As the NCAA Tournament draws closer to its end with the Final Four tipping off this weekend, we've had the opportunity to see a handful of potential 2021 NBA Draft prospects.
Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs, USC freshman centre Evan Mobley and Oklahoma State freshman guard Cade Cunningham are three players that had the opportunity to showcase their talent to the world on the NCAA's biggest stage, all anticipated to be selected in the top five of this year's draft (assuming Suggs and Mobley declare for the league, although that announcement has yet to come).
But there are two other young star prospects that round out the projected top five picks that chose not to play under the college basketball spotlight.
Instead, they took their talents to the G League, competing for the NBA's newest development program, the G League Ignite, to polish their skillsets in preparation for the next level.
If you're unfamiliar with prolific scoring guard Jalen Green and two-way versatile forward Jonathan Kuminga, they're names you should get to know.
Kuminga was once the No. 1 prospect in the high school class of 2021 before reclassifying to the class of 2020 (where he still ranked as the fourth-best player in the nation). Green was the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2020, and both top prospects elected to forgo all of their NCAA scholarship offers for a chance to play for the Ignite select team to earn a salary while preparing for the 2021 NBA Draft.
Generally speaking, the majority of players selected in the NBA Draft still go through the college ranks (with some international prospects aside). But as it's becoming more common for star high school prospects to pursue financial security over a one-and-done season at a college or university, we're beginning to see players make it to the league through alternate routes.
For recent examples, in last year's draft, No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball and No. 24 overall pick R.J. Hampton both elected to use Australia's NBL Next Stars program as a springboard to the bigs.
In 2019, No. 23 overall pick Darius Bazley decided to forgo his scholarship to Syracuse University, originally planning to play in the G League to prepare for the draft (before the Ignite development program began). Bazley eventually chose to skip both of those options altogether, instead, training on his own before becoming a first-round pick.
The Ignite's Green and Kuminga are the latest to try and trailblaze an alternate path, becoming the first two major prospects to elevate this new G League development program. And after successful seasons in the G League bubble, further solidifying themselves as top five-worthy selections, it may become a much more common alternative to future prospects.
While the attention to the G League bubble season may not equal that of March Madness, these two players were still nothing short of incredible for teenagers playing against grown men.
Green proved what was already known about him previously: the 19-year-old can flat out score the rock. Averaging 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3, Green was the Ignite's go-to option on offence.
He left a lasting impression on the G League season, going off for a season-high 30 points in the Ignite's first-round playoff exit against Raptors 905.
At 6-foot-6 with a lightning-quick first step, a knack for creating separation to free up his silky smooth jump shot and springs in his shoes when he leaps off the floor, Green is a tough matchup for any defender. He can score from all three levels, operate like an attacker with the ball in his hands in pick-and-roll situations and slither through defences off-ball to create open catch-and-shoot looks.
His thin frame (178 lbs.) will generate some limitations when he first gets to the next level, he has to improve as a defender (both physically and IQ-wise) and development as a playmaking will only improve his all-around offensive game, but Green is without a doubt the purest scorer in this draft class.
As for Kuminga, his G League season was equally as assuring as a pro prospect. At 6-foot-8, 220 lbs. with a 7-foot-plus wingspan, this 19-year-old is the prototype of a two-way forward in the NBA today.
The combination of his size, strength and athleticism makes him the most versatile defender in this draft class. He will comfortably be able to defend 1-through-4 at the next level, and may even be able to take on the challenge against some 5's.
Kuminga presented that lockdown defence in the bubble, but the most pleasant surprise compared to the last time he was seen at the high school level was his offensive progression. Averaging 15.8 points per game, Kuminga showed vast improvement as a ballhandler attacking the basket.
If he can refine his handle and pair it with his explosive leaping ability and body control when attacking the basket, although there is still room for improvement as a playmaker and shot creator. His jump shot consistency also needs work - both on the catch or off the dribble - shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 24.6 percent from 3. But Kuminga's NBA-ready body and physical tools as a defender parlayed with what his ceiling could be offensively makes him a sure-fire top-five selection.
If this was your first time hearing about Green and Kuminga, you're in for a treat when you get to watch them play.
These two 19-year-olds got next in the NBA.
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