Roughly a month after the G-League announced their plan to play 18 games in a bubble format, the season officially kicked off with the Santa Cruz Warriors versus G-League Ignite. While there are some exciting subplots to the game (including Jeremy Lin’s return to NBA play), the main attraction of the game was the play of the future NBA draft picks. Here are some notes and observations for the NBA prospects who made their G-League debut this week.
Stat Line: 19 points, 4 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 9/18 FG, 1/7 3PFG
By far the most impressive prospect, Kuminga came out firing. His impressive offensive display continued to solidify his top-5 pick projection for the upcoming draft. There was a lot to like about Kuminga’s performance.
One of Kuminga’s biggest positives is his sheer size and frame. At 6’8, 220 pounds, he is a force to be reckoned with all over the floor. On offense, he uses his frame to be physical in and around the basket. He finished well through contact and demonstrated polished footwork in the post that led to easy baskets. Kuminga showed great poise, patiently picking apart the defense with smart plays out of the pick and roll. He demonstrated a wide array of finishes that he frequently uses to get high percentage shots.
Strong Passing and Defense by Kuminga
Kuminga also looked good as a passer, making smart kick-outs to open teammates and identifying the soft spot in the defenses’ rotation on a few occasions. His best pass of the night was a gorgeous transition dime that led to a Jalen Green dunk.
Kuminga also looked good on the defensive end. Many of the Ignite’s youngest players struggled with their defensive rotations throughout the game. Kuminga looked alert and was smart about his positioning and using his frame to leverage opponents. Blocking shots will be a regular occurrence, as Kuminga often uses his 7-foot wingspan to make good contests at the basket.
The one blemish in Kuminga’s game tonight was his shooting from three. While the stats look uninspiring, his shot is better than it appears. With no real mechanical or fundamental issues, it should only be a matter of time before Kuminga is knocking down outside shots with frequency. While Kuminga will also look to cut down on the four turnovers, his overall performance was impressive and the best out of all prospects.
Stat Line: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 4/10 FG, 1/3 3PFG
While Kuminga’s performance overshadowed Green’s play, there was still a lot to like. Green struggled with the pace and physicality of NBA level competition. For a player who is not even 19 years old, this much was expected.
Offensively, Green was good but not great. The issue stemmed from Kuminga having the hot hand on offense. Green was forced into an off-ball role with Ignite using Kuminga and the other guards to generate most of their offense. This meant that whenever Green did get the ball, he would try desperately to generate his own offense. This resulted in low percentage shots and missed opportunities for teammates.
While he struggled in that sense, scouts still got a glimpse of the best side of Green. He was active defensively and showed his elite athleticism at both ends of the floor. Like Kuminga, while his shooting numbers leave room for improvement, his jump shot looked clean and fundamentally sound. The biggest issue was his overall shot selection. As previously mentioned, Green preferred to settle for shots early in the shot clock or when he was off-balance or fading away. While he has demonstrated he can make those types of shots on occasion, it should not be his go-to shot.
Green’s Defensive Outlook
On defense, Ignite coach Brian Shaw had Green matched up against the Santa Cruz guards like Nico Mannion and Jordan Poole, even though he can guard forwards given his size. The results were a mixed bag. On the one hand, his athleticism came to the rescue again as he moved well along the premier. However, there were still lapses in concentration and missed rotations. Again, Green is still young and still has a lot of time to break out of these habits. However, soon rather than later, scouts will want to see improvement from Green on the defensive end.
Stat Line: 12 points, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 4/7 FG, 1-1 3PFG
Nix is the least popular of the three prospects but still performed well off the bench for Ignite. The former UCLA signee used this game to reiterate his best skills: passing and patience in the pick and roll.
At 6’5 and close to 230 pounds, it is impossible to miss Nix. He is built like an NFL fullback but moves rather gracefully and is nimble on his feet. He is highly effective in the pick and roll, as he uses his large frame to seal off defenders and finish strong at the hoop. This was on display multiple times today, including a nice and-1 finish through contact.
Like Kuminga, Nix has good poise when using ball screens, as he patiently waits for an opening in the defense before exposing it. He also continued to show why he is one of the best passers in the draft. Out of the pick and roll, he was able to draw the defense in and create easy baskets for his big men. Nix also did a great job of recognizing rotations and swinging the ball out to the open man.
Despite his stout frame, Nix’s defensive ability is still in question. Scouts have long questioned Nix’s defensive tactics, as he tends to gamble for steals and turnovers, which means he’s often out of position. While that wasn’t a prominent issue today, he had trouble staying in front of the Santa Cruz guards, with Jeremy Lin and Nico Mannion picking him apart in the pick and roll on a few occasions. Nix has the frame to be a competent defender, but the more minor details must be refined.