Throughout this off-season, we’ve seen a diverse set of intriguing young prospects get signed to two-way deals. For one, forward Brian Bowen and guard Adam Mokoka signed contracts with Indiana and Chicago respectively, after spending the prior season playing international teams. From a college perspective, undrafted one-and-done players like Thunder guard Luguntz Dort and Pistons forward Louis King will be using the G League as a means to prove the rest of the NBA wrong.
Outside of those two cases, we also have the unique example of 2018 McDonald’s All-American Bol Bol, a 7’2 big selected with the 44th overall pick by the Denver Nuggets in this year’s NBA Draft. While the majority of players picked that high have guaranteed deals, the combination of a significant foot injury and him being a raw prospect pushed Denver to sign him to a two-year two-way contract.
Although those young prospects will draw the attention of a lot of NBA fans throughout the 2019-20 season, it doesn’t mean you should overlook the other two-way prospects that will be sprinkled out through the G League. One of those players to keep an eye on is Indiana Pacers two-way guard Naz Mitrou-Long.
That name should be familiar for fans that have kept track of the G League as the 6’5 guard has stood as one of the more consistent offensive weapons in the league since making his debut during the 2017-18 season. Last year as a two-way player for Utah, he averaged 18.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5 assists on 44% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc on 7.2 attempts per game with the Salt Lake City Stars.
Mitrou-Long’s solid production helped push the Stars to their first playoff appearance since the 2008-09 season when the franchise was known as the Idaho Stampede. Although he wasn’t the only cog behind that run, as the team featured solid production from the likes of Tyler Cavanaugh, Isaiah Cousins, Grayson Allen, and Tony Bradley, the former Iowa State guard stood as the team’s primary offensive weapon due to leading the Stars in points per game.
He was able to lead the Stars’ offense through an offensive arsenal based around perimeter shooting, on-ball driving, facilitating and pushing the ball up the court in transition. Among those four skills, there wasn’t a go-to weapon as he’d instead just go with the flow of what the option was at that time rather than depending solely on one trait. That fact is evident when you look at the percentages of his scoring output as 34% of his 472 total shots came from within the restricted area while 49% came from beyond the arc.
Speaking of his work as a perimeter shooter, the former Iowa State guard was inefficient by shooting 33% from beyond the arc. That inefficiency was a surprise when you look at his rookie year where he hit 38% on 9 attempts per game on perimeter looks, which is a five percent increase on how he shot in 2018-19.
Although his consistency from long range took a step down last year, Mitrou-Long’s confidence in that jumper persisted. A lot of those looks came through catch-and-shoot looks from right behind the three-point line. Despite those looks not being flashy, he has made it work since his time with Iowa State through the power of being able to go from catch and release in a blink of an eye.
While catch-and-shoot is his preference as a shooter, he doesn’t become lost when he’s asked to work off the dribble. He seems to have this move to pump fake, and then move a bit to the side when a defender is trying to close on him.
Despite not having one go-to skill set that he bases most of his offense around, that doesn’t mean Mitrou-Long doesn’t have a trait that he’s best at. Personally, his knack as an on-ball driver stands out as the top of the mountain. Whether pushing the ball down the court in transition or working in half-court sets, he shows himself to be a capable penetrator that can drive to the rim with the ball in either the left and right hand.
When it comes to half-court sets, he’s able to pair that ambidextrous approach with being able to utilize sweet dribble moves or great burst to work past that perimeter defender. If he reaches the paint and sees a defender waiting for him, the 6’4 guard has shown an ability to use his solid 218-pound frame to help him finish in traffic. All of those skills worked as Mitrou-Long hit an incredible 67% on shots from within the restricted area. That type of efficiency placed him 9th among G League guards when field goal percentage from inside the area.
Sticking with his work on the offensive end, Mitrou-Long has stood as a reliable facilitator since entering the G League. In two years with the SLC Stars, he averaged 4.7 assists per game with a solid 1.5 Ast/TO ratio. That status as a dependable facilitator was made possible through him being able to move the ball to an open player whether he’s remaining stationary on the perimeter or probing the paint.
In terms of that first trait, the 6’4 guard can look over the floor and immediately recognize open guys cutting to the paint or staying out on the perimeter. He’s probably best at being able to quickly find cutters and then throw precise passes to them, which you can see from the clip below.
While he does an excellent job of being able to work the ball to open players while standing on the perimeter, Mitrou-Long’s ability to facilitate while on the move is more aesthetically pleasing. However, that statement isn’t made with the type of feeds where one drives to the paint and then kicks it out to an open shooter.
Although he’s capable of doing that, the 6’4 guard does his best work closer to the perimeter in pick-and-pop sets. After working around the screen, the Iowa State alum always likes to move a bit towards the opposite direction to capture the defense before throwing a behind-the-back pass to the open shooter. Does it seem like a simple move? However, it’s still an effective move that guards should utilize more often.
On the other end of the floor, Mitrou-Long is honestly a mixed bag. When it comes to being an on-ball defender, the 6’4 guard is solid as he’s regularly able to stick onto the on-ball driver without actually committing fouls. His ability to stay on the court is evident from how he averaged only 2.6 fouls in 33 minutes per game.
However, that positivity starts to dissipate when you move to his off-ball defense. Because in this area, he simply looks flawed through watching the ball rather than staying on his man. This loss of focus allows the man he was assigned to defend to get open, which can create easy points for the opposing teams. This issue is evident in the play below as he keeps his eyes glued to the driving 905 guard while his assigned opponent gets all the space and time he needs to make the 3-point shot.
Despite his flaws as a defensive player, Mitrou-Long has consistently stood as one of the best guards in the G League since his rookie season. That shouldn’t change this year as the 26-year-old guard will be asked to lead a Fort Wayne Mad Ants squad which will feature the aforementioned Brian Bowen, blocks boss Amida Brimah, CJ Wilcox and JaKeenan Gant.
Although the outcome of the upcoming 2019-20 G League season for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants will remain in question, there’s no doubt that veteran guard Naz Mitrou-Long will yet again stand as one of the top fifty players in entire NBA G League.