G-League Check-In: November 2021
A look at some prospects down in the G-League who might be a help to NBA teams sooner than later
Man, the talent in the G-League is at an all-time high.
Down in the developmental systems of the NBA are bountiful talents working on their game, simultaneously working to improve their craft and prove that it’s good enough for a promotion to the big leagues. Most of the players showing out are younger, a year or two out of college, which means half of the league’s players are guys we’ve scouted as they went through their pre-draft process.
Right out of the gate, a few players have stood out as being right on what we call the tweener line: they’re far too talented to stay in the G-League forever, but not quite impactful enough to be clear-cut NBA contributors. That said, there have been some standouts who should at least be making their rounds on NBA rosters soon.
Whether they’re in the G-League on assignment and have their draft rights owned by a franchise or untethered and looking for a home, these are the seven players who have been pleasant surprises to start the season.
Saben Lee, Grand Rapids Drive (Detroit Pistons)
Through three games, Saben Lee has been the best player in the G-League: 38.3 points, 8.7 assists with 55% shooting from the field and 51% from deep. Such an insane scoring output should be expected from Lee, who was a great scorer in college at Vanderbilt. He has the total package: rapidly-developing shooting ability, a strong frame, long strides, good touch at the basket, a propensity to draw contact and a nice in-between game.
All of Lee’s traits were on display against the Wisconsin Herd last week, and he has proven to be borderline unstoppable in the G-League when the jumper is falling:
As a rookie last season, Lee played in 48 games, going for 5.6 points and 3.6 assists per contest. He shot the ball fine, but on fairly low volume, and was much more a facilitator than expected. His long-term ability to stick in the NBA will be based on his consistent shooting from deep and assertiveness to take over games as an offensive threat. He could become a Jordan Clarkson type who comes in and simply scores on many teams’ second units.
Trevelin Queen, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
Queen doesn’t have his rights controlled by the Houston Rockets despite playing for their G-League team, which makes him the perfect piece for all 30 teams to be tracking. Quite frankly, Queen is the best player in the G-League right now. He’s a long-armed 6’7” defender who projects nicely into the 3-and-D role in the NBA.
Of course, Queen has shown how he fits into that role with the Vipers. Shooting passing lanes for steals, hitting shots on the move or in spot-up situations. He makes for a great end-of-bench signing because he can blend into a smaller role and doesn’t need the ball in his hands.
What we’ve seen develop over the last year in the G-League is how Queen can do more with the ball in his hands. He’s making shots off the bounce, a new development, and showed that really consistently over the last week. First was in a game against the Austin Spurs, where he was far and away the best guy on the floor.
He’s showing more off the bounce, too. He’s creating for himself in late-clock situations, demonstrating his bounce by finishing above the rim, debuting a nice floater and runner package. Against the Greensboro Swarm, all facets of his scoring arsenal were on display.
Queen’s season averages are quite impressive: 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 3 steals, 0.7 blocks and 48% shooting from the field. He’s firmly atop our list for mid-season signings on NBA teams who badly need wings, of which there are quite a few.
McKinley Wright, Iowa Wolves (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Speaking of recent draftees who were favorites of ours pre-draft, McKinley Wright was firmly entrenched as an early-to-mid second-rounder on our 2021 draft board. He’s a bit undersized, but features a plus wingspan, great speed, unbelievable footwork and counters, PNR polish and some defensive intensity. Wright struck me as the type of point guard who could stick in the NBA.
What we’re seeing a bit more of is Wright using deep-range shooting to open up the rest of his game. It isn’t that he was a poor shooter at Colorado (32.8% over four years with 3.1 attempts per game), but it wasn’t really a staple of his game.
Early sample size alerts are going off right now as we try to project whether Wright’s hot shooting start can continue. Through his first three games, he’s an insane 10-15 from 3-point range. Wright is averaging 27.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6 assists and shooting 59.6% from the field. That obviously won’t last, but it’s the ways in which he’s scored that prove he’s an NBA-caliber player.
Late-clock isolations, takeovers, end-to-end speed, tough jumpers, anticipatory counters in the mid-range, the ability to make the right pass when available… he can absolutely run a second unit.
The Timberwolves would be wise to bring Wright up at some point and give him a run with the big boys. His facilitation, competitiveness on defense and PNR creation make him an ideal second unit creator. The team is in need of one long-term, and Wright should be that guy.
Keon Johnson, Agua Caliente Clippers (Los Angeles Clippers)
If there was one limb we went out on ahead of the 2021 draft, it was with Keon Johnson out of Tennessee. He was a top-ten prospect on our board, combining insane natural athletic tools with an underrated feel for the game.
Part of the issues with Johnson in terms of perception revolved around his jump shot: it was a tad clunky, didn’t smoothly extend to 3-point range and featured a heavy diet of mid-range jumpers. We took issue with attributing many of his flaws to Johnson himself. The situation he was in at Tennessee, with poor spacing and a motion offense not fitting to his strengths, didn’t show the pro-level upside that was present. All Johnson needed was to iron out his jumper and he was going to be fine offensively.
Well, the jumper is starting to look better. He still jumps really high on his shot, but the form is consistent at the top and appears a half-second sooner, avoiding being shot on the way down. The result is an extension out to 3-point range.
Credit the Clippers for playing through him completely in the G-League. It’s exactly what Johnson needs for his development. You see the rare, raw flashes of athleticism within his arsenal, and then when the jumper falls like it did against the G-League Ignite, he oozes offensive upside.
Through two games, Johnson is only shooting 33% from deep, but is averaging 18 points per game and getting a TON of reps on the ball. We love to see it and think he’ll be in the NBA before long. Perhaps we were onto something with the developmental trajectory and comparisons of another collegiate non-shooter in Jaylen Brown…