On November 5th, the 2021-22 G League season will tip off with an exciting nine-game slate, which will feature the league debuts of Mexico City Capitanes and Birmingham Squadron. Along with that night reintroducing the league to fans that haven’t seen any action since March11th, it will also bring the brand new G League Showcase Cup format. The Showcase Cup is going to be a 14-game tournament that will start on the 5th and conclude with the G League Winter Showcase, that will take place from December 19th through the 22nd.
For the showcase to take place, the league’s 29 teams along with the Ignite will be separated into four regional pods, where they’ll play 12 games against each other within the league’s markets. Teams with the best winning percentage in each pod, along with the next four best teams across the league will advance to the Showcase Cut to participate in a single-elimination tournament during the Winter Showcase.
To help celebrate the start of the season and this new format, I’m going to center eleven players in each of the four regional pods that fans should keep an eye on when the action begins on the 5th. To begin, we’re going start with the teams that will be participating in the central region
Jemerrio Jones - Wisconsin Herd
If I were to ask me which G Leaguer that I continue to be frustrated with about their lack of inclusion within the NBA, 9-times-out-of-10 the name that I would give to you would be Jemerrio Jones. Coming onto the scene as a pro in the 2018-19 campaign, he showed out as a rookie through being a step beyond the competition from having an endless motor that allows him to compete at a maximum level on both ends whenever he’s on the floor.
The biggest area where his endless drive is evident is seen through how he was an elite rebounder, not just for his position as a 6’5 wing, but just in general. During his last run with the Herd during the 2019-20 campaign, the New Mexico State alum maintained a 19.1 total rebounding percentage (TRB%), which placed him 20th in the entire G League.
While that may not seem significant, it is when you consider that he finished above actual bigs like Ray Spalding, Alize Johnson, Simi Shittu, and Deyonta Davis. That domination on the glass is largely due to his mix of energy and his ability to use his eyes to track where to get in position for a rebound while the ball is still in the air and then pounce.
Outside of being an outstanding rebounder, Jones showed himself as being a very capable facilitator that you can rely on to push the ball down the floor in transition and make the right play, whether it’s to create his own shot around the rim or push it to an open teammate. Also, his competence in the half-court shouldn’t be forgotten as he can throw pocket passes to cutters or find bigs positioned in the paint.
While on the topic of roll men, Jones actually showed himself to be capable within that role despite being 6’5. That was due to how his positioning was solid, has soft hands, and was patient with waiting for his defender to go up for a block before taking advantage and scoring an easy bucket around the rim. Outside of scoring, his potential within that particular duty can be raised if there are shooters stationed on the corners as he should be more than capable of pushing it out to his teammates.
All of those abilities that Jones can offer an offense, along with his sheer tenacity on the defensive end, still allows him to be an NBA prospect in my eyes despite his struggles as a shooter. While I might be alone with that view, his incredible ability as a rebounder, ability as a passer in both the half-court and transition, and secret upside as a roll man counteract the fact that he should not be asked to shoot, as focusing on that only takes away from the strong parts of his game that both have and should continue to have a positive impact on a team’s offense.
Sandro Mamukelashvili - Wisconsin Herd
On a team filled with veterans that have already impressed at the G League level, one of the Herd’s feature players will be a big that is itching to make his mark in professional basketball. As a two-way player for the Bucks, the Seton Hall alum is going to have expectations to be placed on his broad shoulders. While that’s usually an unfair predicament to place on an inexperienced player, this could be different as Sandro’s game and the G League is a better fit for each other than cheese curds and the bellies of Oshkosh residents.
In a league that’s centered on faster paced where free flowing offenses are encouraged, Sandro could stand as that perfect vessel for the Herd with the traits that he’s capable of showing off whenever he steps onto a court. At Seton Hall, he was able to become part of the All-Big East First Team through being a 6’11, 240 pound unicorn that can both get to the rim through the force of his own on-ball skills or rolls, popping out to the perimeter, posting up, or using his force to snag rebounds.
While the arsenal of tools that he can utilize is definitely major, the biggest key is whether or not that he has the processing capability of being able to quickly read his surroundings and know which trait to utilize in that given situation. At least at the college level, that skill was seen as he was a quick decision maker at the perimeter, which allowed him to take advantage of his matchups as he was quicker than a lot of the other Big East bigs that he was matched up against.
Although the level of athleticism will improve as he gets accustomed to the NBA/ G League, his ability to be decisive with the ball in his hands should allow him to make a smoother transition. Although the level of talent is going to increase, he should have more open opportunities as a shooter or lanes to roll or drive in due to the defenses having to focus on the other strong weapons that are going to surround the Seton Hall alum.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, Milwaukee has a lack of front-court depth with both Semi Ojeleye and Bobby Portis currently out with their own individual injuries. That predicament has made it so that Sando is currently part of the team’s rotation, as he played seven minutes in the team’s season opener against the Brooklyn Nets. However, both of their injuries aren’t major so the odds of them returning between now and the Herd’s season debut on November 8th, it should be likely that Sandro will be in Oshkosh in their matchup against Cleveland.
Ethan Thompson - Windy City Bulls
Fresh off a strong end to his college career with Oregon State, where he was part of the All-Pac 12 1st team and guiding them to their first Elite Eight appearance since 1982, Thompson will look to begin his professional career in the G League with Windy City. Speaking of transitioning, the 6’5 wing will look to carry over his status as a great downhill driving threat that can use good footwork and body control to guide him from perimeter to the pain before using his size around the rim.
Those ingredients mixed together create a meal of efficiency around the rim, as he shot 54% around the rim on a total of 68 total attempts during the 2020-21 season, according to Synergy Sports. Along with the threat of him actually scoring around the rim, the Torrance, California native had a tremendous ability to draw fouls, as he had 6.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, which placed him 6th in the Pac 12.
The threat that Thompson brings as a downhill driving threat is a major key behind him shining as a great secondary facilitator within a team’s offense. When working on the strong side of the court, the wing showed an ability to drive into the paint enough to capture the defense’s attention before using his height to be able to both find and deliver the ball to the wide open perimeter shooter. His knack of drawing the defense’s attention and delivering passes while on the move and doing pass manipulation with screeners while on the paint, the Oregon State alum has potential to be an ideal secondary facilitator that creates plays and advantages for his teammates in the middle of the shot clock.
As is the case for most players in the G League, Thompson has one significant area of his game that he’ll need to grow at to be able to make that next level. For the incoming Bull, shooting as a whole was a struggle for the player, whether we’re talking perimeter or mid-range. Using Synergy Sports’ shooting percentages, Thompson shot 30% on a total of 70 catch-and-shoot attempts. That low percentage is troubling when you consider those opportunities mostly come when a player is wide open.
Obviously, this is a trait that he’ll need to work on at the G League level as becoming a more refined shooter will keep defenders more honest, which can also really exemplify the clear strengths that he has as a downhill player that can use the simple threat of a drive to get his teammates involved.
Troy Baxter - Windy City Bulls
So far, most of the prospects that we’ve looked at have either established themselves as top-flight players in either the G League or high-major college basketball. However, the incoming Windy City forward stands as a player that would be unknown unless you were focusing on the world of HBCU basketball. In terms of this particular prospect, that would be a shame as the 6’9 forward made steady progressions over the course of his college career, which led to him having a fantastic 2020-21 season with Morgan State.
As a senior, he averaged 15.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1.6 blocks on 43% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts in 27 minutes per game. Those numbers were the keys behind him being named to the All-MEAC First Team and MEAC All-Defensive Team. The most notable part of those averages would be his efficiency as a shooter. Dating back to his freshman year with UNLV, where he shot 54% from the free throw line, Baxter has made gains when it comes to developing his shooting stroke.
His progression on that is seen from his film as the Morgan State alum is very comfortable with creating his shot off the dribble. Over the course of his senior year, he utilized his fair share of step-backs, which combined with his 7’2 wingspan makes for a tough shot for any defender to try to stop when he’s on. The same can be said about his work off the catch, as he shot 34% on 78 perimeter attempts, according to Synergy Sports. While that average isn’t too impressive, it’s a good sign of his continued progression in that end. The shooting stroke itself looks smooth besides how he loads up his shot by bringing the ball low while bending his knee rather than starting the process before he receives the pass.
While Baxter’s continued progression as a shooter has been an important trend to follow throughout his career, the 6’9 forward has been able to stake his claim within the basketball world through how he utilizes his athleticism and long wingspan. On the defensive end, he stood as a premier help defender that is able to quickly recognize on-ball drivers and utilize his quick feet to pounce on the offensive player and be able to block their attempts within the restricted area.
The Morgan State alum’s mix of great rim protection, development as a shooter, and just sheer athleticism and lanky frame makes a player that I wouldn’t be surprised if they broke out if given the opportunity during the 2021-22 G League season.
RJ Nembhard - Cleveland Charge
In a matter of days, the TCU alum will be one of the dozens of incoming rookies that will look to utilize the G League to stake their claim in the professional basketball world. Unlike the majority of his counterparts, he does have some measure of comfort through being a two-way player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. While that will allow him to be under the wing of an NBA organization, tales of years gone by show that the threat of other hungry players throughout the league show that you still need to produce on a consistent level to avoid the risk of being waived by its NBA affiliate.
Although the question about whether RJ will be one of those unfortunate stories won’t be answered until the season begins, watching his film makes me believe that he’ll be able to surpass those hardships. Watching Nembhard apply his craft as a member of TCU, it didn’t take long to understand the comfort that Nembhard had within his role as a athletic wing that also happened to share facilitating duties with 6’2 freshman Mike Miles.
Within that role as a secondary facilitator, he was fantastic with how he’s able to utilize his 6’5 frame to look over the court and find his man, whether they’re a cutter, big hanging in the paint, or shooter stationed out on the perimeter. Coinciding with his vision, Nembhard has great touch on his passes as they’re both able to his man at the right time and goes into their correct hand. Both of those qualities makes everything a whole lot easier for the recipient when it comes their role as a finisher.
Outside of his role as a facilitator, RJ is still a work in progress. Despite his status as the lead scorer for TCU, as he averaged a career-high 15.7 points on 40% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc, the wing has more work ahead of him to become a more reliable scoring threat. The biggest area of growth comes from his work as a shooter, which has actually been an area that he’s been working on. From both beyond the arc and at the free-throw line, he’s shown growth from shooting 30% from beyond the arc and 62% from the charity stripe as a sophomore to that above three-point percentage and hitting 78% on his free-throw line.
That progression has a lot to do with him becoming more comfortable as a catch-and-shoot threat, as his process is fluid from his hop step, getting his hips in a good place, and being there to load up his shot from the time he receives the pass. His practiced movements and method has paid off as he shot 42% on a total 74 catch-and-shoot attempts during his senior year, according to Synergy Sports.
The main reason behind his pedestrian three-point percentage is his immense struggles with creating his own shot off the dribble. As a senior, he shot just 14% on a total of 36 off-the-dribble attempts. After watching his misses, it’s tough to really point out a a clear weakness in his shooting stroke but it was apparent that there was no method of where the ball was going to go as it can go short, long, or to the right of the rim, despite him shooting a lot of his shots above the break.
While talking about areas of growth for Nembhard to focus on at the next level, on-ball driving is a mixed bag for the wing. When it comes to his strengths, he does a great job of using screens to trap his defender, and thus creating an open lane for him to drive from the perimeter to the rim. That trapping microskill is integral for the Horned Frog alum as he doesn’t necessarily have the burst to get past his defender on his own, after they recover from moving past the screen. That really hurts him as that lack of burst allows the defender to stay on his hip and effect his drive and attempt from at the rim.