In recent weeks, with basketball fans on the edges of their sofas waiting desperately for the NBA to start back up, the G League has been making headlines with the signings of top American draft prospects to their revamped G League pathway program.
This type of G League pathway program should have been implemented 20 years ago when the NBA Development League started. And instead of being visionary, the NBA was forced to do it. More on that below…
The first to sign up was the #1 high school player in the US, 6’5” guard Jalen Green from California. Green has the potential to earn as much as half a million dollars during his gap year interning in the G League.
Soon after, #13 ranked high school player Isaiah Todd, a 6’9” power forward from Virginia, announced that he would be joining Green. Todd is expected to earn around $250,000.
Twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern… Then 5-star prospect Daishen Nix decided to join the party. The 6’4” PG from Las Vegas reneged on his commitment to UCLA and joined the G League.
Who is next, and will we see more kids de-committing from NCAA programs? Probably yes, especially with the type of money that is now available and with the uncertainties regarding college sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is great news, but long overdue! So why now, why in 2020?
The NBA and the G League had no other choice!
They were forced to react by the Australian National Basketball League’s similar two-year-old Next Stars program that this past season lured top 2020 NBA Draft prospects LaMello Ball and RJ Hampton with contracts hovering six-figure contracts and the chance to play professionally immediately rather than pretending to be college students for a year while making zero money.
Due to the competition from the NBL, and a desire to keep top prospects in-country for scouting purposes, the G League increased the potential salaries for participants in the pro pathway program from $125,000 to $500,000 (potentially, based on incentives and bonuses). It will place them on a special developmental team separate from the other G League teams that will compete against various competitions, including unofficial games vs. G League teams.
It is a good start for sure, but more should be done.
The whole system needs to be revamped. The NBA should take a page out of the Major League Soccer development playbook with development academies, youth, and U25 teams and homegrown player contracts.
If the MLS can do it, with much larger budgets the NBA can as well.
If the NBA wants the G League to be a true developmental league, they should convert to a 25-and-under league with two to three slots per team for overaged players or those on two-way contracts. The players could participate in the same educational programming as currently proposed as well as do internships with their NBA team and at NBA HQ, gaining valuable business and work experience, which will serve them greatly when their playing career ends and could even lead to full-time employment with the NBA.
To reduce travel and its associated costs, it could be organized into four regional conferences of seven teams with an end-of-the-year G League Final 4 with the four regional winners. The regular season would consist of six games against each conference member for a total of 36 games, a similar amount as an NCAA DI schedule.
Will this impact college basketball? Of course, it will, but probably more positively than negatively. The college game will be much better overall and in the long-term with more three- and four-year players and fewer one-and-dones.