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.
Michael Visenberg: The player who consistently did things that stood out was indeed Jonathan Kuminga. He handled the ball well, even showing some ability to pass off the live dribble. He may not have shot particularly well, but was confident taking them and did make some nice outside shots, as well as have really impressive finishes through some athletic defenders. He has the size teams are looking for in terms of a player that could play either forward spot, and showed a level of comfort in defending the perimeter where it seems plausible to play him as a wing. I certainly want to see more consistency from start to finish with Kuminga, though he was clearly the player who had the most impressive flashes in terms of flashing NBA ability in these scrimmages.
Which Ignite prospect is closest to being ready to step onto an NBA court and compete 7-8 months from now?
Andrew Slater: It takes a lot to be physically ready to compete in the NBA. The two that were the closest were, in order, Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green. Realistically, Kuminga is the most ready to be able to meaningfully contribute immediately. Green still needs to improve his upper-body strength, continue to tighten his handle, and be a more consistent perimeter shooter.
Tyler Glazier: From the two scrimmages, Jonathan Kuminga. He’s without shortcomings in terms of the basic tools needed to hang or not be targeted on an NBA court while bringing something to the table on both offense and defense. Kuminga is primed to handle real NBA minutes early on in his rookie season.
Michael Visenberg: Hard not to say Jonathan Kuminga once again. He has an NBA-ready body already, moves really well on both ends of the floor and even showed some positive playmaking chops. The shooting is still a question mark, but seems to be looking like something you can bet on at least being average. He looks to provide line-up versatility, rare run-jump athleticism at 6’8” and he hustles, seems quite coachable. Just a lot to like.
Who would you say is furthest away? Why?
Andrew Slater: Kai Sotto. He has some skill for a big and a large following in the Philippines, which may have been the appeal, but he’s most likely a G-League player. He is so incredibly slow laterally that it would be a challenge to have him defend in space at the NBA level. It would obviously be appealing to the NBA to expand their international interest, but I don’t see Kai Sotto as ever developing into anything more than an end of the bench player, at best, at the NBA level.
Tyler Glazier: Kai Sotto. While he possesses some NBA-level tools, he still has a ways to go in terms of feel for the game, body mechanics, bankable skills, etc. before he’s ready to compete against the best players in the world on a nightly basis.
Michael Visenberg: Could give the obvious answer of Kai Sotto, though he always seemed like a project who was a ways away from the NBA. So, will say out of the likely 2021 NBA draft entrants, have to go with Isaiah Todd. He has always stood out due to his combination of physical tools, movement and at least an aesthetically pleasing jump shot. The problem is, he relies on it much too often for how efficient it actually is. Not to mention that he still seemed to have issues beating anyone off of the dribble. Even when he had an impressive post finish, he got called for a technical foul. He was much improved in the second scrimmage, and is certainly still someone to look out for, it just seems like his bouts inefficiency are still an issue.
Who has the most long term upside?
Andrew Slater: It’s between Kuminga and Green, who are on a tier of their own. The answer will depend on which one develops his perimeter skill-set more in the coming years. Both have big long-term upside, but it’ll be interesting to see how hungry either remain, after a) they get both drafted and b) eventually receive their second contract. I worry a little bit about both getting distracted off the court and ultimately not achieving their potential. They’ll both be viable scorers, but, in terms of winning, a franchise will need to keep both engaged. Kuminga is more physically mature, which should portend that Green would have more room for growth. I tend to like more complete players over pure scorers. Assuming they’re the same age, I’d opt for Jonathan Kuminga.
Tyler Glazier: Jonathan Kuminga. Versatile forwards are the most valuable position in today’s NBA and he has all of the tools needed to succeed at a high level.
Michael Visenberg: As much as I would like to say Jonathan Kuminga and call it a day, am not really sure we know yet. These players were made to play in these incredibly uncertain times and sure, Kuminga played better through these first two scrimmages and has all of the tools mentioned in my previous answers. Even so, there is still something about Jalen Green that really stands out, in terms of his also special burst and explosive athleticism. He showed just how incredibly quick he could be off-ball and how comfortable he looked shooting off of motion. Green’s handle is still loose and he left a lot of questions unanswered, which I am willing to wait for in this upcoming G-League bubble. Will lean Kuminga heavily right now, just still think it could be at least somewhat of a battle.
Sum up each of the five players in just a handful of words.
Jalen Green - Wired to score; Green has improved as a three-point threat, but a legitimate three-level scorer now; Aggressively looks to score; Handle has tightened, but still just above-average; Excellent athlete; Needs to add upper-body strength — wiry; Improving and more willing passer overall; Prefers to play in an uptempo style; Below-average rebounder on both ends; Needs to improve his effort level on the defensive end; Non-existent shot-blocker; Good size for the position; Vocal; Best scorer in the class, but needs to become a more well-rounded player; Seems focused on scoring now, but a willing worker; Solid feel.
Jonathan Kuminga - Highest upside player in the class; Largely stagnated over the past year; Quick-twitch wing who is an above-average three-point shooter, but needs to refine his shot selection; Has become more aggressive in attacking the rim; Strong enough to finish through contact, but needs to concentrate more on the free-throw line; Average overall passer; Solid court vision, but needs to be a more willing passer; Improving offensive rebounder; Excellent finisher in transition; Good weak-side shot-blocker; Needs to remain more focused on the defensive end; Gambles to generate steals too often; Elite athleticism; Prototypical size and frame for the position; Needs to develop his leadership abilities, but slowly becoming increasingly vocal; Went from exceptional growth (30 months to 15 months ago) to relative stagnation (15 months until present), due to a mixture of family drama, lethargy, and not respecting his high school coach; Talent remains, native of the Congo.
Daishen Nix - Big, penetrating PG with good court vision; Among the best pure passers in the class; Excellent penetrator, but finishes almost exclusively right; Inconsistent range shooter; Can play on or off the ball, but functions best as a PG; Improved free-throw shooter; Finishes well through contact; Active hands on defense, enables him to consistently generate steals; Solid rebounder on both ends; High basketball IQ; Very good athleticism; Excellent size for the position, but needs to tighten his physique; Strong frame; Calming demeanor; Not particularly vocal, but does provide leadership; Will need to become a much improved three-point shooter and be able to finish with his left, but strong upside, due to his size, athleticism, and exceptional court vision; Competitive, independent makeup; Alaskan native.
Kai Sotto - Very skilled, lefty center; Exceptionally slow and unathletic; Prefers to face-up, with range beyond the three-point line; Capable scorer with his back-to-the-basket with a series of baby hooks and drop steps — capable of using both hands (but prefers left); Gets to the free-throw line often and is an above-average shooter; Very physically weak and has issues with conditioning, as well; Can rebound his area, but not beyond that and can get the ball stolen by stronger players; Good basketball IQ; Uses his length and positioning to try to block shots, but has trouble against athletic bigs; Great size for the position and looks like his frame can hold significantly more weight (his father, a former player, does); Not very vocal; Incredibly skilled and mentally prepared for his age, but his upside is limited, due to his lack of mobility and explosion; Philippines native.
Isaiah Todd - A stretch big with upside; Relatively fluid athlete with an improving (but still below-average) three-point shot; Solid on the defensive glass, but not exactly tough; Turnover-prone; Good frame, which should enable him to carry more upper-body strength; Much more effective when he plays inside-out, but doesn’t embrace contact; Subpar free-throw shooter; Was viewed as having one of the highest upsides entering high school, but has largely failed to improve substantially and became enamored with demonstrating his improving perimeter skill-set; Weak and often unwilling passer to date; Plus shot-blocker (more from the weak-side); Solid student; His mother is substantially more vocal than he is; Needs to add upper-body strength, tighten his handle, refine his perimeter shot, and embrace contact.
Jalen Green - Quick-twitch and explosive athlete who will be in the upper echelon of NBA athletes from day one. Green is also a dynamic offensive weapon who is comfortable generating space off the bounce, carving up defenses as a cutter, finishing at the basket, hitting a variety of pull-up shots, and acting as a secondary playmaker. Big time upside prospect with a little Zach LaVine and Ja Morant in him.
Jonathan Kuminga - Versatile forward at 6’8” / 220 pounds with a near 7’ wingspan who is starting to put it all together. Good all-around athlete who understands how to maximize his burst, at the rim explosiveness, and straight-line speed. Flashed some highly impressive offensive moves during both scrimmages and continues to progress as an outside shooter. Developmental cement is still wet, but it’s drying faster than expected. Legit 3&D player with one of the higher ceilings in the draft.
Daishen Nix - Savvy floor general who actively sets up teammates for quality looks. While he struggles to consistently make defenders pay as a shooter, his ability to get to the basket and finish is his next best NBA-ready skill outside of facilitating. Brings size and versatility to the PG position at 6’5” and 229 pounds. Has some Kendall Marshall and Rajon Rondo about him.
Kai Sotto - Developmental big with excellent size for the center position at 7’1.5” and 227 pounds with a reported 7’3” wingspan. Shows flashes of his interior touch, stretch potential, and rim protection, but struggles to defend in space and currently lacks a surefire, bankable NBA skill. Could be someone who works his way onto a full-time roster after a few additional years in the G-League.
Isaiah Todd - Tantalizing prospect who has all the physical tools needed to succeed at the NBA level, but is still learning who he is as a player. Passes the eye test from a physical and athletic standpoint as he moves extremely well for a hybrid 6’10” / 215 pound forward. Still putting it together in terms of stretching the floor, consistent playmaking, making efficient decisions, and locking down defensively. If the scrimmages prove to be any indication, he appears to be trending in the right direction in terms of player identity and long term outcome.
Jalen Green - Elite-level athlete with a barrage of tools at his disposal in terms of scoring. As much as some had hoped for primary initiation, it seems he absolutely excels in terms of self-creation as a pull-up shooter, slasher, cutter and in transition. Still figuring things out defensively...there is a lot of potential here on both ends of the floor.
Jonathan Kuminga - Strong, athletic forward who could unlock a number of different line-ups. Can excel playing next to a creator and has some ability to overwhelm with his size and quick twitch. NBA-ready body, still learning the game while already providing an impressive foundation of skills to build on.
Daishen Nix - Big guard with impressive playmaking ability and confidence handling the ball. Provided some great transition passing and good reads while on the move, usually scoring with strength. Showed a great deal of confidence, even with his shots rarely falling. Relies on craft over athleticism, with conditioning hopefully being a focus going forward, along with working on his burst.
Kai Sotto - A presence at the very least. Finesse lefty big with a soft touch, some decent straight line speed considering his size. Struggles laterally and in terms of processing, drop big who can protect the rim. Still quite raw, will need time before being considered a draftable player NBA-wise.
Isaiah Todd - Big man with some nice body control and smooth footwork who has a hard time playing off of the ball. Would love to see him become more of a screen-setter, work in the pick-and-roll, rather than as an inefficient stretch-big. Has always had impressive physical tools and some shooting, handling ability, it just seems like he needs to find a way to leverage that into getting better looks on offense. Would like to see hope and progression throughout this process, as there is definitely talent at 6’10”.
What are some things you’re going to be looking for as this team heads into the G-League Bubble in Orlando?
Andrew Slater: I’m looking to see whether Nix can establish himself as the second-best PG prospect in the 2021 Draft class behind Jalen Suggs. There were concerns raised about his perimeter shot and physique, after the first two scrimmages. I’m looking to see if Kuminga and/or Green can help separate themselves from each other or from some of the top college players. They have benefitted from a Wiseman-esque ability to avoid scrutiny thus far, but neither has had a history of ducking competition. Isaiah Todd will need to step forward to improve his draft stock.
Tyler Glazier: How the players continue to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game. The primary separator or selling point for the G-League aside from an immediate paycheck is the ability to play against and develop in a pro-style system. Secondly, seeing who else between Daishen Nix, Isaiah Todd, and Kai Sotto rises to the occasion and takes the next step in their development.
Michael Visenberg: How this team builds around their stars. Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green truly stood out in terms of their athleticism and ability at this level of play. They made the first scrimmage a lot closer than it would seem. Will be interesting to see if they try to win games with those two surrounded by some wily veterans who might fit at least something closer to what they might see in the NBA. At least the best the G-League has to offer in surrounding them with said talent. Want to see how these two develop and what new wrinkles they add to their game. These two seem to be who the program was made for and could be the key to its future success or lack thereof.
Are there any prospects in the high school class of 2021 that you feel would benefit from going this route?
Andrew Slater: I don’t know if benefit is the word I would necessarily use, but Chet Holmgren would be an interesting test case of the efficacy of the G-League Pathway. Jabari Smith is another one who could benefit from further skill-development and an NBA-level strength and conditioning program. J.D. Davison has been a bit of an internet sensation, but his shooting needs so much work that I’m not sure if a year in the G-League Pathway would be sufficient and/or better than spending at least a year at Alabama. Mike Foster is expected to announce (eventually) that he’s agreed to a deal with the G-League Ignite Pathway.
Tyler Glazier: Mike Foster of Hillcrest Prep is a name that immediately comes to mind. He’s pro-ready in terms of build and athletic tools, but could benefit from the 24/7 basketball development the G-League provides. He’s a prospect who’s as talented as any in the 2021 class, but largely relies on his size and instincts, currently. Hands-on tutoring from former NBA pros and coaches could help solidify his game as well as mitigate any potential risks when it’s time to be drafted.
Michael Visenberg: Hard to say with such a limited sample size of prospects, definitely not after only two scrimmages. Still, if this program does stay the course, it seems like they will be hoping for top-10 level prospects in the class, as they will make it more enticing and marketable. With players like Chet Holmgren and Jaden Hardy still uncommitted, they certainly look to be real possibilities. Hard to say whether they would benefit more from the Ignite program as opposed to college. It still seems worth the gamble for each in terms of Holmgren having full time strength and conditioning, Hardy adding some more facets to his game. Can see either college or the Ignite program for both of these players, would not be surprised if it was a serious discussion in terms of a single school or the G-League.