November 23, 2017, 5:40 pm
Hey Hoop Ballers! Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of Deep League Digging – my weekly column scouring the darkest reaches of the fantasy NBA landscape in search of diamonds in the rough for deep league owners.
When it comes to things to be thankful for, fantasy hoops is likely pretty low on the totem pole, but it doesn’t mean we can’t give thanks for the newly revamped G-League and all of the exciting moments that come with it.
Now, if you will indulge me in just a few delightfully punny Thanksgiving references, I promise I will actually talk about basketball soon. You may think that the “G” in G-League stands for “Gatorade.” While that is technically true, let’s pretend it means gravy. If your team is rolling along, and you happen to scoop up the next Hassan Whiteside or Yogi Ferrell (think back to how hot he ended last season) fresh out of the G-League, then everything is gravy for you from that point on.
Nearly every season it seems that a relatively unknown player emerges from the G-League and ends up being an absolute steal off the wire. Earlier this month, Antonio Blakeney was called up to the Bulls from the G-League and has turned in multiple big scoring performances. It may be months from now – if ever – when these guys get their moment on the big stage, but it is never too early to do some scouting in hopes of finding the next big G-League sensation.
So, with that in mind, let’s survey the G-League landscape to see is gobbling up stats and stuffing box scores (last Thanksgiving dad-joke, I swear).
At 26 years old, Craig may be one of the older players featured in this article that has yet to play a minute of NBA basketball. He played his college ball at the University of South Carolina Upstate, where he made three All-Atlantic Sun Conference Teams and was named the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year in 2012.
Despite being one of the better players in the conference, his college hoops resume did not impress NBA scouts enough to earn a draft selection in the 2014 NBA draft. Craig instead decided to take his talents overseas to the Australian based National Basketball League (NBL) and the New Zealand based NZNBL. In three years of play in both Australia and New Zealand, Craig was named the NZNBL MVP in 2015, and the NBL Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
In June, Craig was invited to join the Nuggets for Summer League play. Following an impressive Summer League campaign, Craig signed a two-way contract with the Nuggets and was assigned to the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the G-League.
Through five games with the Skyforce this season, Craig is averaging 24 points with 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.4 blocks in 35 minutes per game. Some notable performances in that five game sample include a 37 point outing on 13-of-25 shooting with eight rebounds and a 4-1-1 money counter line (highlights below), and a 24 point performance with six rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocks.
The fact that Craig has already played professionally overseas for a number of years does add a certain intangible element of NBA readiness to his game. Perhaps even more importantly, his reputation around the clubhouse when he was with the Nuggets was that of a hard working scrappy defender with an edge to him.
The news that Paul Millsap could miss up to three months following a surgery to repair a tendon in his wrist certainly bumps up the timeline for Craig to make his NBA debut. The Nuggets have a stable of fours ready to fill in for Millsap, but they are thin out on the wing, and players like Juan Hernangomez and Trey Lyles will not come close to filling the sudden defensive gap in the rotation left by Millsap’s absence.
The Nuggets don’t have much at the three behind the relatively injury prone Wilson Chandler, and despite being a bit undersized for a three at 6’ 6”, Craig’s length and athleticism have earned him the reputation of a pesky defender out on the wing and at the rim. He is also a capable, but not spectacular, shooter from deep who can space the floor out enough to open up cutting lanes, allowing Nikola Jokic to pick defenses apart with his passing and jump shooting.
All that said; if Craig is called up don’t expect huge numbers off the bat given the Nuggets’ depth off the bench. He may only play a 5-to-10 minute role in the rotation, but I’m very high on Craig and will be trying to cash in on a speculative lottery ticket add where I have the room in all deep leagues if news breaks that he is called up at any point this season.
After a successful four-year career at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he led the NCAA in steals in 2014 to go along with three appearances on the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team, Weber tore both his ACL and MCL in his senior year. Following the injury, Weber went undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft, but was acquired by the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the G-League as an affiliate player of the Heat.
Weber was called up to the Heat for some meaningless action late in the 2015-2016 campaign, but ended up back in the G-League to start the 2016-2017 season. While he did bounce around the league on multiple 10-day contracts throughout the season, he spent a majority of the season in the G-League.
He ended up signing a multiple-year NBA deal with the Hornets in March 2017, but was eventually waived in the offseason following a mostly unimpressive string of games late in the 2017 regular season. Last year for the Hornets, he averaged three points, one rebound, one assist and close to a steal per game. This season, he finds himself back in the G-League under slightly elevated circumstances playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets.
Despite spending some time in the NBA, in the 2016-2017 season Weber did most of his damage in the G-League, averaging 16.5 points on 45 percent shooting with 7.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 3.3 steals in 37 minutes per game. His performance last year was enough to net him the honors of G-League All-Star with a spot on the G-League All-Defensive Team.
Through eight games with the Vipers this season, Weber is scoring 18 points on 56 percent shooting with six rebounds, seven assists, two and half steals and close to half a block in 34 minutes per game. He continues to showcase his facilitation and defensive skills, and has steadily improved his offense throughout his time in the G-League. He is shooting over 10 percent higher from the field this season, so that leaves plenty of room for regression, but he does appear to be more aggressive in attacking the rim and looking for his shot this season. A video highlighting his natural skills as a passer and defender, as well as his increased aggression on offense is below.
Despite his status as a two-way player, he has yet to see any minutes in the NBA this season. Though, that may change given his strong performance to start the year and the relatively thin guard rotation on the Rockets.
It is discouraging to see that he has been given numerous shots in the NBA and has failed to produce on all occasions. However, that was under the old model of the 10-day contract, which provides a compressed time-window and far fewer training reps with the team in the big leagues, so I’m cautiously optimistic that Weber could show more of what he has flashed in the G-League when called up.
The strides that he has taken offensively are another encouraging sign, though he will really make his money on the defensive end with some bonus skills (gravy if you will) as a facilitator. Also, if you watched the video above, you may have had the same thought that I did. Some of the offensive highlights shown would likely result in a turnover or a blocked shot, so he’ll have to be more careful around the rim with the big boys.
Ultimately, the Rockets could end up being a good fit for Weber to make a leap to the next level, as the pace of the Rocket’s offense matches up well with the generally higher-than-average pace of a G-League game. I’m not sure he gets much run without some significant injury assistance, but I’d still keep Weber’s name in mind should he get his chance.
Update: I wrote this segment prior to the news that Weber had been called up to the Rockets for Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets. Instead of revising all of what I had just written, I’ll update on his performance and give some thoughts.
He only played eight minutes last night, despite the blowout win over the Nuggets. He didn’t do much with that time, only logging one assist, but I certainly don’t expect this to be the last time he joins the Rockets this season given his status as a two-way player. As he continues to spend time and train with the team, I expect his performance to pick up slightly, but heavy minutes that will likely go to Chris Paul and James Harden limits his fantasy upside.
Young played for one year at the University of Kentucky during the 2013-2014 season – a path that sounds all too familiar to some of the new crop of the NBA elite. Unlike John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, Young finds himself playing on a slightly different stage in the G-League.
He was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft after a solid, but not spectacular year at Kentucky. Due to a string of injury setbacks, Young spent a significant amount of his rookie year playing with the Celtics’ G-League affiliate – The Maine Red Claws.
The story ended up being much the same for Young in both the 2015, and 2016 season, as he played an incredibly minor role for the Celtics in roughly 30 games in each respective season. Despite his first round draft status, Young has continued to toil away in the G-League, the Celtics moved on to a few other talented guards that you may have heard of – the since departed Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and, most recently, Kyrie Irving.
He has since moved on from the Celtics and most recently played for the Pelicans in Summer League, and took training camp reps with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Young’s performance in Summer League was not quite enough to earn him a two-way contract, though he does continue to play for the Milwaukee Bucks’ affiliate team, the Wisconsin Herd. Since he is not on a two-way deal, and is not an affiliate player for the Bucks (meaning they exclusively own his rights), he could theoretically earn a contract with any NBA team.
Young has been lighting it up this year, and holds the distinction as the leading scorer in the G-League. He is averaging a beefy 30 points per game this year on 60 percent shooting, with four triples, six rebounds, one assist and one and a half steals.
He has numerous 40 point performances under his belt this year (highlights below), and was recently named the G-League player of the week. His shooting has been ludicrously hot to start the year in the G-League, so expect some regression there, but the real story here is his expanded stat set as of late. He has recently posted a 4-2-2 and 9-2-1 money counting line.
The fact that Young had several years to prove his NBA mettle, but failed to do so, is not necessarily encouraging. In fact, he actually got worse from a statistical perspective throughout his NBA tenure, posting career high numbers of three points and one rebound with half an assist and half a steal in 10 minutes in his rookie year.
That said, his status as a first round draft pick and the fact that he is still only 22 years old still gives me hope that he can turn a corner. This is one of those intangible sort of things, but his focus and energy levels appear to have taken a step forward compared to years past when I dug through some of his film. His scoring numbers are already impressive, but he has been a more willing passer and is moving better off the ball on both offense and defense.
I’m not exactly sure where he fits on the Bucks, but historically, scoring like this in the G-League does not go unnoticed at the next level. Pierre Jackson was in a similar situation last year, and managed to get a call up from the Dallas Mavericks last year where he posted solid numbers before suffering an injury. I’m not sure his stat set will be particularly rich if he finds his way back to the NBA, but he is a name to keep in your head if (I’m pretty convinced it’s more of a matter of when) he gets another shot under the bright lights of the NBA.
Wrapping it Up
We all have other things to do today, myself included, so I’ll keep this article relatively short with those players, but I’ll leave some names to keep an eye on as honorable mentions below. I didn’t feature some of these guys in more depth include in the article as they have already logged NBA minutes this year, but deep leaguers would be wise to at least throw these names on their watch list as I think they have the talent to make an impact should a few things break their way.
I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you deep leaguers next week. If you enjoyed this extra deep dive into the G-League, feel free to let me know on Twitter: @Z_Bodhane. I plan to check back in on these guys periodically throughout the season, so feel free to suggest some players that I may have missed.