Were the Salt Lake City Stars a success last year?
On the down side, there’s this: They tied for the worst record in the NBA G-League again, at 16-34.
On the up side, though, there’s this: They discovered and cultivated Georges Niang. Niang earned himself a guaranteed contract for the Jazz this season thanks to his sensational play with the Stars.
Niang’s impact by the numbers is staggering: In the 15 games he played with the Stars last year, they had an 11-4 record. In the 35 games he didn’t (before he signed or when he was called up), they went 5-30.
Niang won’t play for the Stars this year, obviously, putting a damper on expectations for next season in the G-League. But despite losing him, this might just be the most talented Stars roster ever.
Two-way player Tyler Cavanaugh leads the team in NBA experience, having played 39 games for the Atlanta Hawks last year, even starting one. He’ll take over Niang’s spot in the Stars’ starting lineup and adds many of the same skills: shooting and an understanding of when to make the right pass.
The other two-way player, Naz Mitrou-Long, leads the guard unit. Mitrou-Long also has developed significantly in the Stars’ system, going from a standard G-League contract to a more lucrative role for the team this year. But adding Isaiah Cousins, Jairus Lyles and Trey Lewis figures to make the Stars’ guard rotation much improved over last year.
“We have a lot of talented guards, between Isaiah, Naz, Jairus, Trey, guys who can do different things, and that’s very important in the G-League,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s kind of a guard-driven league.”
Tony Bradley will play again with the Stars for stretches of this season, and when he doesn’t, 7-foot-2 Purdue center Isaac Haas will fill that role.
The biggest question: Who will play small forward? The Stars do have the No. 1 pick in the G-League draft on Oct. 20 to figure that out, though in an era where most of the G-League’s best players are training camp releases, that means less than it used to. Bart Taylor, Stars VP of basketball operations, will also scour the international free agent market between now and the first game on Nov. 2.
Second-year coach Martin Schiller returns with more understanding, he says, about what is possible to implement in a shortened, frantic season with players constantly moving in and out of your roster.
And while Schiller is proud of what he accomplished with Niang, Mitrou-Long, and others last season, he knows that while player development is goal No. 1, winning is important, too.
“I understand there are different goals in the G-League, and winning is not the only part, but it’s a big part,” Schiller says. “If we say we’re doing a decent job of doing things, or a good job, then we should be winning too.”
The Salt Lake City Stars season and home openers:
Nov. 2 • At Iowa, 6 p.m. MDT
Nov. 6 • Texas, 7 p.m.