Josh Magette doesn't look like anyone's mental image of a professional basketball player. Measuring in at a listed 6'1, 160 pounds, the wispy point guard out of Alabama-Huntsville has had to overcome those that doubt him based on his appearance his whole life.
"I had one scholarship offer coming out of high school," Magette told Silver Screen and Roll on Saturday night. "I just kind of felt, not under-appreciated, but something to prove every time I step on the court."
The same edge he plays with is audible in the clean-cut Magette's voice as he continues.
"I take it personally against every point guard in this league. I want to go out there and win my matchup every single night."
Magette is now leading both the Los Angeles D-Fenders and the entire D-League in assists (9.1 per game), and is fulfilling his goal of winning his matchup most nights. Even if it hasn't led to much acclaim or a call-up yet, Magette has gained the respect of his teammates, who rave about what he brings to the D-Fenders.
"He looks like you could throw him around anytime," says Magette's teammate and close friend Andre Ingram. "But he's tough. So without question, without hesitation, I'd definitely say [he's the best point guard in the D-League]. I've seen all the other so-called top point guards, point guards who get called up. I'll take Josh all day."
Magette's playmaking has been at the center of the D-Fenders offense, which ranks third in the D-League in offensive efficiency. The offense collapses when Magette is on the bench, averaging just 102 points per 100 possessions as compared to the 111.8 per 100 possessions they average with Magette on the floor.
The D-Fenders also post their worst net rating (being outscored by -6.8 points per 100 possessions) when Magette sits, despite his struggles shooting the ball (38.9 percent shooting overall, 33.5 percent from three, the only major wart on his game). This is due in large part to how valuable an effect his playmaking has on a team full of guys who can score.
"It's obvious man, you see how the ball moves when he's in there, and it tends to stick when he's not in there," says Ingram, "He's the engine of our offense."
According to his coach, that's because of playmaking mindset Magette plays with.
"In a league of guys that are pretending to be point guards, he is actually one," raves D-Fenders head coach Casey Owens. "He runs the team, he sees the floor, he gets everyone involved, he knows who needs the ball when, where, and why. All of that. He's a truly special player that should be in the NBA in my opinion."
While many players in the D-League are trying to put up as large of numbers as possible to get to the NBA, Magette isn't simply hunting assists in order to put up cartoonish box scores like the career-high 22 assists he had against the Texas Legends on Saturday night. Most of Magette's playmaking comes smoothly in the flow of the D-Fenders' offense, like this bounce pass against the Texas Legends:
Magette doesn't rush plays, in this case using his patience and vision to simply wait for Vander Blue to make his way to the arc in transition before feeding him in stride for a three-pointer. Most of the season, that has been Magette's MO: His assists come smoothly in the flow of the game and are most often just him making the right pass at exactly the right time.
"Unlike most point guards today, he's a willing passer man," says Ingram. "He actually looks at guys to get involved, and he's not a selfish assist guy. Some guys want all the assists, but nah, Josh doesn't play like that. He just plays the right way. That's why coach puts the ball in Josh's hands. We want the ball in Josh's hands."
Ingram feels that way because most of the time the ball is in Magette's hands, he's able to make something positive happen. And while it's often not flashy, that doesn't mean Magette isn't capable of making a highlight reel feed when presented with the opportunity:
In the midst of a drive to the basket, Magette recognized that the Legends had left the most dangerous three-point shooter in D-League history open in the corner (a major no-no) and flung a pinpoint pass off the dribble without hesitation for his most flamboyant assist of the night.
Fittingly given his playing style of often making the simple read rather than the spectacular one, Magette was reticent to talk himself up even after setting a new career-high in assists at any level, crediting his teammates for making shots and his coach for trusting him. His hesitation might have also had to do with the D-Fenders allowing the Legends to score 137 points in the loss on Saturday night, because again belying stereotypes, Magette takes just as much or more pride in the defensive end of the floor as he does the offensive one.
The D-Fenders haven't been great defensively this season (ranking 12th out of 19 D-League teams in defensive efficiency while giving up 105.8 points per 100 possessions), but have been better when Magette is on the floor. The D-Fenders defensive rating is 104.6 when Magette is playing, the second-best mark of any player on the team that has played more than 300 minutes this season. Like their offense, Los Angeles' defense also takes a precipitous drop while Magette is on the bench, with the team giving up 108.8 points per 100 possessions when Magette sits.
This effectiveness in picking up point guards full court and delaying teams from getting into their offense early in the shot clock hasn't stopped teams from underestimating him.
"Just look at him, and just like other teams, they're human. They see a guy like 'oh, I can go at this guy.' He just has that look like you can go after him," says Ingram. "And Josh knows that. That's why he plays the way he plays, and I love it. I love the way he takes challenges head on. That's the start of our defense."
But Magette has to be careful not to play with too much of a chip on his shoulder when fighting back against other teams' misconceptions, because if he gets a technical, he is going to hear about it after the game from his parents, who call him after watching every game he plays.
"I've had a few technical fouls this year and I hear about it from my mom every single time," says Magette. "She's not too happy about it."
There is a different call Magette is still waiting for, the one that lets him know he's made an NBA roster. His effective play this season has proven him more than worthy of a summer league invite from the Lakers or another NBA team, and is another example of the D-Fenders managing to find players that have utility at the next level in the right situation.
But Magette's not sitting by the phone the phone waiting. He remains confident that if his team prospers, so will he.
"I'm kind of taking this season, trying to focus on a game at a time, and trying to win as many games as I can because I think the testament of a good point guard is when your team is winning," says Magette. "Hopefully I am close [to a call-up], but you don't really know. I hear things, I hear teams are interested, but I don't really know how close I am. I just try to go out and play every single night."
"I really take it personally to win my matchup every single night and hopefully some team will take notice. All it takes is one."
All stats per stats.nbadleague.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.