Without a doubt, the main goal of the NBA G League is to help develop future NBA talent or put a spotlight on some of the young players that may have been overlooked during their time in college. Just recently, we’ve seen former Erie Bayhawks guard Jaylen Morris receive a 10-day callup just a few months after he was an unknown prospect balling out for DII school Molloy College. That example in addition to the current NBA success of prior G League standouts like Jonathon Simmons and David Nwaba prove how important the NBAGL actually can be.
However, another way that the G League is utilized is to aid former NBA veterans that still have dreams of reaching the Association. Probably the best and more recent example of that was when Emeka Okafor made his way to the Delaware 87ers after being out of the NBA since the 2012-13 season.
Despite that extremely long absence, Okafor was still solid during his time with the team as he averaged 6.8 points and 8 rebounds per game on 61% from the field. His great play with Delaware ultimately pushed the Pelicans to sign him to a 10-day contract on February 3rd. That 10-day quickly turned into a regular NBA contract as Okafor was able to transfer that solid G League performance into the NBA as he became a great part of the Pelicans rotation.
Just a few months prior to Okafor signing with the Pelicans, there was another veteran that successfuly used the G League to return to the Association. That example came from then-37 year old wing Damien Wilkins who found a way to make it into the Indiana Pacers opening night roster despite not playing a second in the NBA since the 2012-13 season. Although his perseverence during training camp was definitely the biggest reason behind that move, Wilkins’ stint in the G League helped keep those NBA dreams alive.
In the five years between NBA appearances, he spent two years in the G League where he played with the Iowa Energy (now Iowa Wolves) in 2014-15 and Greensboro Swarm in 2016-17. Wilkins undoubtedly played his best ball with Iowa as he put up 20.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game on 46% from the field. That great performance pushed him to be named to the 2015 G League All-Star Game.
After spending two years playing in Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Wilkins returned to the G League to play with the expansion Greensboro Swarm. Although he wasn’t able to match his past excellence in Iowa, he still stood as a solid starting guard for the Swarm. In 31 minutes per game, he averaged 14.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on 49% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. As you can tell from those numbers, Wilkins was an extremely efficient offensive weapon.
Unfortunately for Wilkins, he wasn’t able to match that solid offensive efficiency when he was on the Pacers due to extremely limited playing time. In 19 games, Wilkins averaged 1.7 points on 33% from the field in only 8 minutes per game. Wilkins was ultimately released on January 9th, just hours after he put up 11 points on 3-8 from the field in his lone start of the season.
Despite getting cut by the Pacers, the now-38 year old Wilkins decided to keep his NBA dreams alive as he returned to the Greensboro Swarm on January 31st. While some veterans might struggle due to still being upset about getting cut, Wilkins has seemed extra motivated since returning to the team. In his 7 games with the Swarm, he’s averaged 26.9 points, 6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game on 50% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc on 2.6 perimeter attempts per game. That superb overall efficiency has pushed him to maintain an excellent 65% True Shooting Percentage.
As apparent from those amazing numbers, Wilkins has had some outstanding games since he returned to the Swarm. On February 23rd, he put up 37 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists on 13-23 from the field, 4-10 from 3 and 7-8 from the FT line during a game against the Grand Rapids Drive. Just two days later, Wilkins had a career-high 41 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists on 14-23 from the field, 3-8 from 3 and 10-11 from FT line in a matchup against the Long Island Nets. Although Greensboro ended up losing both games, Wilkins showed that he’s still a force to be wreckoned with in the G League.
Despite being more than a decade older than most of his opponents, most of his offensive sucess comes when he’s penetrating with the ball in his hands. Despite not being the quickest player, Wilkins is able to use his strong 225 pound frame and small dribble moves to get an advantage over the opposition if he wants to get to the rim. Those moves also work when he wants to shoot form mid-range as he likes to utilize the same kind of “old man game” that we see from future NBA Hall-of-Famer Paul Pierce.
As we get closer to the end of the G League season, players throughout the league will try to showcase their worth as they pursue a 10-day deal and/or make it on a playoff roster. Wilkins might stand as a solid candidate due to his veteran experience, solid perimeter touch, mid-range expertise and great facilitating skills. Although he struggled with the Indiana Pacers, I still think those traits makes Damien Wilkins into the kind of player that can be a positive factor on a playoff team if he’s in the right environment.