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Ridiculous Upside’s 2017-18 NBA G League Most Improved Player Of The Year Finalists

Ridiculous Upside announces their finalists for the G League’s Most Improved Player of the Year

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrone Wallace - Aqua Caliente Clippers Of Ontario

22.5 points, 5.3 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game on 50% from field

At this time last season, Tyrone Wallace was wrapping up a less than stellar rookie season in the then NBA D-League. For starters, the team that he played on, the Salt Lake City Stars, finished at 14-36, which stood as the worst record in the entire league. Some of those struggles probably a bit to do with how crowded their backcourt rotation was. Over the course of the season, the team had to use to following guards: Jermaine Taylor, Sundiata Gaines, Brandon Triche, Marcus Paige, Jaylen Bland and Wallace.

That level of congestion ended up preventing Wallace from getting extended playing time as he averaged 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game on 45% from the field in only 27 minutes per game. Although that isn’t a bad season by any means, its a little underwhelming for a player who was selected in that year’s NBA Draft.

Just a few weeks before the 2017-18 season was set to begin, the SLC Stars traded the returning player rights of Wallace to the Agua Caliente Clippers in exchange for a 2018 2nd round pick and the returning player rights to Aaron Craft. While that move initially seemed small, it might’ve ended up changing the course of his basketball career.

Because from the moment that he put on a Clippers uni, he just seemed like a completely different player as his explosiveness and facilitating was on a complete different level than what it was in the prior year. As a member of the AC Clippers, Wallace averaged 5.3 assists with a pretty solid 1.43 Ast/TO ratio, which is a steady improvement over how he was last year. As a scorer, he saw his production improve from 14.8 points to 22.5 points per game on 50% from the field. In addition to that, his True Shooting Percentage (TS%) improved from 52% in 2016-17 to 55% in 2017-18.

Wallace’s terrific G League play ultimately led to the LA Clippers awarding him with a two-way deal on January 8th. That move ended up being beneficial for both parties as Wallace has shined with LA as he’s averaged 9.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and .9 steals per game on 44% from the field in 28 minutes per game. Although he’s still on that two-way deal, this season proves that Tyrone Wallace stands as a definite NBA player. And honestly, that rise started with his progression in the G League with the AC Clippers.

Walt Lemon, Jr - Fort Wayne Mad Ants

22.3 points, 6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2 steals per game on 49% from field

Sticking with backcourt players, we move on over to Fort Wayne Mad Ant Walt Lemon, who really elevated himself to be one of the best guards in the NBA G League. After previously playing with Fort Wayne back in 2015-16, where he averaged 13.5 points, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals on 46% from field and 35% from 3 in 25 minutes per game, he made his way back to the team as a returning season.

Before the start of the season, I honestly regarded him as a potential role player due to his prior position with the team and the solid backcourt depth of that Mad Ants squad. However, early injuries to Trey McKinney-Jones and Edmond Sumner recovering from an ACL injury pushed Lemon to a starting spot with the team. From the jump, he benefited from that opportunity as he shined as the leader of a solid Mad Ants team.

His immediate progression was due to how he was able to utilize his quick acceleration and work as a facilitator to his benefit. In 36 minutes, he averaged 22.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2 steals per game on 49% from the field. Although his efficiency as a perimeter shooter was lackluster, as he shot 31% from beyond the arc, he was still able to shine due those aforementioned skills.

Josh Gray - Northern Arizona Suns

19.4 points, 6.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals on 45% from field and 41% from 3

In a similar vein to Lemon and Wallace, Josh Gray spent the previous season fighting for an opportunity to shine as he stood as a role player for his given G League team. As a rookie with the Northern Arizona Suns, Gray averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game on 44% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Although that play was a huge improvement over how he was at LSU, where he barely got minutes for some lackluster college teams, but the best was yet to come.

For Josh Gray, that improvement started on December 28th when the Suns traded veteran guard Askia Booker to the Delaware 87ers in exchange for the returning player rights of Jerrelle Benimon. With Booker gone, Gray had an opportunity to shine as the team’s lead scorer.

The 2nd year guard just saw that opportunity and just put his game to a whole other level as he put up 22 points, 7.3 assists, 2.8 steals per game on 47% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc since that Booker trade. At first glance, his really solid work as a scorer might seem like the most impressive part of his all-around game. However, I was actually most impressed with Gray’s facilitating considering that really wasn’t a significant part of his game until his rookie season with Northern Arizona. Considering that fact, its impressive to see that he was able to average 7.3 assists per game with a 2.6 Ast/TO ratio in the time after Booker was traded.

Myke Henry - Memphis Hustle

16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals per game on 50% from field and 39% from 3

Of the players that were in the G League last year, Myke Henry probably made the biggest leap in terms of playing time. During his rookie year with the OKC Blue, he only played 12 minutes per game where he averaged 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game on 38% from the field. Although that lackluster efficiency definitely didn’t help matters, he was saddled with trying to fight for playing time behind solid wings like Daniel Hamilton, Dez Wells, Reggie Williams and Josh Huestis.

Luckily for Henry, Hamilton is the only player to have stuck around with the team for the 2017-18 season which meant that the former DePaul and Illnois guard had an opportunity to redeem himself after that rough rookie season.

Henry’s reclamation process ended up working beautifully as he balled out with the Blue as he put up 15.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game on 52% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc on 4.4 perimeter attempts per game. Considering he averaged 33% from 3 on 1.9 perimeter attempts per game during his time with DePaul, his solid play from beyond the arc was a pleasant surprise.

His progression was so solid that Henry was signed to a two-way deal by the Memphis Grizzlies shortly after he put up 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists on 10-15 from the field in a G League Showcase matchup against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

After getting signed to that two-way deal, Henry spent the remainder of the G League season switching off from going between the Hustle and Grizzlies. While his play with the Grizzlies has been up-and-down, Henry has even got better with the Hustle as he’s averaged 18 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists on 46% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 7 perimeter attempts per game. Yep... that’s pretty damn good.

Jaylen Morris - Erie Bayhawks

12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 52% from field

Transitioning to players that weren’t in the G League last year, I would’ve felt stupid not to put in Jaylen Morris. Considering that he was playing for a Division II team just 12 months ago, it was just absolutely impressive that he was able to quickly shine in the G League and actually receive a contract by the Atlanta Hawks.

While Hawks teammate Josh Magette has also progressed from DII hoops to the NBA, it took him about three years in the G League before he could get a two-way deal. Sure, Morris’ production with the Bayhawks was solid but he omainly made this due to how he was able to quickly improve his stock as a player to go from unknown DII player to being part of an NBA rotation.

Luke Kornet - Westchester Knicks

16 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game on 49% from field and 44% from 3

While you can argue that Quinn Cook, Lorenzo Brown, Tyrone Wallace or Antonio Blakeney all stand as the best two-way players from this past G League season, I think that Luke Kornet has shined as one of the biggest standouts. What I mean by that is how Kornet honestly just took his game up to a a different type of level that nobody would imagine.

Back in his time at Vanderbilt, he stood as an intriguing but yet inefficient big that averaged 8.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 42% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc on 3.4 perimeter attempts per game. Although he showed flashes of being that prototype of the modern NBA stretch big, his inefficiency ultimately dampened any type of excitement that may come. However, the Knicks still took a chance on Kornet as they gave him their first two-way deal.

After his rookie year in the G League, the Knicks seem like a genius organization as Kornet instantly implemented himself as arguably the best all-around bigs in the NBA G League. Thanks to the combination of the faster pace of the G League and the great guard duo of Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Trey Burke (for the first half of the season), Kornet saw himself average 16 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game on 49% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 5.7 perimeter attempts per game. n addition to his great perimeter shooting, he exhibited the on-ball driving and facilitating skills that nobody really expected to see from him back when he was in Vanderbilt.