From Wednesday January 10th through Saturday January 13th, basketball fans will have the opportunity to watch this year’s edition of the NBA G League Showcase which will featured 26 games getting played over the next four days. That amount of basketball action taking place during that short period of time is due to the games taking place on two arenas, a major change to what we’ve seen from prior Showcases. To prepare you for the 2018 edition of this event, we’ve given you the list of the top eight players to watch plus some honorable mentions.
Josh Gray & Xavier Silas- Northern Arizona Suns
After the Northern Arizona Suns dealt guard Askia Booker to the Delaware 87ers in late December, there were questions about who would step up as the team’s go-to leader. However, that time pondering their next go-to weapon was limited as 2nd year guard Josh Gray immediately stepped up to the plate and took those reigns. Since Booker left the Suns, he’s just been on an absolute roll as he’s averaged 19.3 points, 8.8 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 5 steals per game on 40% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc.
Obviously you have to take those stats with a grail of salt due to the small sample size. However, these numbers are just a slightly heightened example of how solid Gray has been this year. As he looks to embark on the G League Showcase, it will be interesting to see if Gray can keep this up when he knows that scouts from every NBA team will have their eyes on him and every other G Leaguer.
Another Suns player that will look to showcase himself at the Showcase will be veteran guard Xavier Silas. Although he hasn’t put up the same kind of numbers as Gray, Silas has firmly implemented himself as arguably the best perimeter shooter in the entire G League. In 9.3 perimeter attempts per game, Silas is shooting 42% which places him right behind Windy City’s Jarell Eddie. That type of perimeter expertise might put Silas as a potential candidate for a 10-day contract as NBA teams look for that perimeter shooter they can put in their rotation.
Amile Jefferson - Iowa Wolves
Although it might sound weird due to his past status as a Duke Blue Devil that helped push the team to a national title, I really didn’t have my eyes on Amile Jefferson when we were building up to the start of the current NBA G League season. However, my pessimism ended up putting a hypothetical pie in my face as Jefferson ended up turning into one of the best front-court players in the entire NBA G League. At this point, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game on 63% shooting.
Most of Jefferson’s production comes from being a beast on the offensive glass (averaging 3.2 offensive boards per game) and working as a great slasher in pick-and-rolls. Although he doesn’t have much of an offensive game besides that, he definitely stands as a potential two-way candidate since the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the teams that have an open slot. While Jefferson has definitely proven himself over the course of the season, he’ll have an opportunity to fully claim his spot as a future NBA prospect with a good output in the G League Showcase where he’ll go against Grand Rapids Drive big Landry Nnoko.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes - Westchester Knicks
Honestly, I would’ve put Trey Burke on this list if he was available to play. However, Yahoo Sports’ Sham Charania has reported that Burke will be out of the G League Showcase as it looks like that the New York Knicks are prepared to sign him to a regular NBA deal. As Burke seems ready to graduate from the NBA, I think Xavier Rathan-Mayes is ready to step up as the backcourt leader of the Knicks.
As a rookie, Rathan-Mayes has established himself as a fantastic offensive weapon that can slash to the rim whenever he desires, work as a drive-and-dish facilitator and even hit the occasional perimeter jumper. Probably the biggest improvement that he’s made is as a on-ball defender as he’s averaging 2.1 steals per game. He’s able to get that done by both hounding the ball-handler while also being a force in the passing lanes.
With Burke likely leaving the G League, it will be up to Rathan-Mayes to help lead the Knicks as we get closer to the playoffs. That journey will begin in the Showcase as he’ll have an opportunity to compete against Briante Weber and the RGV Vipers on the 10th and Tyrone Wallace’s Agua Caliente Clippers on the 12th.
Kennedy Meeks - Raptors 905
After stumbling out the gate with a 5-10 record, the Raptors 905 have stood as the hottest team in the G League as they ‘ll enter the Showcase on a nine-game winning streak and within spitting distance of the top seed Westchester Knicks. As was the case when they won last year’s G league title, defense has been the key for the 905’s rise up the Eastern Conference ladder. One of the biggest factors behind their rise would be rookie big Kennedy Meeks, who works in a platoon system with Shevon Thompson.
Although he entered the G League as a defensive liability, Meeks has really stepped it up in that area as opponents are nearly six points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the court (95.9 points per 100) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (101.5 points per 100). Alongside his work on the defensive end, Meeks has also been solid on the other end of the court as he’s a reliable double-double threat that’s averaging 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on 48% from the field.
While Meeks has established himself as a solid G League big during the first two months of the season, he’ll have an opportunity to even go beyond that as he looks to the G League Showcase and beyond. At the event in Mississauga, Meeks will go against Santa Cruz’s Damian Jones on January 11th and Sioux Falls’ Jimmie Taylor on the 13th. If he can shine in those two games, Meeks could definitely have the momentum to push forward and try to help push the 905 to their 2nd straight G League title.
Cliff Alexander - Wisconsin Herd
Back last week, the Wisconsin Herd were hit by two significant roster moves that could possibly have a huge impact on them as they look to begin the 2nd half of the season. First off, the Philadelphia 76ers announced on January 5th that they signed Herd guard James Young to a two-way deal. Just two days later, the Bucks officially signed Xavier Munford to a two-way deal while also waiving Joel Bolomboy.
In terms of the Herd, the James Young news was probably the biggest loss as he was a consistent 20+ points per game scorer during his time with the team. In regards to that second deal, it should make as big of an impact as Bolomboy only played nine games with the Herd where he averaged 15 points and 11.2 points on 54% from the field. Although those are definitely solid numbers, the Herd were still able to be a solid team when he wasn’t around.
Probably the biggest reason why the Herd remained one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference when Bolomboy wasn’t there was due to the great play of young veteran big Cliff Alexander. In his first year with the Herd, Alexander has put up 17.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1 block per game on 61% from the field. Although his offensive game hasn’t really developed much as he’s still mainly comfortable with being an electrifying pick-and-roll big that catch and dunk from around the paint. Alexander’s limited skill set hasn’t been much of an issue for the Herd quite yet but he might need to show more versatility as more of the offensive load will be placed on his shoulders with James Young now in Delaware.
Whether that’s just shooting more from beyond the arc or flashing more of a low-post game, Alexander will be an interesting player to keep an eye on as we move further in the G League season. He’ll hopefully start showing that increased versatility as he’ll be matched up against the Legends on the 10th and the Austin Spurs on the 12th.
Georges Niang - Santa Cruz Warriors
Although Quinn Cook will enter the NBA G League Showcase as arguably the best active guard in the entire league, he’s not on my list. That’s due to how G League fans know what to expect from him after he’s been an elite guard in the league for most of his pro career. Aside from Cook, the most intriguing player for fans to keep their eyes on in the G League Showcase would be 6’6 wing Georges Niang.
In his first season with Santa Cruz, Niang has established himself as probably the best “swiss army knife” prospect in the G League as he’s so solid in various methods. From shooting 42% from beyond the arc, averaging 4.8 assists with a 1.6 Ast/TO ratio to being a force in the low-post, he’s been a great part of the 15-10 Warriors.
Niang’s great versatility allows him to be a viable candidate to take one of the seven two-way postions that are currently available or get signed to a two-way deal. Although there might be players in the G League that are better scorers, defenders or facilitators, there aren’t many players in the league that can match Niang’s versatility.
Antonio Blakeney - Windy City Bulls
Over the course of this list, we’ve tried to touch on solid players that have slid under the radar of the G League. However, we’re going to break our rules by selecting Bulls two-way prospect Antonio Blakeney. Most of that is due to how Blakeney is a must-watch player when he steps on a G League court due to how incredible of a scorer he’s been.
In 14 games with the Windy City Bulls, Blakeney has averaged 35.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game on 49% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. If he’s been able to do this in normal G League games, imagine what could under Blakeney’s sleeves when he can just ball out on a massive stage like the NBA G League Showcase. It’s going to be an absolute blast.