The G League Is Ready For The Future Of The NBA's Age Limit

It was a hell of a night at the Barclays Center if you were a freshman star in college basketball. With the first SEVEN picks and over half of the total first round selections of last night’s NBA Draft being one-and-done players from the NCAA ranks, you could be forgiven if you wondered if any of these players finished puberty yet.

During ESPN’s coverage last night (if you couldn’t watch, check out the best VPNs of 2017 to watch online), the analysts on set – Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose and Jay Bilas – briefly discussed how this particular draft could signal the end of an era, if commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA Players Association finally come to agreement about altering the age limit on American-born players. If the league mandates a two-year limit, as once hoped when David Stern was in charge, it would ideally give the college game a shot in the arm in terms of talent infusion, although game play itself still needs to be addressed. If the limit is eliminated altogether, there might still be concerns about the return of pro scouts at high school games and an even greater dive into the already criticized AAU circuit.

However, whether the disliked status quo remains, the limit is raised (unlikely, it seems) or the league goes back to allowing high school players to enter the draft, the NBA is in a much better position to handle however the players come. Perhaps more than any other draft before it, last night could not have served as a better advertisement for the former NBA Developmental League.

For years, the debate about the viability of the now-christened G League raged among the most ardent of draftniks, talent scouts, aspiring agents and more. Because the salaries were a pittance compared to even the base salary of an NBA player or that of young talents overseas, many felt that the NBA’s minor league wouldn’t attract top-level prospects hoping to eschew the charade of spending a year on campus. Nor would said salaries be enough to keep them from trying to immerse themselves with real on-the-job training in a professional outfit in Europe, China or Australia – provided that the players had some discernible talent to run with grown men in those places in the first place.

Now, with its ongoing expansion to attain its ideal '30 for 30' (all 30 NBA teams having their own affiliates), two-way player contracts, a deepening history of contributing alumni and the league’s own history of product testing, there’s a greater, but still competitive, safety net for the players that don’t pan out right away in the Association.

We know that despite the great moments on the draft stage for all of these young men, very few of them will have long careers in the NBA. Even in what was considered a deep point guard pool and a bastion of mobile big men, a lot of these players won’t stick onto their teams right away (if at all) for a myriad of reasons.

They’re competing against second- and third-year NBA players nearly as young, but much more aware of the steep learning curve of becoming a pro. As fellow editor Johnathan Tillman said in our pre-draft post yesterday, many of them are still learning how to play basketball, which is not as weird as it sounds when it comes to 19- and 20-year-old kids. Most of all, with the college game being built more on autocratic coaching and inconsistent officiating, it could take a bit more time for some player to get the NCAA out of their systems in order to maximize their talents.

The new two-way contracts in the G League may have not been appealing for players like Markelle Fultz or De’Aaron Fox – and definitely not for LaVar Ball, let alone his son Lonzo – but they could be for those fringe late first round players who wouldn’t play much because they were picked by contending teams that won’t ask them to take on big roles right away. Second round picks that wouldn’t make it out of training camp in past years will have a greater chance of sticking around the NBA purview by having a little more seasoning close to home, although the decision to leave money on the table from a potential contract overseas will be made that much harder. And even for those who aren’t going to have the two-way deals, which can be used for just two players per NBA team, they’re still going to be a lot closer to the big club than they would be if they were clamoring for time with a European league outfit.

Not every recruit will play under a guy like John Calipari at Kentucky (who was an NBA whisperer long before the age limit) or play for Mike Krzyzewski at what’s become a successful one-and-done factory like Duke. And perhaps that’s where the G League itself should be able to thrive once a decision is made about the age limit. Every coach at every organization knows that the priority is to get players ready to come up to 'the show.' More importantly, the NBA and the franchise owners themselves are more committed to player development with the G League model than ever before.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Cubs sent Kyle Schwarber down to the minors in hopes that he will rediscover the swing and timing that made him such an alluring player when he was called up to the big leagues in 2015. Instead of this being seen as a panic move for the World Series champions, it’s seen as a chance for Schwarber to ‘clear his head’ to become the player he was in the Fall Classic and even more. Soon enough, the basketball public won’t bat an eye when the big clubs start shuffling their prospects to the G League for the same reasons.

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