Assignments and Recalls, Over and Again: There’s a Point to the Madness

By Jacob Withee | November 23, 2017

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. – You may have noticed by now that certain players in the NBA are assigned to their NBA G League affiliate team regularly.

Some are assigned every few weeks, while some are assigned and recalled every other day.

For the Phoenix Suns and their NBA G League affiliate team, the Northern Arizona Suns, Derrick Jones Jr. is a great example of just that. The 6-foot 7-inch forward has had four assignments with the NAZ Suns this season, and is currently with the Phoenix Suns as of Thanksgiving.

This means that Airplane Mode has been moved a total of eight times this season, with four assignments and four recalls.

Many people laugh at the situation, and we had some fun with it as well, but there is a method to the madness.

“As with any assignment, the goal is provide an opportunity and platform for players that are not currently in the Suns playing rotation to get meaningful minutes and gain experience playing at a very high level,” NAZ Suns General Manager Louis Lehman said. “The benefit for the Suns can come in the short term if a rotation player were to sustain an injury, Derrick will be better prepared to step in and have an impact by staying sharp with his skill sets and conditioning levels by playing these assignment games for the NAZ Suns. The long term impact for the Suns is if Derrick can develop into a rotation player or starter down the road.”

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, an assignment is when an NBA team sends a player to their NBA G League affiliate. The assigned players have contracts with their NBA team, so although they are playing in the NBA G League, they can only be recalled by their NBA team, and cannot be called up by any of the other 29 NBA clubs.

Players not on assignment and not signed on Two-Way contracts (new to the leagues this year) are generally free agents who can be called up by an NBA team at any time.

Using Jones as an example, he has not been in the regular playing rotation for the Phoenix Suns yet this season. Game experience is critical for any sport at any level, and as Lehman says, “the best form of development comes from playing in games.”

So in order for the 20-year-old to keep getting that game experience, he has found himself on the NAZ Suns for a good part of 2017-18.

“The NAZ Suns benefit from having Derrick on assignment by adding a high-level NBA player to the rotation,” Lehman said. “It gives our coaching staff another highly talented player to work with developing on-court skills as well as off-the-court habits on how to be a professional athlete.”

NBA teams have moved their NBA G League affiliates closer to home mainly for this reason, and the Suns are a great example of this. Although some may think it’s tiresome for Jones to go back and forth from Phoenix to Prescott Valley, imagine if the team was still in Bakersfield, California. Because of long flight times and more inconvenience, assignments would be much longer, if they were to happen at all.

With the NAZ Suns so close to Phoenix, this gives the NBA club many more options of what to do with players not earning regular minutes, or if a player is injured, getting him back into the swing of things in a real game while staying at home getting treatment from the same doctors. A great example of a pure injury rehab assignment is longtime NBA veteran Tony Parker, who has been sent from San Antonio to the Austin Spurs this season to rehab his left quadriceps tendon surgery.

The NBA G League has quickly become the best way for NBA teams to get their star players back on the court faster from injury, and for the teams to see what their young guys are made of.

And the people of Prescott Valley should know better than anyone what happens when Airplane Mode comes to town.

“Fans should feel excited whenever Derrick or any Suns player is on assignment. They are seeing a young player in the earlier stages of their career play up close and personal,” Lehman said. “The hope is in the near future, they will be able see these assignment players play on national TV and help the Suns win games in the postseason.“