Last weekend, the NBA G League held their annual Player Invitational event at the Qwest Multisport Complex in Chicago, Illinois. As we’ve described in multiple pieces, this allowed a multitude of prospects, ranging from weekend warriors to players that shined for significant college programs just a few months prior.
Over the next few weeks, we should start seeing the aftermath of this event as some of the participants could be added to NBA training camp rosters, head overseas or become eligible for the G League Draft in late October. In general, most players that participate at that event will be playing for one of the 28 teams when the season starts in November.
While we’re more than two months away from that event unofficially marking the start of the 2019-20 season, it appears that we’re already in the midst of the run-up to the upcoming G League year. In addition to the Player Invitational, there’s a multitude of events that are either occurring right now or will take place over the next few weeks which include:
- Teams throughout the NBA signing prospects to Exhibit 10 or two-way contracts. Can keep track of those moves here.
- Most G League teams hosting local tryouts from late August through September. You can find information on individual tryouts here.
- Erie BayHawks, new G League affiliate for the New Orleans Pelicans, holding their expansion draft on August 28th.
As those ongoing events help crystallize how each of the 28 teams will look during the upcoming season, there’s no better time than now to both take a look at both the present and the future of the G League. Even before the first game begins, this will be a significant year as it will represent the first full season that Shareef Abdur-Rahim has been the league’s president. He officially took over that role on January 11th, 2019 from Malcolm Turner, who was hired to be Vanderbilt’s Athletic Director.
In large part due to Turner’s leadership, the G League is currently in the best position it’s ever been in. The biggest positive you can currently say about the G League deals with the increasing amount of teams. During the 2014-15 season, there were just 18 teams in the league, following the introduction of the Westchester Knicks. In just five years, that number has grown to 28 with the introduction of the College Park SkyHawks and 2nd rebirth of the Erie Bayhawks. This current status means that there are only two NBA organizations, the Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers, that don’t have G League affiliates.
That growth is a testament to the fact that organizations across the NBA have seen the tremendous benefit that comes from having your own affiliate. In recent years, we’ve seen teams like the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs effectively utilize the G League to help push their younger prospects to become better. Them using the minor league as a development tool for their players has helped the likes of Pascal Siakam, Dejounte Murray, Fred Van Vleet and Derrick White turn into starting-caliber players for their particular NBA organization.
In addition to the increased number of teams showcasing the importance of having an affiliate can be for NBA teams, it also brings added eyeballs to the G League product. This additional attention will likely come from fans of any particular NBA team with interest in how a particular assignee or two-way prospect is performing down with their minor league affiliate. While this usually leads them to check Twitter to see how that player did on a given night, curious fans may decide to go to Facebook Live, ESPN+ or Twitch to see how the prospect is progressing on both ends of the court.
Sticking with those separate outlets, the increasing ways to watch G League games is another great sign of its continued growth. In addition to those digital media companies, occasional contests also air on ESPNU, NBA TV or on local channels like NBC Sports Chicago (Windy City Bulls) and Spectrum SportsNet (South Bay Lakers). Although that handful of ways to watch games could make it difficult for diehard fans to keep track of how to watch games, it increases the chances for people stumbling around on a site like Twitch to turn on a game and watch some good basketball. One positive experience could push that particular person to become a fan.
The chances for that hypothetical to watch a good G League game has increased in recent years due to how the talent level has improved in recent years. Those enhanced chances started up during the 2017-18 season with the introduction of Exhibit 10 and two-way contracts. In the two years since then, both of those types of deals have paid dividends for the G League, players, and teams. For the players, it gives them more financial incentive to stay in the States rather than head overseas as they’ll receive more money while under those contracts rather than the standard G League contract worth $35,000.
Those better-paid prospects deciding to stay in the States is also beneficial to the G League itself. For one, the boosted level of talent will improve its watch-ability as fans can watch a plethora of players that either have one foot in the NBA door or are within fingertip reach. That improved level of talent might bring additional eyeballs to the G League product as fans are always interested in watching quality hoops. Another benefit for this deals with how the G League has increased in prestige on a global scale as international players like Mitch Creek and Alen Smailagic were able to utilize it as an outlet to get in the NBA.
The trifecta of more teams, multiple broadcasting outlets and improved talent are all things that Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the NBA G League can pat themselves on the back about as they look ahead to the 2019-20 season. While those are positives and stand as areas that the G League can continue building upon, there’s one piece of negativity which needs to be discussed. This singular flaw deals with the incredibly rough start to the G League’s Professional Path program.
Introduced last October, this program was created to give elite high school prospects a legitimate alternative option to the NCAA. Signing the Select Contract would allow the player to make $125,000 over the course of their season while also getting access to the league’s academic scholarship, life skills and mentorship programs. For those 18 to 19-year-old high school prospects, that mix of education and financial benefit definitely seems appealing. However, no high school prospect decided to claim those benefits by signing a Select Contract. Instead, five-star studs RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball alongside top-70 recruit Terry Armstrong all decided to start their pro careers in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL).
After Hampton became the first of the trio to sign with the NBL back in late May, we had a thorough breakdown piece regarding the likely reason behind that decision and how it was a testament to the issues of the G League’s Professional Path program. Of course, the Australian league signing Armstrong and Ball in the subsequent weeks and months only solidified the G League’s failures with bringing in these elite high school recruits.
If you want a comprehensive analysis of this situation, you can read the aforementioned article. But in brief, the way that the Professional Path program is currently set up gives absolutely no freedom to that prospect after they sign the Select Contract. That’s due to how the G League itself had an allocation process that wasn’t even made public when the program was announced last October. When you compare that plan with the NBL, which allows the prospect to pick the team after they sign a contract, it makes sense why Hampton, Ball, and Armstrong decided to go to Australia.
Despite the Professional Path program getting off to an incredibly rocky start, the G League currently sits in a really solid position. A lot of that deals with the three qualities that we brought up earlier in the piece: increased amount of teams, additional media outlets showcasing games and implementation of Exhibit 10 & 2-way deals improving quality of competition. While those factors have now been around for the past season or two, the positive effects from those moves are now becoming clearer.
Are there areas that the G League can continue to grow at? Absolutely. The current $35,000 G League contract should continue to rise over the next few years to give more financial security to every player that’s not on a two-way or Exhibit 10 contract. In addition to that, there should be a more consistent emphasis in all 28 G League locations on building visibility of the local G League to help boost attendance. While teams like Santa Cruz, Wisconsin and Maine regularly have full arenas, you can’t necessarily say the same about some other organizations.
Aside from those fixable flaws, the NBA G League will enter the 2019-20 campaign in the best shape it’s ever been. That fact should make new president Shareef Abdur-Rahim both happy and excited to build upon those strengths as he begins his first full season as G League president this November.