In my six years as a G League writer, one of the biggest mysteries that’s always stumped me was how the Texas Legends have never finished the season above .500. That confusion is due to the wide array of talented players that have put on a Legends jersey over the past half decade. First off, the Legends have always had the luxury of having a plethora of former NBA players Manny Harris, Melvin Ely, Quincy Acy, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Devin Ebanks on their roster. Perhaps more important than that, we’ve had the opportunity to watch the likes of Eric Griffin, Pierre Jackson and Ricky Ledo become G League All-Stars while rocking the Texas Legends unis.
Despite that, the Legends’ best record over the course of their seven-year lifespan was when they finished at 25-25 during the prior season. However, things have change during this season as they currently sit as the top team in the Western Conference with a 20-12 record. So unless they just crumble in the last few months of the season, the Legends will finish with their best record in team history.
While most of that success can be put on the shoulders of the Legends talented roster, head coach Bob MacKinnon should get some of the credit for being able to push this young team to the heights their currently at. In response to this success, Ridiculous Upside recently got the opportunity to talk to coach MacKnnon about that recent success, the process of utilizing two-way prospects and the improvement of Jameel Warney.
Ridiculous Upside: In the last 10 games, the Texas Legends have gone 9-1. What are some of the biggest factors behind that success?
Bob MacKinnon: I think defensively we’re really locked into our assignments, our schemes and just playing the right way and helping each other out. Offensively, we’ve done a really good job of playing with pace and sharing the basketball. If you look at those 10 games, you see multiple players with double figures which shows how our guys are willing to share the ball and just spread the wealth.
RU: How have you been able to maintain that success despite the consistent roster moves that your team has faced (i.e Justin Dentmon’s season-ending injury, Kyle Collinsworth shuffling between NBA and G League)
BM: Well we have other good players that are ready to capitalize on opportunities and just have the mindset every day of getting better. When everybody on your roster has that same mindset that when you lose people for whatever reason than the other players are just ready.
RU: After Dentmon went down with a season-ending injury, how big of an impact has Donald Sloan made to this team from both an on and off-court perspective?
It’s interesting because I felt like Justin was the MVP of our league during the first half of the season. Of our first 25 games, we played seventeen on the road and were still over .500 and a lot of that had to do with Justin Dentmon and how well he played.
In the time that Sloan has been with us, when he went to play with USA basketball he suffered an injury that kept him out for three weeks. So it felt like the time where was getting back into form was when Justin Dentmon went down. We were fortunate to have Justin then and we’re fortunate to have Donald now.
RU: Over the past few weeks, Sloan has looked like a completely changed player over what he’s been doing his pro career as he’s just really shooting the ball well from 3. Why do you think he’s been able to make such a huge improvement on that end?
BM: Well you know it’s kinda like our deal. Last year when Quincy Acy came to us he was shooting 28% from 3 and when he left he was shooting over 40%. That’s one of the emphasis in our program is that we shoot and we try to give our players enough opportunities to improve.
For Donald, it’s just not what we do but what are our players do to see if they’re willing to come in and do the work. Guys like Quincy Acy, Manny Harris, Pierre Jackson, Donald Sloan and Justin Dentmon are very good players that have all now put in the work. You’ve seen every single guy has improved shooting the ball while being with us and that’s just a testament to how hard they work.
RU: In regards to two-way players Johnathan Motley and Jalen Jones, what type of communication do you have with the Mavericks about their progress in the G League? And how regular is that communication between you and the big league club?
BM: We pretty much communicate on a day-to-day basis. After every game or practice, I send reports to the Mavericks on not only what Jalen and Johnathan are doing but also some players that they may have interest in. We feel like it’s our responsibility to give that information to our parent club . Whether its good or bad, these people need to get the information on what’s happening with the players while they’re here. With the Mavs, its been a great two-way street as coach Carlise and his staff are always open to myself and my staff which creates a fantastic synergy
The same is with Wade Baldwin and Portland is that we also send daily reports over to them too.
RU: How do you think Motley has developed during his time with the Legends?
BM: I think he’s really progressed well. Just last year he was playing college basketball and in the last game of his career, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery. So to be less than a year out of surgery and doing the things he’s doing, its clear that he’s making terrific strides. In my mind, I think he’s the best two-way signee in the league and the Mavericks did a great job of having him in their program. He’s a 6’10 guy that’s athletic who probably would’ve been a 1st round pick if not for that injury.
RU: The one thing that I like about Motley is that he’s a very good facilitator for his position as he’s really good at being able to distribute it while in the elbow or in the low-post where he can dish it to a perimeter shooter or cutter.
BM: Yeah, I know a lot of people questioned whether him and Jameel could play together and I think they really play off of each other quite well because they’re both willing and able passers. If you look at the NBA game right now, a lot of people play through the elbows and both guys are extremely good and that’s where both guys have a skill that can translate to the NBA.
RU: How much has Jameel Warney progressed as a player since he first came to the team in 2016?
BM: I think he’s progressed a ton over the last two years. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll defenders that I’ve ever coached. To be honest, I favorably compare him to a player like PJ Tucker of the Rockets. If given the opportunity, he’s progressed to the level where he can come in and help an NBA team to the level that Tucker does. I don’t think its any stretch for me to say that. He’s got quick feet, quick hands, great feel for the game on both ends and is extremely coachable. Lately, he’s stretching his game out where he can hit the jump shot and shoot the 3.
In regards to his perimeter shooting, he never had to do it in college so he never had a chance to work on it. Now that he’s in the pro game, he’s working at it to the point where he’s coming in every day and shooting between 100-300 3’s every single day. We chart those and his percentages are going up and up and he’s getting more comfortable.
RU: Do you think we’ll see Warney in an NBA uniform before the season is done?
I believe so. Again, I don’t think he’s an NBA call-up guy but someone that can be an NBA rotation player if he gets that opportunity. Someone once gave PJ Tucker a shot even though a lot of people thought he was undersized. I think you’ll see the same thing once someone gives Jameel a shot in the NBA.
RU: Even if you lose some significant players to the NBA, do you believe that this Legends team has both the chemistry and talent to remain competitive in a tough Western Conference?
BM: I’m hoping that I get an opportunity to find that out. I’m hoping that we lose Kyle (Collinsworth), Jameel, Donald Sloan, Johnathan Motley, Jalen Jones, Wade Baldwin and Brandon Ashley to the NBA. All those other guys will have to step up and we’ll have to see how it goes. If we get good players than we will because good players make good coaching.