The purpose of the G League has changed tremendously since its inception as the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) in 2001. It started as a place for NBA teams to get their young players some seasoning, while borderline NBA players hoped to prove they could play in the league.
Not many teams used the league early on though and assignments were sometimes viewed negatively and as a demotion of sorts. Veteran players who were still trying to hang on to the NBA often opted to play overseas rather than play in the development league.
But over the years, a number of veteran players looking to show they can still play in the NBA have used the G League as a means to achieve that. Players are still going overseas, but a lot of them are staying home or joining the G League after an overseas stint.
One player looking to prove he still belongs in the NBA is Isaiah Canaan. Canaan was originally selected by the Houston Rockets with the 34th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He has six years of NBA experience with stints with the Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Milwaukee Bucks.
His most recent extended stop in the NBA was with the Suns during the 2017-18 season and 2018-19 season. He was signed due to a rash of injuries when the Suns were granted an injury hardship exemption. He played well before injuring his ankle near the middle of the 2017-18 season.
The Suns cut him but re-signed him the following year. He began the 2018-19 season as the Suns starting point guard and played well as a scorer and a playmaker before the Suns abruptly cut him about a month into the season. It was a move that caught him off guard at the time.
“Yeah I was a little surprised,” Canaan told Ridiculous Upside. “Everything they did to help me get back from my ankle injury, and at the time I was playing well too. It was surprising, I thought that I’d be there for a while.”
After Phoenix, Canaan had a few 10-day contract opportunities with the Bucks and Timberwolves but was unable to catch on permanently. That led to a different opportunity in which he left the United States and went overseas to China’s CBA.
Back in August, Canaan signed with the Shandong Golden Stars and began his stay in China. The CBA has grown in recent years with a lot more American players opting to play there rather than in Europe if they choose to leave the U.S. For Canaan, it was a great opportunity to experience something different, as well as eye-opening to the level of play.
“It was a very humbling experience. I really enjoyed my time there, I got to experience another world, a new culture, and the CBA. A lot of people sleep on the CBA, it’s probably the most physical league that’s out right now,” Canaan said. “Obviously the talent isn’t as good as the NBA, but it’s definitely physical. Those guys over the work hard, they’re trying to do everything they can to get better as well.”
Canaan was only in China for a few months before returning stateside this past December. He joined the Stockton Kings, the G League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings, and he’s been there since. The G League is no stranger to Canaan, he had a few assignments with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers during his early years in Houston. But this is the first time he’s been in the G League full-time.
Just as China was humbling and learning experience for him, this stint in the G League has been too. He’s seen how the level of competition in the G League has grown since he was a rookie back in 2013, and it’s become a real proving ground for players on the cusp of the NBA. His primary goal at this point is to use the league to show that he can still play in the NBA.
“Coming from up top, playing seven years in the NBA, then you come down and play a few games in the G League, everyone is going to challenge you cause they’re trying to get there,” Canaan said. “It’s good, it keeps me on my toes. I use the G League for the things I need to work and to get out there and compete. Just really find my rhythm and get everything back from that ankle injury.”
So far, he’s suited up in 23 games for Stockton including 16 starts. In that time, he’s put up 22.9 points per game, shot 43.7 percent from the three-point line, pulled down 4.1 rebounds, and dished out 6.4 assists. He’s shown he still has the ability to be an instant offense player while also keeping the ball moving and acting as a facilitator.
He’s able to play both guard positions and he turned heads during the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas back in December for his ability to shoot from outside. Throughout his NBA career, he’s 35.1 percent shooter from behind the arc.
“I’m a competitor and a solid backup, I’m just a player that can do anything the coach asks of me,” Canaan said. “I can play the one, I can play the two, just whatever they ask. Be a leader out there and compete.”
With about one month to go in the G League regular season, Canaan is still waiting for an NBA call. He continues to put up standout performances for Stockton and it’s hard to imagine him not being on an NBA roster in the near future.
But until that opportunity should arise, he’ll use the rest of this year to continue working on his game and proving that he belongs at the next level.
“Just continue to learn the game and continue to get better with each game. Just try to be a better player and show everybody what I can do,” Canaan said. “Personally I know that I can help a lot of NBA teams. I’m going to keep fighting and keep kicking at the door until it opens.”