Isaiah Hicks - Westchester Knicks
2 blocks per game
Isaiah Hicks Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions:
On: (104.3 points per 100) Off: (101.6 points per 100)
Probably one of the more surprising stories of this past 2017-18 G League was the sudden improvement of the Westchester Knicks. In the prior season, the Knicks just struggled as they finished with a an abysmal 19-31 record. That awful record was due to them being below-average from on both ends of the court as they finished 14th among 22 teams in opponents points per 100 possessions (106.5 opponents points per 100) and and 18th in points per 100 possessions ( 103.3 opponents points per 100).
In the following season, head coach Mike Miller and the rest of the Knicks staff looked to fix those defensive flaws with a new group of players coming in. Lucky enough, those potential issues worked as Westchester finished the year at 32-18, which stood as the best record in the Eastern Conference. A big reason for that was a defense that finished tied for 3rd in the league in opponents per 100 possessions (102.8 opponents points per 100). Although the team definitely maintained a good defensive philosophy throughout the season, I think the impact from Isaiah Hicks is one of the solid reasons behind that defensive success
Although his On/Off numbers are a little troublesome, the Knicks were still a top-10 defense when he was on the court. However, the eye test more than gives Hicks the benefit of the doubt as he’s shown an ability to be a pretty solid rim protector that blocked 2.1 shots per game despite standing at 6’9. He was able to do that through a combination of great basketball IQ and quick feet as he does a great job of recognizing the player driving to the basket and able to move his body in the right direction for him to deny at the rim.
Shannon Scott - Long Island Nets
2.3 steals per game
Shannon Scott Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions:
On: (100 points per 100) Off: (101.3 points per 100)
In a similar vein to the Westchester Knicks, the Long Island Nets were able to make sudden improvements this year as they finished with a 27-23 record, compared to being at 17-33 during the prior season. That progression was largely due to a fantastic defense as opponents averaged 100.5 points per 100 possessions against the Nets this season.
A huge part of their great defense was a phenomenal backcourt rotation that featured the likes of: Nets two-way player Milton Doyle, Jeremy Senglin, Brooklyn assignee Isaiah Whitehead, Tahjere McCall and Shannon Scott.
In my mind, the last member of that core probably stood as the defense leader as he averaged 2.3 steals in only 28 minutes per game. Those type of eye-popping stats is due to just how smart of a player that Scott actually is as he seems to know when and where a pass is going to go before it even leaves the passer’s hands. In addition to that, he can use his quick hands to force the rock loose from ball-handlers. Considering that he’s only averaged 2.2 fouls per game, he’s not exactly getting called for a lot of “reaching in” penalties.
Lorenzo Brown - Raptors 905
1.7 steals per game
Lorenzo Brown Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions:
On: (97.2 points per 100) Off: (100.9 points per 100)
Whether its on Twitter or in various pieces, I’ve always hyped Lorenzo Brown’s great work as the 905’s lead guard that can control the pace of an offense and navigate a pick-and-roll like an absolute champ. However, he also did a great job of leading the 905’s defense that finished the top of the league as they held opponents to 99.3 points per 100 possessions.
As a 6’5 guard with solid lateral quickness, he did a great job of being able to stick with guards that might be a little quicker than him. That gives him an opportunity to be right next to the opposition as they drive from perimeter to paint. He did a great job of preventing the opposition from getting some easy buckets around the rim as opponents averaged 59% from inside the restricted area against Brown.
In addition to his ability to prevent opponents from getting easy buckets, he was a bit of a ballhawk as he averaged 1.7 steals per game. Most of those came when he was working the passing lanes as he does a nice job of determining when and where passes are going to go.
Kadeem Allen - Maine Red Claws
2.2 steals per game
Kadeem Allen Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions:
On: (105.6 points per 100) Off: (108.7 points per 100)
Entering this season, Celtics two-way prospect Kadeem Allen was largely known for his work on the defensive end. During his final season at the University of Arizona, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team which was largely due to him averaging 1.6 steals per game and stop some of the conference’s best players
Luckily for both the Boston Celtics and Maine Red Claws, Allen was able to carry that strong defense over to the G League in his rookie season. As a 6’3 guard, Allen does a nice job of using his strong 200 pound frame to contain himself no matter if he’s out on the perimeter or even defending in post-up.
That kind of defensive versatility allowed Allen to be extremely confidence on that end of the ball which ultimately led to him being a great ball-hawk. No matter if he’s working the passing lanes, against a ball-handler or even defending against a driver, he seemed to always find a way to force a loose ball.
Raphiael Putney - Erie Bayhawks
2.3 blocks per game
Raphiael Putney Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions:
On: (102.2 points per 100) Off: (104.4 points per 100)
As is the case in most pro leagues, expansion squads in the G League usually don’t have much success during their initial year. However, the Erie Bayhawks were a drastically different case as they finished the regular season with a 28-22 record. Also, they were within one better half away from making their way to the Finals, as they lost to the Raptors 905 118-106 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
A huge reason behind that success was the awesome play of G League veteran Raphiael Putney who averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.3 blocks per game on 46% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Although his play on the offensive end is definitely impressive, I was most intrigued by his work on defense.
That intrigue was shared by the Bayhawks as both Malik Rose and Josh Longstaff both praised his defensive play back in a piece from late February. So rather than giving my own take, here’s some quotes from both men.
“Raph isn’t the strongest guy as he’s 6’11 and 195 pounds but he doesn’t really get pushed around because he’s worked hard at fighting in the post and is probably the best guy in the G League at what we call versatility. That’s where you go and challenge a shot where your body is straight up with your your hands are at 12 o’clock,“ Rose said in a February piece.
“And with his length you can make an elite shot blocker because you’re challenging vertically without fouling. He doesn’t have to get the block because he’s so long that 9 times out of 10 that player is going to miss the shot. Moreso than the scoring, that’s what I’m proud about with Raph as he’s improved his defense which will end up improving his chance of making it to the NBA,” Rose continued raving about Putney’s defense.
Amida Brimah - Austin Spurs
2.6 blocks per game
Amida Brimah Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions:
On: (106.8 points per 100) Off: (101.4 points per 100)
Throughout the day, I’ve been just stuck on which Austin Spurs big I should choose: Matt Costello or Amida Brimah. The case for Costello was his better opponent On/Off per 100 possessions numbers. When he was on the court, opponents averaged 101.8 points per 100 against the Spurs compared to 104.6 points per 100 when he was on the bench. In comparison, opponents actually averaged five more points per 100 possessions when Brimah was on the court (106.8 points per 100) compared to when he was on the sidelines (101.4 points per 100).
For a few hours, those numbers alone put Costello at top of the heap above Brimah. However, it was hard for me to exclude a player in Brimah that averaged 2.6 blocks in only 23 minutes per game. At any level, that level of rim protecting is just unbelievable because its just an incredible amount of impact in a relatively short amount of time.
Costello is an incredible defender and was fantastic in the G League playoffs as he blocked 9 shots in a Western Conference Finals game against the South Bay Lakers but I still give the small advantage to Brimah just because of his great work as a shot blocker.