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G-League

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Success with the G-League

The Lakers effectively used the G-League to develop players and add depth to their roster when needed this season, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA recently announced that player salaries in the G-League will increase beginning with next season. In addition, players will also receive housing and insurance benefits. The league will also expand to 27 teams with the newest franchise being the Capital City Go-Go’s, the affiliate of the Washington Wizards.

The G-League has seen an increase in popularity and coverage, and five-star senior Darius Bazley withdrew his commitment from Syracuse in favor of spending a year in the league preparing for the NBA draft. Teams are now beginning to utilize their G-League affiliates more; this season saw a record of 50 players called up to the NBA.

One team that has found success with their G-League team is the Los Angeles Lakers. By the end of the season, the Lakers had seven players on the roster who either started the season with the South Bay Lakers or spent time being called back and forth. With a rash of injuries the last month or so, most of those players featured prominently in the rotation.

“The G-League has turned into a great resource for the NBA, for the development of young players and for finding people who help your team win,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to their final game of the season. “You look across the league, almost every single team at some point this year has got a lot of help from someone either on a two-way or who they signed for ten days. These guys have grown up their whole lives playing too. They’re hungry, they mostly have an edge, they have a chip on their shoulder because they haven’t had the same opportunities.”

Most teams took advantage of the new ability to sign players to two-way contracts, having them split time between their NBA team and G-League affiliate. The Lakers originally had longtime G-League standout Vander Blue and Alex Caruso signed to two-way contracts. But they cut Blue in January and replaced him with Gary Payton II.

Payton, the son of former NBA star Gary Sr., has had some NBA experience prior to this year He was a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2016-17 season and he began this season with them before being cut in December. He caught on with the Lakers on a two-way contract and he spent most of the season with the South Bay Lakers.

He started out his career in the G-League after going undrafted out of Oregon State in the summer of 2016. He started out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before being called up by the Bucks. He’s also spent time with the Wisconsin Herd.

“The two years I’ve been in the G-League going back and forth has really helped develop my game, and it’s transferred over,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Down there they really help develop player’s games. I get my opportunity to just come in and help facilitate.”

Payton only appeared sparingly in six games as a rookie and was inactive during the Bucks 2017 first round series against the Toronto Raptors. This season started out with more of the same. He saw 12 games of action with the Bucks, mostly in garbage time, while shuffling back and forth with the Wisconsin Herd.

When he signed with the Lakers, Payton immediately made an impact with South Bay. In 17 games, he put up 17.2 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and dished out 5.1 assists. When South Bay’s season came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of the Austin Spurs, Payton rejoined the Lakers.

Injuries to key players saw Payton thrust into the rotation for the final few games of the season. On the final night of the regular season, Payton had his best performance as an NBA player in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 25 points on 11-19 shooting, including 3-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.

“I just do what I do, try to carry over what I brought in the G-League and just try to be aggressive,” Payton said. “They tell me every time I’m up here and get an opportunity to just be aggressive and make plays for my teammates.”

Another player who has used the G-League to get an opportunity with the Lakers is Payton’s South Bay teammate Travis Wear. Wear is no stranger to the NBA. He went undrafted out of UCLA in the summer of 2015 but was able to make the New York Knicks roster following a strong training camp.

With the Knicks, Wear saw action in 51 games and displayed an ability to stretch the floor by shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line. A back injury cut his rookie year short and he went overseas the following season. He returned stateside to begin the 2016-17 season and ended up in South Bay, when the team was still known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders.

Now that he’s back in the NBA, Wear credits his experience in New York as helping him learn what the NBA is all about.

“I kind of knew what to expect coming into this NBA game and the style in which it’s played,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “It definitely prepared me. It was three years ago but I was able to look back on that experience and change some things from the past.”

Wear had a breakout season in the G-League this year and that strong play was what caught the Lakers’ attention. He was one of the best players in the G-League all season long. He put up 16.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and shot 41.9 percent from three-point range. Wear is a high energy player who is active around the rim and can draw opposing defenses to the perimeter with his shooting ability.

He shot 36.2 percent from downtown in the 17 games he received playing time after being called up to the Lakers. On Mar. 16, in a one-point loss to the Miami HEAT, he scored 11 points and shot a perfect 3-3 from long range. On Mar. 24, in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored 11 points and had two steals while shooting 3-7 from three.

Wear believes his time in the G-League has really helped prepare him to make an easier return to the NBA.

“Since I’ve been here, I pretty much come in, space the floor, knock down shots and play good defense,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “They know I can shoot so that’s how they’ve been utilizing me. I was definitely refining my skills down there. I just got a lot of confidence in my shooting ability from the G-League. It gave me the confidence to come up here and do the same thing.”

While Wear has had a successful end to the season, there is no guarantee that he’ll be back with the Lakers next year. His contract was only guaranteed through the end of this season. The Lakers have an option to extend him a qualifying offer this summer, which would make him a restricted free agent.

Although he wouldn’t mind sticking with the Lakers, Wear knows that the NBA is a business. He feels he’s shown enough that if it doesn’t work out in Los Angeles, another team will surely come calling.

“Whoever I can get an opportunity to get a contract with somewhere. There are things I need to improve on my game in the offseason and come back better,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s been phenomenal, a dream come true.”

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G-League

Sources: Pelicans Launching G-League Team in Alabama

Basketball Insiders

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New Orleans is launching a G League affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., league sources tell ESPN. Team will start play in Erie, Pa. next season until renovations are complete on arena in Birmingham.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

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G-League

NBA Daily: A Step Forward, But Not The Answer

The G-League’s new “Select Contract” is a good step forward, but it is not really the answer it might seem to be.

Steve Kyler

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A Step Forward, But Not The Answer

The NBA G-League announced that it would be rolling out a new contract structure geared towards high-level players that may not want to attend college and start their professional career right of high school. They are calling this contract a “Select Contract,” and it will pay the players awarded those deals $125,000 for the five-month G-League season.

On the surface this sounds a lot better than the $35,000 a player would earn this season, but at the end of the day – while it’s a better alternative – it’s not exactly the solution some are making it out to be, and here are some of the reasons why:

Not Available To Everyone

The G-League is still sorting through exactly how they will manage and administer this new contract format. While the Select Contract does come with substantially more money, the real benefits might be the other parts of the Select Program such as veteran mentorship, financial planning classes and an in-depth development program geared towards preparing these players for professional life, on and off the floor.

The G-League is planning to hire a program manager, and along with a committee of experts, they will determine which high school level players will be eligible to be in the Select program. It’s not going to be available to everyone. Most experts believe it will likely be less than 15 players a year that qualify and likely just two or three per season that explore this option. That could change when it’s a real option, but it doesn’t seem very likely this is going to impact a huge group of players, especially considering the ambiguity of determining who is eligible.

College Still Offers Better Exposure

While it’s great to have options, college basketball and all of its flaws still offer the best path to the NBA for a couple of reasons. The coaching in college still eclipses that in the G-League, and while the G-League is getting better every year, it still not remotely close regarding the quality of coaching and resources high-level college programs have to offer.

College also offers a better lifestyle than the G-League. Currently, G-League teams travel on commercial flights and stay at modestly priced hotels. In comparison, most high-level college teams travel by charter and stay in four and five-star hotels.

You’d also have to live in a cave to think that college players are not receiving money to play in college. While that is usually under the table, it is happening and will continue to happen. That will get even harder to restrict once some of the new NCAA rules get enacted to allow players in college to have agents and earn money off their likeness.

The fact that college basketball is played in primetime and in front of a packed audience is still going to win out against the modest crowds G-League games draw. That may change over time, but the elite prospects are still likely going to consider the elite schools over the G-League.

The one advantage the G-League can offer that may win in some player’s minds is the ability to sign endorsement deals right out of the gate. That is something even the new expected college rules won’t allow, so there that could be a factor too.

Players Still Have to Go Through The Draft

The G-League process will still require players to enter and go through the draft, meaning while a player may play for a G-League team operated by an NBA team, that NBA will have no rights to the player. That player will still have to enter and go through the NBA draft process, just as if he were coming from college despite playing on a team controlled by an NBA team.

The fact that the parent NBA team won’t have any advantage to the player creates something of a mixed agenda in terms of playing time and coaching.

Advocates of this program like the idea of getting to know a player in an in-depth way, especially a player’s work ethic and coachability.

The downside is the motivation of the G-League staff is usually to win games. The veteran players on the team are trying to make their own careers, not step aside to develop a young guy. Equally, the coaches are trying to advance their careers and win games. There is something to be said about proving you can develop a player, but ultimately it’s going to be harder to stand out in the G-League, and that could have a negative impact on player’s draft stock versus being the prime focal point of a major college program.

It’s a Stop Gap

In the end, this is a good step forward in creating a new option for players who may not want to fake their way through a year of college, or, more importantly, want to spend all of their time training and developing for the NBA. However, the reality is the NBA’s age limit is likely going away in 2022, meaning this is a three-year stop gap at best.

It is believed the program will still exist after the age limit is lifted and be a good landing spot for high school level players that opt for the NBA draft, but fall out of the draft.

It will be interesting to see what exactly the fully formed program offers to players who take it. Because so much of this program is still to be determined, its hard to say if this will be a great option in the long-term, but in the short-term it is an option some will explore.

Former Syracuse commit Darius Bazley was believed to be headed towards the G-League when he opted to turn pro rather than go to college. Since that decision, he has hired Klutch Sports as his agency and is planning to use the next several months to train and develop on his own rather than test the G-League.

It was recently announced that Bazley signed a huge multi-year deal with New Balance that will guarantee him $1 million and the chance to be one of the faces of New Balance’s entry in the basketball shoe space.

So, time will tell if Bazley ends up being the professional he hopes he can be, but with the New Balance money guaranteed towards him, the decision may not be as silly as it seemed when it was announced.

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College Headlines

Report: G League to Offer $125K Salaries to Elite Prospects

Basketball Insiders

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The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

“Select Contracts are an answer to the basketball community’s call for additional development options for elite players before they are eligible for the NBA,” said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner.  “The supporting infrastructure surrounding these newly-created Select Contracts is designed to provide a rich offering of basketball and life skills developmental tools for top young players to grow along their professional paths from high school to the pros.”

Source: NBA

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