At the beginning of February, Yogi Ferrell winning Western Conference Rookie of the Month seemed improbable.
But at the beginning of January, it was impossible.
That’s because Ferrell, an undrafted rookie out of Indiana, was playing in the D-League in January. In his first game after the calendar flipped to 2017, Ferrell scored 18 points and fouled out of a 109-106 loss, his Long Island Nets falling to 6-14 on the season. Only 339 fans were in attendance. He’d play another eight D-League games before finally considering his options elsewhere, his first professional season not going the way he’d hoped it would.
The 23-year-old began the season with the Brooklyn Nets, averaging 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 10 appearances before being waived on Dec. 8. Then he spent 18 games with Long Island, scoring 18.7 points and handing out 5.8 assists per game, but not attracting any real attention from NBA teams.
Toward the end of the month, Ferrell finally had the talk with his agent, giving him the OK to begin exploring options abroad, where he could earn more money before coming back to the U.S. for Summer League or whatever would come next.
On a Thursday, he received an offer from a Russian team. The next day, as Ferrell was mulling over his future while waiting to play a D-League game in Erie, Dallas came calling. He flew to Texas right away and signed the next morning, then started at point guard against Tony Parker the night after that.
“I had a really nice offer overseas. They wanted me,” Ferrell told Matt Mosley and me on The Post Up Podcast. “Then I got the call from the Mavs, and decided to come over here.”
Had he accepted the offer from Europe immediately, Ferrell would never have earned his 10-day contract, he would never have outscored Kyrie Irving, he would never have hit a rookie record-tying nine 3s, and he would never have signed a multi-year contract with the Mavericks.
“Good thing I didn’t,” he said. “It just shows that things can change in a hurry.”
Ferrell was initially signed out of sheer necessity; Pierre Jackson had been starting in place of the injured Deron Williams and J.J. Barea, with Seth Curry playing backup point guard minutes. But Jackson suffered an injury of his own on Jan. 26 against Oklahoma City, leaving the Mavericks in dire need of a point guard who could learn enough of the playbook in 24 hours to handle the starting job for a few games. Dallas called upon Ferrell, signing him over a couple other D-Leaguers, with Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban joking shortly after the move that the tiebreaker went to Ferrell because he and Cuban shared an alma mater, Indiana.
The 23-year-old quickly proved he had the basketball chops to belong in the NBA and the maturity and basketball IQ to handle the starting role. Williams briefly reclaimed the job after his return from injury on Feb. 11, but following a couple more nice performances by Ferrell the Mavericks waived the veteran immediately after the trade deadline, signaling to Ferrell that he’d shown enough in just one month to earn the title of starting point guard.
In 14 games with Dallas, Ferrell is averaging 12.2 points, 5.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 32.3 minutes per game, shooting 41.8 percent from the field, 40.6 percent on 3s, and 88.5 percent from the free throw line.
“I came into a great situation in Dallas,” he said Thursday upon winning Rookie of the Month honors, after putting up shots for an hour after practice. “A great organization wanted me, had confidence in me, and just let me rock.”
Ferrell is the first undrafted player to win either conference’s Rookie of the Month since Chris Copeland won for New York in April 2013, per Basketball-Reference. The last undrafted rookie to win for the Western Conference was Tarence Kinsey in April 2007.
What makes his achievement even more surprising is Ferrell was released from his initial team, the Brooklyn Nets. There is no easy to way to track this, but odds are it’s been a long, long time since a first-year pro was waived by one team only to win Rookie of the Month for another.
From going undrafted to earning his own way on the Nets’ roster, from being cut to starring in the D-League, and from considering options overseas to earning Rookie of the Month, Ferrell has had one heck of an inaugural season, full of ups, downs, twists, and turns. And all of those experiences have led him to this moment.
“It definitely does make it a lot sweeter,” he said.
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