0On Wednesday evening, the NBA G League dropped the full schedule of games that seventeen G League teams, including the Ignite, will take part in when the 2021 season tips off in the Disney World bubble on February 10th. Over the course of the twenty five day regular season, there will be 135 games taking place, with the action tipping off as early as 11:00 AM Eastern Standard Time on a lot of those days. One example of that early tip off will occur on opening day as the first game of the season will be the Santa Cruz Warriors squaring off against the G League Ignite in a game that will tip off at 8 AM Pacific Time.
As we get closer to the official tip-off of the G League season, I thought it would be a good idea to list five intriguing matchups during the first week to mark down on your calendar to tune into once the festivities begin. For a quick disclaimer, the Agua Caliente Clippers and Austin Spurs won’t be included on this list as they haven’t released the rosters as of the time of this piece.
Santa Cruz Warriors vs. NBA G League Ignite, February 10th, 11:00 AM EST, ESPN2
In terms of kicking off the G League season on a national television, I feel like the G League couldn’t have picked a better matchup than this. The most obvious reason is this will be the first opportunity that the public will get a chance to watch the G League Ignite team that will feature potential lottery prospects Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Green, and Daishen Nix.
On the other end, Jeremy Lin will be reintroduced to the American basketball masses after he spent the prior 2019-20 campaign in the Chinese Basketball Association. From a sheer entertainment standpoint, this game shouldn’t disappoint as Lin and G League veteran Dusty Hannahs are two guards that can catch fire whenever they step on the court.
In terms of under-the-radar prospects to keep an eye on, 6’5 wing Dwayne Sutton will enter the G League bubble as a rookie after a solid three-year run with Louisville. Although he didn’t put up the biggest numbers against ACC competition, he used those years to prove himself as an energy wing that can excel on the offensive glass, on the defensive end, and as a catch-and-shoot threat. Honestly, don’t be surprised if he turns into the next version of Juan Toscano-Anderson.
Delaware Blue Coats vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants, February 11th, 11:00 AM EST, ESPN+
Sticking with the morning matchups, these two teams enter the bubble with two of the strongest rosters in the G League. Their strength rests in both quantity and quality as both sides are incredibly strong in the backcourt. For Fort Wayne, their backcourt is headlined by the duo of Josh Gray and Naz Mitrou-Long, who have both played in the NBA during their runs as two-way prospects.
That duo is intriguing as both Gray and Mitrou-Long have shown an ability to direct the action as the team’s lead facilitator while also being able to score from both inside and outside the perimeter. Along with that veteran duo, Pacers assignee Jalen Lecque will be an intriguing guard to watch to see the growth that the 20-year-old prospect has made since his rookie year with the Northern Arizona Suns.
While Fort Wayne’s backcourt trifecta is strong, the Blue Coats might honestly be better. That comes from the elite quartet of Frank Mason, Brandon Sampson, Jared Brownridge, and Michael Frazier. Mason makes his trek to Delaware after a phenomenal 2019-20 campaign with the Wisconsin Herd that pushed the G League to name him as their Most Valuable Player. Alongside the reigning MVP, the remaining trio have spent the last few years shining as some of the best wings in the league.
Sampson is a 3rd year prospect that has used his status as an athletic 6’5 wing that can attack closeouts and nail catch-and-shoot 3’s to get two-way deals with both Houston and Chicago. Speaking of Houston, Frazier was a mainstay with an organization for the last two years, which included him being one of the lead scorers for a Vipers team that won the 2019 title before being a two-way player with the Rockets in the following year. Finally, Brownridge has been a mainstay for Delaware since debuting in the 2017-18 season. Since then, he has established himself as a phenomenal catch-and-shoot threat.
Raptors 905 vs. RGV Vipers, February 10th, 7:30 PM EST, ESPN+
While Fort Wayne vs. Delaware will be a battle of strong and deep backcourts, we’re going to take a different approach with the February 10th competition between the 905 and RGV. For the Men of Mississaugua, the duo of Dewan Hernandez and Henry Ellenson will be returning to the team for the 2nd year. Both players are intriguing in terms of their on-court style as they’re front-court players that can square up from deep, working as roll men, and even take the ball to the hole.
The strength of that duo grows when you realize that they one of those players can stay on the court for an entire game when you add in the presence of Alize Johnson. Although this is his first year as an actual G Leaguer, the 6’9 forward is no stranger to the league as he played 50 games with Fort Wayne as a Pacers assignee. In those outings, he averaged 19.6 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.4 steals on 51% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc on 3.1 attempts per game. If you watch film of him, you won’t struggle to recognize his skill as he’s a real threat threat that can drive to the paint, find cutters and open perimeter shooters, and shoot mid-range or perimeter jumpers.
The Raptors 905 possessing three versatile front-court players will be a test for an RGV Vipers team that is headlined by a star-studded duo of Kenny Wooten and Ray Spalding.
Wooten enters the G League bubble after a stellar rookie year with Westchester where he shined as an immediate star through how he used his quick feet and athleticism to just be stellar roll man and phenomenal defender that can hedge on pick-and-rolls and attack on drives when working on the help side. Those traits allowed him to put up 7.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 3.6 blocks on 65% from the field in 25 minutes per game in 27 games with Westchester. The defensive traits that he possesses will allow him to be an intriguing matchup for more mobile and versatile bigs in Ellenson and Hernandez to work against.
While Wooten’s defensive dominance has allowed him to excel at the G League level, Spalding’s game more closely resembles the 905 gang through being a mobile roll man that can also face up and hit the occasional three.
The Louisville alum showed that last year by putting up 13.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks on 58% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc on 1.9 attempts per game. While he’s a versatile offensive player, those statistics also show that he can be a really tough defensive matchup for the 905’s talented front-court.
Canton Charge vs. Memphis Hustle, February 11th, 3:30 PM EST, ESPN+
When you look at the G League rosters that have been released, you see some teams with incredible rosters that are filled with players that have either excelled at the G League level in the past or are coming in after stints in the NBA. Two of the most prominent examples of that would be the Erie BayHawks and Westchester Knicks, who either have or will be profiled in an article on this site.
However, these two teams are going against the norm by focusing more on a multi-year project designed around building up prospects and developing a team culture. Canton has been in the midst of this for the past few years, as returning players Sir’Dominic Pointer and Levi Randolph are both entering their third year together. That duo was joined last year by former Miami standout Sheldon Mac, who shined as a 6’5 wing that was able to get to the paint at ease. What all of those players have in common is a focus on working hard together as a cohesive unit. That approach worked as the team averaged 111 points per 100 possessions, which placed them fifth in the G League.
This year, that group will be joined by an intriguing group of rookies and G League veterans. Those rookies include Charles Matthews and Anthony Lamb, who are both 6’6 wings with an emphasis on working their asses off on defense. Joining that duo is fellow defensive maestro Kadeem Allen, stretch four Aaron Epps, and Antonio Blakeney, who averaged an all-time best 32 points per game with Windy City during the 2017-18 campaign.
While the Charge stand as a team that’s a few years into their project, the Memphis Hustle are a squad that’s in the opening stages. The headline acts among the returning players are 2nd year guards Ahmad Caver and Shaq Buchanan. In more limited roles, both of those men were able to excel. Buchanan was an offensive darling that averaged 20.5 points per game with a 59% True Shooting Percentage during his last 10 games. Meanwhile Caver’s excellence as a facilitator in pick-and-rolls allowed him to average 3.3 assists with a 2.84 assist/turnover ratio despite averaging only 24 minutes per game.
Alongside that duo of 2nd year players, the Hustle will have a cavalcade of that include; former Baylor Freddie Gillespie, Grizzlies two-way player Sean McDermott, former Maryland guard Anthony Cowan, Murray State alum Darnell Cowart, former Pacific wing Jahlil Tripp, and Christian Vital, who was part of the All-AAC First Team during his senior season with UConn. What all of those players have in common is that they’ve excelled on the defensive end during their college careers.
The Grizzlies organization emphasizing defense for their G League affiliate is an interesting move considering that they were the top league’s top offense that averaged 113 points per 100 possessions last year. However if Hustle head coach Jason March does focus on defense this year, it could create a gritty game between them and Canton.
Greensboro Swarm vs. Long Island Nets, February 14th, 7:30 PM EST, ESPN+
In most leagues, the annual draft is one of the high points of the league’s schedule due to the excitement and intrigue of finding out who your team is going to select to push them towards their goal of reaching that promised land. I mean, there’s a reason why there are major industries behind scouting prospects before each NBA and NFL Draft. To say that hasn’t been the case for the G League has been an understatement as the inclusion of two-way and exhibit 10 contracts pushed the G League Draft to a level where a lot of 1st round picks didn’t even end up making the team.
However, things were different this year as only seventeen standard G League teams deciding to go to the bubble meant that the players that were on training camp rosters of teams that decided not to send their affiliates to the bubble ended up becoming eligible. Along with G League veterans like Gary Payton II and Jemerrio Jones, Admiral Schofield signed a contract with the league after being waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder in training camp. Shortly after making himself eligible, the Greensboro Swarm selected him with the 1st pick in the G League Draft.
Looking away from his past NBA experience with the Washington Wizards, it makes complete sense for a G League club to be interested in Schofield. At 23-years-old, the 2nd year player is a 6’5, 241 pound wing that impressed in the G League last year as a member of the Capital City Go-Go. In 33 games, he put up 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2 assists on 46% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc on 5.7 attempts per game.
While he struggles on the defensive end, especially with defending off-ball, the wing should be a great first option for the team through his ability to shoot from deep, attack off-the-dribble, and working as a roll man. Those skills might be amplified even more this year as he’ll be working alongside NBA veteran point guard Ray McCallum.
One of the most intriguing tests for Schofield will come in a February 14th game against the Long Island Nets. A lot of the intriguing will deal with his possible matchup against 20-year-old forward prospect Paul Eboua. Before making his way to the United States and the Long Island Nets, he applied his craft in Italy played with Carpegna Prosciutto Basket Pesaro of the premier league in Italy. The young prospect is going to make Schofield work as he’s an athletic 6’8 forward that can explode to the rim, run in transition, and fight hard on the offensive glass. All of those skills mixed together should force Schofield to work his ass off whenever they’re competing against each other.