We watched second-team and third-team All-Americans, first-team All-Big Ten and All-Big 12 players in our state over the last few years.
Those were surefire NBA players, right? No. There wasn’t a first-round draftee in the bunch. Instead, they were players with the potential to be NBA players who still had things to prove to earn spots in the world’s best basketball league.
In the last two weeks at the NBA Summer League, and in the last calendar year, that has happened for some of those players. Consider these changes-of-fortune:
Georges Niang, Iowa State Class of 2016: Went from a two-way contract (you spend a maximum of 45 days in the season with your NBA team and the rest of the time in the G League) with the Utah Jazz to a multiyear standard contract with Utah, including the first year fully guaranteed.
Monte Morris, Iowa State 2017: He’s on a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets, but seemingly has a chance to get a full-time roster spot with that team.
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa 2016: Has no NBA status at the moment, but may be in consideration for a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics after playing for them in the Summer League. Whether he wants to spend a third season in the G League rather than play overseas is a question he might face.
“We will know more soon,” agent Adam Pensack told me about his client, Uthoff.
Deonte Burton, Iowa State 2017: Spent last season in the Korean Basketball League, which hasn’t been a developmental ground for NBA players. But he played for Oklahoma City’s Summer League team and signed a two-way contract with the Thunder.
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Naz Mitrou-Long, Iowa State 2017: Was signed to a two-way contract with Utah for next season, after signing a two-way last December with the Jazz and subsequently getting two 10-day contracts with the big team.
All five players distinguished themselves in this month’s Las Vegas Summer League. Morris averaged 17.5 points per game, and had 25 assists to five turnovers. Sound familiar? Here’s video of Morris doing good things in Las Vegas.
— NBA (@NBA) July 15, 2017
Niang averaged 16 points over eight games, as well as 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He looked like he was in the best physical condition of his career. Here’s video of a great Niang touch pass in the Summer League.
— NBA (@NBA) July 10, 2018
Uthoff played in six games for Boston. He averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, and had a team-high 10 blocked shots. He played in nine games for the Dallas Mavericks at the end of the 2016-17 season, but was a man without an NBA contract last season. He didn’t quit. Here’s video of Uthoff from Las Vegas.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) July 14, 2018
Mitrou-Long averaged 10 points and four assists in the Summer League, and clearly has made a good impression with Utah to get another two-way deal.
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Burton was a revelation to Oklahoma City. He averaged 10.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 blocks. As a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, he looks like few other guards. But guard is where he plays, and he sank 5 of 8 3-pointers.
After he got his two-way deal, he made a time-expiring, game-winning jumper last Friday night. He went strong to the basket and defended that game, too. He’ll split time next season between the Oklahoma City Blue of the G League and the Thunder. (Here’s video)
— Carson Cunningham (@KOCOCarson) July 14, 2018
Oh, Abdel Nader of Iowa State (Class of 2016) was on the Boston Celtics’ roster last season and is under contract with Boston after spending the 2016-17 season with the Celtics’ G League team in Maine.
These are a lot of players who could gotten down on not enjoying instant success out of college, but instead went to the G League (or in Burton’s case, South Korea) and diligently showed they were serious about getting better.
Mitrou-Long, Morris, Niang and Uthoff all averaged between 14.1 and 19.6 points per game in the minors last season. Small crowds, hard travel and less-than-guaranteed NBA money didn’t deter them.
Now we’ll see how far they can go with their improved opportunities.
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