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Ridiculous Upside’s 2017-18 NBA G League MVP Finalists

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Ridiculous Upside gives their six finalists for 2017-18 NBA G League MVP.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Lorenzo Brown - Raptors 905

18.6 points, 8.9 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game on 47% from field & 34% from 3

In the buildup to this G League season, the reigning G League champion Raptors 905 were looked at as a favorite to repeat due to their stacked roster. Although stars from the prior season like Axel Toupane and Brady Heslip moved overseas, they still seemed ready to start the season with 7’3 center Edy Tavares, who won the G League Defensive Player of the Year award in the previous season. Alongside Tavares, 905 fans were anticipating the team debut for 6’10 forward Kyle Wiltjer, who balled out when he was with the RGV Vipers as he put up 20 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 rebounds on 42% from field and 38% from beyond the arc.

Unfortunately, Wiltjer left the team on October 29th, just six days before the start of the season, to sign with Olympiacos Piraeus of the EuroLeague. The hits continued just 11 days later as Tavares signed a three-year deal with Real Madrid after playing just one game with the 905. With the sudden departure of both players, the 905 slid into a deep rut as they maintained a 5-10 record after their first 15 games.

However, the 905’s season took an immediate 180 degree turn after that awful start which has lasted to the current day as they sit at 30-18 with just two games remaining. The key piece behind that fantastic stretch has been Raptors two-way prospect Lorenzo Brown, who has led the team with the kind of veteran poise and confidence that most other G League team just dream about. Since that awful start, he’s averaged 17.8 points, 9.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on 47% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc.

Although those might not be the most eye-popping numbers, his impact is seen from more than just basic statistics. Since they went 5-10, the 905 are eight points per game better when Brown is on the court (109.1 points per game) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (101.2 points per game).

R.J. Hunter - Rio Grande Valley Vipers

20.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game on 44% from field & 37% from 3

Just yesterday, we posted a piece looking over the huge impact that Rockets two-way prospect R.J. Hunter has had as a member of the RGV Vipers. As we discussed in that article, Hunter’s new-found ability to combine volume with efficiency has allowed him to be the offensive leader of a Vipers squad that’s just less than a week away from playing in the NBA G League Playoffs. If you want more information on how great Hunter has been this season, make sure to look at that Tuesday article.

Darrun Hilliard - Austin Spurs

20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals per game on 47% from field & 40% from 3

After getting selected by the Pistons with the 38th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Darrun Hilliard spent most of his first two years as a pro essentially hidden from the world. From an NBA perspective, he sat in the back of the team’s bench as he only played 9.4 minutes per game during his first two seasons. Although that isn’t surprising considering his status as a 2nd round pick, he only played a grand total of seven games with the Grand Rapids Drive. That’s pretty shocking considering that teams usually like to send young players to the G League if they’re not getting a chance with the big league club.

Following his two-year stint with the Pistons, he was traded to both the Rockets and LA Clippers on June 28th as a small piece in a deal that sent Chris Paul from LA to Houston. Just one day later, the Clippers ended up waiving Hilliard. After spending most of the offseason as a free agent, the San Antonio Spurs picked him up on September 11th, just one week after he helped lead Team USA to gold in the FIBA Americup.

Like most players, Hilliard has flourished within the San Antonio system as he’s really stepped up as the leader of the Austin Spurs. During this season, the Spurs have been the best team in the Western Conference and currently hold a 31-17 record, which ties the Westchester Knicks as the best record in the entire G League.

Hilliard has been a huge part of Austin’s success as he’s averaged 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals on 47% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 5.6 perimeter attempts per game.

As those impressive numbers might tell you, a lot of his offensive attack is based around perimeter shooting, which is a skill that he’s very good at no matter if he’s working off the dribble or through catch-and-shoot. In addition to that, he’s done a great job as one of the team’s lead facilitators as he can use his 6‘6 frame to see over the court. His work as a perimeter shooter and facilitator has pushed the Spurs to be six points per game better when he’s on the court (111.6 points per game) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (105.8 points per game).

Walter Lemon, Jr. - Fort Wayne Mad Ants

22.4 points, 6 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 2 steals per game on 50% from field & 31% from 3

Probably the most surprising story of this G League season is how Walt Lemon has been able to transform himself from being a really solid rotation piece to standing as one of the most feared guards. Honestly, its just been impressive to see how he’s been able to channel his great handles and unbelievable quickness to just get past any defense in the NBA G League. In a game that’s heavily reliant on perimeter shooting, Lemon is kind of a special player in the way he’s able to use this traits to shine despite having an inconsistent jumper.

Although he’s one of the most explosive scorers in this game, Lemon is a MVP candidate due to his performance in other areas. For example, he’s stood as a solid facilitator as he’s averaging 6 assists per game with a 1.94 Ast/TO ratio. Most of his assists come through drive-and-dish as he’s able to pull the defense in with his explosiveness before dishing it out to an open teammate.

Considering how he’s pretty much been a score-first guard for most of his career, its really impressive to see the progress that Lemon made as a facilitator this season. His progression as a facilitator combined with his stellar work as a scorer has helped push the Mad Ants to a 28-20 and also clinch a spot for the G League playoffs.

Antonio Blakeney - Windy City Bulls

32 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 46% from field & 35% from 3

At this point in the piece, every finalist for G League MVP that I’ve listed share one singular trait. That characteristic is how they all stand as lead players on some of the best teams in the G League. Obviously, it makes perfect sense if you even give it a brief thought as the best performing players in a league usually play for elite teams.

However, I have to give a small exception to Bulls two-way player Antonio Blakeney who has just been spectacular for a Windy City squad that will likely finish the season below .500. Those struggles should not be blamed on the rookie guard as he’s pushed the team to hold a 17-15 record while in uniform.

He was able to push the team to that small level of success by just putting up the kind of numbers that you see when you play NBA 2k on rookie mode. Since he put up 35 points against the Westchester Knicks in his rookie debut, Blakeney has displayed consistent offensive excellence.

In the 34 games that he’s played, there’s only been six occurrences where he scored 24 or less points. That stat alone is crazy when you consider how there’s only four players (including Blakeney) that are averaging 24 points per game for the season. Blakeney’s tremendous output obviously paid tremendous dividends for the Bulls offense as their offense is eight points better when he’s on the court (111.9 points per game) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (103.7 points per game).

Jameel Warney - Texas Legends

19.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game on 53% from field

Last but certainly not least, we go to Texas Legends forward Jameel Warney, who stands as the only front-court player on this list. Although fellow Legends front-court player Johnathan Motley was a contender to be on the list, I still gave the slight edge to Warney due to him playing more games and the influencethat he has on the defensive end.

In regards to his work on the defensive end, Warney has done a nice job of being able to be a solid rim protector despite being a 6’7 forward. That accomplishment comes from him using the power of verticality as he does a nice job of just being able to put his body in front of a driving player.

So while Warney may be only averaging 1.1 blocks per game, his fundamentally’sound approach has pushed opponents to be four points per game worse when he’s on the court (115.5 points per game) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (119.2 points per game).

As someone that’s nearly averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, there’s no question that Warney also shines on the offensive end of the court. As has been the case since he was at Stony Brook, a lot of his impact is from inside the paint as he’s able to use his strong 260 pound to just out-muscle opponents. That’s helpful whether he’s trying to get buckets in traffic or crashing the offensive glass. Warney has been a terrific offensive rebounder as he’s averaging 3.6 offensive boards per game, the 6th best average in the G League.

Alongside his work inside the paint, another benefit that Warney has brought to the Legends offense is his work as a facilitator. Averaging 2.8 assists per game, he does a great job of making the great read and throwing a precise pass to teammates that even have a little bit of daylight. Honestly, its impressive to see the kind of vision that he exhibits as he can make these fantastic reads and pristine feeds whether he’s working on the perimeter or in the paint.