I’ll admit it, I’ve had that title on a tee since the Dallas Mavericks gave their first two-way contract to center Johnathan Motley back in June. I’ve been waiting for the right occasion and I’d say, without a doubt, that the 2018 NBA G League Showcase meets that criteria.
The first game of the 14th annual primetime event (read more about it here) went the Texas Legends’ (13-11) way on Wednesday evening. In their first ever matchup with the newly minted Wisconsin Herd (15-11), affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Legends used a 13-point third quarter edge to down Wisconsin 124 to 113.
Six players –including all five starters– scored in double figures for the Legends, led by 24 from both frontcourt mates Motley and Jameel Warney. Two of the league’s top five rebounders (both over 10 per game) built on their lofty averages with another pair of dominant outings.
Motley hauled in 14 rebounds and blocked three shots for the third time this season. While the blocks didn’t meet his season-high of four, he did set a season best in assists with five.
“I’ve always had that ability,” Motley says about his not-so-hidden point guard prowess. “I had more opportunities to make plays tonight. The pace we play at makes it easy for guys to make plays and guys were knocking down shots. More credit to those guys than me. I was just passing to them and they were knocking down shots.”
However, the biggest number among his stats was a colossal six steals, doubling his best mark in that category. He also recorded nine offensive rebounds, besting his previous high of eight from November.
“I’ve always been a better offensive rebounder, I don’t really know why. I guess it’s because I can see where the shots are going easier on offense. I’m a guy that wants to go get the ball rather than wait for it to come to me.”
For Warney, an injury cost him his 2017 Showcase but he wasted literally no time breaking ground in 2018, with 24 points as well as 11 rebounds. He, too, set a season-high, for him in blocks. Six in that department beats his five from a December outing.
He also took six three-pointers, far and away the most of the year, and made two of them. Those practice videos of Jameel working on that three-point shot are no joke.
Brandon Ashley rounded out a trio of double-doubles, going for 21 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive). As the former Arizona Wildcat returns to health, there’s a lot of untapped potential here to keep an eye on.
Wade Baldwin IV posted 14 points of his own, including a breakout seven point first quarter. He added five assists while Donald Sloan came off the bench to lead the team with seven. Sloan also chipped in 12 points and Justin Dentmon tossed in 11 of his own.
Bryson Fonville (nine) and J.J. Avila (seven) added a scoring punch to the second unit as the Legends returned to the 120-point plateau for the first time in three games and the 10th time for the season.
Warney played a game-high 39 minutes with Motley and Ashley just behind, registering at 38. The workload has been a great treat for the rookie big man from Baylor.
“I feel great,” says Motley. “I’m just doing a lot of things off the court to make sure I stay healthy. Ice, some weight sessions and doing the right things for my performance on the court.”
Motley’s 21.6 points a night is 13th in the league and his 10.4 rebounds ties him for fourth, but there’s a certain part of his game he’s focusing on going forward.
“My three ball. I’m really working on that, trying to make it as consistent as possible. I think if I can knock down a couple of those a game, it will take my game to the next level.”
Showcase continues with a 1:30 PM CT start on Friday afternoon against the Greensboro Swarm (8-17), affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets.