For a long time, the NBA elite basketball contenders seemed invited to join their development league, now called the G-League. The doors are technically open since the introduction of the minimum age rule 2005, but no front-runner has found the catch.
One player – Latavious Williams in 2009 – went straight from high school to the development league, but he was not a future lottery poker player and never played a minute in the NBA. A handful of other future drafting options left the college abruptly to join the development league before voting for the draft. There were international players who made a pit stop there.
The NBA has long kept the door open for high school prospects, and nobody really ran away.
On Thursday, Darius Bazley, a top-1
There's a lot of talk about how joining the G-League will affect Bazley's development. This is actually relatively uninteresting. Bazley will play against professional talents in a professional environment for a professional coach, similar to Power Conference College or international players. He does not have to worry about school, but traveling is likely to be tougher. His team-mates will be older than at Syracuse, and those who play for their basketball career may be a little chilly if they lose time until an 18-year-old with a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract is waiting for him.
But every team can have that momentum. More interesting is whether the NBA has a playbook for it.
There are many key questions the league must address. How will the NBA ensure that Bazley is not the last All-American moving from high school to the G League? How will NBA franchises decide if their G-League teams are trying to design Bazley or, given that he really is a one-year rent with no guarantees, that they will be able to pull him into the NBA ? How is every team that takes him to work to develop it? Will he play the starting minutes regardless of his influence on the court? Will he have to earn minutes? Will a team strap him on the bench? Would Bazley have the leverage to demand a trade?
Already a G-League coach, Scott Roth of the Iowa Wolves, has publicly expressed dismay over Bazley's decision and the potential floodgates that he could open.
From Roth's interview with the G League blog 2 Ways & 10 Days:
"It's harder than the NBA, harder than Europe, there's just so much going on down here, you have one Group of people with a number of different agendas, you have agents who tell the boys what they want, you have teams that tell them what they want, and so you will have a 17, 18-year-old and you will have it in Throwing this environment with 26, 27-year-old men who have a different agenda and are trying to manage a child, and it's already hard enough to be young kids with a year of college experience.The trip, the flights, the At 5:00 in the morning, all the stuff is a grind and you have to be mentally tough and throw a young high school kid in. I think at the end of the day it would be catastrophic. "
Of course, Roth brings a lot of exaggeration , NBA and European teams also deal with crazy travel and different agendas.
But those are real concerns that the NBA has to figure out. College programs know how to handle elite prospects. The Australian League is developing specific methods to convince and make people comfortable. How will the NBA handle it? How do the coaches and GMs of the G-League handle it?
How well Bazley is represented in all this will be a factor. Finding the right G-League fit could be huge: whoever trains Bazley must be ready to play him. That could mean that some franchises happen. It could mean that some NBA teams force their members to play with the prospect and his agent.
Remember, the Minnesota Timberwolves own and operate these Iowa Wolves. Roth is a Timberwolves employee. When the Parent Association tells him to design Bazley and give him 25 minutes and 10 shots per game, he listens. This is not the case for every G League squad – a handful are associated with a particular team, but operate through a hybrid relationship rather than direct ownership. But direct ownership is the most popular relationship.
NBA teams are already interfering in G-League affairs when sending in rough draft scouts for development. In this sense, G League employees are used to balancing the needs of the parent club, the needs of young players, repression and education, and the needs of veterans looking for a path into the NBA. This is just another high profile, possibly complicated ingredient in bouillabaisse.
If the NBA handles it well and Bazley succeeds, it could be a paradigm shift for the G League and college basketball. If not, Bazley could end up as a blip, while the status quo stays firmly in place. We will see.