Why More NBA Players Should Embrace the G League for Rehab Like Joakim Noah

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At the end of November, Joakim Noah made his first appearance in an NBA G League game as part of a rehab assignment for the Westchester Knicks.

The former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Star played in front of 2,453 fans during a matinee game at the Westchester County Center. Such an appearance may be considered a low point for Noah, considering he signed a four-year, $72 million last summer and is just three years removed from being an MVP candidate.

It shouldn’t be perceived that way.

Instead, a veteran like Noah’s participation in the minor league should be proof that more NBA players can use the G League as a common place to rehab and get readjusted to the game while shaking off some rust.

The Knicks have utilized their minor league club in Westchester quite a bit under such a strategy.

When Westchester Knicks VP of Player Development Craig Robinson was asked about the kind of role a G League affiliate could play, he identified how players could benefit from increased playing time or rehab opportunities in Westchester.

“We want to develop guys who are good enough to move over to the big Knicks,” Robinson told KnicksJournal.com. “We also want to be an organization that helps the current Knicks when they need some players to come over and get some run, either from a rehabilitation standpoint, or, if they’re not playing much over here, they can come over and get some run with us.”

When the New York Knicks were previously affiliated with the Erie BayHawks, the team only assigned one player to the G League. Before “Linsanity” took off in the Big Apple, Jeremy Lin spent one game with the BayHawks and posted a triple-double (28 points,12 assists and 11 rebounds) in a win over the Maine Red Claws.

Over the past three years, several players have used the G League as an opportunity to work their way back from an injury. During the 2011-12 season, Eric Bledsoe spent two games with the Bakersfield Jam and posted a double-double (10 points and 10 assists) against the Canton Charge. C.J. McCollum averaged 18.5 points per game in two appearances with the Idaho Stampede during the 2013-14 season.

When Brandon Jennings was working his way back from a ruptured left Achilles tendon injury, he volunteered for a rehab assignment with the Grand Rapids Drive. Jennings recorded 11 points and 12 assists in his lone appearance with the Drive. During the 2014-15 season, Marcus Smart spent one game with the Red Claws and made an overall impact in the team’s win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He recorded six points, seven assists, five rebounds, and four steals in 29 minutes. In the same season, Festus Ezeli appeared in back-to-back games for the Santa Cruz Warriors and averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game. It’s not out of the ordinary to see NBA players spend time in the G League on rehab assignment.

When players work their way back from an injury, the G League should be a more common option. It’s shouldn’t be frowned upon that a player who has had success in the NBA is playing in the NBAGL. Players in baseball have played at different levels of the minor league and no one bats an eye.

In the baseball world, players spend time at different levels of the minor league system when they are working their way back from an injury. They usually stick around for a few games before moving back on up to the big league club.

Last season, both Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey spent time with the New York Mets’ short season Single-A affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones. For Syndergaard and Harvey, Brooklyn is within proximity to Queens, NY, where the Mets play their home games. In 2016, Jose Reyes played in four games with the Cyclones and nine games with Mets’ Double-A affiliate, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. When Reyes was working his way back following a suspension with the Colorado Rockies, he played nine games with the team’s Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes.

Thus, it shouldn’t be frowned upon that Noah was assigned to the Westchester Knicks to rehab an injury. NBA players have used the G League as a rehabilitation platform in the past, so don’t be surprised as it happens more often in the future.

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