NBA minor league makes major improvements

Story by Jack Meltsner, Sports Editor

From D to G, the NBA minor league is making great strides in terms of success and player development. At the start of the 2017-2018 NBA season, Commissioner Adam Silver announced a sponsorship deal between the NBA minor league (D-League) and Gatorade. Inspired by NASCAR’s second-tier circuit called the Nationwide Series, the deal rebranded the D-League as the NBA G-League, which provided the league with a larger platform that led to various rule and policy changes. All 30 NBA teams (excluding the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers) either have, or plan to start their own G-League team.

Focused on developing players into NBA level athletes, the G-League plays a vital role in the success of NBA teams. Because of this, the G-League’s success is not determined by winning games or championships, instead it is determined by their development of future NBA players. The G-League also provides alternative opportunities for NBA prospects out of high school.

Several players’ journey to the NBA, including Khris Middleton’s, began in the G-League. Middleton, who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft, was sent to the G-League to train alongside players who initially didn’t make their NBA rosters. Middleton played three games with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the 2012-2013 season and averaged 11 points and over seven rebounds per game. After years of hard work, Middleton has transformed his game from the level of an NBA outcast to an NBA star, landing himself a five-year, $70 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. This February, Middleton proved his worth and made history as the first G-League alumni to be named an NBA All-Star. Middleton hopes to pave the way for fellow G-League alumni and All-Star level players Rudy Gobert, C.J. McCollum and Clint Capela to one day appear on All-Star teams.

The G-League has provided an environment that breeds grit and determination, with the overall goal of reaching the NBA in mind. The G-League also provides NBA teams with an adequate pool of players to choose from to fill their Summer League roster, while acting as a “practice squad” for NBA teams during the season. Some G-League players are offered two-way contracts which allow them to be shuttled between the NBA and G-League organizations throughout the season. For consecutive second round draft picks Dwayne Bacon and Devonte Graham of the Charlotte Hornets, their two-way contracts have allowed them to further develop themselves by playing in extra games throughout the season with the Greensboro Swarm.

As part of the G-League’s goal to help develop young basketball players, the “professional path” initiative was announced earlier this year. Starting in the 2019-2020 season, top college recruits will be offered the chance to forgo college and enter the G-League draft directly out of high school. If drafted, these athletes would receive a $125,000 salary and expose themselves to the NBA culture earlier than college athletes, giving them a significant advantage over their competition. For many “one and done” college athletes who are not interested in attending college and maintaining academic eligibility, this initiative is a viable option that can kick start their professional careers under the guidance of NBA executives, trainers and coaches. This initiative also allows NBA executives to work with and foster a bond with potential draftees once they enter the NBA draft.

The advancements and expansion of the NBA G-League have made it an effective minor league system for the NBA. By focusing on developing and preparing players for the NBA, the G-League has helped improve the NBA as a whole. Despite the popularity of the NCAA, the G-League may also establish itself as a productive alternative to attending college, while potentially resolving the issue of “one and done” athletes.