Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
It seems like anyone with a full time job and a Twitter account fancies him/herself a “grinder:” someone who pushes him/herself to a level beyond most in the same position are willing or able to go. Not to minimize the average Jane working long hours at their respective occupation, but the true grinder can be found in the G League.
Take Raptors 905 point guard Lorenzo Brown. A second round pick in 2013, Brown has played five pro seasons, which include 77 NBA games, 111 G League games, and a season in China mixed in. But Brown really got his grind on this past season.
Between January 11th and 13th Brown played two doubleheaders, the back end of each he had to drag heavy legs against NBA competition. He also logged a combined 78 minutes over that stretch.
Somehow Brown encountered perhaps a more ridiculous stretch this past week. Between April 6th and 10th, Brown grinded harder than an ax theoretically grinds in that idiom of “having an ax to grind”. Over those five days Brown played four games (3 G League, 1 NBA), including a back-to-back-to-back in three different cities, logged 138 minutes, while taking five trips to travel 5,800 kilometres. And keep in mind that Brown was being leaned on heavily in single elimination playoff games in the G League during this period, making the grind was that much grindier.
So Lorenzo… you tired?
“Yeah, man,” Brown admitted after the 905 bowed out of the G League Finals on Tuesday. “The third quarter kinda got to me, but I don’t wanna make an excuse, so I’m not tired. I could play some more.”
At least Brown was rewarded with the MVP after his treacherous run.
“It just feels like you’re getting a monkey off your back,” Brown says. “I’ve been grinding for five years, going on six. So this MVP award means a lot to me.”
Also fortunate for Brown – his efforts were rewarded by the Raptors with an NBA contract for the playoffs. Beyond that his NBA future is up in the air, as Raptors point guard Fred Vanvleet is a restricted free agent this offseason.
Alfonzo McKinnie’s pro career has always been precarious. After finishing his college career at Wisconsin-Green Bay, the Raptors assignee played pro ball in Luxembourg (of all places), then Mexico. After that, he paid to try out for the Windy City Bulls of the G League.
“I went into last year in the D League being the guy nobody knew,” McKinnie says. “Everybody was like oh he paid for a tryout.
“I made the team.”
From there McKinnie has continued to exceed expectations. “The guy who nobody knew” became a G League All Star. Then McKinnie worked out with a number of teams, the last being Toronto, and it’s a good thing he did. A year after paying $150 for a chance to make the G League, McKinnie signed a two year deal with the Raptors worth north of $2 million in 2017, but only the first year guaranteed. Despite the NBA money, McKinnie did not claim the final roster spot out of training camp, leading to just 14 appearances for the parent Raptors. Guarding the likes of Demar Derozan during the summer, and established stars during the preseason opened McKinnie’s eyes to how far he still has to go.
“There were a couple times I switched off on a couple guys; you’ve been watching those guys ever since they came into the League,” McKinnie says.
“It’s just a moment where, whoa, I do gotta guard him. But at the same time, you look at it as, you’re a professional too. Those guys are human beings too. You just gotta step up and do what you need to do. Let the coaches and everybody see that, once you do that, people gain confidence in you, for next time.”
“I wouldn’t say I got ‘welcomed in’, but it was a learning experience for me.”
McKinnie will take his initiation from last year and the 40 G League games he played for the 905 into another uncertain summer. He’ll also meet with Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey, along with the rest of the Raptors brass to find out exactly what aspects of his game they’ll need him to improve if the team is going to pick up that tantalizing $1.38 million option.
“I had a lotta goals – I’ve met’em,” McKinnie says. “Once I signed for the rest of the (2017-18) season my goal’s just been to keep working and keep getting better and keep showing them that I’m working and letting them see the improvement, so when I do get the opportunity they won’t be skeptical to put me in.
“I feel like I can run with the best of them.”
And so the grind continues.