The NBA G League’s regular season won’t begin for another month, but all 30 NBAGL teams are currently competing in the Showcase Cup, a round-robin event that culminates in a single-elimination tournament at the G League’s Winter Showcase from December 19-22.
We’re only midway through the 16-game Showcase Cup, with each NBAGL team having played between seven and 10 games so far, but a number of standout performers are making their mark.
Some of those top players, like Luka Garza of the Iowa Wolves or Jaden Hardy of the Texas Legends, are already under contract with NBA teams and aren’t free agents. But many of the G League players turning heads are free to sign with any NBA club at any time.
Listed below are five early G League standouts who are making strong cases to be considered for NBA call-ups at some point this season. This is hardly a comprehensive list of the NBAGL’s top performers — it’s a safe bet that many more will receive NBA consideration in the coming days, weeks, or months, especially when the 10-day signing period begins in January. But these five players are worth singling out for their early-season play.
Let’s dive in…
Sharife Cooper, G, Cleveland Charge
A two-way player with the Hawks last season, Cooper accepted a two-way qualifying offer from Atlanta in July, but was waived shortly thereafter and spent training camp with the Cavaliers, becoming an affiliate player for Cleveland.
In 10 games so far for the Charge, Cooper has been one of the G League’s most dynamic offensive players, pouring in 25.3 points per game on .489/.433/.811 shooting while also chipping in 6.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per night.
Cooper isn’t a consistent defender, but his offensive ability will intrigue NBA evaluators. He’s the G League’s reigning Performer of the Week after posting back-to-back 40-point games on November 15 and 17 and has helped lead the Charge to a 6-4 record.
Carlik Jones, G, Windy City Bulls
Jones, 25 next month, got a brief taste of NBA action last winter as a 10-day hardship signee for the Mavericks and the Nuggets, appearing in five total games for the two teams. After spending training camp with the Bulls, he’s back in the G League this season for the Windy City Bulls, whose 6-2 record places them atop the Central.
Jones has been a major reason for Windy City’s early success, leading the team with 17.5 PPG and 8.1 APG. After struggling to consistently make his three-pointers in his first pro season in 2021/22, the former Louisville standout is hitting 41.9% of his treys so far this season and making 1.6 per game.
Jay Huff, F/C, South Bay Lakers
Huff began the 2021/22 season on a two-way contract with the Lakers and made brief appearances in four NBA games before being waived in January. The 24-year-old is still in the organization at South Bay and has emerged as one of the G League’s most fearsome rim protectors — he has blocked 35 shots in his first eight games this season and comfortably leads the league with 4.4 BPG.
Huff’s impact has gone beyond his shot-blocking ability. He’s also one of South Bay’s go-to scorers, averaging 17.9 PPG on 68.1% shooting; he leads the club with 8.9 RPG; and he has even shown off some play-making ability, averaging 3.1 APG.
If Huff can boost his three-point rate a few points (currently 29.4%), he’ll become an even more appealing target for NBA teams looking to develop a frontcourt prospect.
James Akinjo, G, Westchester Knicks
Although Akinjo earned a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team during his final college season in 2021/22, the Baylor guard struggled mightily with his shot, making just 38.3% attempts from the field and 29.5% from beyond the arc. So it has been encouraging to see him boost those averages to 46.4% and 46.7% in his first seven G League games.
The Westchester Knicks are just 1-6 so far, but Akinjo has been a bright spot, pouring in 19.9 points per night and tying for the G League lead with an impressive 11.1 assists per game.
Jontay Porter, F/C, Wisconsin Herd
The younger brother of Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter is a former five-star recruit whose college career was derailed by a pair of ACL tears. He’s still just 23 years old though and has been healthy through the Herd’s first 10 games.
Despite playing just 26.2 minutes per game and primarily coming off the bench, Porter has filled up the box score in Wisconsin, averaging 16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, and 1.8 BPG while making 3.1 three-pointers per game at a 46.3% rate.
The Grizzlies took a flier on Porter during the 2020/21 season and played him in 11 games — it may be just a matter of time before he earns another shot at the NBA level.