NBA

3 Former G-League Players Who Are Now Shining in the NBA

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (left), Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. (center), Raptors point guard Malachi Flynn (right)
Photos Courtesy of USA Today Sports

While it is one of the more overlooked parts of NBA basketball, the G-League is a crucial development for some of the leagues’ top players. Many of the leagues’ breakout stars had to make their way through the G-League ranks before making it to the big stage. Here are three G-League players who are making the most of their opportunities in the NBA.

Kenyon Martin Jr, SF, Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. (6) dunks the basketball during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Kenyon Martin Jr is like watching a carbon copy of his father, who played in the league from 2001-2015. After half a season in the G-League, Martin Jr. is getting NBA minutes and is producing for the Rockets.

Offensively, Martin Jr. is an efficient player. The majority of his shots come in and around the rim despite not being the primary ball-handler in most of the Rockets sets. He thrives off of cuts and contorting his body to finish around bigs in the paint. He can even be a de-facto roll man and use his bounce to finish at the rim. One of his best games of the season came against the Utah Jazz, where he constantly cooked Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert for tough finishes in the paint.

While his attempts per game are still pretty low, he is slowly starting to add an outside shot to his game. Over his last 10 games, he has shot a phenomenal 47.4% from three on nearly 4 attempts per game. When the Rockets played the Jazz, Stephen Silas utilized a small ball lineup that ultimately had Martin matched up against the Jazz center. Martin was able to take advantage of the centers sinking into the paint, shooting 6-10 from three on the night. His shot is rather fluid and has sound mechanics. The main thing at this point is getting more confidence and proving he can hit those shots on solid volume.

He also is great on the offensive glass, constantly fighting for boards amongst opposing bigs. According to Cleaning the Glass, his offensive rebound percentage of 6.8% ranks in the 99th percentile amongst all small forwards. He is never the biggest or tallest guy in the paint, but he gets in positions to give his team second-chance points.

Martin Jr.’s Defensive Upside

Defensively, Martin Jr. is an absolute menace, constantly harassing his man when he is on the ball. His ridiculous athleticism and hustle have made for some highlight-reel-worthy blocks. It could be the smallest or biggest guy on the floor; Martin Jr. is going up for the block. First, the double block on Rudy Gay and Keldon Johnson. Then check the on-ball defense on Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic and the acrobatic block on 7’3 Boban Marjonovic.

The situation is perfect for Martin Jr. The Rockets are tanking and can afford to give him big minutes and experiment where he operates best. The experiment has paid off so far, as Martin Jr. looks as though he could be a big part of the Rockets franchise for the coming years.

Malachi Flynn, PG, Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors guard Malachi Flynn (8) moves to the basket against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half at Amalie Arena (G-League)
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Kyle Lowry was out for a swath of games during the middle of the season, the Raptors counted on Flynn to step up as their primary ball-handler. The results were stellar and should make the Raptors not feel as bad if Lowry walks in free agency.

A first-round pick out of San Diego State, Flynns’ calling card was his ability to operate out of the pick and roll. He ranked in the 96th percentile for points per pick and roll possession during his time with the Aztecs. As he has transitioned into the NBA, that valuable skillset has come with him. He is constantly finding soft spots in rotations to hit teammates for easy buckets.

Flynn is smart and efficient with his movement and passes. While his shot is still developing, the results as of late have been encouraging. Over his last 15 games, he has been getting the most minutes; Flynn is shooting 36% from three on 4.7 attempts. His free throw percentage is also up to 88% from his season average of 81%.

Two-Way Guard

While he shot creation and shot have a long way to go, Flynn’s defense has been consistently impressive this season. Opponents are shooting a porous 38.2% from the mid-range when Flynn is the primary defender. He plays with active hands and is great about getting around ball screens to pickpocket ball handlers. His smart plays and steals often lead to easy transition buckets for the Raptors as well.

With Lowry’s contract up at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see what the Raptors brass decides to do. However, after seeing a younger and cheaper option like Flynn blossom in limited time, don’t be surprised if the Raptors let Lowry walk in the offseason.

Chris Boucher, PF/C, Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Chasson Randle (25) defends during the first half at Amalie Arena.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This slot was intiatlly going to go to Pacers forward Oshae Brissett or Thunder center Moses Brown, as both have flourished this season. However, after watching the Malachi Flynn film, it was impossible to ignore the 6’10, lanky, stretch big that is Boucher. His journey is remarkable and he may be the best G-League success story of the last decade.

Boucher went undrafted out of Oregon after tearing his ACL the season before being drafted. He eventually signed onto the Santa Cruz Warriors, where he spent one season playing but not producing. He then signed for the 905 Raptors, where he exploded onto the scene. Boucher averaged 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.1 blocked shots and won both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. He is the first player in G-League history to win both awards in the same season.

There is a lot to like about Boucher. Despite his slight frame, the shot-blocking ability he demonstrated in the G-League transformed easily into the NBA. He is averaging 3.7 blocks per 100 possessions, and his block percentage ranks in the 92nd percentile amongst bigs. ESPN’s NBA Insider Zach Lowe had high praise for Boucher, noting his unbelievable shot-blocking numbers.

He is doing all the stuff you’d expect, including flying from nowhere to contest 3-pointers. It must be unnerving to see Boucher and his elastic arms invading your airspace as you rise up. Boucher has blocked six triples in 11 games, per Second Spectrum.

Zach Lowe, ESPN

He does a great job of using his long arms to contest any shot in and around the rim. His blocks aren’t limited to just bigs; he will consistently swat away smaller guards as they drive.

Boucher Shooting Improvement from G-League to NBA

His perimeter shooting has also been a pleasant surprise. He is shooting 38.3% on the season on 3.9 attempts per game. His shot does not look conventional coming out, but the results negate any doubts. His pick-and-pop game with Flynn, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam has produced many easy points for the Raptors this season.

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri deserves a round of applause for finding Boucher, as he has become one of the franchise’s most important players over the last few years. The Raptors will look to build around him and Flynn as they continue to make another run at an NBA title in the coming years.

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