Success of the NBA G League Ignite Team & An Uncertain Future
The G League Ignite team has been a largely successful initiative for the NBA in its one season of existence, as a bridge for one-&-done level players who did not wish to go to college, but didn’t want to play overseas.
Getting The Bag
Part of the appeal was for players to be able to turn pro and be compensated for their abilities, with higher level players receiving deals worth $500,000 for the season. It also enables the players to receive endorsements and shoe deals, mimicking players on the NBA level if the opportunity presents itself for those guys.
The Ignite team played its season in the G League Bubble as an adaptation to the COVID season, where initial projections had the team playing games against national teams & other professional teams from other countries. The Ignite players were huge benefactors of this season as they were able to play against 17 other G League teams with around 70 players with NBA experience. These numbers don’t include the NBA players on the Ignite team, including Jarret Jack and Amir Johnson, or 2-Way players on assignment from their NBA affiliate. They played against known competition, whereas other players of note who went overseas did not have knowledge of the competition that they would be playing against or their role on the team overseas.
Better Than Going Overseas?
Recently, Emmanuel Mudiaye and RJ Hampton played in China and Australia respectively and their draft stock lowered during their seasons abroad. Now, they both ended up as lottery picks, but those routes aren’t as certain. Hampton was considered to be a top 5 pick before his pro season and dropped to 13 due to struggles against pro players in some games. LaMelo Ball also played in Australia and ended up as the 3rd pick in the draft, proving the predictions of Lavar Ball’s magic 8 ball to be true.
The headliners of this G League Ignite class are Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga who boosted their stock and are largely considered to be top 5 picks in July’s NBA Draft. They were major cogs in the machine leading the Ignite team to the playoffs and playing close games throughout the season. Isaiah Todd, a human highlight reel in high school, wasn’t on draft boards prior to the season and is now a projected early second round pick. Daishen Nix decommitted from UCLA and is projected in the second round as well.
These players were compensated beyond a college scholarship and had the Lon trial for endorsements during this season. Also, they received full scholarships from Arizona State University, who partnered with the G League, and seminars on life skills. In a way, these were replicating the resources available to young players in the league to become true professionals on & off the court.
The biggest benefit in my eyes is being coached by an NBA staff. Brian Shaw, a former NBA player and head coach, was the head coach of the team. It essentially mimics the developmental systems in Europe, where they develop young players in the team’s system. Look at Luka Doncic.
NBA front offices largely benefitted from the Ignite team playing in the bubble as well. They were able to see how the players stacked up against other professionals in the G league. While evaluating players on their own G league affiliates, management was also able to see these players for extended periods of time usually around 1 to 3 weeks at a time. This gives front offices a better sense of where these players will land in this upcoming draft.
What’s Next For The G-League Ignite Team?
Now where does the ignite team go from here? The Name Imagine and Likeness Bill (NIL) for college athletes has been passed in several states and is projected to be passed in many more in the coming months. This could mean players are less incentivized to skip college for the G League or overseas routes and begin profiting from their brands through NCAA exposure in national televised games during the season and during the NCAA tournament.
It is unknown at this time how the Ignite team will operate for next season, likely being a reason there haven’t been many high level commits throwing their names in the Ignite hat. They saw players like Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Mobley and Jalen Suggs play their lone season of college basketball and come out as projected top 3 picks.
March Madness remains a major device for building draft stock. Next year, the G League probably won’t operate in a bubble and it may be more difficult to be scouted by GMs. Their opponents aren’t known, and could go back to the format idea of playing national teams and scrimmages. The uncertainty could lead players to stick to the known route that is college hoops.
The Ignite team was originally designed as a bridge between the current one-&-done rule and eventually going back to high school players being draft eligible. The NBA is essentially kicking the can down the road and waiting until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to make a decision. The reason could be bringing more eyes and attention to the G League, on the backs of these high level players, as the G League playoffs were mostly on national television.
G-League Ignite Team Is Here To Stay, At Least For The Near Future
Now, we don’t know what will come of the G League Ignite team, but, we do know it is here to stay for the near future. Its one year of success proves high level players can compete against G League players and can be a route players choose instead of playing in college. Will it be as successful next year as it was this year? I don’t think so as of right now. There are three top 15 players in the Class of 2021 that remain undeclared, #2 Jaden Hardy, #4 Patrick Baldwin Jr and #14 Michael Foster. These guys may go to the Ignite team. There could also be decommits from colleges like Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix of this first Ignite team. Fanbo Zeng, China’s top prospect, has chosen to play for the Ignite team after he decommitted from Gonzaga. The decommit season is beginning, so the Ignite team could be looking strong for next season. We’ll just have to wait and see.