The 2017-18 NBA season saw the advent of two-way contracts. This allows teams to sign two players to low-money deals that allow them to spend most of their time in the G-League, but also up to 45 days with the parent NBA team.
With the growing role of the G-League for player development in the NBA, these players should prove to be more and more important. In the past, teams had choose to either sign an undrafted player to the 15-man roster, or sign him to their affiliate G-League team and hope another team didn’t snatch him up. The two-way deals allow a happy middle ground — the player gets paid, at minimum, about three times more than an average G-Leaguer ($75,000) and at most about a third of an NBA minimum contract ($279,000) if he spends the maximum time of 45 days with the NBA squad. The NBA team gets the benefit of developing a player on its own time without having to use a regular roster spot.
Last year’s two-way players were Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks. Kornet showed enough to earn a regular roster spot this season, but Hicks will be returning on his second two-way deal. Joining Hicks is Allonzo Trier, who signed his two-way deal just minutes after going undrafted in June. Let’s try to figure out what to expect from these guys:
Hicks is kind of a tricky case. He put up a solid season in the G-League last year to the tune of 15.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game on .571 shooting in about 30 minutes per game. In 18 NBA games, however, he looked kind of overwhelmed. Hicks managed just 4.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in 13 minutes per game in the bigs, while his shooting percentage dipped to .458.
One could argue that Hicks’ best performance of the 2017-18 season came in the final game, where he dropped 15 points on the Cavs, but I think his best was actually a 12-point (on 5-5 shooting), 8-rebound game against the Hornets on March 17:
Offensively, you can see some of the best of what Hicks has to offer here. He’s decisive around the rim and surprisingly crafty, and he has decent instincts for getting behind the defense and finding himself open under the hoop. You can see even more of that, including a mid-range shot, in some of his G-League highlights:
Unfortunately, Hicks might either be a career G-Leaguer or maybe headed overseas to continue his career in the next few years. There’s definitely some baseline skills in his game, but the glaring deficiency is something that he won’t really be able to fix: lack of athleticism without elite length to make up for it.
Hicks measured 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan at last year’s draft combine. While that’s not the worst ratio in the world, Hicks’ play style really makes him more of a center in today’s NBA, and he’s not nearly a good enough defender at the rim to make up for that.
Among some of the less flattering stats regarding Hicks’ defense:
- Per NBA.com tracking data, he allowed opponents to shoot 69.4% at the rim, the worst of any Knicks big
- Opponents shot 52.5% from the floor against Hicks last year, second-worst on the team
- The Knicks were 1.6 points points worse per 100 possessions with Hicks on the floor (which can’t be completely attributed to him, but still, not great)
- Hicks’ 9.5% rebounding percentage was the worst of any big on the Knicks last season
Obviously, the sample size is small, since Hicks only appeared in 18 games and played 240 minutes total. But when there’s that many stats speaking out against a player, combined with a less-than-flattering eye test, it doesn’t paint a great picture.
So, all in all, Hicks’ 2018-19 season could be similar to what he did last year — play most of the season in the G-League, and get a call-up towards the end of the season to the Big Knicks. It’s possible that he’ll show some growth in his game, but I think the smart money on Hicks is that he’s not likely to get much better, and probably isn’t an NBA player long-term.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the Knicks’ second two-way player, Trier, looks like he could have a real future in the NBA if he can develop his game in the G-League.
Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson were the standouts of Summer League for the Knicks, but Trier quietly put together a decently promising Vegas campaign. After a slash line of 18.1 points/3 rebounds/3.2 assists/0.6 steals per game on 50 percent shooting and 38 percent from 3 over his junior season at Arizona, Trier put together a similar 17/5.5/3.3/1.3 line on 45 percent shooting at Summer League.
The highlight of summer play for Trier was actually in the same game as Knox’s famous third quarter explosion, against the Lakers:
Trier struggled overall with shot selection in Summer League, but he was also miscast as a point guard for parts of that week of play, when he is almost definitely a shooting guard. All in all, though, he showed some real offensive potential both as a shooter and off the dribble, something that was also on display during his time in college.
Rather than spending his time in the G-League for most of the season and then taking his call-up all in one big chunk to end the year, it might be a good idea for the Knicks to periodically call Trier up to the big leagues and give him 10-15 minutes for a couple of games to test his skills, and then send him back to the G-League to hone them further. Hopefully by the end of the year, Trier will show enough to justify a full-time promotion to the NBA in 2019-20, similar to Kornet a year ago.