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Eleven Players To Keep An Eye On In The Central Region Of The 2021-22 G League Showcase Cup: Part Two

In a new piece, Dakota Schmidt breaks down the likes of Petr Cornelie, McKinnley Wright, Matt Lewis, DeJon Jarreau, Jamorko Pickett, and Dru Smith

2021-22 Denver Nuggets Media Day Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Note: this is the second part in an ongoing series breaking down the interesting players to keep an eye on for the upcoming 2021-22 G League season. Go here to read part one, which examined some prospects from the Central Hub,

Petr Cornelie, Grand Rapids Gold

A half-decade after the Nuggets selected him with the 53rd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the French big has finally made his way state-side to join Denver as a two-way prospect. Despite the limitations of how long two-way prospects can be up in the NBA evaporating during the 2020-21 season, this should be different from the norm. That’s largely due to the combination of Denver’s established depth in the front-court and how their status as a contender within the Western Conference hinders the opportunity of a player that doesn’t have the NBA experience of his counterparts on the roster.

For the Grand Rapids Gold, the new G League affiliates of the Denver Nuggets, that predicament is going to end up being beneficial for them. Because for a new team that will be coached by first-time head coach Jason Terry, I don’t think they could’ve found a better big to fit their young team around. The reason behind that rests with how the 6’11 Frenchman has the tools to be that early offense hub that you can rely upon to both score on his own and be able to find open teammates.

But Dakota, will the Gold feature guards that either led the nation in scoring while in college (Markus Howard) or started almost 200 games in the NBA (Lance Stephenson)? Absolutely. However, the abilities of that duo and the rest of the Gold could be harnessed to an even greater effect due to the presence of the 6’11 big. All of this theorizing is due to Petr’s knack and genuine comfort level when he has the ball on the perimeter.

For one, he has developed into a very solid weapon from deep, as he shot a career-high 44% from beyond the arc on 2.8 attempts during his 2020-21 campaign with Pau-Orthez. While that level of efficiency was the peak so far for his career, the big has shot 38% or better in four seasons, which combined with him being a solid free throw shooter make you really believe that jumper is for real.

While the numbers point you to Cornelie being a very reliable catch-and-shoot threat, looking at his base statistics don’t tell you the full story when it comes to other areas on the offensive end. For example, the 6’11 big only averaged 1.5 assists per game with a .74 assist to turnover ratio, during his run with Pau-Orthez. Just looking at those numbers alone could lead you to believe that he wouldn’t show much in terms of creating for others.

However those statistics don’t tell you the full story as the actual film shows our subject doing a great job of being able to use his height while above the break to be able to both find cutters or shooters stationed out to the rim and being able to put the ball in the best position for them to be able to score.

That second part is apparent when you watch his passes as he delivers the ball to his teammates, whether it’s on bounce passes or entry feeds, with excellent touch that goes to their correct hand. However, his reliance on throwing passes to cutters or feeds to inside teammates didn’t always end in assists for him as the defenses were forced to foul the recipients to avoid them scoring an easy two points.

His unique knack as a perimeter shooter, facilitator, and simply someone that’s more than willing to set high ball screens will create plenty of spacing and opportunity for the other four men on the court to get to their spot on the court. That freedom that a player, especially a big that is also capable of posting up and fighting for offensive boards, can bring to a team is going to be an incredible gift.

DeJon Jarreau, Fort Wayne Mad Ants

Fresh off a three-year run with the University of Houston, DeJon Jarreau is just mere days away from making his G League debut as a member of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Compared to the talented players that will surround him on the roster, he’ll have a raised profile due to his status as a two-way prospect with the Pacers. The increased investment from Indiana has a lot to do with what he can add to the team in the future as a 6’5 guard that can stand out as a capable playmaker and also defend multiple positions at a high level.

He showed both of those traits as a senior for a phenomenal University of Houston team, as he averaged 10.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.3 steals on 43% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Despite him barely getting into the double-digits in scoring, his defense and ability to pair those assist numbers with a 1.80 assist to turnover ratio were the keys behind him receiving accolades as he left the university. For his senior year, he was named to the All-American Athletic Conference Second Team and as their Defensive Player of the Year.

Jarreau being named as the conference’s best defender came despite the fact that he didn’t finish in the top 10 in the AAC in either steals or blocks per game. While that may surprise most on first glance, him being named as an elite defender should immediately start making sense when you watch him actually work. When it comes to the rookie guards or wings entering the G League as two way or exhibit 10 players, Jarreau might stand at the top of the mountain when it comes to the task of making things a living hell for any player they happen to be matched up against.

As an on-ball defender, Jarreau honestly has all of the traits that you look for. While the 185-pound guard isn’t the strongest there, he makes up for it with incredible footwork, balance and knowing where to put his body to prevent his man from getting any type of open look or lane to drive towards the paint. One example of that is seen in the clip below where he’s asked to defend stud Wichita State guard Tyson Etienne. While Etienne stood as one of the premier scorers in college basketball, he proved to be no match for the 6’5 guard through his ability to slide his feet, keep his hands up, and use his body in a way to prevent the Shocker from getting an advantage as a driver.

Even when he’s asked to work off-ball or in pick-and-rolls, our subject both has the balance and quick reflexes to be able to move over and under a screen in a blink of an eye, which allows him to continue being in the face of the ball-handler.

Jarreau’s tremendous ability as a tenacious on-ball defender that can use his longer frame and tremendous footwork allowed him to be a feared competitor at the college level and heightens his intrigue as a pro prospect. Another trait that fits both of those bills would be his knack as a distributor. Compared to defense where he can be a big bundle of tenacity, our subject is more subdued when he’s working within his role as the team’s main facilitator

That relaxed nature was beneficial in Jarreau’s case as it allowed him to be patient with waiting for his man, whether it’s a shooter or big stationed in the paint, to get open before delivering a pass. One area where that composed nature pays the most dividends is through pick-and-roll as the Houston alum does a phenomenal job of waiting for the big to switch onto him before attacking off the dribble. As he was quick enough to motor past most AAC bigs, that composure allowed him to get an advantage needed to get an open look needed to dish the ball off to the rolling big.

Although he showed himself more than capable of creating for others while on the move, he struggled with the task of being able to finish in the paint by himself. As a senior, he only hit 53% on his shots from within the restricted area, according to Synergy Sports. A lot of those struggles can be pointed to the lack of lift that he gets on the leaps on his layups as plays like this makes it clear that he struggles to really be able to put the ball in a good angle to have it go in.

Coinciding with his struggles as an on-ball threat, Jarreau had his struggles with efficiency as a shooter during his college career, as he shot only 29% from beyond the arc on 253 total three-point attempts. Despite that tremendous inefficiency, there are some signs of hope when it comes to his future as a long-range threat. For one, he shot better than 70% from the free throw line during his college career, which was headlined by him shooting 80% from the charity stripe as a junior.

Along with that, he’s been efficient as a catch-and-shoot threat, as he shot 40% from beyond the arc on a total of 72 total attempts, according to Synergy. That points to his lack of efficiency being through struggles as an off-the-dribble threat. If you take a pessimistic view point, you can say that his struggles with being able to create his own shot hinders his upside as a main offensive focal point. However, his efficiency off the catch and real skill as a facilitator that can dish it off both as a primary and secondary threat shows that he does have real upside as an off-ball threat.

Matt Lewis, Iowa Wolves

In the world of mid-major conferences, the Colonial Athletic Association has stood the hotbed for developing talent that eventually find themselves in the G League. Just over the last half-decade, you’ve seen the likes of Nate Darling, Joe Chealey, Justin Wright-Foreman, Devontae Cacok, Grant Riller, Nathan Knight, and Jarrell Brantley go from their particular teams within the conference to having success at the G League level. For a lot of those guys, that success has led to pit stops in the NBA as prospects on two-way deals.

One player that will look to join that group of CAA greats is the James Madison standout. In his final year with that school, the 6’5 guard was a step above the rest through averaging 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.4 steals on 47% from the field and 38% from deep on 6.2 attempts per game. That tremendous efficiency from both the field and three allowed him to maintain a career-best 61% true shooting percentage and 56% effective field goal percentage.

Along with that, his knack as a secondary facilitator within the team’s offense showed through a 2.03 assist to turnover ratio, which placed him second in the conference behind former William and Mary standout Luke Loewe. That mix of volume and efficiency were the keys behind him being the obvious choice as the CAA Player of the Year for the 2020-21 campaign.

Although those numbers and the accolades that came with them are definitely impressive, you can’t fully be able to appreciate his game without seeing him actually work on the court. When your eyes catch a glimpse, it won’t take long until you see a player that is confident with the responsibilities that come from being a team’s lead guard.

That self-assured nature is most evident with his knack as a facilitator as it’s clear that he both knows where his other four teammates are at all times and can quickly recognize the best way to deliver the pass to his man. From throwing out skip passes to corner shooters, heaving bullets to cutters, or utilizing pass manipulation to capture the defense’s attention before kicking it out, his knack as a facilitator is evident in more ways than just his solid passing numbers.

Looking away from his ability as a passer, the 6’5 guard’s on-ball traits carries over to him being more than capable of being a dependable downhill driving threat. As a senior, he made significant strides when it comes to both getting to and scoring around the rim at an efficient clip, as his shooting percentage from around the rim improved from 46% in the 2019-20 campaign to 60% during his run as a senior. While most of that comes through him pushing the pace in transition, Lewis showed upside as a half-court creator. Most of this came through his ability to utilize screens to either create an opportunity to drive on a big or get his defender out of position before just bursting his way towards the paint.

While we’ve proven that Lewis is obviously more than a capable ball-handler through his work as a downhill driver and facilitator, his status as a reliable long-range threat comes when a teammate is in possession of the rock. As a senior, he shot 40% on 70 total catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Synergy Sports. That efficiency is impressive when you see how he’s able to use his 1-2 step approach to get to his spot no matter if he’s maneuvering around screens, transition, flaring out, or standing still in his spot and waiting for a feed.

McKinley Wright IV, Iowa Wolves

For the third straight year, the Minnesota Timberwolves entered the NBA regular season using one of their two-way spots on a point guard. In the previous two years, that spot was assigned to former USC standout Jordan McLaughlin, While he hasn’t reached the heights as fellow former two-ways like Luguentz Dort, Alex Caruso, or Duncan Robinson, it would be fair to call him a two-way success story due to having a guaranteed deal and being an established member of the team’s rotation.

Now just mere days away from the start of the G League season, the former Colorado guard will look to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and stake his claim in professional basketball. His transition follows a stellar career at the University of Colorado, wherein he stood as one of the premier guards in his conference, as he was named to the All-Pac 12 1st team for three consecutive seasons.

While his senior year was the norm in terms of productivity, it would be fair to say that he ended on a high note. In 32 games, he averaged 15.2 points, 5.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals on 48% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc on 2.9 attempts per game. That productivity was heightened by him maintaining a very respectable 56% True Shooting Percentage and 2.7 assist to turnover ratio. That level of efficiency as both a scorer and distributor is impressive when you note that his usage percentage, which estimates the percentage of team players that’s centered around that player while he’s on the floor, was at a career-high.

His elite status in college and a lot of his potential as a pro rests on his knack as a facilitator. Despite being an undersized six foot guard, Wright has stood as a great distributor no matter if he’s standing stationary on the perimeter or dishing while on the move. Despite his smaller stature, the guard has great court awareness, which allows him to make quick decisions. Along with that, the combination of him utilizing jump passes and having great touch on his feeds, which allows the ball to find his target in a good position more times than not, allows him to be a solid perimeter passer despite his size.

On the move, that court vision and spatial awareness that was just brought up is really able to persist. Hand-in-hand with those two traits is his ability to navigate and utilize screens as a ball-handler to create spaces to drive and move away from the three-point line. That’s apparent in the clip below as the Colorado alum is slithery in the way that he gets low and navigates the screen, while stepping within the restricted area. Enough to capture the attention of two Arizona State defenders, he leaps between them and delivers a slick jump pass to the roll man, who finishes at the rim with an easy two-handed flush. Just this simple 15 seconds of basketball shows that Wright is able to navigate screens at a high rate, knows how to utilize speed and threat of a drive to draw in a defense, and then deliver a precise feed out to his teammates.

While on the topic of what he’s capable of doing with the ball in his hands, it’s no surprise that the 6-foot guard does most of his damage in that area when it comes to the perspective of scoring. As his height restricts his potential as a downhill scorer, especially when there’s any type of traffic around the rim, Wright or any other guard at his height needs to either possess tremendous strength to finish through traffic,ball skills or creativity with creating any type of open look closer to the rim.

Luckily, our subject has two of the three traits as he’s more than capable of utilizing crossovers and a great burst to break down his opponent and push his way from perimeter to the basket with the right hand if there’s an open lane to attack. Along with straight line drives, that burst also helps him with attacking through dribble hand-offs or bursting towards the paint when gets a big or forward switched on to him.

If the paint is a little more crowded or he has to deal with a drop defender coming up, the Colorado alum’s aforementioned slithery nature sees its return. In a more crowded field, his craftiness truly comes out as he does a great job of using head fakes and stop and start moves to create the space he needs to be comfortable launching up a floater. While those types of shots aren’t looked at as the most efficient, our subject might be the exception to the rule, as he shot 58% on 78 total runners, according to Synergy Sports. That’s just a single percentage point worse than the 59% from around the rim.

Wright’s success as an on-ball driver, when it comes to both attacking the rim and hitting runners, along with his tremendous facilitating counteract the clear struggles that he has had as a perimeter shooter. On 405 total three-point attempts during his college career, he only landed on 33% of those. That efficiency was actually hurt from his performance against a senior, where he shot 30%, the worst percentage in his college career.

His struggles in that area has a lot to do with his inability to shoot off the catch, as he only shot 26% on 39 total perimeter attempts. Those struggles may be due to a lack of reps in this area as it doesn’t seem like the 6-footer is comfortable in his approach due to being prone to taking a dribble, having to settle his feet, or bringing the ball low to power his shot before putting it up. All of those slow down his approach which gives defenders time to close out on him, which makes what could’ve been an open shot into a contested one.

Dru Smith, Sioux Falls Skyforce

On a Sioux Falls Skyforce squad where Marcus Garrett and Caleb Martin will be starting the year as Miami’s duo of two-way players, a former Missouri wing is the one player that I’ll be having my eye on more than his new teammates. That intrigue comes after watching multiple games from his senior season where it didn’t take long to notice that the 23-year-old had developed himself into being a real talent that can make an impact in numerous ways on both ends of the floor.

One way that versatility was evident was by how he averaged 14.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.1 steals on 44% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 4.5 attempts per game as a senior. Those averages, along with him maintaining a very solid 57% True Shooting Percentage put him in elite company within the Southeastern Conference. Finishing in the top-5 in free throw percentage, steals and assists per game, the conference named him to the All-1st and All-Defensive teams as he was on his way out of college basketball

Starting out with his play on defense, Smith was an absolute blast to watch as the mix of energy, awareness, ability to quickly react to screens, and the ways he can utilize his strong 200-pound frame allowed him to be a feared defender on a night-by-night basis. If you follow my personal account, you’ve seen an example of this as I did a voiceover video for a play where he was able to effectively defend current NBA players Yves Pons and Keon Johnson on the perimeter while defeating the former in a battle for a rebound. As I stated, that clip showed the intensity, confidence in movement, and balance that he shows when it comes to moving from ball-handler to ball-handler.

When he’s put to the task of defending just a singular player for a possession, our subject is able to shine. Despite being a little smaller from a vertical perspective, he makes up for it by being able to utilize his feet and strong frame to keep ball-handlers ahead of him. Those two traits are seen in the clip below where two Alabama guards, including lottery pick Moses Moody are just simply not able to get anything going due to Smith’s ability to move his feet both vertically and horizontally while also using his frame as a wall to aspiring on-ball drivers.

Transitioning over to the offensive end, he did great work as a secondary option with the team’s option, as he finished with the third highest usage percentage, behind both Xavier Pinson and Jeremiah Tillmon. Within a role as a secondary option within the team’s offense, our subject was still able to shine through being a threat whether he’s working on or off-ball.

As an off-ball threat, he’s mostly shined as a catch-and-shoot threat, as his ability to quickly load up his base as he receives the pass and shoot it was impressive to watch. While a lot of his work was just as a standstill threat waiting to receive a feed, he does show a good ability to use movement to create open looks for himself. Those abilities led to success as he shot 41% on a total of 82 catch-and-shoot attempts, good enough to place him in the 83rd percentile, according to Synergy Sports.

Speaking of his ability to get shots off in the mid to late shot clock situations, our subject showed himself to be able to hit off the dribble shots at a high level, as he shot 42% on a total of 36 perimeter attempts. That efficiency comes through his ability to really create space through step-backs or utilizing off-ball screens. When he’s utilizing screens, he’s able to quickly maneuver around his man, use a hop step to get to his spot, and launch up the shot.

Another area where he’s able to really impress in mid to late shot clock situations is as a facilitator. Sharing the distributing load with Xavier Pinson, the Missouri alum does a great job with making quick decisions once he has the ball. For example, he’s more than willing to direct a big over to him to set a screen, and then being able to quickly utilize them to create scoring opportunities for either the roller or the teammate stationed out at the perimeter.

Jamorko Pickett, Motor City Cruise

Sticking with the ongoing trend of strong defenders that are mere days away from making their debuts in the G League, the former forward will cruise to the Motor City as a two-way prospect for the Detroit Pistons. His impending run at the pro level followed a development arc with Georgetown where he slowly grew up with a team that was growing and learning under first-time head coach Patrick Ewing. While never the vocal point within an offense, as he never finished higher than 4th on the team in usage percentage, the forward still had success through his role as this swiss army knife that can help a squad out in numerous ways over the course of a game.

Now, you may be questioning that statement if you just take a quick peek through his numbers. As a senior, he had his best season from both a per game and efficiency standpoint. Averaging 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1 steal on 39% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc on 4.2 attempts per game, percentages that led to him maintaining a 51% True Shooting Percentage. While those numbers represent him ending his college career at its peak, they aren’t great when you compare him to counterparts within the Big East or in the broad scope of wings within college basketball.

While those base statistics do a little to show his struggles, they actually hide the upside that he has as a bigger wing that he can potentially have as a role player at the NBA level. The first step in understanding that thought comes when you watch him work on the defensive end. While he didn’t have immense block or steal numbers, he’s like the previously covered DeJon Jarreau in that he was an effective defender, both when guarding their man on-ball and defending in space.

For the 6’8 forward, his work as a defender against dribble penetration simply comes through him being fundamentally sound as he keeps his hands up, stays on their hips as they work on drives, and sticking his body in front when they decide to square up for a shot or layup.

Along with doing a great job of being a hassle to opposing ball-handlers, he also does a great job of occasionally switching roles from being the cornerback to a free safety. Rather than going out and blocking shots around the rim like other folks at his height that do work on help side defense, plays like this proves that he’s more than capable of just being a 198-pound security guard that prevents opponents from entering “Club Paint”.

Looking away from his great work on the defensive end, the young forward has upside, even when you look at an area of the court where he struggled during his college career. Those stumbles came close to the basket, as he shot 39% on 54 total restricted area attempts which placed him in the 11th percentile, according to Synergy Sports. One of the reasons behind his struggles dealt with him not having the acceleration needed to vroom his way past his defender and a clearer driving lane towards the rim. Having a clear paint was also another issue for the 6’9 forward as Georgetown didn’t exactly emphasize spacing, which ultimately led to him trying to use his skinnier frame to try to finish through contact.

While his struggles as an on-ball driver are concerning, Pickett has shown himself to be more than capable of being relied upon in a secondary role while on the perimeter. One of those ways is as a facilitator as the former Hoya showed a lot of glimpses with being able to manipulate the defense through his movements and then deliver the ball out to the roller. While a lot of those passes came within the motion offense that Ewing liked to run, his ability to see over the court and make quick and precise passes should be a transferable skill at the G League or NBA level.

Speaking of skills that should be transferable to the next level, the 6’9 forward proved himself to be a capable shooter. The first glimpse of that is seen with how he shot 83% on 228 total free throw attempts during his career at Georgetown. Moving out towards the perimeter, he’s shown himself to be a solid weapon, no matter if he’s working off the catch or dribble.

As a catch-and-shoot threat, he’s dependable as long as there isn’t a hand in his face, as he shot 39% on 46 unguarded threes. That level of efficiency is despite the fact that he wasn’t consistent with how he gets to his spot, as he utilizes both a 1-2 step and hop. Along with that, he seemed to be on the slow side with loading up his shot, which ultimately led to his attempts falling short.

Based on limited summer league film, it seems like that shot is going in the right direction as he’s more fluid with the process of catch and release, which leads his attempts going up before the defense is able to close out. As he makes the transition to the G League as a two-way player for the Motor City Cruise, his approach and efficiency as a shooter is going to be a big thing to keep an eye on.