As it continues its glacial movement to having a “real’ minor league, the NBA noted prior to the season how many of its players had seen action in the G League. This is understandable, as it sprinkles NBA fairy dust onto its minor league, making it seem like more a legitimate stepping stone to the big time than a low-paying basketball league.
On the G-League’s website, there is a press release trumpeting that 38% of players on NBA rosters have G League experience. This stat has been brought up in recent weeks with Darius Bazley’s announcement that he was not going to attend Syracuse, but declare for the G League draft in the first year high school players can make that jump.
The notice also shows the yearly increase of NBA players with G League experience, reaching this year’s all-time high of 167 players, which is over one-third of the league’s players. The release fails to mention that, along the way to this record number of G League players reaching the NBA, the NBA also has expanded its rosters, the number of G League teams, and so on.
But, enough with the league’s accounting in a public relations release.
A pretty fair NBA team can be made of guys who have had G League experience. Here’s a slapped together 12-man roster of pretty recognizable names (one could be made of just a dozen guards with recognizable names):
Guards: Patrick Beverly, Eric Bledsoe, Robert Covington, CJ McCollum, Lou Williams
Forwards: Clint Capela, Jae Crowder, Danny Green, Khris Middleton
Centers: Rudy Gobert, Marcin Gortat, Hassan Whiteside
All of those players are legit NBA starters (although Lou Williams works better off the bench, as evidenced by his 2014-2015 Sixth Man of the Year Award, a feat he may match this season) or more. Most of these successful players reached the G League in the same manner – not being drafted early in the NBA draft first round.
McCollum was taken 10th in the 2013 draft, Bledsoe went 18th in 2010. A couple others (Capela and Gobert) barely squeaked into the first round as project big men. Williams played three games in the G-League in 2006, his second NBA season. Is that truly relevant since he’s logged about 20,000 NBA minutes since his call-up?
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Basically, the easiest way to get into the NBA is to be drafted in the front half of the first round (staying in the NBA after that point is its own issue). When an NBA franchise has something significant like a high pick invested in you, they try to get something out of you. You can see that in recent draft results.
Only injuries have limited opportunities for players taken in the first 13 spots of the 2015 draft. After that, you see players who have already been traded, started riding the G League elevator, and been cut.
You see the same thing with the 2014 class.
So, how could Darius Bazley build himself into a prospect meriting a draft pick in the first half of the first round? It’s harder than it sounds.
Of the ten players with the most field goal attempts in the G League this season, seven are guards. Sounds like Jim Boeheim knew what he was talking about when he said on ESPN Radio that “it’s a guard-oriented” league.
That fact alone will make it hard for Bazley, a multi-talented forward projected to be a first-rounder in the 2019 NBA draft when committed to Syracuse, to produce on the court and raise his stock for the 2019 NBA Draft. However, there is one new alternative route to that draft position.
The NBA rule allowing high school players to declare for the G League draft has created a tremendous opportunity for its franchises to evaluate high-level talent for very little cost.
26 of the 30 NBA teams have their own G League teams now with a 27th on the way next season. With this rule change, NBA teams can look at their four G League draft picks as more useful assets. While its G League team drafting Bazley does not guarantee the NBA team a shot at seeing Bazley in their uniform, they can certainly find out if they want to find out what size he needs… and a lot more.
The average NBA team undoubtedly looks at its G League affiliate’s draft picks as very small investments. But, a high school player who declares himself eligible for the G League draft is a different commodity than the usual pool of players, most of whom have exhausted their college eligibility.
Imagine this scenario…
An NBA team has its G League affiliate draft Bazley, then spends the following year getting the absolute best evaluation of a potential NBA draft pick it will have ever had.
The NBA team controls his development, as coaches on its payroll implement what the NBA team wants and provide detailed feedback on Bazley’s development, practice habits, attitude, and so on over an entire season.
The NBA parent club could even limit his playing time to keep him out of sight of other teams and their scouting staffs. The team can “work on developing an older player who the parent club is looking at as a potential call-up”.
If things do not work out so well with Bazley, the NBA team simply goes in another direction in the draft. For just one G League draft pick and the accompanying G League roster spot, they will know everything they need to know about him. That’s hardly a downside for an NBA team.
While it looks like going to the G League straight from high school is a decision that will age poorly, using past results only to evaluate uncharted territory is pretty shortsighted. While Syracuse fans have every right to be disappointed Bazley will not play at the Carrier Dome next year, he may not have made the wrong choice.
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