With LeBron James departing Cleveland, the Central Division is up for grabs. Many are predicting Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the new face of the Eastern Conference.
Mike Budenholzer has moved from the south to the north to take on a head-coaching job fit for his type of style. He has arguably the most talented roster to guide since taking the Atlanta Hawks to new heights five years ago.
If any franchise can use stability to take the next step, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks. Budenholzer can provide that, which is exactly why the Bucks could be primed for a big season.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
I’ve been a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks’ core of young talent for several seasons but the team has repeatedly fallen short of my expectations. However, I am very excited to see what new head coach Mike Budenholzer can do with this roster. Budenholzer is well-regarded around the league and may be the person who can finally make this roster more than just the sum of its parts. If Budenholzer generates some early chemistry between his key players, the Bucks could be one of the surprise teams of the season. Other notable items of business include Jabari Parker signing with the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee drafting Donte DiVincenzo 17th overall in this year’s draft, signing Ersan Ilyasova to a partially-guaranteed three-year, $21 million contract and signing Brook Lopez to a one-year, $3,382,000 contract. I’m not a fan of the deal for Ilyasova but I think getting Lopez on this contract is a steal.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Jesse Blancarte
One thing is clear in Milwaukee after the summer of 2018: This is a franchise that’s acutely aware of how much longer star Giannis Antetokounmpo is under contract, and is clearly doing everything it can to show him progress. That started with the hiring of Mike Budenholzer for the vacant head coaching position back in May – Budenholzer comes with a fantastic track record, and the Bucks will hope he can get more out of their talent than his predecessors. They also made significant franchise moves on the personnel side, such as parting ways with former second overall pick Jabari Parker and smartly bringing in stretch center Brook Lopez for a cheap contract. If Budenholzer can unlock the bits of potential left in guys like Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and the rest of the strong talent on this roster, this could be a dark horse team to end up in the conference finals and maybe even threaten to play in June. If not, and if the Bucks can’t show us anything more than last year, the Giannis panic will begin in earnest next summer.
1st Place – Central Division
– Ben Dowsett
Giannis Antetokounmpo has established himself as one of the league’s premier young superstars. It’s just a shame that his team hasn’t followed suit. The Bucks have been one of the league’s biggest underachievers since the Greek Freak rose to prominence, but that might not be the case moving forward. Now that the Bucks have added Coach Bud and floor-spacing bigs, the Bucks have given Giannis the best supporting cast he’s ever had. Whether he develops a reliable jumper or not, Giannis has arguably become the league’s most unstoppable force not named LeBron. Should the Bucks’ additions work out, they may finally get past the first round.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Matt John
Mike Budenholzer is going to be the best thing that happens to this Bucks ball club. The superstar talent is there. All it has needed is stability. Giannis Antetokounmpo has barely even scratched the surface. Khris Middleton is entering his prime as one of the top two-way wings in the NBA. Eric Bledsoe just needs to tap into that extra gear to achieve heights we know he is capable of achieving. It’s high time Milwaukee turns into a championship contender. One year with Coach Bud will instill a winning culture they’ve never experienced before, starting with taking the franchise’s first Central Division title since the 2000-01 season.
1st Place – Central Division
– Spencer Davies
All the talk in the East is about the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors. However, remember the old adage that the team with the biggest star will often win the most games. How aren’t the Milwaukee Bucks the leader in this clubhouse? It’s easy to forget about Giannis Antetokounmpo, but if he makes that jump from borderline MVP to full-fledged MVP front-runner, he has the supporting cast and a head coach in Mike Budenholzer that could not only collectively turn the corner, the Bucks could be legit front-runners to win the East. Looking at how well he has developed over the years, believing that as a possibility isn’t a stretch, which makes Milwaukee a sleeper team to win the East.
1st Place – Central Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but you’re going to see Antetokounmpo’s name come up in this preview quite a bit. He’s made the All-NBA 2nd Team in back-to-back years. He’s earned All-Star team honors in the last two seasons. It might not be far off to say he may be the best player in the entire NBA in as soon as a year or two from now.
In 2017-18, the man they call Greek Freak accounted for 31.5 percent of the Bucks’ offense according to Cleaning The Glass. His 26.9 points per game average ranked fifth in the league and he made the fourth-most amount of field goals (742) amongst his peers. Antetokounmpo got to the free throw line over eight times per game and had a 59.8 true shooting percentage.
Chances are if you dole out any statistic on this end for Milwaukee, he is at the top of the list across the board. As Antetokounmpo enters his sixth season as a professional, it’s certain that the 23-year-old will continue to dominate and add to his arsenal, especially with the long-range jump shot. Combined with the fact that he’s added a ton of muscle and weight this summer—it’s not going to be fun for opponents to deal with him.
Top Defensive Player: Eric Bledsoe
All things considered, Antetokounmpo would probably be the selection here because of his dominant season as a disruptive individual defender and a shot blocker, but we’ll give somebody else the nod here.
Bledsoe is a physical player. He’s aggressive on the ball with his matchups. He’s not tall by any means for his position, but 205 pounds of pure muscle and long arms definitely make up for it. “Mini-LeBron” averaged two steals per game and showed off his chase-down block skills in multiple instances.
The Bucks’ opponent turnover percentage was 16.5 percent with Bledsoe on the floor. As specified by Cleaning The Glass, that figure is in the 91st percentile compared to the rest of the league. He’s a bothersome defender as it is, but with one season under his belt with a new squad, he’ll know how to play off his teammates even and hopefully will give a more sustained effort.
Top Playmaker: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Everything previously mentioned about Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee’s best player on offense didn’t even include statistics outside of scoring. What about his improving ability to share the basketball? He did average 4.8 assists per game and was responsible for 23.6 percent of his teammates’ made field goals in 2017-18, per CTG. If you don’t mention that, you almost have to bring up how he corralled 10 rebounds per game last season. That number is second to Anthony Davis among forwards in the NBA.
Whenever the Bucks need a guy to step up and make something happen on either end, Antetokounmpo is up to the task. If his year-to-year progression is any indication for what’s to come next, things should continue to trend upwards from here.
Top Clutch Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Who do you go to when the game is on the line? Your best player, of course. We saw this in action quite a bit last year. Perhaps his most impressive fourth-quarter performance came in the third game of the entire season.
Antetokounmpo scored 17 of his 44 points in the final period. With 19 seconds remaining and Milwaukee down by one, he poked the ball loose from C.J. McCollum, received a bounce pass in transition and slammed the go-ahead bucket. On the Blazers’ ensuing possession, Antetokounmpo was hanging just outside the paint before he saw Jusuf Nurkic receive a pass cutting to the lane. He went straight up and blocked Portland’s big man on a dunk attempt to seal the ball game. The Bradley Center was loud and Giannis showed emotion. It was a star-defining moment.
That is only one example of the kind of impact Greek Freak can have on a contest going down to the wire. In the 41 games he was involved in clutch situations, Antetokounmpo had a plus-11.2 net rating according to NBA.com. Only Victor Oladipo, Anthony Davis and Bojan Bogdanovic have a better net rating among those who have played in 40 or more games in the clutch.
The Unheralded Player: Malcolm Brogdon
Coming into last season as the reigning 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year, Brogdon had high expectations for season two of his career. Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite as planned for him. For starters, he was pulled in and out of the starting lineup. This went for both the regular season and the playoffs. It was partially because of the trade for Bledsoe, but the two played alongside each other often.
Secondly, the injury bug hit him hard. Brogdon missed over two months of action between February and mid-April due to a partially torn tendon in his left quadriceps. He was able to return in time for the postseason, but didn’t quite look like his usual self with the exception of two 16-point games.
Year three should be a perfect opportunity for him to get back on track. Brogdon offers the sort of size and length at guard that often creates mismatches. He can drive it, he can dish it and he can shoot it. That’s the hat trick for somebody who doesn’t need to force his role into an offense to produce. He lets the game come to him.
Best New Addition: Ersan Ilyasova
Ilyasova joining the Bucks organization is a reuniting on two levels. On one hand, Milwaukee drafted the 31-year-old forward back in 2005 and he played seven seasons for the team. In addition, Budenholzer coached the veteran forward during his short stint in Atlanta. It’s a sense of familiarity that will help him adapt with ease along with his new teammates.
Known for stretching the floor and rebounding the basketball, Ilyasova will likely play a key role with multiple sets of lineups. He can knock down the elbow three with the best of them and will provide second chances on the offensive glass. He is a great fit for a team that can use somebody who plays consistently on both ends.
– Spencer Davies
WHO WE LIKE
1. Khris Middleton
Picking up where he left off before he tore his left hamstring in September 2016, it was a great season for Middleton last year. He’s the clear-cut second option to Antetokounmpo and provides a notable scoring punch, as he averaged a career-high 20.1 points per game on over 46 percent from the field. In addition to that, he was always available and played in every single game in the regular season and playoffs.
2. Brook Lopez
Similar to Ilyasova, the veteran Lopez will have an opportunity to space the floor as a versatile center. In the last two years, the 30-year-old has taken more than 300 threes. Before that, he hadn’t attempted more than 14. If need be, he’ll be utilized in the post, but chances are he’ll be sent to the corner in order to make room for the playmakers to drive.
3. Tony Snell
His career numbers aren’t going to wow you, but Snell is somebody who just plays team ball. There’s nothing fancy about what he brings to the table. If you need a stop, he’s capable of getting it. If you need a key three to swing the momentum or keep it in your favor, he’ll knock it down. You have to think that playing within a system Budenholzer-crafted system is going to only benefit him.
4. Thon Maker
Entering his third year in the pros, Maker may be poised for a jump. People forget that he’s only 21 years old and is still a raw prospect. This new coaching staff coming in should help continue his development and mold him into one of the better young big men in the entire league. There was somewhat of a regression for him in season two, but a brand new environment and a consistent culture should help turn things around.
– Spencer Davies
The Bucks boast a ton of length and the ability to exploit mismatches on both ends of the floor. They have a roster full of wide wingspans and size. As evidenced by how many turnovers they forced and the amount of shots they blocked last season, it’s hard to imagine them taking a step back. Milwaukee also loved staying in attack mode as a top-eight team in free throw categories across the board.
– Spencer Davies
Rebounding the basketball. Averaging fewer than 40 rebounds as a team is not a key to success. You have to believe that will be a point of emphasis. Everything that had to do with the perimeter did not work out in the Bucks’ favor last season, either. They took less than 25 threes per game and made only 35.5 percent of those attempts. On the other end, Milwaukee allowed opponents to hit over a 37 percent clip of their triple tries.
– Spencer Davies
THE BURNING QUESTION
Is Mike Budenholzer the man to finally get the best out of Milwaukee?
There is so much potential for greatness. We’ve seen what the Bucks are capable of. What we haven’t seen is the sustainment of it. Having a proven head coach like Budenholzer come into a situation with the mixture of veteran and young talent—the possibilities are endless. Regardless of who was going to be in charge, we knew Antetokounmpo’s goal this season was to cement himself as the top forward in the Eastern Conference. Middleton and Bledsoe are entering their prime years. With coach Bud handling the in-game decisions and guiding these guys, it’s high time these talented players are pointed in the right direction.
– Spencer Davies
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.