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The NBA G League Showcase Cup is a Luxury

Kelsea O'Brien /December 29, 2022

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 20: Gabe Brown #44 of the Raptors 905 dribbles the ball during the game against the Texas Legends during the 2022-23 G League Winter Showcase on December 20, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

Since its inaugural season, the G League has been a testing lab for the NBA.

In 2001, the league, which fielded just eight teams, saw its very first NBA call-up when Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen signed with the Denver Nuggets after playing two games with the Fayetteville Patriots. Today, approximately 47% of players on the 2022-2023 NBA rosters, began in the G League.

The Coach’s Challenge (a once per game allowance for coaches to challenge a call made by the referees) and the 14-second shot clock reset on offensive rebounds, were implemented in the NBA after being tried and tested in the G League.

Constantly evolving, the G League has been successful in changing the game of basketball, speeding it up and making it more interesting to the common viewer. For example, both the transition take foul (a foul committed by the defender during a transition scoring opportunity) and the away-from-the-play foul rules have lessened the amount of “hack-a-player” fouls seen in late game situations.

The recent rearranging of NBA road trips, travelling through specific regions instead of back and forth throughout North America, has been successful in not only making travel more comfortable, but significantly reducing the league’s carbon footprint. This format is relatively new to the NBA, but has been a staple in the G League since its inception.

Splitting the 30 G League teams into regional pods, each team plays 16 games during the Showcase Cup with the top two teams of each pod entering into a single elimination bracket format tournament, with the last team standing winning an additional $100,000.00 bonus.

The bonus may be the biggest incentive to the players, but to the teams as a whole, the Showcase Cup allows for something that the NBA does not yet have - wiggle room.

The Raptors 905 finished the Showcase Cup series with a record of 7-9, plus two losses in Las Vegas during the Showcase, and while beginning the season with a losing record this may be cause enough to press the panic button for NBA teams, it is an opportunity for their G League affiliates to reflect, regroup, and recalibrate.

When the G League’s regular season begins at the conclusion of the Showcase Cup, the results of all 16 games that have already been played are erased, giving every single team a clean slate and a fresh start. For a league that is founded on development, this reset allows for players, coaches, and general managers to change their approach, tweak their game, or finetune their rosters. The sense of urgency that teams may feel after a slow start – the looming pressure to do something – could be alleviated. There is no blame game, no players only meetings, just a desire to grab the opportunity to start over by the horns and focus on winning.

“Coaches, scouts, they aren’t really looking at the best player on a losing team because (that player) isn’t impacting winning,” says Raptors 905 head coach Eric Khoury when asked about NBA call-ups, and he is correct. When Saben Lee was called up to Philadelphia on a two-way contract, Raptors 905 had a winning record of four wins and three losses. Lee’s ability to glide through contact and finish at the rim won his team games and awarded him the opportunity to make an impact at the highest level. Although Raptors 905 had to fill the finishing and scoring void, they essentially had nine free games to figure out how to either pivot to a new system, or find a player to replace it without having to wait for the trade deadline. By making a habit of playing stand-out star Reggie Perry in the paint after Lee’s departure, the Raptors 905 found success. With Saben Lee returning to the Raptors 905 just in time for the beginning of the regular season, the Raptors 905 will now have the luxury of allowing both Lee and Perry to do what they do best while playing off of one another.

At the conclusion of the 2021-2022 Showcase series, Raptors 905 added veterans Jodie Meeks and Aaron Best, and saw their team as a whole improve drastically. The Showcase series allowed 905 General Manager Chad Sanders to address the lack of veteran presence and rectify it, improving not only team chemistry on the court but also in the locker room.

This year, to fill a similar hole, Sanders and Assistant GM Luke Winn added two new veterans, Sterling Brown and Aaron Epps, and did so without disrupting the team they had already built.

Watching film of the previous game is helpful at all levels of professional basketball, but being able to reflect on what was essentially half a season and pinpoint specific instances in which some plays worked and others did not, is a foolproof way to impact winning from the executives all the way to the players.

The Showcase Cup allows teams to learn how to win, and to learn how to lose.

If a team wins every game leading up to the Showcase Cup, rarely will they believe they have as much to work on as other teams, because if it isn’t broken, why fix it?

Raptors 905 will win during the regular season because they learned how to lose during the Showcase Cup.

They learned that shooting a high volume of three-point shots is not going to win them games if the shots are not falling. They learned that playing larger lineups in small spurts alleviates the amount of all-around work that Reggie Perry has to do and allows him to do what he does best. They learned the importance of weak-side pressure, a facet of their game that was not yet polished in those first 16 games. The addition of Justin Champagnie, whom Raptors 905 have been lucky to have on assignment, taught the team the importance of communication and of offensive rebounding and second chance points.

The Showcase Cup set the precedent for what is and what isn’t successful within the organization. Seeing both their friends and their rivals hoisting the trophy created a hunger in the players that can only be satiated by winning.

Raptors 905, and the G League as a whole, are given a second chance after 16 games. They were given the opportunity to lose, so that they know exactly what is needed to win, and they have a fresh start and 32 games to do so.