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What Is the NBA G League for and Why Are NBA Teams Turning to It More?
For years, the NBA’s official minor league has been viewed as no more than a basketball purgatory. A place where you would ship out washed-up stars or discipline players who don’t apply themselves in training and during games.
But the G League has grown into much more than that, and the recent numbers prove it. The NBA teams who have invested heavily in building up their affiliate franchises are reaping huge benefits, and many others have followed suit.
In this post, I will try to shed some light on how the G League is transforming the NBA and why basketball fans should be focusing on it more.
I’ll start off with a short summary of how the league operates and then provide the main reasons for its growth in importance and popularity. Finally, I will give out my verdict on why the G League should be not be ignored anymore.
A Brief History of the NBA G League
The league started back in 2001, although it looked a lot different then. It ran under the name of the National Basketball Development League and had no official affiliation with the NBA. The early years saw only eight teams participate in the competition.
In 2005, league officials struck an agreement with the NBA governing body in an attempt to lure more fans and sponsors. The NBA, led by then-commissioner David Stern, announced plans of expanding the NBDL and turning it into an official minor league for the NBA franchises.
The name was changed to the NBA Development League, and front offices began work on acquiring existing franchises and creating their own.
Before the start of the 2017-18 season, the league struck a partnership with Gatorade and took the name G League after its new sponsor. By that time, all of the teams were either the property of an NBA franchise or were in a single-affiliate agreement with one.
The 2019-20 G League season saw 28 teams enter the competition, with only the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers lacking representation.
The NBA G League Format
The G League does not differ a lot from the NBA in terms of schedule. The teams play fewer games during the regular season, but the principle is basically the same.
The 2019-20 season started on November 8th and will see each team play a total of 50 regular season games.
There is an All-Star game planned for February, and the playoffs will kick off in early April.
With the constant expansion of the league, we might see these dates and numbers change every year, but the core principle is set to remain as close to the NBA’s as possible.
The NBA G League Teams
The league is broken down into two conferences and several divisions, much like the NBA. However, the location of some of the G League franchises makes for some notable differences.
Here are all the teams that entered the 2019/2020 campaign.
There are fifteen teams across three divisions competing in the East.
|Delaware Blue Coats||Philadelphia 76ers|
|Maine Red Claws||Boston Celtics|
|Raptors 905||Toronto Raptors|
|Westchester Knicks||New York Knicks|
|Long Island Nets||Brooklyn Nets|
|Wisconsin Herd||Milwaukee Bucks|
|Canton Charge||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Grand Rapids Drive||Detroit Pistons|
|Windy City Bulls||Chicago Bulls|
|Fort Wayne Mad Ants||Indiana Pacers|
|Lakeland Magic||Orlando Magic|
|College Park Skyhawks||Atlanta Hawks|
|Capital City Go-Go||Washington Wizards|
|Greensboro Swarm||Charlotte Hornets|
|Erie Bayhawks||New Orleans Pelicans|
The West is also spread across three divisions, but there are only thirteen teams competing in the conference.
|Memphis Hustle||Memphis Grizzlies|
|Iowa Wolves||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|Sioux Falls Skyforce||Miami Heat|
|Oklahoma City Blue||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|South Bay Lakers||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Agua Caliente Clippers||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Stockton Kings||Sacramento Kings|
|Santa Cruz Warriors||Golden State Warriors|
|Northern Arizona Suns||Phoenix Suns|
|Texas Legends||Dallas Mavericks|
|Rio Grande Valley Vipers||Houston Rockets|
|Austin Spurs||San Antonio Spurs|
|Salt Lake City Stars||Utah Jazz|
As you can see, there are some teams that are not exactly close to their parent NBA franchises. The Pelicans’ outfit is located in Pennsylvania and thus competes in the G League’s Eastern Conference, whereas Miami’s affiliate is in South Dakota and takes a place in the West.
If you want a clearer view of the geographical location of all G League teams, you can check out this cool franchise map.
How the G League Rosters Are Formed
The organizers of the league have ensured that there are multiple ways for teams to build their rosters ahead of the G League season. Here is how players can become a part of the competition.
Each NBA parent club can assign a player to its G League affiliate at any time. The NBA franchise retains the rights of the player and can recall him to its roster at any time.
Players can qualify for assignment to the G League only if they have three years or less experience in the NBA.
When NBA teams finalize their rosters in the summer, there are some players that inevitably get left out. The G League presents a great opportunity for them to become affiliate players.
Every NBA franchise can send up to four dismissed players to their respective affiliates. In this case, the rights of the player are owned by the G League team, and the player himself is considered as a free agent available to sign for any NBA team if an inquiry comes their way.
In 2017, the NBA made a decision to introduce two additional roster slots reserved for two-way players.
Two-way contracts are given to athletes who are scheduled to spend the majority of the season in the G-League but are also eligible to spend up to 45 days with their parent NBA team.
It is a great way to keep a developing player close and gradually integrate him into the roster while also giving him the chance to impress with a G League affiliate.
These agreements can only be signed with players who have less than four years of experience in the NBA, and the duration of the contract cannot exceed two seasons.
The G League teams hold local tryouts every summer. They mainly invite players who have been scouted before, but they also allow locals to participate after paying a small entry fee.
Teams can then take up to four players to their official summer training camp and assess whether these players deserve a final spot on the roster ahead of the new season.
NBA G League Draft
The league stages a draft every fall, which brings together more than two hundred players. These are mainly veterans from the NBA, undrafted prospects, and tryout players. But there are also times when overseas players enter the draft.
Usually, around half of the participants make their way into the G League.
The Key G League Stats From 2019
Statistics are always important when analyzing the actual success of a sports process, and in the case of the G League, they are quite telling. The NBA’s minor league enjoyed its best year in 2019 on several fronts.
Here are some of the important metrics from the 2018/2019 season.
- 52% of the NBA players had played in the G League
- 48 G League players earned call-ups to their respective parent teams in the NBA
- 37 players who were selected in the 2018 NBA Draft played in the G League
- 20 players with G League experience represented Team USA
- The total attendance for the G League season surpassed 1.6 million
As you can see, the league is getting more and more popular with both NBA franchises and basketball fans.
With its ongoing expansion, we have every reason to believe that the numbers will only go up this season.
The Top G League Alumni
The picture will not be complete without having a look at some of the biggest success stories in recent years. The list below includes players who went through a G League education and managed to become household names in the NBA.
The NBA’s Most Improved Player of 2019 was an integral part of Toronto’s quest for the championship and will be a vital part of the franchise going forward. Before climbing to the top of the NBA, Siakam was also a leading figure with the Raptors 905 franchise and won the G League and Finals MVP award in 2017.
Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and is considered as one of the top enforcers in the game right now.
After being drafted in 2012, Middleton spent a year in the G League before working his way to All-Star status in the NBA.
The ever-reliable Green is a two-time NBA champion and has also won All-NBA Defensive honors for his performances. Prior to making it on the big stage, he was a part of three different G League franchises.
Another player who won a championship with Toronto, VanVleet was instrumental in the playoffs and is now an established NBA player. Before his rise to fame, he was equally successful in the G League, having led the Raptors 905 to the title alongside Pascal Siakam.
Big Trez has become both a solid defender and a powerful offensive weapon in the NBA. His G League experience was amassed during his rookie season when he had numerous assignments with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Everything I’ve covered so far speaks volumes about the positive trends that the G League has established. It is no surprise for me that teams are finally taking the competition seriously and are investing heavily in their affiliate franchises.
After years of treating the development league as simply an easy way to get rid of someone who’s not good enough, NBA teams are now waking up to the numerous opportunities that an affiliated franchise presents.
It is a great way to prepare rookies for life in the NBA without the pressure of throwing them directly into the spotlight. The G league can also serve as a way more balanced method of building up fitness after a long injury.
How many times have we seen players underperforming when rushed back into NBA rosters? Sometimes these athletes need time to get back to their usual rhythm, and the G League provides a competitive atmosphere where they can do that without the big demands.
It’s also a place where proposed innovations can be tested out. Rule changes in the NBA almost always divide the community, so seeing how new ideas work in a similar setting can ease the process in the future.
For example, the G League made a big call on free throws this year. Steph Curry didn’t like that particular proposal, but it doesn’t change the fact that the G League presents a great way to implement such tweaks without having to go through all the scrutiny.
But most importantly, the G League can help instill the right mentality in young players. If you go back to my list of top alumni, you can understand what I mean. These are all very different players with contrasting skill sets, but they have one thing in common.
They are all fighters on the court and exemplary professionals. It’s probably a stretch to say that this is all down to their G League experience, but I feel that their stints in the minor league have helped them a lot.
While players are down there, they’re really fighting for their NBA future, and that inevitably hardens their resolve and makes them appreciate the chance more.
This wraps up my look at the NBA G and why I think it will be highly beneficial for teams to utilize it more.
I really feel that there are tons of positives, especially when their affiliate team is close by, and I will be surprised if the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers don’t join the mix soon.
I would be happy to read your own thoughts on the G League’s progress, so be sure to leave a comment in the section below.
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