NBA debuts new G League pathway with Jalen Green

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 18: Jalen Green #14 of Team Zion dunks against Team Jimma during the SLAM Summer Classic 2019 at Dyckman Park on August 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 18: Jalen Green #14 of Team Zion dunks against Team Jimma during the SLAM Summer Classic 2019 at Dyckman Park on August 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

2021 NBA Draft prospect Jalen Green will be heading into the G League next season as the NBA unveils its new pro pathway to the league.

What was supposed to be a pivotal day in college recruiting has been hijacked by the NBA, as top 2021 draft prospect Jalen Green has decided to forgo the NCAA, instead opting to be the guinea pig for the NBA’s new “Professional pathway program.” Instead of heading to Oregon, Memphis, or Auburn, long considered his top destinations were he to pursue college basketball, Green will be spending the 2020-21 season in a new development program that will be overseen by G League leadership.

Green, along with 5-star prospect Isaiah Todd and certainly other names to come, will participate in what is essentially a year-long program focused on the development of on and off-court skills, similar to academy style training that has long been the standard in professional soccer. Players in this program will become members of a new G League team in Los Angeles and will be receiving what seems like an enticing package of benefits — tutoring from both professional coaches and veteran players, life skills programs aimed at helping players transition to NBA life off the court, and the opportunity to play games against other G-League teams and NBA academy teams.

But most importantly, players will receive the benefit of something college basketball refuses to provide — a salary structure, featuring over $500,000 of financial compensation with incentives for completing aspects of the program, and a full scholarship for college, so that players can go back to school at any time. Without the NCAA’s red tape, Green also figures to be in line to sign a major shoe deal, adding to his compensation package.

While the publicity of playing college basketball will not be there for Green, that financial package blows away what the NCAA has to offer, with its archaic amateurism rules, transfer restrictions, and academic demands on top of what is essentially a full-time job. Ideally, the program offers prospects the chance for exposure, compensation, and helps to correct situations where players are disadvantaged in college — most notably financially, but also helping to avoid bad college fits and eligibility issues that can severely hinder players’ chances of breaking through in the league. The G League and NBA hope that this becomes an attractive option for top draft prospects, and is a step towards the NBA using the G League as a full-fledged minor league geared towards development — with full league control.

Green, who is a top-three high school prospect by most rankings, will get the chance for direct assimilation into the league through teaming up with NBA veterans and participating in transition programs, while playing in games against other G League competition. While the structure is still in flux for what this season will look like, the goal is that this new team will play 10-12 games against G League teams, which will not count towards the standings. This helps give the prospects on the team in-game experience and will prevent logistical issues around incorporating the team into the G League standings.

The program offers a strong alternative to the Australian NBL, which has emerged as the top alternative to playing college basketball in recent years. The NBL welcomed American draft prospects and pays them well. But the travel involved can wear on 18- and 19-year old kids that are away from home for the first time, and playing against pro players can really accentuate the weaknesses in a player’s game, as LaMelo Ball and Terrence Ferguson have shown. Moving to this structure of exhibition games allows players to still compete in games, but removes the pressure and wear and tear of playing a full regular season during this transition period.

Green is a major talent and figures to be in the mix to be a top-5 pick in a good 2021 draft class. He’s one of the best athletes among the wings in the crop, and has shown high-level defensive ability in addition to a developing pull-up jumper and handle. Of all of the prospects to pick to start this venture, he might be one of the best, given he has all of the tools you could ask for, but needs the fine-tuning this venture is planning to provide.

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