Player of the Week

Scoot Henderson, Ignite

The Ignite played a double header against the Mexico City Capitanes this week, kicking off the “NBA G League Ignite Tour”. In both games, Scoot Henderson made his presence felt. At only seventeen years old Henderson isn’t eligible to be drafted until the 2023 draft, however, he opted to join the G-League a year earlier than most and work on his game. In the first game, Henderson posted 19/7/10 while shooting 61.5% from the floor. It felt like every time Henderson touched the ball he was making an impact on the game. Even though the team fell in the first game by two points Henderson continued to build on his strong Showcase Cup performances. While he had a quieter performance in the second game, Henderson still posted 9/2/2 on 50% from the field. The main reason that these games are so impactful and important for Henderson is because he seems to be one year ahead of the rest of his class in regards to development. While the majority of the head of the NBA draft class of 2023 is still in highschool, he continues to challenge himself and work on his game and become a more complete player at professional speed. Expect Henderson to be one of the top picks in his draft class. He could be the first Ignite player to be selected with the first overall selection, only three years into the team’s existence. Overall, the stat lines he is posting are impressive but the way he is impacting the game with or without scoring is perhaps most impressive, and will lead to a long and successful career. It will be interesting to see if Henderson can break into the starting lineup throughout the Ignite tour. Currently, the Ignite are starting a more traditional lineup with two guards, two forwards and a center but if they wanted to go a bit smaller and sit the struggling Zeng, Henderson would be the beneficiary. Regardless of his role this season you will be hearing about Henderson more as we approach the NBA offseason.

Who’s Hot

Jaden Hardy, Ignite

The goal of the G-League Ignite is to help prepare their young talent for the next level. In the Showcase, it was evident that many of the players on the team were adjusting to the level of competition while also trying to carve out their role and build chemistry. These challenges impacted the team as a whole, losing their first six games, but also led to frustration for some of the young talent. Jaden Hardy seemed to run hot and cold during the Showcase. While he was trending in the right direction and was scoring at an impressive rate, it didn’t seem to be translating to wins and it felt like he was forcing his shot at times just to make sure his averages looked good. In the first two games of their “real” season Hardy has shown the adjustment period is over. The Ignite have played back to back games against international expansion team Mexico City and split with a record of 1-1. In the first game, Hardy went for 18 and was one of the leading scorers on the Ignite. While he didn’t contribute much outside his scoring, he seems to have found his shooting stroke. This was none more evident in the second game, a win, where Hardy dropped 30. Shooting 48% from the floor and 33.3% from behind the arc Hardy found the balance between success and volume while contributing four assists. With the scoring arsenal that he possesses, if he can continue to stay the course he will have no problem making the transition to the NBA.

NBA Expansion / Mexico City

Every season discussions, rumors and reports arise of the NBA planning to add expansion teams to the league. Rumors have swirled around returning to Seattle or even adding teams in Mexico City and Las Vegas. This season, the NBA moves closer to making those rumors a reality by using the G-League as a litmus test. The Mexico City Capitanes are the newest expansion team in the G-League and while other teams are connected to a NBA organization, the Capitanes are completely independent from any current NBA organization. Even though this season is more of a 50 game showcase, they are not participating in the 36 game regular season and their record will not be reflected in the standings, the team is truly being used as a gauge for future NBA expansion. It feels like the NBA has decided that Mexico City will be the home of their next expansion team without saying it publicly. By establishing a G-League team within Mexico, they can work through kinks and logistics on a smaller scale so they are more prepared to seamlessly add another professional team. If the Capitanes have success on and off the court, expect an announcement for plans of a new NBA team in the next two years.

Who’s Cold

G-League Ignite Tour: The G-League Ignite is a great idea surrounded by unnecessary restrictions. Last year, the inaugural Ignite team was represented in the standings, fought for playoff position and every game counted. This year the Ignite had a chance to represent themselves in the preseason Showcase and, if they found success, could compete for the Showcase Cup. While they were unsuccessful and struggled to find their footing in the preseason at least they had a chance to compete. This season the Ignite will not be participating in the thirty six game regular season and will not be recognized in the standings. Instead, they will be playing in a “G-League Ignite Tour” where they will have a chance to compete against all of the other teams in the league with no competitive incentive. The Ignite may not have a chance to win the league based on their level of play but they deserve to be recognized. In my opinion, one of the main incentives to join the Ignite is playing against NBA talent and getting paid to do so. However, with the recent breakthrough in NIL, will some prospects abandon the chance to play for the Ignite because they would rather compete for a championship? It feels like even though the level of play may be marginally higher in the G-League the appeal to play for the development team may be diminished by the fact they will be playing exhibition games for the entire season. Going forward, the league should look to reevaluate how they incorporate the team into the league next season.

Top 5 Passers

Taking care of the basketball and being able to make plays for your teammates is one swing factor that could make you a perennial G-Leaguer or an NBA call up. While many established G-Leaguers have been able to adjust, rookies and sophomores are continuing to improve their decision making and court vision. This week, we take a look at the five best passers from the two most recent draft classes.

5) RJ Nembhard

Nembhard averaged 6.6 assists over nine games during the Showcase Cup and was a beneficiary of the call up boom across the league because of Covid. He finds himself barely cracking the five though because of his turnover issues, posting 4.3 per game. While they aren’t all a direct result of passing errors, his decision making and adjusting to the speed of the game have affected his ability to handle the ball. If he can continue to develop as a passer and limit his turnovers going forward, he has the potential to become one of the steadiest distributors in the G-League.

4) Mac McClung

McClung was featured in thirteen games for the South Bay Lakers during the Showcase Cup but has yet to make his regular season debut. After being signed and then cut by the Bulls, McClung is expected to return to the Lakers affiliate team this week. During his time in South Bay he averaged 6.3 assists while only turning the ball over 2.8 times per game. Even though these numbers aren’t eye popping, it shows that even though McClung is a smaller guard he has been able to find the open man when he is on the floor. If he is able to continue to develop his passing game it may just put him on an NBA roster permanently.

3) Mike Smith

The former Michigan guard was not selected in the draft or picked up as an undrafted free agent. Instead, Smith was selected in the G-League draft and has slowly been carving out minutes on the Sioux Falls Skyforce. While he never averaged over six assists per game during his time at both Columbia and Michigan, he is currently posting 8.5 in his first four regular season games. Undersized, like McClung, it will be hard for Smith to break into the league and find a place to play consistent minutes. However, if he can continue to be a distributor and cut his 3.3 turnovers down even marginally he could find himself on a two-way deal next season.

2) Joel Ayayi

Ayayi has been a rookie staple in the G-League and while he has had a bit of experience at the NBA level he should find himself on a main roster, more permanently, next season. Standing at 6-4, Ayayi has the court vision that Smith lacks due to size. Over the first three games of his regular season he is averaging 9.7 assists and only two turnovers. The Gonzaga guard was on the cusp of being drafted this season and it just shows how deep the NBA is becoming. While he was signed to a two-way contract by the Lakers and then waived, his contract was picked up by Washington. An NBA team with more opportunity at the guard position Ayayi may not have to wait until next season to find a home at the professional level.

1) McKinley Wright IV

Wright comes in at number one for averaging 11.5 assists per game and only 2.5 turnovers. Another player that went undrafted, Wright has shown that he can play at the next level but is a victim of a crowded Minnesota backcourt. Surprisingly under six foot his size has not limited his ability to make the right decisions and see the entire court. Even though he is hurt by a crowded Minnesota back court he may just prove to be the most valuable undrafted rookie from his class. Hopefully, if he continues to improve he will find rotation minutes at the next level sometime soon.

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