Before the season, new Motor City Cruise head coach Jamelle McMillan spoke to his team’s ability to play with pace, create advantages, and compete both relentlessly and aggressively. After a 6-2 start, they have made good on their coach’s promises and are a threat to win the G League Showcase Cup.
The season is split into two parts: the Winter Showcase and a traditional regular season schedule. The Winter Showcase culminates this year in Orlando, Florida, where the eight best teams meet to compete in a single-elimination tournament for the Showcase Cup Championship.
Each team is split into one of four regional pods where they play 14 games against other teams in their region. The team with the best winning percentage in each pod, along with the next four teams across the league with the best winning percentages punch a ticket to compete in the tournament.
The Cruise are tied for the best winning percentage across the entire league among teams who have played at least eight games. If the Winter Showcase schedule ended today, they would qualify to compete for the cup with ease.
McMillan has said so himself, competition in the G League isn’t only about winning games. It’s also about player development and providing a platform to compete for an NBA contract domestically. But winning in the G League can help leapfrog players toward the ultimate goal. Especially if the wins come throughout the showcase schedule.
A majority of G League players are considered free agents who can be signed by any NBA team. The Winter Showcase finishes just before NBA teams are allowed to sign free agents to 10-day contracts. The brief contract allows players to prove they belong amongst the highest competition level while supporting NBA rosters who are in need due to injuries or other matters causing standard contract players to miss time.
With the Showcase Cup held in a singular location, many NBA scouts attend the tournament. Numerous free agent signings are then made both during or after.
McMillan, Cruise general manager Ben Carloni, and the rest of the staff are taking steps to put their team in the best position to qualify.
The team announced Wednesday that guard ShawnDre Jones was re-acquired. He spent the past two seasons with the Cruise and provides immediate guard depth in support of starting point guard Zavier Simpson.
The move doesn’t only help on the court, however. Jones is well liked throughout the organization and provides an additional veteran voice in the locker room.
“(Jones) has corporate equity here and that’s why he is back,” McMillan said of the acquisition. “I’ve talked about the spirit and connection of our group a lot. He’s already done that and he’s been here a few hours. The way the team lit up when he walked in the film room, priceless.”
Motor City’s only two losses this season were followed with wins. The Cruise haven’t allowed themselves to stay in ruts, bouncing back after shaky performances.
The first loss of the season came against the Indiana Mad Ants. A few hours before game time, the Mad Ants’ NBA affiliate Indiana Pacers assigned rookies Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard to the team. Both are on standard NBA contracts. Walker led the Mad Ants with 30 points while Sheppard put up 12 points in the first half before he changed into street clothes and enjoyed the second half from the bench.
Personnel changes and a sudden influx of scoring talent certainly threw off the Cruise’s game plan. But they bounced back in their next game with a hard-fought win over the Cleveland Charge.
Throughout the early season, Cruise players proved that they can compete at an elite level across the G League. And some players may even be ready for brighter lights. McMillan and his staff are putting the team in the best situation to compete. Carloni and the rest of the front office has the organization’s back, not afraid to make a move to improve the roster where needed.
Stars are aligning for the Cruise to make a run for the Showcase Cup. And they just may have the right pieces, support, and mindset to win the whole thing.