Michael Foster Jr. #11 of the G League Ignite handles the ball against Paul Reed of the Delaware Blue Coats on January 30, 2022

Call-Ups, Two-Way Contracts, and more: How the NBA G League Helped Advance the Careers of Numerous Sixers and their Peers

76er P.J. Tucker was once a 14er.

At the onset of what has evolved into a more than decade-long NBA career, Tucker was a member of the NBA Development League’s Colorado 14ers. The year was 2007. Since then, a great number of NBA players have honed their skills at the very same level, including the majority of Tucker’s current teammates.

The NBA Development League, or D-League, was then what we now know as the NBA G League (PSA: There’s no hyphen anymore).

The 2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers’ roster includes 10 players with G League experience, ranging from the 37-year-old Tucker to Jaden Springer and Michael Foster Jr., who are not yet 21.

Overall, a record 234 players, making up a record 47-percent of opening night NBA rosters, have G League experience.

“That’s impressive, to be honest,” said Foster Jr., who last season made the notable jump from high school to the G League as a member of NBA G League Ignite — a-first-of-its-kind team dedicated to developing top young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft. “It shows you that the [NBA] really wants guys to succeed. You’ve got a lower level that develops you for the next, where guys on the floor are All-Stars, superstars, Hall of Famers. I didn’t know that [number]. That’s actually impressive, for sure.”

Foster Jr. weathered a stretch during his rookie professional season in which his G League matchups included the likes of NBA veterans Serge Ibaka and Greg Monroe, as well as his current Sixers teammate Paul Reed.

WILMINGTON, DE - JANUARY 30: the opening tip-off between Michael Foster Jr. #11 of the G League Ignite and Paul Reed #44 of the Delaware Blue Coats on January 30, 2022 at Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware.

So what does Reed, the 2021 G League MVP with the Delaware Blue Coats, think about that 234 number?

“That just means the G League is really producing athletes — basketball players — that’s like that,” Reed said. “If you’re going down to the G League, you should look at it as a great opportunity to get better because you’re going to be playing against guys that are really in the NBA.”

76ers wing Georges Niang, a 50-game G League veteran, theorized that the ability for young players to learn what works – and what’s needed –  strongly factors into the growing number of alums.

Basketball potential meets opportunity all over North America, in markets stretching from Wilmington, Delaware to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Santa Cruz, California (Niang raves about the beaches there), and more recently, Mexico City.

Both Reed and Niang were once on Two-Way Contracts, directly connected to an NBA team as a member of the roster and able to showcase their skills with any available practice or game reps.

Beginning in the 2017 offseason, NBA rosters expanded from 15 to 17 players with the addition of two spots for players under those two-way contracts. A two-way contract allows for an NBA-rostered player to also play for their organization’s G League affiliate.

The Sixers converted Foster Jr.’s contract to a two-way deal on October 16.

Coaches’ Perspective
Awesome. Fantastic. Significant.

These are words used by 76ers Head Coach Doc Rivers and San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich to describe the current state of the NBA G League.

Last season, Popovich became the all-time wins leader in NBA history.

The two coaches boasted a combined 2,396 NBA victories through October 2022.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Rivers, who eclipsed 1,000 career wins last fall. “I think the G League is fantastic. The fact that, when I first started, there was the CBA. We had a team in Michigan when I was in Orlando. I think at one time we had three [NBA] teams with one [D-League] team. Now, you can build stuff. And it’s not just the players. It’s also coaching, it’s staffing, it’s PR – it’s everything. I think the G League has been absolutely fantastic.”

“It’s been very significant in a lot of people’s lives,” Popovich said of the G League.

“We’ve had a lot of players go through there, play for us, move on to other teams, and I think that’s the case with a lot of the teams in the NBA. The G League has been very important in that development. We take it very seriously… It's a great way to have extra time with people that you think may matriculate later into a situation where they can help you. For them, it’s great. You can’t keep everybody. Development-wise, I think the people in the G League are doing a great job of advancing careers.”

Look no further than Niang and Reed.

“I mean, it’s the reason why I’m back in the NBA,” the 29-year-old Niang said. “I got cut by Indiana and I wasn’t able to figure out what would get me on the court. The G League showed me that if I could space the floor, shoot, and use my IQ, that I could find a way to play in the NBA.”

“I feel like without me being able to showcase my talents and what I can do, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Reed said. “You know, there’s no telling. It gave me an opportunity to go out there, get some reps, and let the team know that I can actually hoop a little bit.”

Cold Maybe, But Not Sweet
The 19 games that P.J. Tucker played for the Colorado 14ers – now the Texas Legends – in 2007 were likely much different than the 19 games played by Jaden Springer for the Blue Coats during his rookie season one year ago.

Danuel House Jr. and Georges Niang played 60 games and 50 games, respectively, in the G League from 2016-19. That qualifies as the most such experience among the current Sixers. Their teammates with a shared résumé section include: Shake Milton (33 games), Paul Reed (24), Springer (19), Tucker (19), Michael Foster Jr. (13), Montrezl Harrell (12), Furkan Korkmaz (nine), and De’Anthony Melton (eight).

SANTA CRUZ, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Georges Niang #31 of the Santa Cruz Warriors passes the ball during the NBA G-League game against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on November 24, 2017 at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California.

Ironically, House Jr. suited up for Delaware before they were the Blue Coats.

“Cold. It was so cold,” House Jr. said with a laugh while reflecting on his handful of games at the University of Delaware in 2017. “It was cold, man. I felt like they ain’t want to turn the heat on for us, you know, being at the G League level. But hey, it was a fun time. I had really good teammates. I had a really good experience.”

The Blue Coats, previously called the 87ers, moved into the state-of-the-art Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington two years after Danuel was in the house.

With the advent of two-way contracts, as well as NBA players being assigned to their affiliate teams much more frequently, the level of competition has skyrocketed. 

Take it from Foster Jr., who joined the G League Ignite team as a five-star recruit and one of the top-10 high school players in the Class of 2021:

“It’s not sweet down there… Man, those guys were probably one of them guys on their high school team that gave you 40, every night. It ain’t sweet. I don’t want people thinking that. It’s not easy.”

Years prior, future NBA All-Stars Khris Middleton and Rudy Gobert famously played there – as a Fort Wayne Mad Ant and a Bakersfield Jam(mer?).

Pascal Siakam, now an All-NBA player with the Toronto Raptors, was the 2017 NBA D-League Finals MVP.

Then vs. Now
Former first-round pick Tyrese Maxey is not one of the 10 Sixers with G League experience.

Neither is Tobias Harris, 30, who was just 18 years old when Milwaukee drafted him in 2011. A coach there brought up the possibility, but it never came to fruition.

It was also, as Harris explains, a much different time.

“The G League has transformed and it’s good to see the progress of young players,” Harris said. “I know when I was a rookie, it was kind of like a demotion if you went to the D-League, you know what I’m saying? When I was a rookie, I was like ‘Man, I’m not trying to go to the D-League.’ Vets used to be like ‘Yo rookie, don’t let them send you to the D-League.’ And I was like ‘Man, I hope they don’t.’ It was one of those things.”

But now?

“But now it’s beneficial for young guys to go there, play, have a system and whatnot,” Harris added. “I think it’s cool now. But years ago, there were not many guys going. Like, if you saw guys go, especially top picks, it was kind of like –  It wasn’t as attractive as it is now to go to hoop, to play.”

Two of Harris’ brothers, Tyler and Terry, were G League players in recent seasons.

WILMINGTON, DE - APRIL 14: Head Coach Doc Rivers and Tyrese Maxey #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers attend a game between the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Delaware Blue Coats during Game 2 of the 2021-22 G League Finals on April 14, 2022 at Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Playing through my mistakes was the biggest thing for me,” Georges Niang said. “I was able to get down there, get a feel for what the game was, the help schemes and different things like that, but also have the ball in my hands and see what roles different guys can play. It was just a huge learning experience for me. I think every player that doesn’t come in as a superstar should experience the G League, even when it comes down to the travel and all the stuff that’s really humbling.”

Having overheard Niang’s G League tales from a nearby locker, the ever-supportive Maxey called out to his teammate.

“Yo, you were dope.”

NBA G League success stories are dope, indeed, and there are more than ever before.

Two-hundred and thirty-four, to be exact.

The 2022-23 NBA G League season tips off on Friday, Nov. 4.

Visit the Delaware Blue Coats Schedule page to see all upcoming games.