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Eighteen Call-Up Candidates To Watch In The 2018 NBA G League Winter Showcase

Dakota Schmidt gives his take on the eighteen prospects to keep an eye on during the 2018 NBA G League Winter Showcase

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

From Wednesday, December 19th through Saturday, December 22nd, all G League teams will compete in Las Vegas during the league’s Winter Showcase event. This will allow scouts throughout the NBA to scout the G League’s best prospects to determine which players deserve to receive two-way deals or 10-day contract. While the actual games will be mostly headlined by two-way prospects or assignees, I thought it would be better to go over some of the G Leaguers that will be eligible to get picked up by any of the 30 NBA teams.

So, to celebrate the start of the 2018 G League Winter Showcase, here’s my take on the eighteen prospects to watch during the league’s premier event.

Dusty Hannahs - Memphis Hustle

After Brandon Goodwin was signed by the Denver Nuggets on November 22nd, the Memphis Hustle were in need of players to step up offensively because of the Florida Gulf Coast’s call-up. While every member of the team have done their part since then, former Arkansas guard Dusty Hannahs has taken the biggest leap over the past month. Since Goodwin’s initial call-up, Hannahs has averaged 18.6 points on 54% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc on 5.6 perimeter attempts per game. Those solid shooting percentages has allowed him to maintain a phenomenal 67% True Shooting Percentage.

While a lot of Hannahs’ offensive production has come from beyond the arc, the 6’3 guard has shown an ability to score around the rim. During his last 10 games, Hannahs has shot 61% from within the restricted area. That’s a huge improvement over how Hannahs was during his rookie season where he hit a below-average 46% from within the restricted area.

Jaylen Barford - Greensboro Swarm

In a similar way to his former Arkansas teammate Dusty Hannahs, Barford has been able to put up amazing numbers in a small sample size. During his rookie season with Greensboro, Barford is averaging 18.7 points and 3.3 rebounds on 50% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc on 5.6 perimeter attempts in only 24 minutes per game.

In addition to shining as an amazing perimeter shooter, Barford has been able to finish around the rim, even when there’s a big or two waiting for him. That incredible ability to consistently get hot at a moment’s notice has allowed us to bestow “Microwave” as a new nickname for the Swarm guard.

Haywood Highsmith - Delaware Blue Coats

One of the better stories of the G League deals with the tremendous play of Delaware Blue Coats wing Haywood HIghsmith. The appeal to that tale deals with how the former Division II star has been able to stand out as one of the better rookies in the G League. This claim is backed up by how he’s averaging 13.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1 steal per game on 44% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 4.7 attempts per game.

Versatility was the main cause behind Highsmith being able to put up those kind of numbers. Over the first month-and-a-half of the season, Highsmith has been able to contribute as a mid-range/perimeter shooter, facilitator, off-ball driver, offensive rebounder and post-up thread. In addition to his great perimeter shooting, Highsmith’s work as a facilitator is probably his most intriguing skill as he does a great job of facilitating whether working on the elbow or when he’s working on the low-post.

His budding versatility on offense combined with a lany 6’7 frame is what modern-day NBA teams look for. That fact is the main reason why fans should keep a close eye on Highsmith when the Winter Showcase begins.

BJ Johnson - Lakeland Magic

Over the last few weeks, one of the hottest players in the G League has been Lakeland Magic forward BJ Johnson. During the month of December, he’s averaging 17 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 58% from the field and 52% from beyond the arc on 4.6 attempts per game. Those numbers have allowed him to have a tremendous 72% True Shooting Percentage over that period of time. In addition to his lights-out perimeter shooting, Johnson has been able to be stellar due to his ability to drive to the paint and regularly finish at the rim, sometimes with reckless abandon.

John Gillon - Erie BayHawks

After struggling to get minutes after getting selected by the Texas Legends, Gillon’s career took a solid step in the right direction after he was traded to Erie. With that squad, he averaged 9 points and 3.2 assists on 45% from field and 34% from beyond the arc in 18 minutes per game. While that definitely aren’t the most impressive numbers, it was a solid base for him to build from as he looked to start his 2nd season in the G League.

While his sophomore season in the G League is still young, it definitely seems like Gillon worked his tail off during the off-season. His hard work is evident by how GIllon is averaging 16.4 points, 4.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals on 46% from the field and 40% from 3 on 4.7 attempts in 29 minutes per game. With those numbers, he’s been able to maintain a tremendous 66% True Shooting Percentage.

Although that may be an example of small sample size, it’s proof that Gillon has made drastic improvements from last season. That improved offensive play will be on display during the Winter Showcase as the Syracuse alum will play two games in front of NBA scouts.

Brandon Sampson - RGV Vipers

Sticking with efficient backcourt players, LSU alum Brandon Sampson has had a tremendous start to his G League career. With the RGV Vipers, he’s averaging 14.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 44% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 7.1 attempts per game. Although RGV has got off to a mediocre start, as they maintain a 9-8 record, that’s definitely no fault of Sampson. Per 100 possessions, the RGV Vipers are nine points better when he’s on the court (104.4 points per 100) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (95.3 points per 100).

In addition to being a solid shooter, the 6’5 guard is able to maintain that level of production due to his great work as a tremendous on-ball driver. That knack is due to his solid handles and quick first step that has allowed him to work past most G League guards. After that is when the action really gets fun as Sampson’s incredible hops have led to some jaw-dropping throwdowns.

Anthony Bennett - AC Clippers

Although the vast majority of NBA fans have written off Anthony Bennett as one of the biggest busts in basketball history, the 25-year-old forward is still committed to keeping his hoop dreams alive. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Bennett has utilized the G League to make those dreams come true. At least this year, he’s been playing fantastic basketball with the Agua Caliente Clippers as he’s averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on 62% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc on 4.5 attempts in 21 minutes per game.

While some skeptics may be concerned about a former #1 Overall Pick playing in a 2nd unit on a G League team, Bennett’s efficiency has been simply jaw-dropping. As of the time of this piece, he’s currently maintaining an 80% True Shooting Percentage (!!). His tremendous efficiency has led to some great performance for Bennett, which includes him putting up 36 points and 6 rebounds on 12-13 from field, 8-9 from 3 and 4-4 from FT line in a November 30th game against the Austin Spurs.

Kendrick Nunn - Santa Cruz Warriors

We continue our look at elite G League 6th men with stud Santa Cruz Warriors guard Kendrick Nunn. During his rookie season, the Oakland alum is averaging 20.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 45% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc in 30.2 minutes per game.

Despite his inefficiency from 3, Nunn has still stood as one of the best young guards in the league due to an innate ability to drive and score around the rim whenever he desires. While his smaller 6’3, 184 pound frame might be considered as a detriment, he’s able to overcome that by utilizing floaters or smooth side steps and spins to create separation from defenders to get an open look at the rim.

Scotty Hopson - OKC Blue

Despite spending the last four years playing in various international leagues, Hopson hasn’t appeared to have lost a step during his time with the OKC Blue. In fact, he’s been one of the best guards in the entire league as he’s averaging 19.2 points, 5 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 60% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc on 3 attempts per game. Those amazing averages have allowed Hopson to maintain an absolute stellar 68% True Shooting Percentage, the best among G League guards.

That superb efficiency combined with his past experience at the NBA level should allow Hopson to be a favorite to receive a 10-day contract when that option becomes available on January 5th.

John Jenkins - Westchester Knicks

Another candidate to at least receive a 10-day contract will be current Westchester Knicks guard John Jenkins. In a similar way to Hopson, Jenkins has stood out due to the combination of scoring volume and efficiency. That’s seen by how he’s currently averaging 27.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals on 51% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc on 7.5 attempts per game. This run includes him recently putting up 40 points on 13-24 from field, 6-11 from 3 and 8-8 from the FT line in a Westchester Knicks victory over the Grand Rapids Drive.

While Jenkins was a solid offensive player during his prior stint in the league during the 2016-17 season, the Vanderbilt alum has really kicked it up a notch efficiency wise this season. That’s seen by how he’s currently maintain a stellar 64% True Shooting Percentage, his best TS% since he was with both Idaho and Fort Wayne in 2014-15.

Jemerrio Jones- South Bay Lakers

So far, the players featured on this article have stood out due to how they’ve stood out as outstanding scorers. We’re going to change things up here as Jemerrio Jones stands as one of the more unique players in the G League. With the South Bay Lakers, the 6’5 wing is currently averaging 8.6 points, 10 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 53% from the field. Those numbers allow Jones to be an extremely unique player as the last G Leaguer to average at least 1 block, 1.5 steals, 9 rebounds and 3 assists was current Heat forward James Johnson, who did so during the 2013-14 season.

Although he needs to make strides from beyond the arc and at the free throw line (shooting 48% from FT line in 1.1 attempts per game), Jones’ ability to shine as a facilitator, rim protector, ball hawk and both the offense and defensive glass could intrigue some NBA teams if he’s able to shine during the Winter Showcase.

Nick Johnson - Austin Spurs

Since returning to the G League on November 18th, Johnson has stood out as one of the G League’s best point guards. In 11 games with the Austin Spurs, he’s averaging 21 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals on 44% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts per game. Although some may be intrigued by his improved perimeter shooting, Johnson is having his best season as a facilitator during his entire career. Currently, he’s averaging a career-best 6.1 assists while maintaining a solid 1.6 Ast/TO ratio.

As previously mentioned, Johnson has made strides as a perimeter shooting. Like his assist numbers, Johnson is currently averaging a career-best 40% from beyond the arc in 2018-19 with Austin. Those progressions as a facilitator and perimeter shooter should allow him to be a player that a lot of NBA scouts will keep their eyes as he’s a good candidate to receive a 10-day or two-way deal.

Kalin Lucas - Stockton Kings

Another veteran that NBA scouts will probably keep a close eye on would be G League guard Kalin Lucas. During his season with Stockton, the Michigan State alum is averaging 22.2 points, 6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game on 42% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc on 6 attempts per game. While those numbers aren’t necessarily different than during Erie or Iowa, he’s done a great job of being a veteran leader on a very young Kings squad. At least from an on-court perspective, his leadership is seen by his work as a facilitator as he’s averaging 6 assists with a solid 1.83 AST/TO ratio.

That work allows him to be a viable call-up candidate as NBA teams may want a proven veteran to fill a temporary role within their backcourt rotation if they deal with injuries.

Johnny Hamilton - Grand Rapids Drive

Breaking from backcourt players, Grand Rapids center Johnny Hamilton has stood as a consistent double-double threat and an amazing rim protector. That first fact is backed up by how he’s averaging 11.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists and 2.9 blocks per game on 59% from the field. His nine double-doubles during this current season puts him alongside Chris Boucher, Johnathan Motley and Willie Reed as the 7th highest number in the entire G League.

Hamilton is able to consistently get double-doubles due to the combination of athleticism and soft hands. His athleticism allows him to be a great target for pick-and-rolls as he’s quick and get up for alley-oops. Of course, his soft hands allows him to finish alley-oops while also being a good target for entry passers or retriever offensive rebounds.

Alongside his ability to consistently get double-doubles, he also stands as an elite rim protector as currently has a league-best 2.9 blocks per game. Most of those blocks come when Hamilton is working as help defender as he does a good job of being able to slide his feet and getting in position to lay down a big block.

Walter Lemon - Windy City Bulls

On November 29th, the Boston Celtics surprised some by releasing Walt Lemon Jr., whom the team had on a two-way deal. That move was shocking due to Lemon shining during his time with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s G League affiliate, as he averaged 23.5 points, 5.6 assists, 4.2 assists and a league-high 2.7 steals on 51% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc on 4.3 attempts per game.

Fortunately, Lemon didn’t have to wait long to play basketball again as he debuted with the Windy City Bulls on December 12th, just three days after the team acquired his G League rights in a deal with the Mad Ants where they sent the rights of Alex Hamilton and a 1st round pick in the 2019 NBA G League Draft. Although he necessarily hasn’t had an opportunity to get his feet wet with Windy City, Lemon will still enter the G League Winter Showcase as a must-watch prospect due to his facilitating and tremendous ability to get to the rim.

James Young - Wisconsin Herd

For the 2nd straight season, James Young has both stood out as one of the G League’s best scorers and one of the lone bright spots on a floundering Herd team. In 14 games with the team, he’s currently averaging 19.9 points, 6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals on 44% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 7 attempts per game. Alongside those great base stats, Young’s impact is evident by how the Herd are a little more than five points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court (100.1 points per 100) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (94.9 points per 100).

Young’s ability to shine as a fantastic perimeter threat that can also drive to the rim allows him to be a viable candidate for a 10-day contract when that opens up on January 5th.

Willie Reed - Salt Lake City Stars

To finish out this list, we feature a prospect that an amazing chance of receiving a 10-day deal next month. That claim is for two reasons: current play with the SLC Stars and his experience in the NBA. First off, Reed has been a dominating front-court presence this year as the 6’11 big is currently averaging 20.4 points, 11.3 rebonds and 1.6 blocks per game on 67% from the field. Those fantastic numbers combined with how he was a very reliable front-court threat during his time with the Nets, Heat, Clippers and Pistons should allow Reed to be an intriguing option for teams that are looking for additional depth in the front-court.