Sports

The G League wants to play, and here’s why it matters

Graphic: G League Ignite

According to an ESPN report, the NBA G League is eyeing a condensed 2021 season amid COVID-19 concerns, primarily not to smother the inaugural G League Ignite Team from debuting in Year 1 of its experiment.

The G League Ignite Team roster includes multiple top high school prospects who have elected to play in the NBA farm system as opposed to the NCAA or overseas. Standouts include top five prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, as well as overseas blue-chippers like Kai Sotto of the Philippines and India’s Princepal Sing.

“In the face of health and financial concerns, a primary motivation is to not let the league-run Ignite Team fall on its face in the program’s inaugural campaign,” ESPN’s Dave McMenamin wrote.

The Ignite, which is led by former Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw, played their first exhibition game at their Ultimate Fieldhouse home in Walnut Creek, Calif., losing 113-107. The plan for this bubble, according to McMenamin’s report, is to use Atlanta as its temporary home location after previously pondering Orlando. He also reported that the 50-game G League campaign would run from January until March, cutting the usual November and December portion of the season.

Not only is this significant for the elite prospects and former NBAers like Amir Johnson and Bobby Brown on the team, but it matters to the other G League teams who will play this season. The ESPN report also indicates that a significant number of other teams are planning to play this season.

“Preliminarily, 10 teams, including the South Bay Lakers and the Maine Red Claws (the Boston Celtics’ affiliate) indicated they will opt out, sources told ESPN,” he wrote. The G League has received commitments from about a dozen teams, including the Ignite, sources told ESPN, and awaits final decisions from a handful of other franchises.”

The G League typically sends 40 to 65 players per season to the NBA. From the 2018-19 call-ups alone, Kendrick Nunn, Devonte Graham, Danuel House, and Chris Chiozza have become rotation players in the NBA. Nunn was even a starter on the Miami Heat for all of the regular season, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting, breaking several records for undrafted rookies, and playing in an NBA Finals. Other previous notable call-ups within the last five years include Spencer Dinwiddie, Derrick Jones Jr., and Christian Wood. Older examples include JJ Barea, Jeremy Lin (who is reportedly close to signing with Golden State on Friday) and Danny Green.

At a time where the world is imbalanced, and the basketball landscape will be tested with COVID (and general injuries) as we all have, the G League will provide an opportunity for what looks to be roughly 150-200 unemployed athletes seeking one. Given that only one player tested positive in the NBA’s recent round of COVID tests, and it appeared to be Noah Vonleh, who has since been waived, the G League could again be impactful on the 2020-21 NBA season if they’re able to mitigate the virus at a similar rate. It would also lead to a least a few key call-ups for teams during the NBA season, one or two of whom may even swing a team’s playoff or contender hopes. History tells us it probably will; we just can’t say who it will be,yet.

And then, of course, there are the six teenagers on the Ignite, as the NBA recognizes the business aspect of possibly letting this flop in year one. Though, there are reasons to question the motives, it appears that it’s a safer alternative to the NCAA, which doesn’t have a plan of any sort.

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