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The more we learn about the new G-League iniative the less sense it makes

USA Basketball

USA Basketball

On Tuesday, Daishen Nix, a point guard prospect previously committed to UCLA announced that he would skip college and become part of the new G-League professional path.

He became the third player to choose this option, alongside Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd, and I don’t expect him to be the last. More kids and their families will take this option as time goes on, and that number could balloon if the 2020-2021 college basketball season is delayed because of the COVID-19 epidemic (Hmm, think kids would prefer to get paid to train to play basketball? Or take online classes with no games? I’ll take the latter)

As it pertains to Nix, I have a lot of thoughts.

But before we get to those thoughts specifically, let me first tell you what this article will not be about.

1) No, this article is not about the “death of college basketball.” As long as Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, Michigan, North Carolina, Louisville, Wisconsin, Maryland, UConn, Villanova, Arkansas, Arizona and a bunch of other schools play games, people will still care. As long as the NCAA Tournament gets played, people will still watch. So let’s stop it with the “death of college basketball” stuff.

2) Also, let’s be clear on something: Not every kid who is offered the money will take it. Some families really do value the education (crazy, I know!), some understand the branding opportunity of college basketball, and some, frankly are just getting money on the side from the college they choose (I’m not accusing anyone of anything, that’s just a fact). This year alone we’ve seen Terrence Clarke, Evan Mobley, Ziaire Williams and Greg Brown turn down the G-League path to play college basketball. Others will in the future as well.

3) As long as there are professional opportunities some elite high school players every year will choose that path over college. Whether it is the G-League, Australia, other overseas options or the eventual removal of the “one and done” rule, if there are people willing to pay kids to play basketball at 18-years-old, there are plenty that will take the money.

4) Finally this article isn’t to paint some glowing picture of college basketball. It’s not a utopia. It does have problems. Many of which are hopefully addressed in the coming days, weeks, months and years. It’s not terrible, but it’s not perfect either. Like most enterprises.

So ultimately, whenever discussing college basketball, this new G-League path and everything in between, it really is important to get all of those little side-conversations out of the way right off the top. Because once those topics come up, and once people start to get fired up, the conversation can go in a bunch of different directions. And I don’t want this conversation to go in a different direction from the main point of this article.

And the main point of the article is this: As we learn more about this G-League initiative, as more players commit and more details come out, the less sense it makes. Sure, it might make sense for the players (because who doesn’t like to get paid to do stuff – especially stuff they love?). But from the NBA’s perspective, the organization that is underwriting this plan, it just makes no sense at all.

Let’s start with the kid who signed up for the program today. It’s Daishen Nix. As mentioned above, Nix is, by any tangible measurement, a really good basketball player. He was a player who was ranked No. 15 in 247 Sports’ current recruiting rankings, a McDonald’s All-American and committed to play for UCLA. Again, by any measurement, he is a really good player.

But he is also not what the G-League promised when they first rolled out this revamped, new initiative a few weeks ago. He is not an elite player, a can’t miss NBA prospect.

Some will disagree, but both common sense logic and facts back up that opinion.

In terms of the “common sense logic” well, as the 15th best player in his high school class, that means that he is, by literal definition – at least as of right now – the 15th best player just from his age group entering the 2021 NBA Draft. That doesn’t include upperclassmen and it doesn’t include foreign players. We are just talking about in his own age group. Now could he move up a spot or two or three? Of course. But is he really passing a Cade Cunningham, Terrence Clarke or Evan Mobley when these kids eventually get to draft night in 2021? It just seems completely infeasible. In defense of the G-League it’d be the same case if Nix played college basketball.

Even more so, let’s look at recent history in terms of where he is ranked in the recruiting rankings. Do that, and it sets up a much more realistic picture of the simple fact that again, he is far from a can’t miss NBA prospect.

Just for fun, I went back and looked at the last four players who were ranked No. 15 in their respective recruiting classes. In 2019 it was Precious Achiuwa, who appears to be a lottery pick after one year. In 2018 it was Tre Jones, who is a fringe first rounder after two years in college. PJ Washington was the No. 15 player in 2017 – he was a lottery pick, but it came after two years in college. And in 2016 it was Wenyen Gabriel, who went undrafted after two years in college.

According to a report from Shams Charania, Nix will make $300,000 to be part of this program. To which I ask, doesn’t $300,000 seem like a bit of a steep price to pay for a kid who, history shows us, will probably be a fringe first rounder at best in a year (like Jones, Washington and Gabriel were) and who more likely would need two years to be NBA ready?


It seems that way to me. And no, that’s me “hating.” That is just straight facts talking.

That finally brings me to what this article is really about: Like ultimately, what is the “end game” of this program for the NBA and the G-League? What does the NBA hope to accomplish with it? For the players, this makes sense. Get paid money to play basketball, sometimes (in the case of a kid like Daishen Nix or Isaiah Todd) potentially above market value. But for the NBA and G-League I’m really having a tough time wrapping my head around how this program makes sense at all. From a literal perspective. And certainly from a fiscal one.

First off, when you break down this G-League program at its most basic level, it’s very essence makes no actual sense. Essentially what this program is, is the NBA choosing to pay players to train and practice as an alternative to going to college. Which is fine. Except those same players are only going to college because the NBA has a rule in place from preventing them from going to the NBA. So just like, on its very surface it makes no sense at all.

But when you really dig deeper again, it just makes no tangible sense either. And it just comes back to one very simple question: What is the actual end game for the NBA?

As mentioned above, Daishen Nix will make $300,000 to be a part of this program. Jalen Green will make around $500,000 and Isaiah Todd will reportedly make at least $200,000, maybe more. So we’re already talking about $1 million the NBA will be spending, just in salary. And that doesn’t include the cost of renting out a facility for these players to train. It doesn’t count paying coaches. It doesn’t count paying older players to “mentor” these players. It doesn’t count travel and lodging costs for when these teams go to play their exhibition games. It also doesn’t count the fact that the NBA has promised to pay for these kid’s college education if they one day want to go back to school. That alone could be hundreds of thousands more.

Therefore overall we’re talking about millions of dollars invested with essentially no financial return… and for what? Jalen Green would be a Top 3 pick whether he played in this program, at Memphis or overseas. Did the NBA really need to pay him $500,000 (plus much more in ancillary fees) for him to get to the same place he would’ve without them?

And it’s even wilder when you think about a kid like Nix. Again, history tells us that he is at best a fringe first rounder, and maybe a player who likely would’ve needed two years of college. Even in a best-case scenario where he doesn’t fall in the draft (certainly possible) and rises a spot or two (because again, he isn’t getting drafted ahead of Cade Cunningham/Terrence Clarke/Evan Mobley/BJ Boston no matter what) was it really worth it for the NBA to invest hundreds of thousands into that development? Especially when colleges are already investing the same hundreds of thousands and it costs the NBA absolutely nothing?

Again, it just makes no sense.

Even if this is all one big long-term play for the NBA, at what cost will it be? First off, if we remove the one-and-done rule in a year or two (or even five) this was basically a big waste of time. Why build this massive infrastructure when the Jalen Green’s or Cade Cunningham’s or Zion Williamson’s or John Wall’s will be ready to go the NBA right away? Some say this is a way to make the G-League a legitimate, viable league. But even if the end game is to make money here, maybe get a TV deal, how long will that take to get a deal to recoup lost costs? Maybe I have my blinders on, but even then I still just can’t envision people choosing to watch G-League basketball. If they love pure basketball, they’ll watch the NBA. If they love their school, they’ll watch college. But if the G-League is playing on a Tuesday night in December? Who is choosing them as an alternative?

In the end, I’m not blaming the kids for taking the money. And I’m not trying to say that college basketball is perfect and every kid should choose that path.

What I am trying to say however is that the more that we learn about this program, the less sense it makes.

(To hear more reaction to the G-League initiative and the potential downside for players, listen to the Aaron Torres Podcast below, with the G-League conversation coming at around the 39:00 minute mark)

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

17 Comments for The more we learn about the new G-League iniative the less sense it makes

  1. UKLugo
    7:47 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    You have to look at these kids as investments. They want to be able to scout their potential investments before investing. They dont want to travel to Australia or New Zealand or China, Italy to do that and they definitely dont want to go HS gyms to do that. So, I dont see the one and done going away- especially now. And they are hoping to keep this kids as close as possible to make the best business decision as possible.
    Now, I dont like it for the kid. They are basically getting paid up to 500k (200k after taxes and agents, etc) for a one year tryout. What if they dont make it? Then what? Theyve pissed away their college eligibility, their money is gone. The NBA will pay their college tuition, but will they provide any academic support for these kids during that time. Do you think these kids depend on that to succeed in college? I know I did. Or just wish them good luck, I’m thinking the latter.
    So, if kids start realizing this , this thing may hardly get off the ground.

  2. wildcat369
    7:52 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    With a $300,000 contract how much will the kid profit. There’s taxes, I assume agent fees and living expenses for himself (family). What is a fair amount to say his net will be? Is that a multi-year contract in case he isn’t good enough to go to the NBA the next year? If not, what can he expect to make the next year? What’s the value of a guaranteed 4 year scholarship?

    I know that some kids will not thrive in college. For them the G League might be the way to go. I sure hope they receive some kind of life skills while in the league. History has proven most are not going to make it the NBA and they are going to need something to fall back on.

  3. The Professor
    8:05 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    Currently, networks pay billions to showcase college talent. When Zion, Herro, et al come out of college they are recognizable valuable commodities. It cost the NBA nothing to have new stars every year increasing viewership and selling jerseys & tickets. Now these kids will play in Grand Rapids &Sioux Falls where few will see them. Do you think Nike or Adidas is likely to give the same shoe contract to a G-League player they would give an All-American college player.

  4. T-Town Cat
    8:58 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    These kids gave no intention of ever stepping foot in a college classroom. They can rationalize the G League by saying if they don’t make the NBA after one year, they can still go overseas and play for pay, and they have the G League money instead of being forced to take college courses for a year. Not saying that’s a good idea, but it’s probably what’s in their minds.

  5. Fitz
    9:01 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    Makes sense to me. The article, that is.

  6. Swizzle
    9:06 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    This wont work long term in its current form.

    • IrishCat
      6:55 am April 29, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t think it’s intended to. It’s just a soft first step for the nba to take over basketball.

  7. Aar
    9:26 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

    There are a few factors not considered in this article. How much will it cost the NBA to eliminate the “one and done” rule in their next negotiations with the NBPA? How much will the NBA earn off of these players during their year in the G-League? How much better (more valuable, less risky, etc) will the draft talent pool be by spending this money to keep the one and done rule in place? I don’t suspect this will be a money losing proposition for the league or the players.

    This could be the beginning of the NBA having a more robust minor league system that is similar to MLB’s. It may reduce the “quality” of player entering college programs. The side effect could be that players stay in college longer. I don’t see that hurting the game at all. Haven’t many people been wanting players to stay in school longer for years? Yes, that could reduce the value of the March Madness contract. I don’t see the graduates of any school that makes the dance tuning out any time soon. It could also get the shoe money corruption to ease a bit out of colleges and AAU programs.

    • nocode96
      9:42 pm April 28, 2020 Permalink

      Good points

  8. timbo
    8:38 am April 29, 2020 Permalink

    What I’ve said from the jump, exactly. Drew and TT were all “college basketball is over!” And I’m just thinking, this is a dumb play by Silver. It makes no sense. Just like it made no sense for most college basketball players to be asking for big wads of cash for a commitment (and why I’ve never been concerned about UK’s program). When you’re, ready, you’ll go. Grab a couple hundred grand before, okay… big deal. That’s gone before the next season starts. It’s the NBA paycheck that matters. Nothing else can match that. Makes no sense for the NBA, and not much more for the players. If you’re good enough to be drafted, just wait that one (2,3,4) year. What happens if they bomb out in this first year, now? How long are these contracts (annual I would assume)? No sense, all the way around. No long-term thought by anyone involved.

  9. BallDontLie
    10:29 am April 29, 2020 Permalink

    I’m not sure why Torres is acting like this is so mind blowing, turning this into quantum physics or something. First, this money is nothing to the NBA. Second, the NBA wants access to these players medical information, which is something that has been a hold up in terms of dissolving the 1 and Done rule because the players association says no. The NBA will also be looking to televise more G league games and especially games involving this select team.
    Ultimately though this is about gaining access to medical information while surrounding the prospects with people hand selected by NBA to evaluate and prepare these kids for the league the way they see fit. The money doesn’t matter, small change to the NBA.

  10. WILDCATS1968
    10:59 am April 29, 2020 Permalink

    Biggest reason, the NBA wants to evaluate these kids for a whole year, rather than scout them a few times a year. They sell the kids on no school, all basketball. That also helps the NBA as the kids will do nothing but work on their skills in a NBA level environment with no outside distractions. They will get a true feel who is ready to be drafted first round or lottery. I would guess the owners are behind this, tired of wasting money on contracts to simply gamble on a kid being worthy of the millions they are about to toss them. College actually wins also, they no longer have to deal with the underbelly evil associated with these kids taking money. If they are not interested in college, let them go. The NCAA can now push the “student athlete” narrative even more without all the “problem” kids wanted $$$ to play.

    • Megan
      6:46 pm April 29, 2020 Permalink

      You think the kids who opt for the G League are the only ones interested in taking money? What? I don’t see how this mitigates corruption in the least.

  11. Buffalo Cat
    1:57 pm April 29, 2020 Permalink

    I’m sorry, but is anyone desperate enough to watch “professional” basketball in the form of G-League games? The game is glorified AAU ball, there are no fans, the coaching is not nearly as good, and it is watching games that are nothing more than showcases for players that do not want to be there.

  12. antiquefurnitureandmidgets
    4:00 pm April 29, 2020 Permalink

    Are you sure you won’t take the former?

  13. Looother
    9:28 pm April 29, 2020 Permalink

    Another excellent post, Aaron…

  14. bosch8184
    10:10 pm April 30, 2020 Permalink

    $300K to not have to write idiotic papers and study for tests, get up at 7:00am and have an overrated egomanic college basketball coach scream at you all the time?

    Don’t sleep on it.