez, right?
If Webb III can impress the coaching staff, he could have long-term potential on this three-point happy roster of castaways.
Breaking through from the G-League to the NBA is never easy, but these five players have taken the next big step in their professional careers. There’s no guarantee that two-way players will be given an opportunity to shine, but there’s still potential in all of these signings. Whether teams are looking to navigate injuries, rest their starters or uncover a diamond in the rough, two-way contracts have offered something new for both players and front offices alike.
Now it’s up to James, Jefferson, Brown, Munford and Webb III to make the most of their respective chances and hopefully stick around for good.
NBA Daily: Milton Doyle – Next Man Up
As the Brooklyn Nets continue to search for talent, Milton Doyle could be their next G-League success story.
Once again, the Brooklyn Nets are looking to hit another jackpot through the G-League.
First, there was Sean Kilpatrick. The year after that, there was Yogi Ferrell, a move that was then quickly followed by Spencer Dinwiddie. Even Quincy Acy has had his moments over the last 60 games in black and white as well. For a franchise in what seems like a never-ending rebuild, the Nets’ relationship with the G-League can be best described as symbiotic. Now there’s one more member in Brooklyn’s minor league machine and his name is Milton Doyle, the Nets’ newest two-way contractee.
For four years, Doyle excelled at Loyola University, a mid-sized Division I program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1985. Doyle averaged 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals during his senior year, but it wasn’t enough to keep the talented scorer from going undrafted last June. Shortly after, however, the Nets invited Doyle to join their summer league squad in Las Vegas and the rest, eventually, was history.
As of this season, any player without a guaranteed deal would naturally chase one of the league’s new two-way contracts and Doyle was no different. Unfortunately, the Nets opted to reward Jacob Wiley and Yakuba Ouattara with promises following training camp. Still, the G-League wasn’t about to slow Doyle down, a point-scoring gamer forever determined to make it to the NBA. In 19 games with the Long Island Nets, Doyle tallied 21.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals in just a shade under 35 minutes per game — a successful start to his professional career, to say the very least.
From massive 30-point outings to buzzer-beating game-winners, Doyle had become impossible to ignore. Ranking 14th in PPG, Milton was one of the few completely untethered top scorers left auditioning in the G-League. In fact, of the 13 players outscoring Doyle, four were already on two-way contracts of their own (Antonio Blakeney, Quinn Cook, Darrun Hilliard and Johnathan Motley), while four more are already over the age of 25 (Trey Burke, Walter Lemon Jr., Justin Dentmon and Tony Mitchell).
Needless to say, Doyle, 24, wasn’t going to last much longer in the G-League without another franchise swooping in for the kill. So, in mid-December, the Nets cut their losses with Ouattara, whose injuries kept him out of all but one of Long Island’s games, and signed Doyle to a two-way deal. Doyle finally made his NBA debut late in Tuesday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs and notched two points in garbage time. With the Nets’ glut of rotational guards — and D’Angelo Russell expected to return sooner rather than later — there’s no telling where Doyle will fit in quite yet.
Still, the Nets have officially staved off any potential poachers, anointing Doyle as the next hand-picked prospect from general manager Sean Marks.
The Nets’ tricky situation is well-documented, a once pick-deficient future made even worse by rapidly aging stars — and, to top it all off, Brooklyn is without their own first-rounder for a final time in 2018. Although this year’s pick is currently slated for just No. 10 overall, the Nets have already sacrificed the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to the Boston Celtics. Of course, the Nets themselves have made no excuses for their slower-than-usual rebuild, but Marks has needed to identify and acquire talent unconventionally. The G-League is a well that the Nets have drawn from frequently since the general manager joined the franchise in 2016 — but can Doyle be the next one to impress?
Doyle comes to the Nets at an interesting crossroad — they are (still) a three-point shooting team that is so very often subpar at three-point shooting. In 2016-17, the first season under head coach Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn shot the fourth-most three-point attempts per game at 31.6 but converted on just 33.8 percent of them – good for the 26th-worst mark in the entire league. Sadly, this season — in part thanks to devastating injuries to both Jeremy Lin and Russell — the Nets haven’t fared much better.
As of today, the Nets trail just the Houston Rockets in three-point attempts per game at 34.4 but have made just 34.5 percent of them. The re-emergence of Joe Harris, who has hit at least one three-pointer in all but three games this season, has helped steady the Nets from deep, but they’re still clearly lacking in that department. Without Lin and Russell, most of that three-point shooting onus has fallen on Allen Crabbe, a streaky shooter that has yet to find a consistent rhythm in Brooklyn.
If Doyle’s early G-League outputs are any indication, a green light in Brooklyn could be beneficial for all involved. 38 percent is, ultimately, nothing to write home about, but Doyle hit nearly 3.4 three-pointers per game to make up for it. Outside of being a smooth operator with a silky-looking jump shot — much akin to the way the aforementioned Kilpatrick broke into the league in 2016 — Doyle possesses a crafty creativity as well. Should the Nets decide to move any of their other valuable trade pieces over the next month or so, Harris included, then Doyle could be in line for some major minutes down the stretch during another playoff-barren campaign.
Admittedly, call-ups from the G-League can be a dime a dozen and 38 players made the jump in 2016-17 alone, so instant prosperity for Doyle is far from guaranteed. Just over one year ago, Marks made the incredibly unpopular decision to waive Yogi Ferrell in order to lock up Spencer Dinwiddie — two of the G-League’s best prospects last season. Although Ferrell eventually lit the league on fire with Yogi-Mania, Dinwiddie has since become one of the Nets’ most shrewd additions in years. Shoved into the starting lineup, the 6-foot-6 point guard has blossomed under Atkinson and is often the team’s de facto go-to weapon in crunch time.
Beyond hitting big shots, Dinwiddie has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 27 minutes per game this season, all career-highs, and owns the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.9) in the entire league. Best of all, he’s under contract for just about $1.6 million in 2018-19, which makes Dinwiddie the type of cheap asset that teams like the Nets must collect in earnest.
While the Nets can’t possibly know if Doyle is closer to Dinwiddie or Henry Sims on the sliding scale, they’ve got to like their odds pulling from the G-League again nonetheless. The Nets are still far off from completing their painstaking rebuild, but signing those like Doyle could help move that process along. For Brooklyn, the addition of Doyle represents an opportunity to develop another useful rotation piece for Atkinson’s slowly-but-surely evolving system. Since Marks’ arrival, Brooklyn has treated the G-League like an art form, unearthing quality players around every corner.
But for Doyle — after going undrafted, impressing in Las Vegas and then dominating the G-League — he’s earned this chance to impress on the big stage. At the end of the day, Doyle is one step closer to realizing his NBA dreams permanently — but gamers like him will always shoot their shot.
And frankly, that’s just what the Nets need right about now.
NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard
On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.
Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.
In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.
Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.
Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.
Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.
Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.
For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.
“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”
Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.
Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.
Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.
“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”
After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.
Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.
For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.
“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”
New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.
On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.
After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.
Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.
“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game, more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”
It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.
“I know it’s coming,” he said.
When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.
“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”