FRISCO – J.J. Barea once was in the same situation that Mavericks’ rookie Isaiah Roby now finds himself.
The veteran guard spent part of his rookie season with the Fort Worth Flyers, the Mavericks’ affiliate in what was then the NBA Development League.
Barea had a heart as big as Texas, but he needed seasoning as a raw, undrafted talent. He was sent to the Flyers for two weeks, playing eight games. He would average 27.3 points, 7.8 assists and 5 rebounds in those eight games. In his final two, he racked up 84 points.
That was it. He never went back to the Development League again and the rest is history. He was such a sensation that he even had his Flyers’ jersey figuratively retired by Mavericks’ teammate Jason Terry.
That’s what’s called taking an assignment to the G-League as an opportunity and making the most of it. And by the way, an interesting factoid about that 2006-07 Fort Worth Flyers team is that another future NBA stud was on the roster, too: Lou Williams, who would go on to win NBA sixth man of the year three times.
These are the kind of G-League success stories that happen, occasionally.
That’s why the start of the Texas Legends’ season on Friday is so important to Roby, the second-round pick of the Mavericks in the June draft.
And also, it’s crucial for rookie Josh Reaves and Antonius Cleveland, the Mavericks’ two-way players who also will start their 2019-20 seasons with the Legends.
“You have to treat it like a great opportunity,” Barea said. “It’s all about playing time. It’s hard for young guys to get time in the NBA. This is a way to get better.”
It’s true that the Mavericks have a crowded rotation that is going to be hard to crack for Roby. So how is a young player supposed to improve?
As Al Whitley, the Legends’ vice president of basketball operations, said: “Sitting on the sidelines in a suit during Mavs games is not helping anybody develop as a player. So being 20 minutes away with the Legends is an incredible opportunity and he (Roby) has to see it like that, too. He has to see it as a great opportunity to develop and get playing time.
“He doesn’t have to come out and average 25 points per game in the G-League to prove he’s an NBA player. He just has to show he’s developing, work on the things we’re teaching him every day and he’ll be fine.”
The Legends open their season Friday at Memphis, which comes to Frisco on Saturday night for the Legends’ home opener at Comerica Center. The Legends figure to be a competitive group this season, based on their talent level. Reaves, Cleveland and Roby should be fixtures when they aren’t called up by the Mavericks.
Roby already has shuttled up and down the tollway several times. He will start the season with the Legends, but there will be times, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, when the Mavericks will need him to be with their team.
“We’re going to take advantage of the opportunity we have to get him experience with the G-League team,” Carlisle said of Roby. “I believe our G-League team is going to take a pretty significant step up in terms of how good they are this year.
“And at the same time, I want him back (at some practices) to give us 15 players so it gives us three teams for our practice. I would like to continue to give him a taste of both.”
And, as Legends coach George Galanopoulos said, being inactive at an NBA game does not mean a player can’t learn.
“The experience is good to be engaged in the huddle – you can learn a lot sitting behind an NBA bench, for sure,” Galanopoulos said. “But at the end of the day, the way you learn most is by going out and playing. We’re going to do our best to coach him as well as we can and guide him through his development. Him just going out there to play, I think you’ll see improvement.”
Roby knows he needs game experience at the professional level. And the talent difference between a lot of G-League players and NBA players is microscopic. That will allow him to work against players who either have been in the NBA or many who will be before this season is over.
Remember, the Mavericks and Legends work very closely together when it comes to the grooming of young players.
“The first thing is we all believe in him,” Whitley said of Roby. “We gave him a long-term contract. So, in order to develop, he has to play. At the Maverick level, barring a major injury, the minutes just aren’t there.
In the G-League, those minutes will be there. Getting the chance to make an impact in the G-League is one of the most readily available ways a young player can catch the eye of NBA teams.
“If they approach it the right way, we’re giving them all the tools,” Whitley said. “You got to learn the pro game. It’s different. But even from summer league to now, they’ve taken incredible steps.
“And these guys want it. They’re hungry. They have NBA skill sets already. It’s just a matter of improving on a few things and getting some experience.”