Late last month, five-star high school stud Darius Bazley rocked the basketball world when he announced via a Yahoo Sports article that he decommitted from Syracuse University with the intentions of playing in the NBA G League. This announcement came a little more than 12 hours after he put in a solid performance in the 2018 McDonalds All-American game. In 17 minutes, the 6’9 forward had 11 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block on 4-8 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc in that matchup against the best high school players in America.
Bazley’s announcement comes nine years after Latavious Williams became the first player to make the jump from high school hoops to the G League when he did it before the 2009-10 season. Williams’ decision was made due to the combination of academic struggles and wanting to help financially support his family. Although Williams had the offer to play in the Chinese Basketball Association for $100,000, he decided to choose the G League to get more exposure and experience. In addition to that, he was regarded as a solid 4-star prospect by both ESPN and 247Sports.
On the other hand, Bazley chose to go to the G League on his volition without an outside issues. Also, he’s regarded as a top-10 recruit from every recruiting outlet from ESPN (9th), Rivals (9th) to 247Sports (8th). That widely-regarded praise pushed him to be named to the Nike Hoop Summit, Jordan Brand Classic and of course the McDonald’s All-American Game.
So while both Williams and Bazley share the claim as being the only two players to go from high school to the G League, the similarities end there as they’re players that made the decisions for different reasons and at differing heights of their individual careers.
Also, the G League is a vastly different and improved league to how it was back when Latavious Williams played in 2009-10. The most glaring and obvious example of change is the fact that the name has changed from the NBA D-League to the G League. In addition to that, the amount of teams in the league has improved dramatically over the last nine years from 17 in 09-10 to 27 when Bazley enters in 2017-18.
The influx of G League squads is primarily due to most NBA teams seeing the worth and value of having an affiliate to either help develop young prospects and/or look for potential diamonds in the rough. That investment has really paid off for a variety of NBA squads including the Toronto Raptors. A big reason behind Toronto being the best team in the Eastern Conference is due to their extremely strong 2nd unit core of Fred Van Vleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Jakob Poeltl all spent some time in the G League with the Raptors 905.
Another example is seen with the Houston Rockets as Clint Capela utilized time with the RGV Vipers to energize his progression from being a raw prospect to his current status as one of the better young bigs in the NBA.
In addition to teams using the G League to develop prospects, we’ve seen numerous cases of unknown and unsigned players that utilized the league to jumpstart their careers. Some significant examples include: Hassan Whiteside, Jonathon Simmons, Tyler Johnson, Robert Covington, Danny Green and David Nwaba.
The combination of assignees, G League call-ups and two-way players has pushed things to the point where 53% of players on end-of-season NBA rosters spent some time in their careers in the NBAGL. Every teams had at least six G League alums on their end-of-season rosters, which included seven clubs that had 10 or more players. While we haven’t yet seen a former G League prospect make their way to the All-Star Game or land on an All-NBA team, I still think that’s a pretty good track record for a league designed to grow future NBA players.
Actually, the amount of current NBA players that spent time in the G League is one of the reasons why Bazley decided to make the decision that he did. In a recent piece with the Players Tribune, he went into pretty good depth on how his eyes has always been on the NBA and how he feels like the G League gets him ready more than a stint overseas.
“In the G League every day, I’m going to be competing with and against NBA talent. I’m going to learn NBA schemes, adopt an NBA practice schedule and generally be in an environment where the main focus of everyone I’m around is competing at an NBA level. I know that I grow most when I’m challenged,” he stated.
“That’s how I went from a rec league basketball player in eighth grade to being considered one of the top prospects in the country. I put in a lot of work just to get to the point where the outside world actually cares where I’m playing basketball after high school.” explained Bazley.
Later in that piece, Bazley explained further about his desire to grow his game and compete against quality competition. “I’m viewing this next year as an investment in myself. I won’t get the chance to play in a nationally televised rivalry game or in an NCAA tournament, but while the spotlight is on the players who do, I’m going to be grinding,” Bazley explained.
“I’ll be in some gym measuring myself up against great players and trying to surpass them. And while I’m doing that, even if the nation isn’t keeping track of my progress, all I need is the right person, watching me play in the right game, at the right time.”
Just those few quotes alone made me realize that although Bazley is just an 18-year-old kid, he honestly understands the challenge that will come from both an on and off-court perspective.
On-court, he knows that he’ll be competing every night against opponents that are just bigger, faster and stronger than anyone that he’s previously faced in his career. Whether they’re two-way prospects, NBA assignees or just standard G Leaguers, a lot of these players were either studs in college or have impressed on a pro level whether its G League, various international leagues or even in the Association.
For someone that has spent his basketball career playing against players at the same age at him, this singular task is going to be a big challenge for him. Fortunately, Bazley seems to recognize this and is more than willing to compete against that quality G League competition for the 2018-19 rather than just going to Syracuse and bouncing after one semester.
In addition to competing against solid competition on a nightly basis, he’ll utilize the season to adjust to the various rules and pacing of American pro basketball. Whether its the extended 3-point line and 24-second clock to learning how to spot off-ball drivers when you’re working as a facilitator or how to navigate a screen when you’re trying to defend a small forward that’s moving around in a “Floppy” set.
Since Bazley made that announcement back in March, there been some pretty smart people involved in the basketball world that question why a G League club wants to develop a HS prospect when he’s likely going to get picked by another NBA club in the following summer. While that thought process makes some sense when you initially think about it, remember that a lot of G League coaches and executives have the same goal as players: get called-up to the NBA.
Although putting up a good win-loss record is obviously an important part of being a G League coach, as it is in any other sport, development is still a crucial part of the brand even if that term is no longer involved in the actual name of the league. When it comes to G League coaches, the amount of players on that team that receive NBA call-ups is a huge badge of honor. Because it shows that they have done a great job of pushing that prospect to the level that they’re ready to make an impact in the big leagues.
If that’s the case for standard G Leaguers and 10-day contracts, imagine how an NBA organization would look at a head coach that helped push a raw prospect like Darius Bazley to being at the point where they’re a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft and become a solid rookie. Do you think that would really booster a resume? I think so.
“It all depends on the organization’s philosophy,” stated Legends head coach Robert MacKinnon. Over his two years as head coach of the Legends, MacKinnon has seen seven of his players receive NBA call-ups. In addition to that, he helped develop two-way player Johnathan Motley grow himself in the G League before he finished the year with the Dallas Mavericks. That time in the G League seemed to pay off as he averaged 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1 assist on 53% from the field in only 17 minutes per game. Although he can definitely take pride in how pushed the Legends to their 1st playoff appearance during this past 2017-18 season, that isn’t his top goal as a G League head coach
“Here with the Texas Legends, player development is the number one mission statement so players coming out earlier would benefit from their experience here,” the Legends head coach continued. “Not just from a minutes standpoint but also developing their game in court. We have several players this season who were strictly inside players before coming here - they have been given the opportunities to develop what translates to the NBA while with us, instead of using them to just win games. Now they have a chance to play and have long careers at the next level.”
In addition to recognizing the quality competition that he’ll have to go against and the potential benefits of the G League over NCAA, Bazley recognizes that the G League grind is real. From waking up early in the morning to embarklong plane rides in coach to smaller cities like Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Canton, Ohio and sleeping in mediocre hotels. In addition to the that, most games are played in arenas that are lucky to be half-empty
However G League attendance has been making significant strides over the past few years as 1.6 million people attended games at one of the 26 locations, which is an 11% improvement over the prior season. Although that seems disappointing when you realize that there were four expansion teams, its still important to remember that more people are getting familiar with the G League and going to local games every single year.
In addition to that, the amount of media outlets covering the league, whether its online or cable TV has made a lot of strides since Latavious Williams played in the league back in the 2009-10 season. At that time, most games were streamed on the league’s site on a service called “Futurecast” while there were a few regular season and postseason games aired on a network called Versus (now NBC Sports Network).
During the 2017-18 season, that outreach has improved massively as the league has made deals with these five outlets to air G League games: Facebook Live, Eleven Sports, Twitch, NBA TV and ESPN. Although Facebook Live, NBA TV and ESPN has been a part of G League coverage since 2016-17, the league introduced their partnerships with Twitch and Eleven Sports during this season.
In my eyes, the relationship with Twitch was meant to introduce the league to a younger audience as that site is a huge live streaming platform that’s mostly dedicated to gaming. To help intrigue fans, the league allowed Twitch streamers to co-broadcast the games where they’d either try their hands at play-by-play or just riff on the action over the course of a game.
Another way to spice things up for potential new fans is how they introduced interactive features where they can click on some tabs on the left-side of the screen to look at box scores of the teams competing in that particular game.
On the other hand, the G League’s relationship with Eleven Sports was another way for older folks to watch games on cable/satellite outlets like Dish Network, Direct TV, AT&T’s UVerse and Comcast’s Xfinity. While a multitude of Americans could use watch G League ball on those services, Eleven Sports is also available in other countries like Belgium, Luxembourg, Singapore and Taiwan. Considering that this partnership was announced in early January but still had over 120 games air on the network over the next two months, its safe to say that this relationship is significant.
When it comes to the World Wide Leader in Sports, the amount of G League matchups are limited as there were 12 regular season and 9 Playoff/Finals games that aired on either ESPNU or ESPNews. Compared to the wide array of ACC or SEC games that you can watch on ESPN or ESPN2, the G League seems to be pretty limited in comparison. However, compared to how it was just nine years ago, just being on the ESPN family of networks combined with the other outlets is another sign that shows how the G League is progressing.
The evolution of the G League will continue in the future as the NBA invests more money in its minor league affiliate. Just this week, the G League announced that salaries for all players on standard G League deals will be $35,000. That’s a gigantic improvement over the amount of money that players received in the 2017-18 season, as contracts were split into two tiers: A-Level: $26,000 and B-Level: $19,500.
These increased salaries should improve the already solid talent level that the G League has, as more American-born players will decide to stay close to home rather than go play ball overseas. In addition to that, it could make the league more intriguing to young high school prospects that might want to follow in the footsteps of Darius Bazley
In addition to the drastically improved salaries, G League players can take advantage of additional benefits which include: in-season housing, traveling stipend, health benefits and a partnership with Arizona State which gives players an opportunity to take classes and earn their degrees through the university’s online undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In addition to that, they made a deal with a student-athlete development program named Game Plan, which helps players determine which career path they want to take when they eventually decide to hang up their sneakers.
As someone that’s been writing about this league on and off for nearly six years, I’m amazed by how quickly this league has grown. Whether its the continued increase in the amount of teams, the various outlets that broadcast games improvement of talent and the progression of G League player salaries, this continued evolution has been a beautiful thing to watch.
Although its great to look past on the impressive growth of the league, I believe its more important to look forward to watch the future may hold. To start, G League president Malcolm Turner has recently stated in a Reddit AMA that we could be 12-18 months away from all 30 NBA teams having an affiliate, as the league has been in active conversations with the three lone holdouts: New Orleans, Portland and Denver. For fans that have been hoping for that 30-for-30 system to actually become a reality since the Houston Rockets started this process when they bought the RGV Vipers back in 2009, being this close to the finish line is extremely exciting.
In addition to that, the actual on-court competition should only get better as we move towards the future due to the improved salaries as more American-born players may decide to stick in the states to make a decent living and stay a step away from the NBA rather than going to the other side of the country. In addition to that, more top high school prospects make be interested to take the same path as Darius Bazley if they know that they can make some solid money while progressing their games.
Although money is something that can intrigue all players, whether they’re an 18-year old McDonald’s All-American stud or an aging vet looking for one more shot at the league. However, the track record of the league and its ability to help 53% of players in the NBA develop their game might be more important.
As I mentioned earlier in the piece, that singular stat was enough to intrigue Darius Bazley to make the jump to the G League. As the future G Leaguer has realized, the G League is a great outlet for development whether 1st or 2nd round pick needing some additional grooming, an unknown player looking to show the world what they can do or a former NBA player looking to refine his game to get back to the Association.
There’s absolutely no lie to the fact that being in the G League is an absolute grind. You haven’t reached the plateau of the NBA and don’t have the pomp and circumstance that comes with being in a top-notch college. However, the G League is about development and has a great track record that’s evident from that 53% mark or the numerous array of solid NBA starters and rotation players that got their start in the league. Although this league has never been pretty, I think the past track record combined with the future promise shows that the NBA G League has ridiculous upside.