The NBA recently announced that player salaries in the G-League will increase beginning with next season. In addition, players will also receive housing and insurance benefits. The league will also expand to 27 teams with the newest franchise being the Capital City Go-Go’s, the affiliate of the Washington Wizards.
The G-League has seen an increase in popularity and coverage, and five-star senior Darius Bazley withdrew his commitment from Syracuse in favor of spending a year in the league preparing for the NBA draft. Teams are now beginning to utilize their G-League affiliates more; this season saw a record of 50 players called up to the NBA.
One team that has found success with their G-League team is the Los Angeles Lakers. By the end of the season, the Lakers had seven players on the roster who either started the season with the South Bay Lakers or spent time being called back and forth. With a rash of injuries the last month or so, most of those players featured prominently in the rotation.
“The G-League has turned into a great resource for the NBA, for the development of young players and for finding people who help your team win,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to their final game of the season. “You look across the league, almost every single team at some point this year has got a lot of help from someone either on a two-way or who they signed for ten days. These guys have grown up their whole lives playing too. They’re hungry, they mostly have an edge, they have a chip on their shoulder because they haven’t had the same opportunities.”
Most teams took advantage of the new ability to sign players to two-way contracts, having them split time between their NBA team and G-League affiliate. The Lakers originally had longtime G-League standout Vander Blue and Alex Caruso signed to two-way contracts. But they cut Blue in January and replaced him with Gary Payton II.
Payton, the son of former NBA star Gary Sr., has had some NBA experience prior to this year He was a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2016-17 season and he began this season with them before being cut in December. He caught on with the Lakers on a two-way contract and he spent most of the season with the South Bay Lakers.
He started out his career in the G-League after going undrafted out of Oregon State in the summer of 2016. He started out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before being called up by the Bucks. He’s also spent time with the Wisconsin Herd.
“The two years I’ve been in the G-League going back and forth has really helped develop my game, and it’s transferred over,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Down there they really help develop player’s games. I get my opportunity to just come in and help facilitate.”
Payton only appeared sparingly in six games as a rookie and was inactive during the Bucks 2017 first round series against the Toronto Raptors. This season started out with more of the same. He saw 12 games of action with the Bucks, mostly in garbage time, while shuffling back and forth with the Wisconsin Herd.
When he signed with the Lakers, Payton immediately made an impact with South Bay. In 17 games, he put up 17.2 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and dished out 5.1 assists. When South Bay’s season came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of the Austin Spurs, Payton rejoined the Lakers.
Injuries to key players saw Payton thrust into the rotation for the final few games of the season. On the final night of the regular season, Payton had his best performance as an NBA player in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 25 points on 11-19 shooting, including 3-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.
“I just do what I do, try to carry over what I brought in the G-League and just try to be aggressive,” Payton said. “They tell me every time I’m up here and get an opportunity to just be aggressive and make plays for my teammates.”
Another player who has used the G-League to get an opportunity with the Lakers is Payton’s South Bay teammate Travis Wear. Wear is no stranger to the NBA. He went undrafted out of UCLA in the summer of 2015 but was able to make the New York Knicks roster following a strong training camp.
With the Knicks, Wear saw action in 51 games and displayed an ability to stretch the floor by shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line. A back injury cut his rookie year short and he went overseas the following season. He returned stateside to begin the 2016-17 season and ended up in South Bay, when the team was still known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Now that he’s back in the NBA, Wear credits his experience in New York as helping him learn what the NBA is all about.
“I kind of knew what to expect coming into this NBA game and the style in which it’s played,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “It definitely prepared me. It was three years ago but I was able to look back on that experience and change some things from the past.”
Wear had a breakout season in the G-League this year and that strong play was what caught the Lakers’ attention. He was one of the best players in the G-League all season long. He put up 16.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and shot 41.9 percent from three-point range. Wear is a high energy player who is active around the rim and can draw opposing defenses to the perimeter with his shooting ability.
He shot 36.2 percent from downtown in the 17 games he received playing time after being called up to the Lakers. On Mar. 16, in a one-point loss to the Miami HEAT, he scored 11 points and shot a perfect 3-3 from long range. On Mar. 24, in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored 11 points and had two steals while shooting 3-7 from three.
Wear believes his time in the G-League has really helped prepare him to make an easier return to the NBA.
“Since I’ve been here, I pretty much come in, space the floor, knock down shots and play good defense,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “They know I can shoot so that’s how they’ve been utilizing me. I was definitely refining my skills down there. I just got a lot of confidence in my shooting ability from the G-League. It gave me the confidence to come up here and do the same thing.”
While Wear has had a successful end to the season, there is no guarantee that he’ll be back with the Lakers next year. His contract was only guaranteed through the end of this season. The Lakers have an option to extend him a qualifying offer this summer, which would make him a restricted free agent.
Although he wouldn’t mind sticking with the Lakers, Wear knows that the NBA is a business. He feels he’s shown enough that if it doesn’t work out in Los Angeles, another team will surely come calling.
“Whoever I can get an opportunity to get a contract with somewhere. There are things I need to improve on my game in the offseason and come back better,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s been phenomenal, a dream come true.”
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