On Thursday, the NBA’s trade deadline hit all zeroes — along with plenty of fireworks — and now buyout season is right around the corner. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline passed recently without much fanfare. Last month, the deadline to sign players to two-way contracts occurred — so where does that leave affairs?
As a reminder, since 2017, two-way contracts have granted a team to carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G League for up to 45 days in a season. While these two-way standouts will be ineligible to compete in the playoffs — sorry, Chris Boucher — franchises are able to covert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so.
For franchises that have their eyes already set on the 2019 NBA Draft, it’s a simply a question of that prospect’s potential sticking power. Generally speaking, two-way players have still had a tough road to the league since the rule’s inception, that certainly hasn’t changed — but that hasn’t stopped a handful of success stories already. Quinn Cook, originally a two-way player for Santa Cruz in 2017-18, went on to average 10 minutes per game in the playoffs for last year’s eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors.
Allonzo Trier, an undrafted second-rounder, began this season on a two-way deal and played so well for the Knicks that it was quickly converted. Trier, now a New York-worthy building block, sports a contract at two years and $7 million — the biggest deal for a two-way player yet. Gary Clark, who has played 36 games for the Rockets already, also ditched two-way status in December after signing a three-year contract that’ll amount to about $3.7 if he stays through 2020-21.
With all that in mind, here are the current power rankings for the NBA’s very best two-way athletes.
Next Up: Jaylen Adams, Atlanta Hawks; Joe Chealey, Charlotte Hornets; Brandon Sampson, Chicago Bulls; Thomas Welsh, Denver Nuggets; Vincent Edwards, Houston Rockets; Davon Reed, Indiana Pacers; Julian Washburn, Memphis Grizzlies; Trevon Duval, Milwaukee Bucks; C.J. Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves; Trevon Bluiett, New Orleans Pelicans; Isaiah Hicks, New York Knicks; Donte Grantham, Oklahoma City Thunder; Haywood Highsmith, Philadelphia 76ers; Wenyen Gabriel, Sacramento Kings
Honorable Mentions: J.P. Macura, Charlotte Hornets; Rawle Alkins, Chicago Bulls; Deng Adel, Cleveland Cavaliers; Kalin Lucas, Detroit Pistons; Marcus Derrickson, Golden State Warriors; Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers; Jared Terrell, Minnesota Timberwolves; Deonte Burton, Oklahoma City Thunder; Troy Caupain, Orlando Magic; Jawun Evans, Phoenix Suns; Troy Williams, Sacramento Kings; Tyler Cavanaugh, Utah Jazz; Drew Eubanks, San Antonio Spurs
30. Alex Poythress, Atlanta Hawks
Poythress has been sharpening his claws in the G League for years and he’s starting to prove his worth at long last. Over 46 games in 2016-17, Poythress averaged 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds for Fort Wayne. With Erie this season, Poythress has upped those numbers to 24.8 and 9.4, respectively, albeit in the smaller sample size of just 11 contests — but he’s had his moments for the Hawks as well. He’s not played for Atlanta since Dec. 31 but the athletic forward could prove useful as the Hawks gracefully soar toward another high-lottery pick this spring.
29. Ben Moore, San Antonio Spurs
28. Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
So, admittedly, the younger Antetokounmpo gets a late mention on the list simply on family name alone. If there’s even a slight chance that Kostas is half the player of his brother Giannis, current world-destroyer and the will-be MVP finalist, then he’s worth mentioning. Still, the raw Greek prospect struggled in his one season at Dayton and then only went with the final selection of the previous NBA Draft. Thus far, he’s spent his entire rookie campaign with the Texas Legends, where he’s pulled down 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
But at 6-foot-10 and filled to the brim with that famous bloodline, keeping an eye on Antetokounmpo is the wise thing to do.
27. George King, Phoenix Suns
26. Yuta Watanabe, Memphis Grizzlies
Watanabe had big dreams of reaching the NBA this summer and he’s done exactly that so far. In 10 appearances for the Grizzlies, Watanabe has had little impact on the pro-level, but he’s been a staple for the Memphis Hustle. Although his nightly statistical lines aren’t as gaudy as many names higher on this list, Watanabe is young, efficient and a strong defender — for Memphis, now headed firmly for a rebuild this summer, he should be a shoo-in culturally. With 14 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game, it’s been an encouraging start to his career, even in the G League. On Thursday, Watanabe played a career-high 27 minutes for the Grizzlies and tallied 10 points and five rebounds — so expect to see a bunch of the Japanese-born forward between now and April.
25. Brandon Goodwin, Denver Nuggets
24. R.J. Hunter, Boston Celtics
He’s back in Boston! It’s been a long road for Hunter, the Celtics’ former first-round selectee in 2015. After playing 36 games as a rookie, Hunter was waived and subsequently went on to play for the Bulls, Rockets and three different G League franchises in the span of two years. Now starring as one of the Maine Red Claws’ best and brightest, Hunter has continued to put up strong numbers as he tries to reach the famous Garden parquet once more. Over 31 contests this season — between the Erie BayHawks and Maine — Hunter has averaged 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
The Celtics are loaded at the guard position, as usual, so Hunter is unlikely to log time in the NBA this season. In any case, he’s well-versed in head coach Brad Stevens’ offense and the 6-foot-5 scorer has never been low on talent.
23. Bonzie Colson, Milwaukee Bucks
22. Kadeem Allen, New York Knicks
Of the Celtics’ three 2017 second-round draftees, it’s been Semi Ojeleye to leave his pro-level mark — but don’t count out Kadeem Allen just yet. The 6-foot-3 Allen was named to last season’s All-NBA G League Defensive Team and has earned early plaudits with Westchester already. Through 32 games, Allen is averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He has 18 games worth of NBA experience with Boston — albeit on a much shorter leash — but the tenacious defender has rounded out his game quite nicely in the G League.
The Knicks, now in full-on tank mode ahead of an eventful offseason, have used Allen in the last six games and could make him a rotational staple down the stretch.
21. Daryl Macon, Dallas Mavericks
20. Naz Mitrou-Long, Utah Jazz
Mitrou-Long is no stranger to the Jazz’s well-oiled systems, now in year two with the franchise’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. The creative point guard has led the solid squad for a large part of the campaign again, even tallying 16.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.2 three-pointers per game on 43.1 percent from the floor. The 25-year-old won’t show up on any league leader tables, but consistency can be key for any parent NBA team — that, perhaps, is one of Mitrou-Long’s greatest skills. Although the Jazz likely won’t need Mitrou-Long with Ricky Rubio running things for this playoff-bound franchise, it shouldn’t be long before he gets a real NBA opportunity.
19. Johnathan Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
18. Duncan Robinson, Miami HEAT
Through 30 games, Robinson is the G League’s most impressive shooter — and, honestly, it’s not even close. His 138 made three-pointers is a 19 more than second place, but that’s not all. Robinson is doing it at a nearly unreal clip of 48.3 percent, which absolutely has a place at the NBA level. Unfortunately, Miami’s rotation is loaded with plenty of longtime veterans and massive contract-holders, so Duncan has only featured in five games in 2018-19 so far. Robinson, 24, was an efficient shooter during his three collegiate seasons at Michigan, but this current streak puts him amongst the elite.
Robinson’s 20.7 points per game are 13th-most in the G League, proving that the 6-foot-8 forward can do more than just spot up from the arc. If the HEAT head in a new direction this summertime, it’ll be interesting to see how they proceed with this talented marksman.
17. Damion Lee, Golden State Warriors
16. Jaron Blossomgame, Cleveland Cavaliers
As of late, Blossomgame has become quite the popular two-way figure within the Cavaliers’ organization. This week, Basketball Insiders’ Spencer Davies caught up with the G League standout about his efforts to grab some important minutes with the basement-dwelling franchise.
“I mean, some G League teams have two-way players, like Sioux Falls and Miami, where you don’t have the luxury of being able to just drive 45 minutes away to the NBA team or back-and-forth, vice-versa.
“Just being able to drive back-and-forth, that’s pretty convenient for me.”
And so far, it seems to have paid off. He’s played in 26 games — and started four to boot — for Cleveland since early December. Before this long run of NBA experience, Blossomgame was notching 18.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 30.9 minutes per game for the Canton Charge. On top of all that, Blossomgame was even named to the All-NBA G League Third Team in 2017-18 as well.
Of course, the Cavaliers will need to make a decision on his two-way deal sooner rather than later, for now, however, the undrafted forward is definitely earning his keep.
15. Devin Robinson, Washington Wizards
14. Edmond Sumner, Indiana Pacers
Comparing Sumner’s rookie season statistics to his sophomore year efforts, there are not a ton of differences to be found outside of his games (16 in 2018-19 so far) and minutes (9.6) tallies. In any case, Sumner, 23, has seen a salivating leap in the G League for Fort Wayne. In double the minutes, Sumner has averaged 23.9 points — the fifth-highest total in the entire league — and 3.6 assists on 40 percent from three-point range. The recent addition of Wes Matthews will mean even fewer opportunities for Sumner during the remainder of the season — but it’s not all doom and gloom for the point guard’s fan club. With Tyreke Evans out at the end of January, Sumner drew two consecutive starts for Indiana — one of them versus the Warriors, nonetheless — and then scored a career-high 17 points in 17 minutes in that blowout victory against the Lakers a week later.
Some good things will be worth the wait — Sumner looks like one of them.
13. Johnathan Motley, Los Angeles Clippers
12. Isaiah Whitehead, Detroit Pistons
Another G League staple has returned stateside for a new chance — this time, it’s former Seton Hall-standout Isaiah Whitehead. After starting 26 games as a rookie for his hometown Nets, the former No. 42 overall pick saw his playing time plummet in year two. The 2017-18 campaign was largely spent in Long Island, where Whitehead often dominated to the tune of 22.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists — including a wild 52-point explosion to cap things off.
During the following offseason, Whitehead was filler in the Nets’ trade for Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and, most importantly, another first-round draft asset. The Nuggets waived Whitehead and the 23-year-old ended up crafting his trade in Russia this fall. In 18 games for Lokomotiv Kuban, Whitehead averaged 11.3 points and 3.3 assists — but the 6-foot-3 guard was always searching for his path back into the NBA.
He’s yet to feature for the Pistons but Whitehead has fast become one of the Grand Rapids Drive’s leaned-upon scoring options. Through nine games in the G League, Whitehead has tallied 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and a far more constrained 2.1 turnovers per game. Given his measured success as an NBA second-rounder already and now with a world-traveling bid under his belt, betting on Whitehead to get another shot seems like completely fair odds.
11. Shake Milton, Philadelphia 76ers
With a little detective work, it’s not impossible to narrow down the ten remaining names on the list but their order will need to wait for another time. The G League has proven again and again to be a strong cultivator of NBA-level talents and this year has been no different. Although the two-way path can be shaky, it’s offered another slew of prospects the opportunity of a lifetime — through the first half of the 2018-19 season, these players have certainly made the most of their chances.
Check out Part II and the top ten two-way players next week!