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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.

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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.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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