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2017 NBA G League Central Division Preview

Editor Dakota Schmidt breaks down the NBA G League’s Central Division

NBA: Chicago Bulls-Media Day Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Fort Wayne Mad Ants

This segment is written by Ridiculous Upside contributor and Mad Ants insider Dedrick Hendrix.

It’s been a grind of a training camp in Fort Wayne. After spending lots of training camp with the team at their practices, it hurt me seeing some of the players get cut. Nonetheless, that’s how that business works. Everyone can’t make it.

With the season getting underway tonight, it’s time to focus on who is on the team and some expectations for this upcoming season. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey has indicated he wants the team to play at a faster pace this season. There isn’t a ton of size on the team this year to be quite honest. Outside of Andrew Woodbury (7’1) there isn’t another player on the team taller than 6’9. In a nutshell, that’s the game plan for this season. Attempt to force the opponent to play at their pace. It feels like deja vu since we’ve heard this before, but this season’s roster is more than capable of competing and fulfilling coach Gansey’s expectations.

To begin the season, it’s likely the stars on the roster will be forwards Jarrod Uthoff and Alex Poythress. Although, it isn’t official of Poythress will actually begin the season with the team, it only makes sense as a two-way player who isn’t receiving a ton of minutes for the Indiana Pacers, especially with Myles Turner back from concussion protocol, to spend significant time this season in Fort Wayne.

According to the Mad Ants, guard Edmond Sumner will be out indefinitely while in the rehabilitation process for a knee injury he sustained in college. But, when he’s back he’ll be expected to earn a ton of minutes as well. Other than Walt Lemon Jr., Stephan Hicks and Trey McKinney-Jones, the roster’s guards receive a whole new outlook. Rookie Tra-Deon Holllins has looked really comfortable in camp and will likely receive a lot of minutes for a rookie. His defensive ability is beyond incredible and from what I’ve seen in camp, he’s improved the only noticeable flaw in his game — shooting. Along with Hollins, newcomer guard Je’Lon Hornbeak, the Mad Ants will be able to keep the pace up and force a lot of turnovers due to their quick hands and defensive awareness.

The Mad Ants’ front-court will be the most important factor in the success for the team this season. We all know what Uthoff and Poythress bring to the table (while they’re here of course.) But, will guys like DeQuan Jones, Ben Moore, and returner C.J. Fair be able to provide quality minutes as well while they get rest on the bench or when/if Poythress or Uthoff make a jump to the NBA? Coach Gansey’s been quite high on Moore. At Media Day last week, he was asked about what he expects out of Moore.

“Having Ben be a workhorse, getting offensive rebounds, drawing charges. Those lifting things add up. I’m really looking forward to seeing what these young guys can do.”

Overall, I’m excited to see what these season holds for this team. The roster includes six returning players, two affiliate players, two players under the new two-way contract rule, one 2017 NBA G League Draft selection and one open tryout invitee. The sky is the limit for them, they have a ton of talent and the pace will surely be up from last season, but will it be enough to overcome the lack of size? The Mad Ants’ first home game in November 7th against the Greensboro Swarm and I’ll be in attendance for sure. Can’t wait to see this team in action live at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum Tuesday night.

Windy City Bulls

In their 2nd year in the G League, the Windy City Bulls are looking to use some high-profile prospects to move their way up the Easter Conference. That process began this summer when they signed guards Antonio Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono to two-way deals. Blakeney enters the G League after basically being the lone offensive weapon on a bad LSU squad. As a sophomore, he put up 17.2 points and 4.8 rebounds on 46% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Arcidiacono is going to look to take a step forward after he had a forgettable rookie campaign with the Austin Spurs. However, his work from beyond the arc and strong facilitating ability could allow him to be a decent starter for the Bulls. If Arcidiacono or Blakeney aren’t able to perform, the squad could look to the services of former Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig, who can definitely knock down perimeter jumpers in bunches.

While the Bulls are going to have a strong backcourt, a lot of the attention will be centered around center Diamond Stone, who comes to the team after one season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Due to Doc Rivers being allergic to utilizing young talent, Stone spent some time in the G League last year with the SLC Stars and Santa Cruz Warriors. He shined with either squad as he was able to average 16.2 points and 7 rebounds per game on 49% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc.

Finishing out the starting 5, we have forwards Jaylen Johnson and Derick Newton. While Johnson might be a more recognizable player due to his past experience with the Louisville Cardinals, I’m actually more intrigued by Newton due to how well-rounded he is on the offensive end of the floor.

The Stetson alum actually reminds me of a small version of current 76ers wing Robert Covington. That comparison is due to how Newton is a strong 6’7 wing that was able to shine in college due to maintaining a strong perimeter stroke that pushed him to shoot 38% from beyond the arc during his sophomore season. Alongside that, Newton is able to regularly finish around the rim and even has shown some flashes of being a presence in the low-post.

If the Bulls decide not to depend on Newton and/or Johnson, they can give some playing time to G League veteran Duje Dukan, who returns to his 2nd season with Windy City. The 6’10 forward shined as an amazing perimeter shooter as he put up 9.6 points on 44% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc in only 21 minutes per game. Although I currently project him to basically work as the team’s 6th man, there’s definitely a chance that his role will increase if he gets off to a strong start.

Wisconsin Herd

The Milwaukee Bucks definitely had an interesting off-season when it came to trying to build their new G League team. Between the NBA Draft and Vegas Summer League, Milwaukee filled up their two-way slots by signing guard Bronson Koenig and forward Jalen Moore. While neither player really impressed during Summer League, it appeared that the would remain within the organization on their current contracts. However, that status quickly changed in early September as both players were waived from their deals just days before training camp was about to start. Although Moore reportedly left the team due to battling anxiety , the Bucks just randomly decided to waive Bronson Koenig

While it was strange to see them quickly remove both of their two-way players, they ended up doing a good job of filling those spots by signing Gary Payton Jr and Joel Bolomboy. Payton Jr. is an extremely athletic 6’4 guard that just excels on the defensive end. Meanwhile, Bolomboy is a 2nd year big that was waived by the Utah Jazz right before the start of the season. Most of his rookie season was spent in the G league with the SLC Stars where he was actually an All-Star as he put up 16.4 points, 13.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game on 54% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc on 1.9 perimeter attempts per game. Even if he isn’t able to directly replicate those amazing numbers, Bolomboy should still be a fantastic front-court presence with Wisconsin.

For most of the season, Bolomboy’s front-court partner will be former five-star recruit Cliff Alexander. However, he won’t be on the court for the team’s first 5 games due to being suspended without play for breaking their anti-drug policy. With Alexander gone, the Herd will likely depend on G League veteran Michael Dunigan to be their man in the middle. As a temporary starter, Dunigan should be fine as he can battle on the boards, catch lobs and be a solid rim protector.

While Bolomboy and Payton Jr. will be the Herd’s headliners, Xavier Munford and James Young will give the squad some additional scoring and experience. This will be Xavier Munford’s fourth season in the G League, where he’s regularly stood as one of the league’s best point guards. However, with Payton Jr working alongside him, he’ll be spending time at shooting guard, which shouldn’t be much of an issue for him. While he’s a fine ball-handler, Munford should still succeed in his role as an off-ball guard due to his work as an off-ball cutter and just being a decent perimeter shooter.

Meanwhile, Young will make his way to the Herd after spending three years with the Boston Celtics. Although his play was limited, it was apparent that he developed as a perimeter as Young shot 34% from beyond the arc in 2016-17 compared to 26% as a rookie in 2014-15. Hopefully for his basketball future, Young will be able to improve on this numbers with a full season as a G League starter.

Grand Rapids Drive

While it’s definitely normal for G League squads to experience huge roster turnover from one season to the next, the change that the Drive experienced might’ve been even more significant. That’s due to the team losing 82% of last year’s offense as Zeke Upshaw is the only returning player that played more than 20 minutes per game.

With a brand new team, new head coach Rob Werdann will have to figure out who will stand as the team’s leading scoring weapon. Fortunately, the Pistons organization quickly filled that role as they picked up veteran guard Dwight Buycks. While he’s spent the past few seasons in China, Buycks is now stranger to the G League as he spent the better part of four years in the league with the Bakersfield Jam, OKC Blue and Tulsa 66ers. With those teams, he stood as a fine guard that can facilitate, drive to the rim and also be a strong perimeter defender, as he averaged 1.5 steals per game during his time in the league.

Aside from Buycks, the Drive will depend upon the Pistons’ other two-way prospect, Luis Montero. While he isn’t as experienced as Buyucks, Montero has some flashes of actually developing as a point forward as the 6’7 wing averaged 8.8 points, 6.2 boards and 2.1 assists on 41% from the field in 24 minutes per game during his 2016-17 campaign with Sioux Falls and Reno.

Looking away from Buycks and Montero, two intriguing Drive prospects are Derek Willis and Landry Nnoko, who came to the team as affiliate players. Willis is a former Kentucky forward that can work his tail off on the offensive glass while also being able to have success from beyond the arc, as he shot 37% from that range as a senior. Meanwhile, Nnoko is a fantastic rim protector that has quick feet that he likes to utilize as a help defender. Those skills pushed him to block four shots during his G League debut in Friday night’s win against Reno.

Canton Charge

Last but not least, we have a Canton Charge team that has made it to the G League playoffs streak that dates back to the 2011-12 season. Of course, its tough to predict how a G League squad will fare during that season due to the possibility of a player getting injured or them signing 10-days or moving to an overseas squad because they’d get a more lucrative contract than the G league can ever offer.

However, this is a prediction piece and I have to make a decision on how the Charge will do during the 2017-18 season. In my humble opinion, they’ll make it back to the G League playoffs for the seventh straight year.

That optimism comes with the great array of talent that surrounds the Charge’s roster. At the top of their list, we have two-way prospects London Perrantes and John Holland. Perrantes is a former Virginia guard that led the team’s backcourt during his four-year stint with the team.

While he isn’t the most athletic or quickest guy, Perrantes is the type of player that works his ass off and can offer you differing things on a game-by-game basis. Meanwhile, Holland stood as one of the best scoring weapons in the G League last year as he put up 22.9 points, 3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game on 48% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc.

Looking away from that two-way duo, the one player that stands out the most is 13-year NBA vet Kendrick Perkins, who was a starter on the Boston Celtics squad that won an NBA title in 2008. After spending the prior year sitting at home, he made his way to the G League as a way to show the NBA world that he still belongs in the Association. While it’s been a while since we’ve seen him play, I still the 6’10, 275 big can still shine as a tenacious offensive rebounder and strong rim protector.

Projected Central Division Winner: Fort Wayne Mad Ants