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The All-Nobody Team: 5 NBA players making a name for themselves

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theScore's fourth annual All-Nobody Team is an exercise meant to identify and spotlight a handful of NBA players who are making a name for themselves after entering the season with relative anonymity.

We're looking for players whose NBA futures were uncertain before the 2023-24 campaign tipped off, but who have looked promising enough this season that I now believe they can be NBA mainstays.

In prior years, this space has spotlighted previous unknowns such as Austin Reaves, Naz Reid, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Jordan Goodwin, Isaiah Joe, Nick Richards, and Yuta Watanabe, among others.

As a reminder, players drafted in 2023 and first-round picks from any year are ineligible, as are players who had already logged at least 1,000 career minutes coming into this season.

Vince Williams Jr., Grizzlies

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Even among players who have made this annual list, Williams' accomplishments are remarkable. The 2022 second-round pick entered this season with few assurances about his NBA future, but with more accomplished Grizzlies guards Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Marcus Smart, Luke Kennard, and Derrick Rose all missing significant time, Williams turned their misfortune into his opportunity.

After appearing in just 15 games as a rookie, Williams ranks fourth on the team in total minutes as a sophomore. The 23-year-old's two-way contract was converted to a guaranteed three-year deal worth $7.9 million with a fourth-year team option - the most guaranteed money ever given to a player who began the season on a two-way contract. This week, he was named as an injury replacement for the Rising Stars game.

Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins beamed with pride when asked about Williams' season and development, explaining that his staff and the front office were talking about Williams' promise as early as last season. They just wondered when he'd get an opportunity for meaningful NBA playing time. "Behind closed doors, we talk to these guys about the work ethic, the pro habits, and the discipline it takes to develop a routine in your first couple years in the league," Jenkins told theScore after a Grizzlies win in Toronto in January.

"What are the things you're working on for the role that you're gonna play for us when your number is called? Whether it's G League opportunities, play-group opportunities, end-of-game situations when the game is out of hand, are you going to go out there and have the right mentality? Obviously, Vince was doing a phenomenal job." Jenkins noted that even in play-group action for players out of the rotation, Williams was focused on executing what the coaches wanted rather than just trying to dominate by scoring.

It's not hard to see why the Grizzlies envision Williams as part of their future and rewarded the feisty shooting guard. Williams, who has the strength to get to the rim more, has found his place as a shooter, knocking down 36.5% of his 4.1 3-point attempts per game this season after shooting 45.7% from deep in the G League and 39.7% over his last two years at VCU. With Memphis facing so many injuries, Williams has also served as a point guard at times.

As encouraging as his offense has been, Williams earned his playing time with tenacious defense and tremendous rebounding prowess for his size. Among 65 qualified rebounders 6-foot-4 or shorter, Williams' rebound rate of 11.4% ranks fourth according to Basketball Reference, with a noticeable penchant for cleaning the defensive glass.

It was Williams' ability to hold his own against Luka Doncic that really grabbed his coach's attention. Though the Mavericks superstar predictably dominated in their Dec. 11 matchup, Williams could be seen picking up the All-NBA first-teamer 94 feet from the hoop, with the two players often jawing at each other the length of the court. Williams' ability to play with that defensive edge without abandoning the Grizzlies' game plan impressed Jenkins.

"Seeing him carry that edge game in and game out, just being locked in on a guy, trying to crawl up under their skin, and still being able to execute wise defense, that's been the thing that has really stood out to me," Jenkins said.

Injuries have made it a difficult year for the Grizzlies, but this season from hell has also allowed the team to discover a 3-and-D guard who's capable of defending the game's best perimeter players and willing to do the dirty work. And they now have him under (cheap) team control through 2027.

Sam Merrill, Cavaliers

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Merrill, the last pick of the 2020 draft and the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 G League Draft, logged about 290 minutes with the Bucks and Grizzlies over his first two seasons as a pro before signing a 10-day contract with Cleveland last March. The Cavs then signed the shooting guard to a multi-year deal. A year later, that decision has paid off.

Merrill's shooting ability will always intrigue teams in the modern NBA, but finding the gumption to let it fly as a low-minute afterthought isn't easy.

"I've had times in my first couple years where I'd get in and be a little tentative or whatnot," Merrill told theScore. After converting 44.1% of his 8.9 3-point attempts per game with the Cleveland Charge last season, Merrill says the hard work he'd put in gave him confidence. When he got his chance with the big club this season, he was ready to live up to the adage that "shooters shoot."

Merrill has attempted 16.7 3-pointers per 100 possessions this season and 12.3 per 36 minutes. Those attempt rates rank second behind only Steph Curry this year and sixth all time, according to Stathead.

"The G League was big for me last year to get a lot of reps I didn't really get my first two years in the league," Merrill said. "But these guys also have a ton of confidence in me, coach has confidence in me, and that allows me to be myself and just let it fly."

That confidence is warranted. The surging Cavs, who have been decimated by injuries and are always looking for more shooting as a team that starts two non-spacing bigs, are thrilled whenever Merrill pulls the trigger. His 44.2% conversion rate ranks ninth among 163 qualified shooters.

"He's a guy who creates a ton of gravity, so even if he's not the one who gets the shot, people are paying attention to him, and the guy on the weak side or strong side with the ball can go attack and be aggressive with less help (defense)," Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.

As the Cavs have gotten healthier, Merrill's minutes have dipped, but he still figures to be a consistent rotation piece down the stretch and a league fixture in the future. As Bickerstaff noted, the 27-year-old is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and leveraging his shooting gravity to make plays for others.

"He understands the game of basketball. He's a good basketball player," Bickerstaff stressed after a 16-point, 17-minute performance on New Year's Day in Toronto. "If you want to chase him and be physical with him, he has the ability to turn the corner, and he has great touch in the paint, too. He knows how to get the ball over the top of big guys and those sorts of things. He's a well-rounded basketball player who just happens to be an elite shooter."

Keon Ellis, Kings

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Undrafted out of Alabama (after two years of junior college at Florida SouthWestern), Ellis spent the last season and a half on two-way contracts with the Kings before Sacramento converted his deal to a standard contract last week. Watch Ellis play for even a few minutes and his infectious energy makes it easy to understand why head coach Mike Brown said he's looking forward to having Ellis in Sacramento "for a while."

Though he's yet to earn significant minutes, the 24-year-old already looks like a capable 3-and-D rotation contributor. A wiry guard, Ellis uses his nearly 6-foot-9 wingspan to his advantage, with incredibly active hands and a good sense of timing that leads to strong steal and block rates. Out of 356 players who've logged at least 300 minutes this season, Ellis ranks 46th in deflections per minute. His length should also allow him to guard at least three positions.

On the offensive end, Ellis has been used mostly as a catch-and-shoot weapon. Nearly 82% of his field-goal attempts have come from deep, where he's converting at a 37% clip. But he's flashed the ability to attack closeouts and create for himself with a pull-up. There's no reason he can't become a more well-rounded offensive player with time.

The Kings should look to get him more involved. If they can't, or if they need to dangle some young talent to make a significant move this summer, rival teams should be trying to pry Ellis out of Sacramento.

Duop Reath, Trail Blazers

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No one on this year's All-Nobody Team can top Reath's globe-trotting basketball odyssey. A Sudanese-Australian who went undrafted in 2018 and played multiple NBA Summer Leagues with Dallas and Brooklyn, Reath spent time in Serbia, Australia, China, and Lebanon before finding a home in Portland this season.

The 27-year-old has appeared in 40 games for the Trail Blazers, earning 11 starts at center. Though he's not the strongest near-7-footer nor an imposing defensive force, Reath's offensive utility should continue to get him more NBA opportunities.

He's an excellent screener and a legitimate stretch-five who can space the floor as a pick-and-pop threat, having knocked down 38.5% of his 3.6 3-point attempts per game. Adding more rim-running and pick-and-roll finishing would diversify his offensive portfolio, but as is, Reath can be a very solid reserve big. His energy, sound positioning, and footwork also tease the potential of a solid two-way center, even if he never becomes a true rim-protector.

Jontay Porter, Raptors

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The younger brother of Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., Jontay went undrafted in 2019 after tearing his right ACL twice in five months. His professional journey has been an uphill battle since then. Porter appeared in 11 games with the Grizzlies during the 2020-21 season and spent time with Milwaukee's G League team last year before a strong start to his 2023-24 campaign with the Pistons' G League squad earned him a two-way contract with the Raptors.

When he checked into an early January contest in Memphis, it was his first time on an NBA court in 32 months. You wouldn't know it by the way Porter acquitted himself. The big man earned consistent playing time - and even five starts - for a Raptors team in flux and one that needed a replacement for Jakob Poeltl while he was injured.

During those four weeks in Toronto's rotation, Porter almost looked like a grizzled vet. He's not going to jump out of the building, but the 24-year-old is a high-IQ player with good positioning, footwork, and timing on defense, and he flashed some versatility when switched onto smaller players (like DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, and Derrick White). He's also a good screener and solid playmaker - an offensive connector that Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic believes will be a good 3-point shooter, too.

The return of Poeltl and the acquisition of hometown hero Kelly Olynyk - not to mention Porter's own back and ankle injuries - have relegated Porter to third-string status, but the Raptors should find a role for the youngster as part of their Scottie Barnes-led rebuild.

"We're really excited about Jontay Porter," team president Masai Ujiri surprisingly offered when discussing the process of finding players that fit the timeline of Barnes, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley. "Big guy that has shooting skill, passing skill, basketball IQ, plays the right way, size, good age."

That Porter's name - and game - came to mind as Ujiri pondered how to get Toronto back on track has to count for something.

Honorable mentions: Craig Porter Jr. (Cavs), Julian Champagnie (Spurs), Orlando Robinson (Heat), Matt Ryan (Pelicans), Skylar Mays (Lakers/Blazers)

Joseph Casciaro is theScore's senior content producer.

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