Mississauga, Ont. — The 2018 G-League Showcase takes place this week, hosted by the Toronto Raptors and their G-League affiliate Raptors 905. Here are 25 observations from the event’s first two days.
1. Having watched this annual event on television in the past, I can now confirm that the G-League Showcase is not for the faint of heart. Functionally, it’s a multi-day scouting opportunity-slash-midseason summit attended by all 30 teams. But for scouts, executives and writers alike, it’s also a massive daily slog made palatable mostly by the fact that the ability to sit in one or two places for 12 hours at a time and retain a reasonable percentage of cognitive function is a prerequisite for anyone remotely interested in working in basketball.
2. To be clear, that’s not an indictment whatsoever of the G-League’s actual product, which continues to improve as the NBA finalizes the big-picture vision of every franchise owning and operating its own affiliate. Most teams are heavily invested in the success of their overall program and the size of their respective contingents at the event tends to echo that. While only a small percentage of the players present will actually carve out NBA careers, the talent level is substantial and pulls from a wide net. While for the average fan this level of hoops can be easy to dismiss, if you simply love basketball or scouting (or obscure basketball players, or scouting obscure basketball players), it’s a terrific place to get your fix.
3. The logistics of the event itself have also made strides: the Raptors (who are hosts for the second straight year) opened up a second gymnasium this time around, allowing for staggered start times, two games for every team and a four-day schedule instead of five.
4. Canada is charming, and so the second gym is a converted hockey rink used by the CHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, who can be spotted walking around the facility on skates roughly once per day. Myriad team employees remarked about the dimly lit conditions (certainly a pain for journeyman shooters looking to put on a good showing) and multiple tipped balls flew off-court and struck glass left up on the surrounding boards. If you’d ever wondered how the size of a hockey rink compares to that of an NBA court or just wanted to hear unedited music during timeouts, you would have been in the right place.
5. The showcase is also a great chance for the basketball industry to network and schmooze, even more so than summer league in Las Vegas. It’s also a big opportunity for international teams to scout a lot of talent at once. “Everyone’s more relaxed because there aren’t many GMs here,” one team exec explained on the event’s first day.
6. Although few of the league’s top decision makers spend the entire four days at the showcase, many trickled in to see their own teams compete and keep an eye on the rest of the talent pool. There are still a lot of teams figuring out how to use open roster spots for the duration of the season, making the opportunity to see every G-League team over the course of a few days especially valuable. As of early Friday, Fourteen of 30 teams still had an open roster spot, and 10-day contracts became available on Jan. 5. It’s a real opportunity to audition.
7. On that note, there are six teams remaining with an open two-way contract slot: the Bucks, Hawks, Pelicans, Rockets, Timberwolves and Wizards. Teams have until Jan. 15 to sign players to two-way deals, and how organizations have chosen to use those new spots has varied. Some teams are locking up young players to get them into their systems early, and some are on the other end of the spectrum, signing journeymen who might be able to log NBA minutes in emergency. While inking a two-way means other teams can’t come calling mid-contract, players like Tyler Cavanaugh and Alex Poythress have seen their commitments pay off, having their two-ways converted into full guaranteed deals in-season. It’s too early to assess the true fallout of the rule, but when there’s synergy between players and team, it’s become a beneficial option.
8. One example of that: on Friday, the Pacers signed forward Ben Moore to a two-way contract, league sources told The Front Office. Moore has excelled for their Fort Wayne Mad Ants affiliate and won over many within the organization with his intelligent play and strong intangibles. Moore was undrafted out of SMU this season and is a prospect whose contributions don’t always translate directly to box-score stats. The Pacers were the first team to express interest and work him out last spring and are investing further in his development. He should have a chance to win a roster spot next season.
9. In other roster news, league sources say the Knicks are inching closer to finalizing a deal with Trey Burke, who successfully rehabbed his value with strong play for the team’s Westchester affiliate and has tellingly been held out of action at the Showcase. New York will have to clear a roster spot to sign him. The casualty could be veteran guard Ramon Sessions, who is on a one-year deal and has taken a back seat while Jarrett Jack has won minutes at the point.
10. There are 33 former McDonald’s All-Americans playing in this event: Cliff Alexander, Brandon Ashley, Dwayne Bacon, Cat Barber, Chane Behanan, Anthony Bennett, Jabari Bird, Antonio Blakeney, Thomas Bryant, Quinn Cook, P.J. Dozier, Archie Goodwin, Aaron Harrison, Isaac Hamilton, Isaiah Hicks, Demetrius Jackson, Amile Jefferson, Dakari Johnson, James Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks, Marcus Paige, Marshall Plumlee, Rodney Purvis, Malachi Richardson, Kobi Simmons, Diamond Stone, Caleb Swanigan, Marquis Teague, Melo Trimble, Chris Walker, Isaiah Whitehead, James Young and Stephen Zimmerman. That’s not counting Shannon Brown and Kendrick Perkins. It’s really, really hard to make the NBA.
11. Yes, 32-year old Shannon Brown (Wisconsin Herd) and 33-year-old Kendrick Perkins (Canton Charge) are in the G-League, and so is 35-year-old Emeka Okafor (Delaware 87ers). Watching Perkins match up with 20-year-old Justin Patton on Wednesday was a trip to say the least. Imagine if Kendrick Perkins starred in Hot Tub Time Machine 2.
12. Here’s a good rule of thumb when trying to figure out which G-Leaguers are real NBA prospects: beyond two-way players and those on assignment from their parent club, identify the guys who have one or two great skills, are actively working to sharpen them, and moreover, who are great people. Basketball isn’t always about basketball, the majority of guys at this level are fighting for a chance to become a role player and not a star, and the final spots on rosters rarely go to players who haven’t learned what it means to be a professional. As one executive told me: “We can always go find someone who will show up on time.”
13. One name to keep an eye on is Santa Cruz Warriors guard Damion Lee, a Louisville and Drexel product who is now a year removed from a torn ACL (the second of his career) and combines an NBA body with strong shooting touch and efficiency. He’s lost a bit of his mobility but has nice size and has the ability to make shots off screens. He’s an intriguing potential two-way candidate.
14. Another name is Jameel Warney, who was a stud at Stony Brook and has been a versatile contributor for the Texas Legends. He’s not an explosive athlete, but has a nice skill set, finishes with both hands and does a variety of things well. He was the MVP of the FIBA AmeriCup last year with Team USA and has continued to show well in a variety of settings. He’s a guy who deserves a call-up.
15. Austin Spurs center Amida Brimah is another one, as his massive frame has filled out since his UConn days and makes him an easily projectable rim protector and floor-runner. He will need a team with a simplified role to offer, but could certainly have success as a defensive-minded center in secondary lineups.
16. Of course, you find a lot of players with great stories here, one of whom is Jaylen Morris, a product of Division II Molloy College (nope, you didn’t know it was on Long Island). He’s been productive for the Erie BayHawks this season and had a good showing on Wednesday, finishing with 15 points and six rebounds and as a plus-9 in a six-point loss. He’s skinny but quick off the floor, a solid rebounder and tough competitor. He’s a deep, deep sleeper. And hey, the Hawks do have an open two-way spot…
17. Another player with a crazy story is Michael Orris, who signed with the Agua Caliente Clippers this week after finishing a multi-stop college career at South Dakota State last year. He’d recently left Iceland and was working a shift wiping down tables at a restaurant when he got the call. He played Wednesday at the showcase without even a name on his jersey. He’s not an NBA prospect, but he’s the kind of guy you want to root for.
18. The G-League itself is an extremely useful context for scouting, particularly when immersed in daily nine-hour slates of games. Watching these games and then visualizing college players in this context—particularly from an athletic standpoint—can really be enlightening.
19. For example: Matur Maker (Thon’s brother), who will be eligible for the NBA draft this year, played a game for his local prep team against not-great competition on Thursday and posted 45 points and 20 rebounds. It was a weird place to evaluate. But throwing out the stat line and simply considering Maker’s length, strength and fluidity? If he were in the G-League showcase, he’d easily be among the most physically intriguing bigs in this event. That alone makes him a potential second-round candidate. A solid 40-plus scouts watched him play Thursday, and another contingent of interested parties will see him play on Friday morning.
20. Speaking of this year’s draft: after picking the brains of a dozen or so league types over the last couple days (and this season on whole), you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s not fully enamored with DeAndre Ayton’s physical tools. “Coming into the season, the one bad thing I’d heard was his motor…he’s been getting after it every night,” said one team exec who personally considered Ayton the top available prospect. He continues to dispel the stigma surrounding his competitiveness.
21. As cliché as the term can be, don’t overlook how much motor matters to NBA teams. “It’s so tough to find bigs who play hard,” said a different executive as he expressed some concern over Mohamed Bamba’s visible lack of fire. While Bamba’s long-term ceiling as a defender and rim-runner is massive, Ayton and Marvin Bagley have shown consistency and are much closer to helping an NBA team nine months from now. Sifting through the elite bigs has been a popular topic of conversation.
22. Everyone I’ve spoken with is impressed with Trae Young; nobody was ready to crown him a top-five pick right now. Although continued strong play will validate having the conversation, gauging overall perception versus reality will be a challenge as his star continues to rise.
23. The takeaway from these conversations has been that top of this draft is strong enough that the top honor will still come down to which team has the pick: for example, should the Sixers luck into the Lakers’ pick and draft No. 1 (yep, still processing), selecting an experienced, well-rounded perimeter player like Luka Doncic over any of the available big men would make complete sense.
24. With prospects Austin Wiley and DeAnthony Melton ruled ineligible by the NCAA for the rest of the season and also ineligible to join the G-League immediately (as ESPN reported), there are expected to be a large number of eligible players in this draft class considered wild-card prospects. Count Mitchell Robinson, a first-round caliber player, among them. That group could also include Wiley’s teammate Danjel Purifoy, Brian Bowen (who is presently attempting to play at South Carolina next season) prep schoolers Maker and Anfernee Simons, and Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt (though he’s supposedly nearing a return from injury). This whole thing is going to get crazy.
25. OK, I cheated. Please direct any and all draft-related questions to SIFrontOffice@gmail.com. You might end up in a future mailbag! On Saturday, the Front Office heads to the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass. to see a host of elite high school prospects. Stay tuned...