For an event with the same ethos and same location as a year ago, the 2018 G League Showcase sure felt a little different last week. It wasn’t just the addition of the second court at Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, or the buzz from Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors visits just down the highway, either.
The biggest change, here and in the G League as a whole this season, is the introduction of two-way contracts.
Those deals are a net positive for players and the league. They create up to 60 more roster spots where players on the fringes of the NBA can earn two-tiered salaries that pay them a more competitive wage relative to overseas opportunities while also developing within an NBA organization, spending up to 45 days with a parent club during the G League season, with the possibility of having that deal converted to a standard NBA contract. They have unquestionably improved the quality of play in the G League, as while not all of those two-way players would have opted to go overseas – there is a not insignificant portion who would have opted to bet on themselves earning a call-up – the top tier of G League talent is noticeably deeper.
There have been externalities. The obvious one at an event like this is that with scouts and executives from every team on hand, attention normally reserved for G Leaguers looking for a call-up is shared with players on two-way deals. The deadline to sign two-way players was Monday, and so teams were up against a bit of a deadline on that front that doesn’t quite exist with standard call-ups. Conversations at the event focused far more on the roster churn of two-way players far more than potential 10-day targets.
That resulted in a pretty chaotic couple of days on the transaction wire.
Since Jan. 1, 19 players have signed new two-way contracts, made possible by a few conversions to NBA deals, some two-way players being released (either to get intimate looks at new names or to game a few extra NBA service days), and a number of teams holding two-way spots open until now (Washington is the only team with an open two-way slot now that the deadline has passed). Meanwhile, the 10-day market has been quiet – only three players have signed 10-days deals so far this year (and one was immediately cut), down from seven by the end of the Showcase a year ago. Standard call-ups are down, too, if two-way players are excluded – of the 23 official call-ups listed on the G League tracker, 20 have been for two-way deals (for reference, 12 players had earned standard NBA call-ups by this point last year).
Some of the names signed to two-way deals were a little surprising, too, not exactly the elite of the G League. This reflects something that was a fairly common thread in conversations last week: Agents don’t really love the two-way contract. This isn’t an across-the-board opinion, and there are certain players and situations where they make a lot of sense. For some agents, though, the floor offered by a two-way deal doesn’t measure up to the potential ceiling of a 10-day contract or a rest-of-season deal.
That’s especially true up against the two-way deadline, when the prorated number of NBA deals not only caps the ceiling if a player doesn’t get converted but also doesn’t offer the same floor as a season-long two-way deal. The table below shows what players of varying service time could earn on a 10-day deal versus a two-way contract, with the two-figures being estimated based on prorated two-tiered salaries and assuming maximized NBA days (until and after the G League season ends):
That might help explain why some of the better performing G Leaguers may remain unsigned – they can make up the extra money from two-way offers so quickly on 10-days and would outstrip those salaries if they could stick with a team for the remainder of the season. More NBA teams than usual are running with 14 players instead of 15, in part because two-way players offer additional depth and in part because so many teams were feeling a salary cap/luxury tax crunch this summer and are valuing the additional flexibility until the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Again, this isn’t good or bad, necessarily, it’s just different.
Additional roster spots and more players making more than the $26,000 G League maximum is objectively a positive. If nothing else, the quality of play in the G League is higher this year, which probably helps players develop with greater competition and gives NBA decision-makers a more accurate look at how players will perform against top competition.
If it conspires to limit the 10-day market over the next few months, the net impact on fringe NBA players as a whole may be more nuanced. 13 players received 10-day deals between the end of the Showcase and the trade deadline last year. The next few weeks should be telling.
Notes from the Showcase
* One of the best parts of events like this and Summer League, from the perspective of someone outside of the basketball fraternity, is the college-level connections between everyone. Regardless of age or NBA/G League affiliation, there appear to be three levels of basketball kinship: We went to the same school, we played in the same conference, and everyone else. The first group is striking simply because any, say, Kentucky player can identify any other Kentucky alum in the room at the snap of a finger, or you get Fred VanVleet trekking through a blizzard to watch Cleanthony Early play. The second is fun because you get things like UNC center Kennedy Meeks calling Amile Jefferson his favorite Duke player of all time. In seriousness, the amount of support players lend each other and how tight some of these bonds run, despite ostensibly competing for finite jobs, is really admirable.
* Jefferson, by the way, was probably the best anyone looked at the Showcase. He got All-G League Showcase First-Team honors and was promptly signed to a two-way deal by Minnesota. The two other players who stood out the most – Georges Niang and Demetrius Jackson – were also scooped up quickly.
* There is still a ton of rebounding available on the call-up market (Meeks, Jameel Warney, Landry Nnoko, and Daniel Hamilton stand out). There’s also some shooting (Jarell Eddie is borderline unfair; Justin Dentmon deserves a gold watch call-up for all his G League work), as well as some interesting all-around prospects (Walter Lemon, an improving Christian Wood, personal favourite Nigel Hayes, All-Name Candidate Diamond Stone, a surging Josh Gray). It’ll be interesting to see who the patience pays off for.
* As a reminder, the G League experiments with some different rules, like a fourth official on the court, a 14-second shot-clock following offensive rebounds, and a coach’s challenge. Because the officiating is generally worse, it’s hard to get a gauge on the four-ref system. The shortened rebound shot-clock speeds up play but I’m not sure if I’m in favor of it in competitive terms. The coach’s challenge should come to the NBA; if the league is worried abou the speed of play, they can opt to turn one of a team’s timeouts into an advance timeout only (you can inbound on the other side of half but don’t get to talk it over). It was a bit of a slog when two challenges were made in a four-minute stretch of one game, though.
* G League president Malcolm Turner spoke on a panel Friday night and revealed that in addition to a 27th team coming next year, the league expects their 30-30 team-affiliated plan to be completed in the next couple of years. He also highlighted the potential importance of the Mexico City market and the role the G League may be able to play in helping establish it. He didn’t get more specific than that, though the message between the lines there is pretty clear.
*John Cena’s entrance music at timeout breaks goes over really well with children. And me.
*The G League and Raptors 905 staffs deserve a world of credit. There are 26 teams playing a total of 26 games over four days in two gyms, one of them a makeshift one, while juggling a speaker series and representatives from all 30 teams, and short of one tip-off being delayed 30 minutes due to snow, everything went exactly to plan.
*I’m here to inform you that you can meal prep for four days straight at the arena and sorry, but you’ll still be eating too many of the free cookies.