Every year, the NBA’s minor league system, the G League, holds an annual Winter Showcase event. This is a time where all the league’s teams play at one central location, with this year being in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event allows NBA scouts to have a closer look into what the league has to offer. The main grab for these events for teams is the potential of finding the low-risk, high-reward talent that is scattered throughout the 27-team league.
This is why all NBA organizations take full advantage of this opportunity. There are more eyes on the play at hand and more communication between scouts and their GM’s. As a result, there has been a historical output on the significant spike in G League players getting the opportunity to play in the NBA following the event. Scouts are able to recognize potential better because they are getting a look at the teams in the league, not just their affiliate organization. In fact, a total of eleven players from last year’s G League Showcase were promoted up to the NBA immediately following this event. Having the increase in scouting eyes puts an intense amount of pressure on these G League players. They have one shot to make an impact on the court that could lead to an NBA deal in the upcoming future.
The Charlotte Hornets G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, played two games in the four-day stretch.
Here’s how they panned out.
Record in the showcase: 1-1
Overall record: 9-9, eighth in the eastern conference
Point guard and Charlotte Hornets two-way player Joe Chealey proved during the showcase that he can be a complementary piece to a team, no matter the situation. He looks to be in control of the Swarm’s offense and doesn’t shy away from making those risky passes in order to create assist opportunities. Chealey’s passing ability has come a long way since the beginning of the season. This rise has been a major addition to his game, as he only managed three assists per game in college, a number that has skyrocketed his new opportunity.
Chealey has been using his ball control ability to his advantage. Between creating his own shot to knocking down straight away threes, he has grown his offensive game into a true threat in the half court. His passing has also forced defenders to sag off a bit more over the past couple of games in order to limit his impact passing the ball. This has lead to the cleaner looks he’s getting on the perimeter. His play in the showcase should be a boon for Chealey, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hornets call him up if they suffer a point guard injury during the season.
Another key player who made his mark through these games is forward/center Luke Petrasek. The 6’10” big man has finally gotten out of his slump that had been plaguing him all season. He has quietly been able to position himself into more rebounding opportunities thanks to his understanding of his teammates, and that along with Chinanu Onuaku’s dominant presence has created an overwhelming force in that area.
Rebounding isn’t the only area that Petrasek showed in the showcase. He shot a modest 46 percent from the floor in those two games, and this is without focusing on the three-point ball. The deep-range shot has been Petrasek’s go-to move since college, but he simply hasn’t been able to find that grove he once had. Fortunately, he has another way to generate points. Whether that be through dribble hand-offs in the paint or simply putting the ball back up after an offensive rebound, Petrasek has found a multitude of ways to score during his outside shooting slump.
Is it time to move on from Isaiah Wilkins?
The 6’8” forward hasn’t developed his game in any area since arriving on the team. With him playing 25 minutes a night, you would expect some kind of contribution offensively. Instead, he managed to average just 5.5 points, 2.5 assists, and 5.0 rebounds during the showcase. Sure, you can point his rebounding numbers and say that he is making a contribution there. While that might be true, we have to look at the big picture.
The Charlotte Hornets need two-way players on the wings- those who can knock down shots as well as smother their opponent on the defensive end. But Wilkins is hesitant to shoot at a high volume. He also hasn’t proven to be a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, his frame does help him in some instances one-on-one, but he hasn’t proven to be an effective defender. Essentially, he doesn’t contribute enough on that end.
I believe that the Swarm should look at other options from the backup small forward slot. Whether that be giving more minutes to Zach Smith or finding a player via free agency/trade, these options should be in consideration as we move forward through the season.
What can be learned:
As I stated previously, post-showcase is a time where we will be seeing more call-ups from G League parent organizations than at any point this year. The two players that I can see being called up for potential long-term stays are J.P. Macura and Chinanu Onuaku.
Macura had a terrific showcase, averaging 20 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He has finally recaptured the shooting stroke that was so beneficial to him at Xavier. The barrage of shooting from the outside can prove beneficial if the Hornets do call him up during this window. He could very well be an excellent piece next to Kemba Walker, providing the ball handling which not only limits the captain’s overall fatigue but also sets him up for easier shot opportunities.
His shooting efficiency will also do wonders to the Hornets. He can become a key sharpshooter if they decide to run lineups that limit the team’s floor spacing. In all, I do expect Macura to be called up soon and to provide an instant spark to the Hornets team.
Another player worth mentioning is Chinanu Onuaku. He, along with Macura, showcased excellent skills at Vegas. Averaging fourteen points with a striking sixteen rebounds per game during the two outings, Onuaku showed the Hornets’ scouting team that he deserves an opportunity on the team, and soon.
Despite some skepticism on his offensive ability, I can see a scenario in which Onuaku can be useful for the Hornets. Sure, the team does have four centers currently on the roster but none of them do the things that Onuaku does. He is a shot-blocker who is able to crash the glass at will. This skill set does set him apart from the other candidates at the Hornets center position, and this may very well be a reason to promote him on the team. He could be an excellent addition off the bench, providing the Hornets with extra possessions on the offensive end while also causing havoc for opponents driving inside.
The G League Showcase showed many signs of promise from the Swarm’s young players. With terrific play coming from a number of different players, it will be very interesting to see what transpires as we head into the 10-day contract period.