While watching Game 2 of the Finals at home in Atlanta, Jaron Blossomgame got a kick out of Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s box-and-one defense against Steph Curry
“I like stuff like that, to be honest,” he says with a laugh. “When you’re in the NBA Finals, you don’t see that stuff very often. But I think it’s a good in-game adjustment. I mean, not many NBA teams are used to seeing zone, so I think that’s pretty cool to see. And [Nick Nurse] has had a lot of success as a rookie head coach, but coached in the G-League before. So I understand what he went through and the struggle so it’s great to see a guy that’s been in the G-League and have some success at the NBA level.”
Nurse’s journey — from G-League head coach to NBA champion — is the type of journey Blossomgame is hoping to take. In 2018-19, the 25-year-old, 6-foot-7 forward completed his first NBA season on a two-way deal with the Cavs after a career at Clemson and a season with the Austin Toros, the Spurs’ G-League affiliate. Blossomgame came into Cleveland’s organization via trade between the Toros and Canton Charge, Cleveland’s G-League team. After averaging 20.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 10 games in Canton, his contract was converted to a two-way deal with the Cavs.
In his NBA minutes, Blossomgame isn’t the 20-and-7 guy he is in the G-League — he’s more Danny Green than Kawhi Leonard. With the Cavs last year, he played the type of role he knows he needs to play to stick in the league. He spotted up off the ball, waiting for a pass to come his way for a three-pointer in the corner or perhaps a drive to the rim. On defense, he often guarded a first or second option, using most of the energy to move his feet and frame to make the opposing scorer work for their shots. Blossomgame did this on a bad team no one watched, but his NBA niche is some version of 3-and-D.
His experience as a two-way player didn’t include constantly making the roughly 45-minute drive between Canton and Cleveland. Because the Cavs were so shorthanded, he — along with Jalen Jones, and later Deng Adel — were given a chance to play right away and he spent the first month-plus with Cleveland. He also said the Cavs made his life easier by letting him know where he was going to be ahead of time as often as possible. He says there was always someone from the organization at Charge games and coaches made it down a few times as well.
“I’ve got friends all around the league that are on two-ways that say some teams don’t let you know until the day of the game or the night before, so Cleveland did a really good job of when I’d be with the big club or when I’d be with Canton,” he says.” They understand the grind, the sacrifice.”
In Cleveland, Blossomgame said having veterans like Channing Frye, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova helped too. For young players like himself, Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton, Blossomgame says the team’s vets — some of whom helped the Cavs win a title in 2016 — created a healthy environment to grow in.
That, though, doesn’t mean that Blossomgame’s season wasn’t a journey. In one stretch, he was active for four games in four nights while both the Cavs and Charge were on road trips to the West Coast. On another, he was active for a Charge game and immediately called for a Cavs game that same day in case he was needed. He also says everything from provided meals, travel and rehab and recovery set-ups are “night and day” between the NBA and G-League.
A cold tub, for example, is a core part of Blossomgame’s recovery process dating back to his time at Clemson. In Cleveland, there’s always one available. In Canton, the Charge’s facility didn’t have one until near the end of the G-League season.
“Going back down to the G-League is always tough because the travel is different, the rehab’s different, you don’t have the same resources and facilities you do with the NBA team,” he says. “So it’s definitely an adjustment period. It’s tough, but you got to make the most of it. I mean, playing in the NBA is obviously a huge opportunity and a huge dream come true. That’s just part of the process — adapting to the situation and take full responsibility for everything.”
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
“The G-League is definitely growing, it’s definitely improving,“ he continues. “But it’s not the NBA. In the NBA, you’re flying. The flights you’re fly — everything’s first class, you get good meals on the plane, you get unlimited snacks. You stay in the post hotels. You get the best treatment, you get the best recovery. You get your team masseuse. Whatever you need, you can have it. In the G-League, it’s just different. Sometimes earlier in the year, we didn’t have meals before games or anything. We bus pretty much everywhere in the G-League this year and we don’t ever bus with the Cavs.
The hope for Blossomgame is that he’ll find a spot on a 15-man NBA roster — in the near future. According to a league source, the Cavs will not extend Blossomgame a qualifying offer — making him an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He will, though, be with the Cavs’ summer league squad in Salt Lake City.
The hope is that his versatility — and knowing his role — will get him another shot in the league.
“I think my biggest attribute is my versatility and I think being able to use that at the NBA level is different,” he says. “I think one thing some G-League guys struggle with when they get to the NBA is finding their role and finding their niche and finding what they do well. G-League is a numbers league, man. You have to put up big numbers to get noticed and in the NBA. On an NBA roster, you’re not going to be a big numbers guy, whether that’s offensively, defensively. You have to be able to come in and compliment other guys.”
Back in Atlanta, Blossomgame says his summer is dedicated to becoming a more consistent 3-point shooter — he shot 26 percent on 3-pointers last year in the NBA and 30.1 percent with the Charge — and improving his defense. And as he watches his own film, he was watching film from the Finals where Nurse utilized the box-and-one and modern, switchable defense that requires wings with Blossomgame’s frame.
He may not be those players, yet. But Blossomgame knows he can learn from them to be the best version of himself.
“I’m just trying to take a bit of everything I’m learning and put it together,” he says. “ I think my biggest asset is my defensive versatility — being able to guard multiple positions, being athletic enough to rebound over certain people and I think that can really be my niche going forward. I can do that really, really well at the NBA level. I really want to improve in those areas, so watching guys who are my size, like Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green. But you see those guys in the Finals, they switch everything, they are able to guard multiple positions and do a good job at it. So, I see myself in some of those high-level guys.”