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Building an American Comeback: Tyler Dorsey

The last season featured a handful of professional basketball players born in the USA play abroad after having being part of the NBA or the G League in the prior two seasons. We review their 2019-20 seasons in the Chinese CBA and/or Euroleague in this series of articles, to know what they did and the chances they have to making it back to America.

Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade v Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images

There is no room at the top-tier of American professional basketball—the NBA and the G League, by extension—for everyone to be part of it. Every year we have a plethora of undrafted free agents luckily signed to contracts from NBA/G League franchises to become part of their squads. Every year, too, we see a lot of kids and veterans finding no place in the best hoop leagues in the world, thus looking for chances abroad.

That is not the most common path to building a sustainable career in the NBA, for sure, but for athletes that have worked their whole lives around basketball, it surely is one way to try to reach the pinnacle of the sport in the country where the best hoopers happen to play in.

In this series, we will explore the 2019-20 season of some American players that played basketball either in the CBA (top Asian league, and a place for ex-NBA veterans and young undrafted players) or the EuroLeague (the best-combined league in Europe and the consensus second-best league in the world only behind the NBA). All of these players also played in the NBA or the G League during the 2017-18 or 2018-19 seasons, so they are not too separated from their playing days in American soil and could still be re-called by an NBA franchise soon if they keep their level of play up.

Tyler Dorsey - Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel - EuroLeague)

Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul v Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Let’s flip the script and start by the end with Dorsey: the former NBA/G League guard signed a two-year extension with Israel-based team Maccabi this past May, linking to the European team at least until the summer of 2022. BUT. As is often the case with ex-NBA players, or young hoopers jumping the pond to play abroad, Dorsey and Maccabi negotiated an NBA out-clause, which means the 24-year-old player from Pasadena, CA could make his way back to the Association if any franchise wants to sign him. That escape door is what allowed Tyler Dorsey to be included in this series of articles.

Going back to the summer of 2015, Dorsey was already making headlines as a high school senior when scouts around the nation ranked him as a top-25 player in the nation. He committed to Oregon that summer, and spent two seasons in Eugene after declaring for the 2016 NBA draft but later withdrawing from it, playing for the Ducks as a sophomore too. That last year of NCAA-ball saw Dorsey reach the Final Four of the Tournament, where Oregon lost to North Carolina (which would go on to win the Natty). Having reached his ceiling in Oregon leading a team that didn’t go past the Sweet Sixteen in either of the past three years, Dorsey wrote his name in the 2017 draftable players’ list...

...and drafted he was, indeed, with Atlanta turning him into a second-round draftee after selecting him 41st-overall. Dorsey spent his rookie season playing for the Hawks—the Atlanta Hawks and the Erie BayHawks, that was—splitting his time between the NBA and the G League teams of the franchise. He was more of an NBA player, though, logging 17.4 mpg for the Hawks in 56 games as a rookie while starting five of them. The next season, though, Atlanta moved from Dorsey and sent him to Memphis in exchange for Shelvin Mack (who also left America to play in Europe came the 2019-20 season) in which turned out to be the last move of Dorsey in American ground before signing with Maccabi Tel Aviv, from Israel, for the 2019-20 EuroLeague campaign.

Dorsey joined Maccabi after playing quality basketball with the Grizzlies. He leveled up from his Hawks days, averaging 21.3 mpg in 21 games and close to a 10-3-2 line in his limited playing time in Memphis. His experience in America, paired with his skill set, helped Dorsey became a staple in Israel playing 28 games for his 2020 team (the most of every Maccabi player) while logging 18.9 minutes, 10 points, 2.4 boards, and 1.5 dimes per game. All of this, remember, at the ripe age of 23.

While those numbers didn’t jump off the page by themselves, they were rather nice when put into last year’s EuroLeague’s context. Only five Maccabi players played 25+ games and more than 18 mpg, Dorsey among them. Of those five, only Dorsey and fellow-American Scottie Wilbekin (a former Florida Gator, undrafted in 2014) put up a 10-2-1.5 average line through the competition, although Dorsey did so in under-20 minutes compared to Wilbekin’s 26.1 mpg.

Dorsey finished the year launching 4.7 triples per game and hitting them at a 39.4%, which ranked 14th among players with at least four three-point attempts a game. If there is something guards need to do on basketball courts these days, that’s hitting long-range daggers, and Dorsey sits up there at both trying and getting results.

At just 24 years of age entering the upcoming 2020-21 season, and with that NBA out-clause in place, it is hard not to see Dorsey eventually making it back to the NBA or finding a place in a G League roster with the potential to end hooping on an Association court in due time.

We have no news of him being on the radar of any NBA franchise these days, although we should acknowledge for the situation we all are going through; we’re in the middle of a pandemic, with the NBA still running games inside a bubble, and free agency still almost two months away. A lot of things can happen from now to that point, and I’m convinced one of them will be Dorsey getting a call if only to gauge his interest in an eventual return to the USA.

Let’s hope he makes it back so we can enjoy his game under the brightest lights the sport has to offer.