If recent NBA Call-Ups like Sir’Dominic Pointer (Cavaliers) and Donta Hall (Pistons) are any indication, it’s becoming clear that NBA teams highly value players who exhibit grit, hustle, and physicality. Pointer was one of the best shot blockers in the NBA G League, and Hall was a beast on the boards. When pondering who may be next in line, it’s worth highlighting some of the minor league’s top defensive players and/or those who do all the little things — players who play with high-octane energy and aren’t necessarily concerned with how many points they’ve tallied in the box score on a given night.
Here’s a look at five prospects who could fit in nicely at the next level.
Josh Magette, Lakeland Magic
Having played on a Two-Way contract with Orlando earlier this season, there’s no doubt those around the NBA already think Magette is deserving of quality consideration to play in The Association. He’s the minor league’s second all-time assist leader, but make no mistake, he’s by no means a grizzled token veteran presence. Of course, Magette’s experience comes in handy because it signifies maturity and patience both on and off the court. At the same time, he continues to play at an exceptionally high level, leading the league with 10.4 assists. Magette’s 20.3 points per game are also a career-high, which is significant considering his NBA G League longevity, but the most important thing is he makes his teammates better and could actually serve as a steadying presence for some of the more raw, youthful prospects already in the NBA.
Justin Simon, Windy City Bulls
In terms of physical gifts, Simon boasts tremendous athleticism. He’s a human-highlight reel capable of flying high and landing on SportsCenter’s Top 10 countdown on a nightly basis. He has an immense hunger for sparking a fast break. Currently fifth in the league with 2.3 steals per contest, Simon is a sneaky defensive hound who lives for coming up with a change in possession so that he can be let loose in the open floor to throw one down on the other end. Despite being a modestly smaller guard at 6’4″ and 215 pounds, Simon’s agility and impressive bounce help him catch opponents by surprise, also averaging 1.1 blocks per game. With a 12.8 point per game mark, there’s no denying he can hold his own offensively, but what will ultimately catapult the high-flying Simon to the next level is his athleticism and how he uses it to his advantage.
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Oklahoma City Blue
Like a snake in the grass, Akoon-Purcell’s many talents can often catch opponents off guard because there are various ways he can beat you and sometimes there’s just no way to guess. Those who aim to contain him are kept on their toes. He has solid range and can hit the long ball, but his athleticism also allows him to work his way inside and get high-percentage looks. His statistics — 18.1 points (40% from deep), 6.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals — may not look all that threatening, but it must be noted that Akoon-Purcell still manages to produce at this rate in just 27.3 minutes per contest. When given the extra bit of playing time, he’s a defiant double-double threat and a steady man-to-man defender with sound fundamentals. The Blue have gone 8-2 in their last ten games and this versatile talent is a big reason why.
Tra-Deon Hollins, Grand Rapids Drive
Hollins has put up some of the most unique stat-lines the NBA G League has seen all season, and that’s because he always puts others before himself. He’s all about hustle and court-vision. The young gun leads the league in steals per game (2.6) and ranks third in assists per game (8.2). He’s constantly a threat to flirt with double-double and triple-double performances, but he’s all the more likely to rack up the assists and rebounds before the points. Over his last five games, Hollins is averaging 8.2 points, 9.2 assists, and 3.0 steals. Among his highlights on the year are a triple-double (February 8) and an 18-assist outing (January 25). For NBA teams looking for someone to push the pace and complement his high-scoring teammates, Hollins could be quite the fit.
Ivan Rabb, Westchester Knicks
Rabb recently became the Knicks’ all-time leader in double-doubles and given his awing performances night-in and night-out, it’s somewhat surprising he hadn’t done it already. He’s a fierce and physical rebounder on both ends with a knack for racking up second-chance points. When Rabb gets a hold of the rock, he knows exactly what to do with it and there are few defenders who can slow him down in the paint. In his last six games, he’s averaging 24 points and 11.3 rebounds, and it’s worth mentioning that he hasn’t pulled down fewer than 7 boards all season. He’s currently fifth (11.7) in rebounds per game.