As the 14-13 Detroit Pistons struggle through trying times during a particularly rough stretch of scheduling, their G-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, have also had their fair share of ups and downs, sitting at 7-10 on the season. Pistons two-way contract players, Zach Lofton and Keenan Evans, were recently called up to Detroit while the big club was in Charlotte last Wednesday suffering a plethora of injury issues. Lofton and Evans didn’t see any action in Charlotte, but they’ve been showing their stuff with the Drive this season.
Th 6-foot-4 combo guard is a scorer first, second, and third, however, Drive head coach Ryan Krueger has said that Lofton’s ability to share the ball has pleased him. Lofton averages 3.5 assists per game, but it sure seems like his place in the NBA is as a scorer off the bench.
Lofton certainly has much to prove - Out of the 53 two-way players currently listed on the NBA G-League stats page, Lofton ranks 24th in scoring at 18.2 points per game in 13 games (but ranks 35th in field goal percentage). He hasn’t been on the top of his game at shooting the three pointer either, shooting just 23.9 percent (1.3-of-5.5 per game) this year. These rankings can be somewhat deceiving, since some current G-League two-way players have been playing so much (or just riding the bench so much) for their parent NBA team that they have very few G League games/stats to go from. A few examples are Troy Williams (Kings), Danuel House Jr. (Rockets), Deonte Burton (Thunder) and Edmond Sumner (Pacers).
On Friday, Lofton had one of his better games, scoring 25 on 10-of-19 shooting (3-of-6 from deep). Against G-League competition, Lofton can get where he wants to go pretty much whenever.
Lofton had to make something out of nothing with this attempt at the end of the shot clock.
Hitting shots from all over the court in many different situations is one of Lofton’s gifts - but that means his shot selection often leaves a lot to be desired. That will be one of the keys in his maturation at the G-League level. Can he be efficient enough to give a team — such as the Pistons — confidence that he’ll make good decisions? Let’s face it, Lofton is not likely going to be a defensive stopper. If his offense is lacking in any area, there’s not much of a reason for him to be on an NBA team.
I don’t watch or follow the Drive all that much besides catching highlights and some insight from those much more in the know, so take this with a grain of salt, but Lofton seems to have a nice feel for the game and a high basketball IQ. After all, Drive head coach Ryan Krueger probably knows what he is talking about.
The 6-foot-3 point guard has played 16 games with the Drive, averaging 13.8 points and 3.6 assists per game. Keenan is shooting 44.4-percent on three pointers (1.8-of-3.9 per game), which is impressive to see so far. Keenan is largely an all-around threat — he can hurt you with his jump shot and also hurt you with his ability to make the fundamental play close to the cup.
One thing that I often read about Evans was that at Texas Tech he was adept at controlling the pace of not only the game, but also the pace at which he makes his way to the basket looking to attack. Some players can fall into the trap of allowing defenders to rush them or move them to areas they’re not comfortable with. Evans always seems in control, using his speed and size to make most defenders be at his mercy. And I’m beginning to realize Evan’s pump fake is a thing of beauty — he really sells it with his arms, shoulders, head and probably his eyes, too.
The 24-year-old 7-footer who I gushed over before the summer league even began is holding his own in his first professional season, averaging 11.7 points per game while shooting 59 percent from the floor with 9.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. He’s a lob threat on the PNR, as well as a weak-side shot-blocking threat. But I’m not certain if there’s enough in his offensive repertoire beyond rolling to the basket that gets him a serious look at a third-string center spot in the NBA.
Having said that, I’m not sure having much of an offensive game is actually needed for a third-string center. Hamilton’s value is shot-blocking and rim-running, and that could prove to be enough to land on the right team. I continue to be intrigued by him.
For those of you who catch the Grand Rapids Drive on a consistent basis, please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!