NBA

What Was G League Ignite’s Downfall?

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After speculation arose with Adam Silver’s comments during All-Star weekend regarding the Ignite program, the NBA officially decided to shut down the G League Ignite program.

The G League Ignite began in the 2020-21 season. The purpose of the Ignite program was to allow draft prospects a professional, paid route to play their post-high-school season in preparation for the NBA Draft. At the inception of the program, there were some additional professional alternatives that high-school prospects pursued prior to the draft such as the NBL’s Next Stars program in Australia.

There was nothing quite like Ignite at this point, however.

The following season, Overtime Elite became an additional alternative for NBA draft prospects. Similarly, in June 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, which allowed for collegiate athletes to get paid for their name, image and likeness (NIL).

Suddenly, the need for G League Ignite had dissipated, which is evident based on Silver’s remarks regarding the future of the program.

The Success of Ignite As a Program

In 2021, after the inaugural season of Ignite, the program saw their two prized prospects, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, get drafted second and seventh, respectively.

Meanwhile, in the 2022 draft, Ignite had two additional first-round picks with Dyson Daniels and MarJon Beauchamp. In 2023, Ignite had Scoot Henderson go No. 3 overall, representing the first player to complete two seasons at Ignite before they were draft-eligible. In total, ten Ignite players have been drafted in the program’s first three seasons. Additionally, Ignite has a slew of draft prospects this season, including three potential top-ten picks.

As a program, Ignite has not had the success they hoped for on the court. For example, this season, they went 4-12 during the Winter Showcase and are currently 2-30 in the regular season. Despite this, the purpose of Ignite is to focus on development and prepare their prospects to play at the next level, and even those results have been modest.

While the Ignite program has been successful for some prospects in a variety of ways, it’s evident that most prospects coming from the program have struggled with their development and adjustment to the NBA level. During exclusive interviews with some of the best NBA draft minds, they inquired about where the Ignite program went wrong.

What the Experts Are Saying

When evaluating where the Ignite program went wrong, one NBA Draft expert said “they [Ignite] needed to be more selective.” That NBA Draft expert was Maxwell Baumbach of No Ceilings. Maxwell went on to say, “this year, they went way too prospect heavy and took in way too many guys who don’t have a very clear path to the NBA.” While the Ignite program’s purpose is to develop prospects they believe they can prepare and develop for the NBA draft, many pieces of the Ignite puzzle did not make a ton of sense on the court.

Jon Chepkevich, Director of Scouting for DraftExpress, agreed with this sentiment:

“A piece is that the vets that are surrounding the prospects on Ignite. Figuring out the eyes that can enhance and elevate the prospects on the court and off the court as mentors. That’s a tricky process and an inexact science. It’s hard to thread the needle to find a vet with incentive to do that. Pooh Jeter went from that role to the assistant GM of the Trail Blazers.”

This is a key piece to the lack of success the Ignite have had as a program. “Until they got Norris Cole, I didn’t see a true playmaking point guard or a rim protecting center” Maxwell said. However, adding a veteran point guard to help develop the Ignite prospects may have alleviated some of the Ignite’s needs, that would not have been the catch all solution either.

“When you have a team of young, young players in the G League which has gotten so much better since the first year of Ignite’s inception, it’s going to be really difficult for these guys to succeed right away” stated Chepkevich.

Between the lack of veteran experience and leadership as well as the ill-fitted roster of the Ignite program, this may explain some of the hiccups the program has had as a G League team. However, most of the prospects who came out of Ignite the last three years have struggled to develop the way the NBA team that drafted them expected.

Comparing Ignite to Other Alternatives

While the European phenomenon in the NBA is stronger than ever, there appears to be a correlation to the development of the Ignite players compared to European or overseas professionals, or even players declaring for the draft from college. Young prospects who grew up playing stateside are usually more ball-dominant, as they are the best player on their high-school or AAU teams.

Therefore, when that prospect goes to the NBA, there’s a substantial learning curve. Rafael Barlowe, Director of Scouting at NBA Big Board and Founder of NBA Draft Junkies helped explain this concept:

“In America, we’re behind on development because we have so much talent and so many players, you just need to pick the best players and they play AAU. In Europe, there’s a bunch of different countries. A country like Slovenia, for example, may only have a small amount of kids that are interested in basketball, so the kids you have you have to work with them and you’re forced to develop them. While in the states, if the kid isn’t good, you move on to the next one.”

Rafael further went on to explain that “it’s hard to find a kid from Spain who’s not a good passer because they really work on passing and cutting and moving at an early age. Their coaches must be certified in Spain. A parent can’t just say my kid isn’t playing for this team, so I’m going to go and start my own team so my kid can play.” Additionally, Maxwell said, “you’d be surprised how many technical aspects of the game guys have not been coached up on in college, but when you’re coached up overseas at a younger age, that stuff is drilled in a little bit harder because you have to be the guy who does the little things.”

Rafael continued: “If you’re a teenager in Europe and you’re playing a role on a team, it’s because you earned that role and because you’re better than the guy behind you. In the NBA, if you’re the 8th pick in the draft, they’ll try to play you for developmental purposes and if you stink, they’ll replace you with the next draft pick. But in Europe, there’s no reward for losing. In fact, if you lose, you get demoted or relegated to second division.”

The final aspect of the European path being successful is the aspect that the players get substantially more practice time and their travel schedule isn’t as rigorous. Victor Wembanyama is clearly an outlier, but Rafael mentioned “Last year, Wembanyama only played once a week, so that allowed him to have a real two-hour practice a day everyday. Meanwhile, in the states, you see an Arkansas-based kid playing for a Texas-based AAU team that only plays on the weekends, so they don’t practice during the week with the team. Is that kid really being developed?”

Compared to playing college basketball, however, the Ignite program was behind the development curve comparatively too. “Ignite guys don’t play in pressure environments, the competition is better, but they aren’t going into Cameron Indoor Stadium or Phogg Fieldhouse, they don’t have intense rivalries where guys perform in tense environments. Off the court they’re learning how to be pros a year early and getting ahead, but on the court I don’t know if they have an advantage,” Rafael explained.

Was Ignite a Success?

The recent breakouts of Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green may change how the success of the Ignite program is ultimately viewed five years from now. Despite the cessation of the Ignite program, however, it wasn’t all sour apples. Take JUCO product MarJon Beauchamp, for example. “I would consider MarJon Beauchamp a success story because he was playing JUCO the year before and then made his way to Ignite and made himself into a first-round pick,” Jon discussed.

Beauchamp is definitely a success story. Despite having ten draft picks in three years, however — in addition to the G League players likely to be drafted this year — the Ignite program has not had that transcendent development success story the program needed.

And finally, after having no additional commitments from players in the 2024 recruiting class, Adam Silver decided to go a different route.

About Steven Bagell

I'm a self-proclaimed NBA Front Office and Salary Cap Expert and I'm host of Bird Rights Podcast and One & Done: A College Basketball Podcast.

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