Apr 29, 2020 - Sports

The rise of the NBA's G League will alter basketball's future

The Maine Red Claws play the Grand Rapids Drive in March 2019. Photo: Carl D. Walsh/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Daishen Nix, the 15th-ranked player in the 2020 class, has joined fellow five-stars Jalen Green (No. 3) and Isaiah Todd (No. 11) in opting to forego college in favor of the NBA G League's new professional pathway program.

Why it matters: This signals the NBA's intention to more forcefully take the reins on developing its own future talent, while shining a spotlight on the rapidly maturing G League.

Logos: SportsLogos.Net; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Logos: SportsLogos.Net; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The backdrop: The G League began operating in 2001 as the eight-team National Basketball Development League and later became the D-League (Developmental). In 2017, Gatorade became the title sponsor (hence, G League) and the league has expanded to 28 teams.

  • NBA teams own 25 of those 28 teams outright, while the remaining three — Grand Rapids Drive (Pistons), Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Rockets) and Texas Legends (Mavericks) are independently owned, though the NBA affiliate runs and finances the basketball operations.
  • A 29th team from Mexico City will join next season as an unaffiliated club. But there are no updates regarding the Trail Blazers and Nuggets — the lone G League holdouts among NBA teams — adding their own affiliates, the NBA tells Axios.

The state of play: The G League's professional pathway program that Green, Todd and Nix have entered is an evolution of last year's "select contract" experiment.

  • Select contracts, worth $125,000 plus incentives and benefits, were meant to entice elite prospects into choosing the G League over college or playing abroad, but they ultimately weren't valuable enough to gain any traction.
  • Now, the salary has increased to $500,000, and these three youngsters are the centerpiece of a new year-long developmental program designed specifically to help them assimilate to a professional lifestyle.

The big picture: The advent of this new program, combined with the expected reversal of the one-and-done rule prior to the 2022 NBA Draft, will fundamentally alter the basketball landscape going forward.

  • For the G League, it signals an ascension to being a true minor league. More talent means more eyeballs means more money, and even when the draft resumes accepting players straight out of high school, the next tier of prospects can take advantage of the pathway program in their stead.
  • For the NCAA, it means a dilution of one-and-done talent, which should spark an about-face regarding how it treats its "student-athletes." Losing the Zions of the world won't sink the NCAA, but their loss won't be negligible, either.

The bottom line: This is all about the NBA showing its might; believing it's the best developmental option for top prospects and putting its money where its mouth is.

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