April 13, 2024

By Chris Ekstrand 

Every player in the NBA G League strives to become a full-time NBA player. Many get that chance for some period of time in their long basketball careers, but the striving, earning, proving never ends.

This season was one of the best in NBA G League history. Tremendously talented players comprised the roster of every team, with a sprinkling of savvy veterans among the preponderance of rookies and youngsters. The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament has long served as a catalyst for players looking to prove they belong in the NBA, and every year some of the very best players in the NBA G League have a Portsmouth stamp on their resumes.

Shaquille Harrison (2016 PIT, Tulsa) has played for 7 NBA teams since 2017, with 183 NBA games to his credit. One of the best defensive guards in the world, Harrison, who spent most of this season with the South Bay Lakers while also earning a callup to the Memphis Grizzlies, recently captured his second NBA G League Defensive Player of the Year Award. Harrison also won the league’s top defensive prize in 2022 with the Delaware Blue Coats. Harrison averaged 14.1 ppg, 6.7 apg, 6 rpg and 2.7 spg in 43 games for the South Bay Lakers this season.

Brandon Goodwin (2018 PIT, FGCU), a veteran of 133 NBA games with Atlanta, Cleveland and Denver, was the man at the controls for the Westchester Knicks this season. Goodwin was a huge threat to score (20.9 ppg), but he was also 5th in the league with 8.6 assists per game and contributed 5.7 rpg.

Harrison and Goodwin have enough NBA experience to step in and help an NBA team at a moment’s notice, but most of the PIT alumni performing in the NBA G League are still fine-tuning their skill sets to earn a full-time shot in the league. Many of them have benefitted from the institution of the two-way contract, which pays a player half of an NBA minimum salary while being under contract to the NBA team and available for promotion at any time.

It’s no secret that the Miami Heat have gotten more out of their developmental program than most NBA teams. Their G League affiliate Sioux Falls Skyforce perennially boast some of the best talent in the league. Often that talent makes it way to the Heat from Portsmouth. Cole Swider (2022 PIT, Syracuse) is one of the most dangerous three-point shooters in basketball today. He tore through the G League this season, averaging 24.5 ppg in his 21 games in Sioux Falls, shooting a remarkable 47.1% from 3-point range. Swider has appeared in 16 games for the Heat in the NBA as well.

Jamal Cain (2022 PIT, Oakland) has joined Swider on the shuttle between Sioux Falls and Miami. Cain averaged 23.5 ppg and 10.5 rpg in 15 games in Sioux Falls, while also getting into 24 games with the Heat. Cain and Swider offer different looks for the Heat, but it won’t be surprising if both players see more NBA time next season, whether in Miami or elsewhere.

While Hunter Tyson (2023 PIT, Clemson) is playing under a multiyear contract with the Denver Nuggets, that NBA title-winning team didn’t have too many minutes this year for the rookie, so he instead starred in a part-time role for the Grand Rapids Gold. Tyson was simply dominant during his 28 games in the G League, averaging 23.8 ppg while adding 7.6 rpg and shooting 39.3% from 3-point range. Although playing behind young stars like Michael Porter Jr., Peyton Watson and Christian Braun with the incredibly deep Nuggets hasn’t provided Tyson with much NBA daylight, he has gotten into 17 NBA games.

DaQuan Jeffries (2019 PIT, Tulsa) has signed every type of contract (10-day, two-way, full) allowed by NBA rules with the New York Knicks this season, so he hasn’t spent a ton of time with the Westchester Knicks, but he’s been able to keep sharp when he is in the G League, averaging 23 ppg on 40% 3-point shooting in his 16 games for Westchester. Jeffries, who currently has a full contract with the Knicks, has played in 17 NBA games for New York this season.

Malcolm Hill (2017 PIT, Illinois) played a couple of seasons in Europe after he appeared at the PIT in 2017, but lately he’s been getting back into the NBA, playing for Atlanta and Chicago over the past couple of years. This season, he has a two-way contract with the New Orleans Pelicans but has spent most of his time with the Birmingham Squadron. Hill was one of the best players in the league this season, averaging 22 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting a robust 41.8% from three-point range.

Jared Rhoden (2022 PIT, Seton Hall) had a fine rookie season in the NBA G League, but this year playing for the Motor City Cruise while under a two-way contract with the Detroit Pistons, Rhoden has taken a giant step towards becoming a full-time NBA player. Rhoden averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.5 rpg in 41 games for Motor City, shooting 40.8% from 3-point range. Rhoden got into 14 games for the Pistons, and his increased shooting consistency portends more NBA games ahead.

Two of the best point guards in the G League this season were at the 2023 PIT, and as rookies they have played with poise beyond their years. Kendric Davis (2023 PIT, Memphis) of the Santa Cruz Warriors averaged 18.1 points and was among league leaders with 7.4 assists per game. Jordan Walker (2023 PIT, UAB) starred for the Texas Legends, averaging 20 points and 5.2 assists per game. Both of these young point guards are poised to make their NBA debuts next season.

Jeff Dowtin (2020 PIT invitee, Rhode Island) recently signed a full NBA contract with the Philadelphia 76ers after starring for the Delaware Blue Coats this season. Dowtin has been knocking on the NBA door for awhile now, having appeared in NBA games with 5 NBA teams over the past 3 seasons. The way he has played for the 76ers, Dowtin has an excellent chance to stick in the NBA this time around.

Braxton Key (2020 PIT invitee, Virginia) of the Denver Nuggets, Quenton Jackson (2022 PIT, Texas A&M) of the Indiana Pacers, Jamaree Bouyea (2022 PIT, San Francisco) of the San Antonio Spurs and Stanley Umude (2022 PIT, Arkansas) of the Detroit Pistons are all PIT alums who have spent this season on two-way contracts, with Umude being upgraded to a full contract with Detroit shortly before being sidelined for the season with a broke ankle.

PIT alumni who starred in the G League this season who have previously played in the NBA include Chris Silva (2019 PIT, South Carolina) of the College Park Skyhawks, Tyrese Martin (2022 PIT, Connecticut) of the Iowa Wolves and Darius Days (2022 PIT, LSU) of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

The level of play in the NBA G League is at an all-time best and talented players who play in Portsmouth every year will continue to use the opportunities provided there as a springboard to their NBA dreams.

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