Over the last month the Mavericks took time to lock down a pair of project players on the still relatively new NBA two-way contracts. Introduced last season, these contracts (two per team) allow for organizations to lock in a player that would be floating near the end of the roster, or in the G-League, not allowing them to be signed by another team. For players, it allows them to develop, get comfortable in one system, and make considerably more money should they be used by their NBA team.
The Mavericks saw enough potential in Kostas Antetokounmpo and Daryl Macon to make them priority for these contracts. Atetokounmpo, who spent a season with the Dayton Flyers in college, was the final pick of this summer’s draft and had some notable moments in summer league that made this signing expected.
Macon, who played two seasons for the Arkanasas Razorbacks (after a season of JUCO ball), was more of a surprise. Undrafted and playing for the Miami Heat this summer, his signing in Dallas felt a little more out of left field; partially because his name hadn’t been linked with the Mavs until it happened, and because of the position he plays.
Finding a diamond in the rough
It’s no easy task, scouting and cultivating developmental players. For every Yogi Ferrell there are 10 to 15 players who get a shot in the league, then often disappear. So to place too much pressure on teams to find a diamond is ill advised. That doesn’t mean opportunity isn’t there though, and these new contracts provide a perfect testing ground.
Though the exact numbers are a little hard to track, in its first season available, close to 90 players appeared at some point on a two-way contract (per 2ways10days.com). Of those, 10 were officially converted to a full NBA deal. Within that group, five saw substantial playing time. There are restrictions on these contracts, and teams are forced to move pieces around during a season for one reason or another. But the point stands: it’s hard finding actual NBA quality players.
Players on two-way contracts last season, on average, appeared in 14.4 games for their NBA team, and played 10.3 minutes per game. Seventeen players appeared in 20 or more games, and most were playing for teams near the bottom of the standings.
Scanning these numbers begs the question: do these contracts give teams any better chance to find contributors? It appears teams think they are on the right track, with 17 players being signed to full NBA deals this summer. And look no further than the best team in the league, who found the most success from the two-way track in signing Quinn Cook.
The 25 year old second year guard had a tough path through the league. After short stints with a few teams (including five games in Dallas), Cook signed a two-way deal with the Golden State Warriors. Playing in 33 games (starting 18!) and averaging 9.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game, and shooting 44 percent from three, Cook grew in to a key bench contributor for stints of the regular season — and even appeared in 17 postseason games. Perhaps credit scouting, or credit the system, but Cook’s path to signing a two year deal with Golden State in April shows the process can be successful.
Last season’s two-way players in Dallas featured a nonexistent staple and a turnstile spot. MFFL’s everywhere were pumped about the prospects of the Mavs signing Johnathan Motley — some even predicting he’d end up taking Dwight Powell’s minutes. It was common for the fan base to clamor for more MoneyMot appearances. For whatever reason, things between the Mavericks and the young big man didn’t click. He appeared in 11 games, playing 16 minutes per game; only getting time once the Mavericks were very much trying to lose games. And then, this summer, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The second two-way spot was a constant season-long rotation of players, with Antonius Cleveland, Gian Clavell, Kyle Collinsworth and Jalen Jones all spending time in that role. The Mavericks never seemed terribly invested in the development of these players — though Collinsworth ended up on a converted deal to finish the season, finding some rotation minutes.
Last season would have been a reasonable time to try and mine some talent from those young players, while aiming for a prime draft spot. And judging from last season’s usage, and knowing the Mavericks have plans to be in a very different situation competitively this season, expectations from Antetokounmpo and Macon should be tempered even more. But if the Mavericks want a chance to grow young talent alongside Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic, giving these two young guns opportunity could be a good place to start.