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Event Recap: G-League Ignite Scrimmages

Projected top-10 pick Jonathan Kuminga. Credit: Noah Graham / @noahgohotos (IG)

With the G-League Bubble set to begin on February 10, there is some added allure with the inclusion of the G-League Ignite. With 17 G-League teams being represented in the bubble with various levels NBA team affiliation, the Ignite are a developmental program that will compete featuring five former RSCI top-100 players. The team had a pair of scrimmages against G-League veterans on December 15, 2020 and December 17, 2020, providing evaluators their first glimpse of the NBA’s new pathway program put into action. With knowledge of these players from their high school days and after viewing both scrimmages, Pro Insight’s Andrew Slater, Tyler Glazier and Michael Visenberg break down their thoughts on the G-League Ignite, bringing readers up to speed as we look ahead toward the bubble.

What have been your general sentiments toward the G-League Select Team pathway thus far?

Andrew Slater: It’s been such an unusual year to gauge even the short-term viability of this option. In the scrimmages, the players seemed both anxious to show their capabilities, but also were clearly aware of the stakes, from a draft-showcasing standpoint. It will be interesting to see how quickly the four viable NBA prospects acclimate to the competition in the bubble. Theoretically, it should offer a viable option to the elite seniors who would prefer to get quasi-NBA level coaching and development, along with those who prefer to get paid above board and not have to worry about any academic stress. For scouts of the respective franchises, it should offer an opportunity to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of these prospects versus varying degrees of borderline NBA players. My assumption is that this is merely a short-term option until they create a straight pathway for “Preps to Pros.”

Tyler Glazier: I was a skeptic at first, and much still needs to be proven, but I found myself pleasantly surprised to see the development and opportunities these young prospects are getting after watching the scrimmages. While casual fans tend to overlook the G-League while underestimating the talent pool, the reality is that most G-Leaguers are former highly productive college players and/or former overseas/NBA players who are eager to get back in the league. In short, there are few slouches in the G-League. With that being said, the young prospects (Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, Kai Sotto) are gaining valuable pro-level reps against highly talented/experienced opponents that in theory should reduce the learning curve once they reach the NBA level. The upcoming bubble will shed more light on how the process is going, but I’m more optimistic about this developmental path than I was before breaking down the scrimmages.

Michael Visenberg: As long as the age limit exists, there should be other potential pathways for American high school recruits besides the NCAA, and playing professionally overseas is a daunting task. While I really liked the NBL NextStars as an option, I thought having an actual developmental program through the G-League was an interesting idea. The thing I liked about what has become the G-League Ignite program was its focus on development. Brian Shaw will not be judged on wins and losses, he will be judged on the showcasing and improvement of his young talent. That is something I do not think you can say about many coaches, almost certainly not in most other options for potential NBA draftees. They will be allowed to make mistakes without the immediate fear of being yanked, will get to play former high-level college players, plus they are going up against players who are not giving an inch in terms of showcasing for their own professional opportunities. The five main G-League Ignite players are definitely not perfect together and the answer to this question will be much more concrete in a year. It is still an experiment I am glad to see play out in this setting, especially considering the obstacles everyone has needed to overcome to play basketball this season.

What do you know now — or what are you specifically more aware of now — versus before watching the G-League Ignite scrimmages?

Andrew Slater: That the coaching wasn’t as much of a significant improvement over what they’ve received in the past. It was also interesting to see Jalen Green become more of a beta to Jonathan Kuminga’s alpha in the first two games. A similar dynamic took place, when Terrence Clarke spent part of a summer with Jonathan Kuminga eighteen months ago. I always find it interesting to see player dynamics. There’s no hiding.

Tyler Glazier: That the most talented high school team still can’t beat a randomly assembled G-League squad. But in all seriousness, the scrimmages were a good reminder of how much faster and better the pro level game is compared to high school and college. While each young player did their best and had their moments, each also showed how much further they have to go when it comes to picking up defensive assignments and understanding how to generate efficient looks on offense. It was a great opportunity to evaluate how each prospect projects to the NBA physically/athletically as well as get a better idea on what skills each can hang their hat on at the pro level.

Michael Visenberg: We got a look at the roles each of these players has been assigned thus far, which still could change in the G-League bubble. Not that this was not something those who had followed these players through their high school career had not seen already, it just always comes with some uncertainty once they move to different levels. Jalen Green played almost strictly off-ball and was very much in score-first mode, which has been his modus operandi. It just seemed like maybe they would at least try to showcase him on-ball more, though I guess that would likely not play to his strengths? A lot to learn and many different things can play out, but learned that this team will show some different looks and hopefully assemble a group that will give their players pieces that at least resemble whom they may play with at the next level. Even if it is not perfect it is still much better than when the initial roster was released and our imagination was set to run wild on how Daishen Nix, Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Kai Sotto would play together. It may happen at times, it may not be pretty, but they make sure to provide some different looks.

Between the two scrimmages, did a particular play stand out to you in either a good or a bad way?

Andrew Slater: Jon Kuminga made a few individual plays that really emphasized his ability to create his own offense in a half-court setting.

Tyler Glazier: While there were a lot of plus-offensive plays to choose from when it comes to Jonathan Kuminga, I’m going to highlight one of his defensive plays that really got me excited about his two-way upside. During the first scrimmage, Kuminga struggled to rotate and stay with his man which resulted in a lot of quick and open looks for opponents. However, as the game progressed you could see Kuminga learning in real time. In a close game with around five minutes left, Kuminga locked in and made multiple impressive stops. To me, this encapsulated his in-game learning ability, hyper-athleticism, and defensive upside. While he’s still learning, flashes like these give me a substantial dose of hope.

Michael Visenberg: Let's stick with the positive, and will focus on a couple plays that involved Daishen Nix making nice passes to the two star attractions, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga. As I mentioned earlier, Green has done a lot off-ball, and he has had a number of impressive finishes in transition, slashing and cutting. This play in the first scrimmage, just shows Green’s tremendous movement and functional athleticism in action, along with a precision pass from Nix, who quickly reacted to what he saw Green was doing.

The other play that caught my eye was a play that I do not think was considered an assist from Daishen Nix, just a beautiful pass that led to an impressive score from Jonathan Kuminga. Midway through the second scrimmage, Nix was able to beat the big and seeing Tariq Owens also protecting the rim, he kicked a precision no-look pass to Kuminga. This gave Kuminga some ability to get down hill and finish the play.

Who do you enjoy watching most on this Ignite squad, and why?

Andrew Slater: Kuminga. I like to see talented and creative players perform. I’ve been fortunate to be around him quite a bit for a few years. As with Zion, he’s managed to keep me intrigued. Jonathan is capable of punishing the opposition in so many ways, on both ends of the court. There have been times where he’s been bored, but, at his absolute best, he’s been the most dominant and feared player in his class.

Tyler Glazier: Jonathan Kuminga. His blend of NBA-ready tools and expanding skill-set are exciting to watch develop. He was a highly-touted player in high school, but would struggle at times when it came to consistently taking over games. That was not the case in these first two scrimmages, and while Jalen Green is just as exciting of a player in other ways, seeing Kuminga step up in back-to-back games as more of an offensive leader was very encouraging to see.