We wrote earlier about the Miami Heat and how that franchise seems to pull gems out of the dirt, taking guys you’ve never heard of and turning them into starters.

Case in point, they’ve got four players in Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, and Duncan Robinson who all came through the Miami system via two-way contracts at some point. All four were undrafted free agents and now two are starters and two are contributing off the bench for a team that’s one game away from the NBA Finals.

The NBA added two-way contracts for the 2017-2018 season, which allowed players to be shuffled between their parent club and G League team. Each team can have two two-way players on the roster at any time, with the requirement that they have less than four years of NBA experience. These deals basically provide teams with another developmental mechanism and create a pathway for young players to reach the next level.

Miami is one of the franchises that has absolutely killed it with two-way contracts. The Sixers have not, using their two ways on:

  • 2022-23: Louis King, Mac McClung, Michael Foster Jr., Julian Champagnie
  • 2021-22: Aaron Henry, Grant Riller, Myles Powell
  • 2020-21: Gary Clark, Mason Jones, Dakota Mathias, Paul Reed, Rayjon Tucker
  • 2019-20: Norvel Pelle, Marial Shayok
  • 2018-19: Haywood Highsmith, Demetrius Jackson, Shake Milton
  • 2017-18: Demetrius Jackson, James McAdoo, Jacob Pullen, James Young

I’m surely missing a few guys from that list, but the takeaway is that only Paul Reed and Shake Milton have turned two-way deals into any kind of meaningful, multi-year contribution. Reed backed up Joel Embiid in the playoffs and Shake was a regular season rotational player, though the Sixers haven’t converted any of their G League guys into consistent starters. Funny enough, Highsmith, who is a fringe Heat player, made it to the NBA ultimately but couldn’t break through during his time in the Philly setup. Miami then turned him into a guy who played 54 games this season and brought some solid defense off the bench.

One of the knocks on Doc Rivers was that he never gave young players a chance, and there’s probably some truth to that. Tyrese Maxey is the outlier because he was a first round draft pick, but Doc didn’t exactly give ringing endorsements to Reed before finally capitulating (“we’re not going on a Paul Reed victory tour”). Matisse Thybulle hit a wall and was traded. Jalen McDaniels barely featured in the playoffs and Isaiah Joe, in hindsight, deserved more minutes. These guys aren’t necessarily the key to getting over the second round hump, and the Sixers’ veteran stars always needed to play better, but the point is that while franchises like Miami find incredible value in the margins, Philly and other teams aren’t capitalizing.

Maybe NBA development is not dead. That’s one of the key takeaways from this Miami run.