Starting at 10:15 AM tomorrow, a cavalcade of ballers with NBA dreams will be lacing up their sneakers to compete in this year’s version of the NBA G League Player Invitational. A lot of those participants are guys that signed up on the G League’s official page back in July. In addition to those weekend warriors, the event will also feature 50 players that were invited by the G League itself to play in front of league personnel, executive, coaches and scouts.
In regards to invited participants, those prospects range from former high major standouts, mid-major studs, potential Division II diamond in the rough players and American-born ballers that have spent the past year or two playing overseas. While each prospect were invited for their various reasons, there are nine prospects that pumped out the most to me after spending hours watching film and looking at their numbers. This list is in no particular order and doesn’t represent a personal view based on an intriguing skill-set rather than their potential performance in the G League.
Nick Ward - Michigan State
Due to his extended run as one of the Big Ten’s better front-court players, Michigan State alum Nick Ward might be the most recognizable prospect that will be competing at the G League Player Invitational. During his three-year college career, he was able to stand out through an imposing inside presence that can use a strong 6’9, 245 pound frame and nice hops to get whatever he wanted inside.
While a lot of that came through him working roll man or big target for facilitators, the Michigan State alum was also able to stand out as one of the Big 10’s best offensive rebounders. That fact is exemplified by him averaging 2.4 offensive rebounds in only 20 minutes per game during the span of his three-year college career. That premier inside presence was enough for Ward to be named as a member of the All-Big Ten Third Team by the media in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Bryant Crawford - Wake Forest
For the 2nd straight summer, guard Bryant Crawford will be participating in the G League Player Invitational as an invite. Hell, the young guard was one of the players that we featured on this last year when he was just starting his pro career after a successful run with Wake Forest.
In the year since his initial appearance, the Wake Forest alum traversed his way over to Israel to play with Hapoel Galil Gilboa. With that squad, he impressed as a solid pass-first guard by averaging 15.3 points, 4.8 assists and 2.2 steals on 42% from the field in only 27 minutes per game. As those numbers show, Crawford was able to immediately showcase himself as a fantastic facilitator that was able to excel as a premier defender.
Back on Tuesday, European basketball news site Eurobasket reported that Crawford agreed to terms with Ionikos Nikaias of the Greek Basketball League. That report came just one day after he was featured on the list of participants in the actual Player Invitational, an event that he’s still scheduled to appear in. While it may seem strange to see a player compete in a tryout event while they’ve agreed to terms with another team, perhaps the young guard is still keeping his options open. That thought would definitely make sense as we’re still 1-2 months away from most leagues worldwide starting up their 2019-20 season so there’s still plenty of time for unsigned players to pursue other options.
For a talented guard like Crawford, that opportunity could come from him staying in the States as he’s definitely talented enough to at least receive an Exhibit 10 contract. While the $85,000 that he’d receive via the maximum Exhibit 10 bonus + standard G League contract might not be at the level of what he’d receive for playing in Greece, that total might be enough to have him stay in the States and be a step away from playing in the NBA.
Markis McDuffie - Wichita State
Going back to impending rookies, McDuffie finished out his college career at Wichita State with a major high note during the 2018-19 season. As a senior, he put up a career-high 18.2 points, 5 rebounds and 1 steal on 41% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc on 6.6 attempts per game. Those solid numbers were enough to have him get named to the All-American Athletic Conference 2nd Team.
McDuffie’s solid production as a senior was due to a well-rounded offensive arsenal as he was able to contribute as a perimeter shooter, offensive rebounder, low-post threat and someone that can get to the free throw line. Among those traits, perimeter shooting was definitely the biggest part of his offensive approach as his 6.6 attempts per game made up for 46% of his total shots. While his efficiency in that area isn’t great, it’s clear that this is an area that the Wichita State alum is trying to emphasize and grow upon.
Will that focus lead to him becoming a better perimeter shooter at the pro level? Well that answer will start to be crystallized after the closure of his rookie season. However, his performance during the G League Player Invitational might give us a glimpse of how his perimeter progression process is going.
Alex Stein - Southern Indiana
In the time spent looking for Player Invitational prospects to feature on this list, Alex Stein was one of the players that really jumped out. That intrigue started from the eyes looked at his stats on RealGM and noticed that he put up the numbers that you’d usually get from playing MyCareer mode on 2k at rookie difficulty. In 35 minutes per game, he put up 20.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 55% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc. That efficiency allowed the 6’3 guard to maintain a jaw-dropping 68% True Shooting Percentage.
While those fantastic numbers might’ve been enough to heightened the interest, my mind kinda exploded after watching a highlight montage. Within that seven minute long video, Stein is seen making a bevy of tough shots like step-backs, contested catch-and-shoots and drives to the basket where he’s making an acrobatic finish over a bigger player. Is a single YouTube video a good judge of how good a player is? Definitely not. However, watching him hitting those tough shots with the knowledge that he put up jaw dropping numbers definitely makes you think that that the Southern Indiana alum is a big diamond in the rough prospect.
Kavion Pippen - Southern Illinois
Sticking with under-the-radar midwest prospects, the 6’10 big intrigues through his great offensive skill set and play on the defensive end. He was able to really establish that during his senior season with Southern Illinois where he averaged 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2 blocks on 56% from the field in only 24 minutes per game. Being able to put up those type of numbers in limited minutes allowed him to get named to the All-Missouri Valley Third Team for that 2018-19 season.
Although those numbers were solid enough, things become more impressive when you actually watch the young big play. Because from looking at film, you can see that Pippen is somebody that has really solid mobility, comfortable working the low-post, solid defensive awareness and can hit an 18-foot jumper. While his shot is definitely awkward as the ball seems to slip off his fingers, the shots seem to land more times than they don’t.
As Pippen looks to begin his pro career, continuing to progress as a shooter should be his main focus. That’s largely due to how he’s most comfortable working in the high post area which allows him to be a quadruple threat option that can set screens, roll to the rim, facilitate and of course shoot. While a stable mid-range jumper allowed him to be solid at Southern Illinois, he’d become an even bigger threat if he can spread that range out to beyond the NBA three-point line. Because in that case, he’d be a player to guard due to his potential ability to dish it out or work down in the low-post.
Ronshad Shabazz - Appalachian State
Although we’re moving to the backcourt, the trend of versatility will continue with this former mid-major stud. That label comes from how Shabazz was able to utilize a versatile offensive arsenal centered around hitting catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble jumpers, facilitate or finish at the rim in traffic with either hand. Being able to effectively utilize those traits allowed him to average 18.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc on 6.6 attempts per game. Those solid statistics pushed him to get named to the All-Sun Belt Second Team for the 2018-19 season.
While he remained under the radar through playing with a relatively unknown mid-major, Shabazz could definitely surprise a lot of people if he decides to start his professional career in the G League. In addition to the solid skill set that we brought up, Shabazz has an NBA frame as he stands 6’5, 217 pounds with pretty solid athleticism. That combination could lead him to immediately excelling if he receives consistent minutes with a team.
Alex Robinson - TCU
Among the fifty players that were invited to this event, the former TCU guard might stand out as the best facilitator. Part of that claim is backed by how he averaged a very nice 6.9 assists per game with a 2.0 Ast/TO ratio during his senior season. He put up those solid assist numbers through being a creative player with incredible vision.
Those two traits work hand-in-hand due to the facilitator knowing how to capture the defender’s attention before dishing it off to the suddenly open player. If he isn’t passing while on the move, Robinson does a great job of quickly open teammates that are stationed out on the perimeter or inside the paint.
Aside from being a fantastic facilitator, Robinson is a bit of a mixed bag on the offensive end. As a shooter, he was inefficient during his college career where he shot just 33% from beyond the arc on 2.5 attempts per game. His best non-passer skill is probably as an on-ball driver where Robinson used a quick first step to work past his perimeter defender and get an open lane to the rim. That skill worked as the TCU alum hit 62% from inside the paint, according to the Stepien’s shot chart.
Jahmal McMurray - SMU
Aside from maybe the aforementioned Alex Stein, former SMU guard Jahmal McMurray stands as the most talented shooter that will be competing at the NBA G League Player Invitational. That huge praise starts with the fact that he averaged 18.1 points and 2.6 assists on 45% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 8 attempts per game during his senior season at SMU.
His perimeter efficiency becomes even more impressive when you recognize that the makes came via a lot of different methods, whether it’s through catch-and-shoots, maneuvering around screens, off jab steps or nailing step-back jumpers. Among those various methods of shooting, his work as an off-the-dribble threat is definitely the most entertaining as he has really impressive dribble moves and shows absolutely no fear with the shots that he puts up. Although that might upset coaches that value good shot selection, his superb shooting stroke definitely dampens those fears.
While does most of his damage as a perimeter and mid-range shooter, the six-footer is pretty competent in the rare times he decides to drive to the rim. That is seen from him hitting 63% on shots from around the rim, according to the Stepien’s shot chart.
Martaveous McKnight - Arkansas-Pine Bluff
To wrap up this list, we go to one of the lone prospects at the event that attended an HBCU. McKnight’s arrival to that school was actually later in his college career as he spent his first two years tearing it up in a small JuCo in Mississippi. Despite arriving to Arkansas-Pine Bluff as a junior, the 6’4 guard immediately established himself as arguably the best player in the SWAC by immediately shining as a solid player that can shine on both ends of the court. That dual threat nature allowed the conference to name him as both their Player and Newcomer of the Year.
While he wasn’t able to be a 2x Player of the Year, McKnight still established himself as a first-rate player for his school. As a senior, he put up 20.8 points, 5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game on 44% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc on 6 attempts per game. Those really solid numbers was largely due to him having a well-rounded arsenal. Over the course of any game, there’s a great chance you can see him helping out as an off-the-dribble or catch-and-shoot threat, posting up, facilitating or driving to the rim with his right hand.
In a similar way to what we said about Ronshad Shabazz, McKnight stands out as the type of under-the-radar prospect that could immediately shine at the G League level if he’s given an opportunity. Because with the combination of a diverse skill set and a solid 6’4, 190 pound frame, he has both the physical and on-court tools to really stand out at the next level.