While Basketball Insiders has searched for answers both inwardly and outwardly in recent weeks by examing areas of concern and potential trade chips, there’s a third path to improvement that’s generally less taken. Over the years, the G-League has grown immensely in popularity and once the New Orleans Pelicans add an affiliate next season, there will 28 franchises in play — a far cry from the paltry eight that kicked it all off back in 2001-02. It’s always been a difficult road to reach the professional level via these alternative methods, but thanks to two-way contracts, it’s now a much more palatable path. From Yogi Ferrell to Trey Burke and Georges Niang and many others in between, it’s no longer a far-fetched fantasy reserved for a select few.
In fact, officials even announced their new college alternative route in October, giving elite prospects another way to reach their loftiest goals and dreams. But with teams looking evolve at every corner, signing players out of the G-League is always an option and it’s never too early to look at candidates on that frontier. Of course, those signed to two-way and fully guaranteed contracts won’t be included here — sorry, Allonzo Trier — but if these minor league studs keep it up, their next big-time opportunity could be on the horizon soon enough.
John Jenkins — Westchester Knicks
He’s the hottest face in the G-League that isn’t currently tied up through a two-way deal — but if John Jenkins maintains his torrid pace, he won’t be there for long. Through eight games, Jenkins has averaged 28.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.8 three-pointers per game on a blistering 50 percent from deep. Jenkins went No. 23 overall to the Atlanta Hawks back in 2012 before bouncing between Dallas and Phoenix until he took his sharpshooting talents overseas for a season. Although his stint with the San Pablo Burgos lasted just one year (12.7 points, 1.3 assists), it was enough for Jenkins to sign a training camp deal with the Knicks this fall.
Jenkins, 27, has recently stated his desire to jump from Westchester to New York — even crediting Knicks’ head coach David Fizdale for his recent scoring uptick — but he’ll have to wait until the aforementioned Trier gets his two-way deal converted first. Trier, naturally, was supposed to play in these contests alongside Jenkins, but the former immediately stuck with New York and has averaged 23.2 minutes per game. If Westchester doesn’t roll the dice on Jenkins, somebody will. This is a former first round-worthy talent that’s hitting three-pointers at an elite clip, a skill that NBA franchises will always need.
Chasson Randle — Capital City Go-Go
It’s been a hectic two-month swing for Chasson Randle, but he’s not letting it impact his on-court game whatsoever. Signed by the Washington Wizards for training camp, Randle was then cut, added to the training camp roster for the Go-Go, signed again by Washington and then finally waived once more a few weeks ago. Randle rejoined the Go-Go shortly thereafter and has been tearing up the floor ever since. In his three appearances thus far for Capitol City, Randle has pulled down 27.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and three steals per game, the type of line that will have franchises paying attention before too long. As a 6-foot-2 point guard, it was always going to be a tough initial battle to make Washington’s backcourt-heavy roster — but he nearly did so anyway. Randle has played in just 26 NBA games since he went undrafted in 2015, even stopping for stints in the Czech Republic and Spain as well.
Randle, 25, had a chance to make the Knicks’ roster last season before he was waived in order to facilitate the Carmelo Anthony trade with Oklahoma City. Instead of taking the G-League route, Randle signed up for a season overseas with Real Madrid, winning trophies next to wunderkind Luka Doncic — albeit in a reserve backup role. Still, Randle has sticking potential as outside factors have seemingly aligned against him time and time again in his professional journey. Should the Wizards blow it up — or even look for a change of pace in the second unit — Randle could be the next man up. Now an international champion, the hard-nosed Randle has certainly paid his dues, he’s just waiting for his chance to prove it.
Of note, both Randle and Jenkins were recently selected to the USA World Cup Qualifying Team and will play against Argentina and Uruguay over the next week.
Terrence Jones — Erie BayHawks
Yes, that Terrence Jones! The same Jones that was one of the top-rated high school players in his class, won an NCAA championship in 2012 with Kentucky and then went No. 18 overall a few months later. Sure, Jones, 26, has struggled to stay on a roster, but his talent has never been questioned — perhaps now, finally, it is his time to shine. Through six contests, Jones is averaging a healthy 25.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game on 53.5 percent from the floor. Always viewed as a potential game-changer defensively, Jones’ athletic nature could be a tantalizing gamble for a franchise come January.
Following short stays with the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks in 2016-17, Jones took detours to both China and the G-League. Jones was released from the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles after a confrontation with the head coach last year, but he had been averaging 22.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game at that time. Upon his return from China, Jones then latched on with the Santa Cruz Warriors, holding his own over 16 games as well. It’s surely disappointing that Jones didn’t work things out his first time through the rodeo, but he’s proven to be a capable player at almost every stop — NBA, G-League and overseas.
On Friday night, Jones was unstoppable during the Bayhawks’ massive win over Greensboro, tallying 33 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and two steals — so, yes, there’s plenty of talent left in this project. Given his shaky off-court history, Jones’ next opportunity may be hard to come by, but it has the potential to pay off massively.
Willie Reed — Salt Lake City Stars
The case of Willie Reed is certainly intriguing — but even at the age of 28, he still has the resume and experience to make it back to the NBA. Reed played for four different G-League teams between 2012-15, earning the reputation as a fearsome rim protector and a high percentage scorer in the paint. After averaging 16.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over 48 games, Reed would finally get his well-deserved shot with the Brooklyn Nets. Although an early injury initially kept Reed off the floor, the 6-foot-11 big man still barely featured for the bottoming-out Nets. From there, Reed would join the Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers over the next two seasons, building steadily on his former successes and even earned his first-ever $1 million-plus contract in the process.
Last season, Reed was suspended for six games as a result of a domestic violence incident that occurred after he signed with Los Angeles. Although his wife requested that the charges be dropped, Reed was eventually penalized by the league, shortly following the Detroit Pistons’ acquisition of him. Subsequently, Reed was promptly traded to the Chicago Bulls, who then immediately waived him. As of now, it’s unclear if Reed’s off-court issues will impede his chances of getting another opportunity. It hasn’t for others in the past and he was still the No. 1 overall pick in the recent 2018 NBA G-League Draft.
Since then, Reed has averaged 23.9 points, 12 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over 30.2 minutes per game.
At the end of the day, the calendar hasn’t even flipped to December yet, but it’s naive to think that franchises haven’t poured over these early-season G-League statistics either. From undrafted grinders to former first-round burnouts, there are plenty of capable athletes just waiting for an audition on the big stage. For some, they need to prove that they still belong. while others are searching for a chance they weren’t afforded beforehand.
If their parent franchises don’t scoop these four up soon, there’s always the worry a more in-need roster may do so instead. Until then, however, Jenkins, Randle, Jones and Reed will continue to tear up the G-League and catch the eye of the important decision-makers around them.