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NBA Daily: Cavanaugh, Lyles Developing In G-League

Jordan Hicks catches up with Tyler Cavanaugh and Jairus Lyles to discuss their G-League stay with the Salt Lake City Stars and what they’re doing to get to the next level.

Jordan Hicks

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The atmosphere is buzzing.

On one side of the court, bleachers are almost to capacity with roughly 1,200 people in attendance. The other side has been cleared out to welcome multiple bounce houses for the children. It’s Pirate Night. There are foam swords and pirate hats galore.

This is the NBA G-League.

The Salt Lake City Stars – affiliate of the Utah Jazz – welcomed Miami’s developmental squad, the  Sioux Falls Skyforce, to town on January 4th.

The game was highly entertaining. In a matchup that featured high-flying slam dunks, deep three-pointers and superb defense on both sides, the highlight was a go-ahead three-point shot by Trey Lewis – a former collegiate teammate of budding NBA superstar Donovan Mitchell.

Sioux Falls point guard Briante Weber and an SLC Stars superfan engaged in some smack talk. It was all in good fun, but not something you typically see in an NBA game. It made you feel like you were actually part of the game, that you actually had a say in the outcome, creating a wonderful environment for all involved – truly a unique experience.

In a game that was eventually decided by five points, the Stars came out on top in a 110-105 victory where defense seemed to be the difference.

“[The Skyforce] shoot the third most threes in the league and they shoot the third highest percentage in the league,” Stars head coach Martin Schiller told Basketball Insiders. “And they have the most effective transition offense. So if you put one and one together they shoot transition threes. So our big thing was that we wanted to have our fingers up at all times, we wanted to limit attempts and pull percentages down.”

Near the end of the game with the score tied at 105 apiece and about 30 seconds remaining, Schiller drew up a play for Trey Lewis to shoot an above-the-break three. Basketball Insiders asked SLC’s coach his thought process behind it.

“That’s what [Trey Lewis] does,” Schiller said. “His rookie season he was a fantastic shooter and a clutch performer.”

Schiller recounted that he was familiar with Lewis from his rookie season playing overseas in Germany. Hitting the big shot was nothing new for the 26-year-old guard. In an exciting night capped by a go-ahead shot in the closing seconds, multiple Stars had big games to help put this one in the “W” column.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with both Tyler Cavanaugh – current two-way player for the Stars and former regular for the Atlanta Hawks – as well as Jairus Lyles – a former standout at UMBC, the first 16-seed in the NCAA tournament to knock off a one-seed.

Cavanaugh finished the game with 23 points, nine rebounds and two assists. He ended the game playing the five and was a huge factor in the final result.

Playing over half the season for the Atlanta Hawks last season, primarily as a three-point shooting stretch four, Cavanaugh finds himself in quite a different role this season. While he is currently on a two-way contract with the Jazz, he is playing consistent minutes for the Stars where he is featured as one of the primary players on a nightly basis.

“The G-League is a grind, I have a lot of respect for all of us that play in this league,” Cavanaugh told Basketball Insiders, “It’s a great opportunity to continue to get better and play extended minutes every single night and work on my game. And I just feel like I’m continuing to improve and that’s what’s most important.”

And improve Cavanaugh has. He’s averaging 15.3 points a night while knocking down 41.4 percent of his attempts from three. Playing just 11 games in last year’s G-League for the Erie BayHawks, Cavanaugh is already at 22 games played this season in Salt Lake City and there are still a bunch of contests left.

While his shooting percentages are slightly down compared to his G-League numbers last year, he’s averaging more points, more assists and, most importantly, more free-throw attempts per night. Noticeably finishing well through contact well in the Stars’ win, Basketball Insiders asked him what he’s been working on.

“[I’m] doing a lot of finishing drills around the rim, staying in the normal routine,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh also pointed to continually working with trainers in the weight room to prepare himself for extended minutes on game day.

Looking at the other aforementioned standout, Jairus Lyles was a huge reason the Stars stayed in the game in the first half. He finished with 15 points and four assists on the night, but did the bulk of his scoring in the first two quarters. He finished the night on highly efficient clips of 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.

A former standout at UMBC, Lyles scored 28 points on 11 shots to help his 16th-seeded team knock off the number one seed Virginia in last year’s edition of March Madness. Basketball Insiders asked him about his transition from NCAA hero to G-League regular.

“It’s definitely a different transition, you know a lot of ups and downs especially your first year being pro,” Lyles told Basketball Insiders. “It’s always frustrating when you’re not at the highest level so you gotta keep working and keep working.”

He went on to say that how you handle yourself through the growing pains is what defines you as a player.

On this night, Lyles seemed to shoot from either behind the three-point line or at the rim. With an ever-evolving game and teams are opting to take more and more efficient shots, it’s necessary to go with the flow.

“The NBA is changing, you gotta adapt,” Lyles told Basketball Insiders. “[There’s] a lot of three-point shots going up, it’s either at the rim or three-point shots, people don’t really like the mid-range shots, but you gotta take what the defense gives you.”

Both Cavanaugh and Lyles stressed that their ultimate goal is to make it to the NBA. The former has had a taste. The latter is still working on it.

But Lyles already has an idea of how he’ll take his path to the association.

“Being more of a point guard, different types of passes, seeing the court better,” Lyles said. “And then, defensively. Defense is most important because at my size I’m going to have to guard the ball great. Defense is the most important thing.”

Even coach Schiller has aspirations to make it to the next level, however, he knows what he and the Stars are doing has a real impact.

“[Quin Snyder] really wrapped his arms around us and took us and put us in the [Jazz] family,” Schiller said.

As the G-League continues to evolve and adapt, whether it’s testing future rule changes for the NBA or developing future role-players, it will continue to serve an important purpose.

Everyone at this level is grinding – from the coaches to the players, training staff and everyone else involved. The players in the league are all hoping for that one chance to get called up and prove their worth.

Many things can be said, but one thing is certain: G-League games are highly-entertaining and feature incredibly skilled players simply trying to improve their craft.

Jordan Hicks is an NBA writer based out of Salt Lake City. He is a former college athlete and varsity sports official. Find him on Twitter @JordanHicksNBA.

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G-League

Report: Jarrett Jack to Miss Rest of Season with Left Knee Injury

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Jarrett Jack, who signed recently with the Heat’s G League team, will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL and lateral meniscus as well spraining the MCL in his left knee. Surgery is April 1. He was injured in his lone appearance with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

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G-League

Sources: Rockets, Terrence Jones Agree to 10-Day Deal

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The Rockets are signing power forward Terrence Jones to a 10-day deal, sources told ESPN. Jones, 27, a former Rockets first-round pick, has been out of the NBA since 2016-17. He’s been dominant in the G League this season, averaging 23.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Source: Tim MacMahon on Twitter

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G-League

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.

Ben Nadeau

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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.

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