For the first time since October 2019, I can confidently say that we’re just a few weeks away from the beginning of an upcoming G League season. Of course, this go-around won’t have all its participants as only seventeen of the twenty-eight squads, not including the Ignite team, will be heading to Orlando, Florida, to participate in a shortened bubble season at the Walt Disney World Resorts.
In the weeks leading up to whenever that season begins, this site will do a series of pieces using X’s and O’s to preview various teams and what they could look like on the court with their new crew of players. We might emphasize teams with returning coaches, as you can look back at the past film to understand the different sets and plays that squad might be utilizing in the bubble. However, we will mix in some teams with first-year coaches through the use of film from their NBA affiliates, as G League teams usually run a system that goes a long way to replicate what we see from their big brother.
To start this series, we’re going to take a look at the Ryan Pannone-led Erie BayHawks, who will be entering the season with possibly the most robust roster that I’ve seen from a team since I started to cover the league in 2012. That strength rests with both quality and quantity from the top to the bottom of the rotation. Erie’s excellence is evident from the number of players with NBA experience on the roster, as five players (Rawle Alkins, Ike Anigbogu, Jordan Bell, Jarrod Uthoff, and Justin Wright-Foreman) have experience at the NBA level. Simultaneously, the Pelicans selected guard Tony Carr with the 51st pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
While that sinister six is enough to fear any team that they go against, their depth of younger prospects is apparent. The headline of that is 2nd-year guard Jalen Adams, who had a great rookie season with Erie before COVID-19 put an end to the season. His excellent play is evident from statistics as he averaged 19 points, 4.7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.2 steals on 49% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc on 6.4 attempts per game. Those numbers came through him sharing the ball with then-Pelicans two-way guard Josh Gray in the 1st unit and then leading the 2nd unit.
Alongside the stud 2nd year guard, the team’s roster is completed by a trifecta of rookies that includes former BYU big Yoeli Childs, ex-Liberty swingman Caleb Homesley, and LSU alum Marlon Taylor. From the jump, each of those three rookies has their skills to bring to the team.
Childs is a 6’8, 225 pound forward that is comfortable with both working inside the paint as a low-post threat and offensive rebounder and from beyond the arc as a perimeter shooter. That versatility allowed him to be on the West Coast Conference’s All-Conference First Team in three consecutive years.
Meanwhile, Homesley stands as a 6’6, 205-pound wing that shined as a well-rounded threat for Liberty University through his energy on defense, knack as a facilitator, make substantial off-ball cuts to the rim, and be incredibly accurate in catch-and-shoots. Finally, former LSU wing Marlon Taylor is an incredible athlete that should be a transition lob threat for a facilitator like Tony Carr and Jalen Adams.
Before we go in-depth into how the team will look, let’s give some background on the team that performed offensively in Pannone’s first season with the team. In terms of the offense’s pace, Erie was in the middle of the pack as they averaged 107.43 possessions per game, which placed them 13th in the G League.
Now that slower pace didn’t help matters as the team averaged 105.4 points per 100 possessions, which placed them 25th in the league. A significant contributor to that lackluster offense was sloppiness, as Erie forced 18.7 turnovers per 100 possessions, which only trailed the Grand Rapids Drive. However, that turnover issue might not be as big of a problem this year as four of the five biggest contributors behind that high total, Cheatham, Gray, Kavell Bigby-Williams, and Bronson Koenig, won’t be with Erie this season. This means that the new-look BayHawks will have a clean slate.
Although Erie’s struggles on this end were real last season, I still feel like the gameplan that Pannone utilized last season can lead this year’s BayHawks unit to have a significant upswing in offensive production during the bubble season at Disney World. The biggest reason behind that is due to how the team started a lot of their half-court possessions through side action, whether it’s pick-and-rolls or off-ball pindown screens. A visual example of Erie utilizing side pick-and-rolls to success is seen in the clip below where Tony Carr does a beautiful job of driving towards the paint and kicking the ball between two Lakeland Magic defenders to the roll man.
While classic pick-and-rolls like that weren’t a big part of their offensive system last year, that should change during the upcoming campaign with Jordan Bell’s inclusion. A three-year NBA veteran, the Oregon alum will use his quickness, athleticism, and great hands to be a great roll threat alongside Tony Carr or Jalen Adams. Heck, Bell can still be beneficial to the offense when he’s not getting targeted, as the sheer danger of him within that dunker spot will create an opening that a guard with great court vision can take advantage of. Luckily, Erie will have that as both Carr and Adams have shown themselves to be capable facilitators that can do a lot of damage when they’re on the move.
Another benefit to that side action can be how it will help the team’s perimeter threats. Of course, a guard working on that weak side probing to the paint and kicking it out to a shooter stationed on the strong side is great and entertaining; Pannone has shown other ways to help perimeter threats. One of those uses off-ball sets where a guard or wing sets a screen for the big or vice versa. They used some of the vice versa last year with someone like Josh Gray setting a screen for Vitto Brown to get open. That made sense as the 6’8 forward from the University of Wisconsin shot 38% from 3 on six attempts per game in 2019-20.
Erie should utilize that set even more this year due to the addition of Jarrod Uthoff. Although Brown was great at what he did last year, Erie’s acquisition is a cut or two above just through being one of the most talented offensive forwards in the G League. There’s no hyperbole in that statement as he averaged 19 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks on 49% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts per game.
Those solid numbers don’t tell the full story as he’s a real triple threat option through being a threat to pass, shoot, and drive while stationed out in the perimeter. His unique versatility would allow him to be a threat on the wing, especially if you put a cutter like Homesley on the corner or perimeter threat at the top of the key.
The threat that someone with that skill set possesses allows him to be beneficial to the team even when he’s not designated as a scoring option. Due to him being the type of player that teams need to keep their focus on, Erie utilizing simple dribble handoff moves can create headaches for the opposition. This is due to how the roll defender can’t switch on to a guard as it would leave Uthoff open for the catch-and-shoot if the prober decides to kick the ball out and start a swing around the perimeter.
Outside of those different perimeter sets that the Bayhawks will be using this season, there’s one other play that I feel like Pannone should use this year. That action is the Spain pick-and-roll, a simple variant on the classic play used at every level from the NCAA, NBA, and various European leagues.
The reason behind its popularity is through its combination of simplicity and effectiveness. Simplicity is due to how it’s a unique variant of the classic play where you have another player set a back screen for the roll man before flaring up to the perimeter. This play is so effective as it honestly forces the defense to be baffled as they have to worry about the driver, original roll man, and back screener that’s moving to the perimeter.
Outside of it just being an instrumental play, it’s perfect for the BayHawks with how their roster is set up. When it comes to the original roll man, mobile bigs like Bell and Ike Anigbogu are both great options for this set through them being quick bigs that are threats to score around the rim. Moving into the men setting back screens, both Uthoff and Yoeli Childs fit that role like a snug glove through them being forwards that are threats to knock down the catch-and-shoot three at the top of the key. Last but not least, Adams and Wright-Foreman can lead this set as they’ve established themselves as great slashers that are also threats from beyond the arc.
While the jury is still out on whether the BayHawks will utilize any Spain pick-and-roll (which they should!), it’s hard not to be excited about this team. As we’ve gone over, the level of talent on this roster is honestly something that I’ve never seen in my nine years of writing about the G League. That incredible roster plus Pannone utilizing sets that should fit this team are the reasons why I think Erie is going to be a must-watch team when the G League season tips off in the Disney World bubble in February.