For athletes on the cusp of making meaningful eventual contributions at the next level — from Two-Way Players, to NBA assignees and even the minor league’s most intriguing prospects on the rise — being able to soak up the NBA G League experience can be an invaluable opportunity.
All season long, such young guns have received extra game reps and worked with dedicated staffs who make sure that their development is in the forefront as the priority. Hitting the hardwood and learning by doing (rather than watching from the sidelines) has helped the likes of Nets Two-Way Players Alan Williams and Theo Pinson. As the Long Island Nets compete for the 2019 NBA G League championship, the pair is thrust into a situation where they can potentially taste and feel what winning at such a high level is like.
One can watch film and hold conversation with players and coaches, but not enough can be said about the kind of confidence boost that comes with calling yourself a champion for whatever opportunities may follow. Pinson agrees Long Island’s success (even thus far) says a lot.
“As long as I’m playing, I’m trying to win. Being in the Finals helps everyone in the organization prove that we’re winners. We’re building that culture,” he said. “We’re not just going out there and trying to show our individual skills. It’s all for the betterment of the team.”
A versatile combo-guard, Pinson became an NCAA champion in 2017. He’s familiar with this level of competition. But even he took his game to new heights by hitting an electric buzzer-beating game-winner in the Eastern Conference Finals to punch the Nets’ ticket for a Finals matchup with the Vipers. The chance to be trusted with that kind of responsibility (as a rookie in his professional career) only solidifies the kind of value his role with the organization can add.
Talk about being thrown into the fire.
“We’ve been through every situation you can think of. We hadn’t hit a game-winning shot yet! We’ve encountered many obstacles, but now we can learn from all of it and let that carry us through the Finals. That’s the reason I’m a Two-Way guy,” he pointed out. “I can get used to being in this role, that way when Brooklyn needs me, I’ll be there and ready.”
Whereas for Pinson (who made the NBA G League All-Rookie Team), donning that Long Island uniform has provided key professional exposure, fellow Nets Two-Way mate Alan Williams has undergone quite the metamorphosis in his overall game. After averaging 5.6 rebounds in just 13.2 minutes through 66 NBA games, there’s been little denying he can provide a physical presence on the glass. Embracing a central role for the Nets has allowed him to strut his stuff and shed light on other facets of his game, including some nice agility to get inside the paint and evade defenders for high-percentage looks. He went on to average 19.8 points this season, good enough with his other contributions to earn him All-NBA G League First Team honors while finishing second in MVP voting.
“Being in this role reminds me of college. It’s a similar style of play that allows me to have the ball in my hands. I can score and work on my tools. The NBA game is a different animal, but I feel like I can do it there as well,” he said. “I’m confident in my skills. There are things I can work on, but there are things I can do at a high level.”
As Pinson alluded to (and as he well knows from previous experience), winning at any level should earn players extra clout and credibility. The end-of-season honors both players received were undoubtedly influenced (and deservedly so) by the impact their individual success had on the Nets’ league-tying best record of 34-16. Already garnering solo accolades this season, Pinson and Williams are gearing up to help add a more collective accomplishment to their trophy case.
“Being a Two-Way Player isn’t always ideal, but Brooklyn and Long Island have made this whole process a seamless transition. From travel and film breakdowns, they’re invested and value our development. They’ve done a tremendous job working with guys like Theo and myself. If we’re going to be here, we’re going to go out and try to win. My mindset has always been to go out there and compete at the highest level. This is where we are. As a collective unit, we’re really locked in on this opportunity,” Williams asserted.
Pinson, Williams and the Long Island Nets host Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Game 3 of the NBA G League Finals Friday at 8 PM ET on ESPNU.