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NBA G League Alumni in NBA Summer League Recap: July 9

By John Bauman | July 10, 2018

Offense is easy to appreciate, thanks to dunk highlights posted on Instagram and stat lines celebrating point and assists totals easily accessible every night. But sometimes, it’s a little harder to tell who is impressing on the defensive end of the floor.

However, many in the NBA G League have made names for themselves as lockdown defenders. With that in mind, here is a special edition of the NBA G League Alumni in the NBA Summer League focusing on impacts made on defense.

Eric Griffin, Pistons

Griffin earns a shoutout for his consistently good defense throughout this year’s NBA Summer League. His box score stats don’t immediately jump off the page, but his nimble feet, 6-foot-8 length and experience have been an asset for the Pistons this summer.

The 28-year-old has been around the block since going undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft. After playing with the Lakers in the 2012 NBA Summer League as a wide-eyed youngster, Griffin signed overseas and played abroad for a few years. The G League came knocking in the 2014-15 season, and Griffin dominated. Playing with the Texas Legends in 2014-15, he averaged 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and an astounding 2.4 blocks per game in 49 games played that season. He was also an All-Star, a member of the All NBA G League Third Team and All-NBA G League Defensive Second team.

Another stretch overseas came next until Griffin again took an opportunity to play with the G League in the 2017-18 season. Last year, on a two-way contract with the Salt Lake City Stars, Griffin averaged 17.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 19 G League games.

Big men who can block shots and stay with guards on the perimeter are valuable. Even though Griffin doesn’t fit the bill as a traditional NBA Summer League prospect, the G League alum is still impressing with his play on the defensive end of the floor in Vegas.

Terrance Ferguson, Thunder

If you were going to build a defender for the modern NBA, he’d look an awful lot like Oklahoma City Summer League player Terrance Ferguson. At the combine in 2016, Ferguson was measured with a 6-foot-9 wingspan on his 6-foot-7 frame. He uses that frame to be a menace on the court, refusing to give up an inch of space. He’s also an off-the-charts athlete. Often, that skill shows through Ferguson’s jaw-dropping dunks, but it helps him on the defensive end to stay with whomever he is guarding.

It’s not just the measurables with Ferguson, though. He has a toughness about himself that is unique and impressive for a player that just turned 20 in May. That toughness manifested itself immediately in Monday’s game in Vegas. With 3:52 left in the first quarter of Monday’s game against Toronto, Ferguson generated a moving screen offensive foul and turnover on Toronto’s Augusto Lima just by refusing to get screened.

Ferguson’s stint in the G League was short but sweet. The 20-year-old was assigned to the NBA G League four times and played three games with the Oklahoma City Blue. The 21st pick of the 2017 NBA Draft recorded four steals and a block in those three games. He’s one of many examples of players who took advantage of the G League to develop their own game during the NBA season. All that work looks to have paid off, given how Ferguson is playing this summer.

Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo, Pelicans

A double feature is in order for the two big men patrolling the paint for New Orleans. The duo’s team didn’t have their best defensive performance on Monday, allowing the Pistons to eclipse the century mark in a 105-97 win. But the two G League alums each impress in different ways on defense.

First up is the Wisconsin Herd alum, Cliff Alexander. He played 28 games in the G League last season, averaging 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. On Monday, Alexander controlled the defensive glass with nine boards. Finishing off a defensive possession with a strong rebound is a key skill that the Kansas product brings to the table.

An underrated skill Alexander also has is quick hands. He had two steals in Saturday’s Summer League action just poking the ball away. There are a few ways to protect the rim, like rising up to block shots or sacrificing your body to take a charge. Alexander adds another one — slapping the ball away so the offensive player can’t even get the shot up.

Cheick Diallo, a fellow Kansas product, is a little bit of a different type of defender. He has a great second jump, showcasing some of the athleticism that made him the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game in 2015. Diallo is also very active and alert; those active hands even led to a steal and fastbreak against Detroit on Monday. His offensive performance against the Pistons — 25 points on 9-17 shooting — was impressible. Diallo also sets good, hard screens.

Three G League teams featured Diallo in the 2016-17 season: He started with the Austin Spurs, played two games with the Long Island Nets, then finished with the Greensboro Swarm. The Pelicans kept him at the NBA level last season, using him in 52 regular season games. The Kansas product is still young and hungry, searching for consistent NBA success.

Shaquille Harrison, Suns

11 points, three rebounds, six assists and five steals was the stat line for Harrison on Monday at NBA Summer League. The Northern Arizona Suns alum was all over the court, playing defense with effort and energy. A couple of his steals were straight up highway robberies as Harrison poked the ball away as the Orlando guard attempted to bring the ball up past half court. Don’t even try driving on Harrison if you have a loose handle — he’ll almost certainly get one of his long arms in there.

In the G League this past season, Harrison averaged 1.9 swipes per game. The Northern Arizona Suns had him for 36 games played before he earned a Gatorade Call-Up and signed a 10-day contract with the big league club on February 21. The 6-foot-4 guard continues to impress decision makers in the Suns front office and everyone at Summer League with his defense-first approach.

Zhou Qi, Rockets

The final defense-focused shoutout from Monday’s action goes to Qi of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Houston Rockets. Qi has a unique advantage on defense: He’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-8 inch wingspan. Shooting over him is just flat out tough, and more often than not, Qi wins one-on-one battles in the post.

On Monday, Qi had himself a day, recording five blocks against the Clippers Summer League team. Those who followed him in the G League aren’t too surprised by that total, however, as Qi averaged 2.3 blocks this past season with the Vipers. He ended up playing 24 games with the club as a part of his 11 assignments to the NBA G League last season.

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