Grading Debuts for G League Ignite's Top NBA Draft Prospects

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 10, 2021

Grading Debuts for G League Ignite's Top NBA Draft Prospects

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    Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

    NBA scouts have patiently waited for the debut of the G League Ignite, a team made up of potential top-five and first-round draft prospects who passed on college for paychecks and pro experience.

    Even after just one game, scouts should have a better read on these teenagers whom they hadn't seen in over a year. And they got to watch them face legitimate competition Wednesday, specifically a Santa Cruz Warriors lineup that featured Jordan Poole, Jeremy Lin, Nico Mannion, Axel Toupane and Dusty Hannahs.

    We assessed how Game 1 of the G League experiment went overall and graded the performances of the four Ignite players that teams were watching closest: Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Green, Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd.

Daishen Nix, PG

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    Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

    Stats: 12 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 TO, 4-7 FG, 1-1 3PT

    Grade: B+

    Daishen Nix came off the bench to run the Ignite's second unit, and he made an impact with the signature strengths that drive his appeal as a pro prospect.

    His first bucket came around the key, where he used his strong frame to bounce off contact and finish a short jumper. Not long after, he intercepted a pass, took the ball the other way and hit a corner shooter for an open three-pointer.

    Nix later converted multiple drives, showing his ability to compensate for limited speed and athleticism with hesitations and fancy footwork to elude defenders.

    With scouts interested in learning more about his shooting, Nix took only one three-pointer: a shot-clock buzzer-beater that he hit in rhythm.

    There were still concerns about how his game will translate to the NBA. He struggled to create separation in the lane. And he was beaten off the dribble too easily, particularly by the 32-year-old Jeremy Lin. Nix lacks quickness and burst for a guard, and given his limited outside shooting attempts, it's tough to feel confident in his perimeter game.

    It was still an encouraging start for Nix, who was effective and a plus for the Ignite against former pros and draft picks.

Jalen Green, SG

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    Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

    Stats: 11 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 3 TO, 4-10 FG, 1-3 3PT

    Grade: B-

    After a rough first half, Jalen Green settled in, salvaging his stat line and reminding scouts why many project him as a top-five pick.

    Still, the takeaway is the adjustment Green will need to make to go from a ball-dominant guard in high school to an off-guard with the Ignite.

    He was uninvolved to start while veteran Bobby Brown facilitated and the offense ran through Jonathan Kuminga and Brandon Ashley. When Green did get the ball with some space, he acted like he didn't know if he'd get it back. He tried to split defenders and force drives, losing it twice while exposing his suspect ball-handling skills.

    He also settled for a pair of step-backs, one contested in transition and another in the mid-range, despite being guarded by the 6'2" Nico Mannion.

    But the 6'5" Green picked up a bucket on a strong drive to start the second half, seemingly sparking his confidence. He looked calmer, following the field goal by making two smart pick-and-roll assists at his own speed.

    The highlights of Green's day then arrived: a double-pump dunk in transition and a catch-and-shoot three from the top of the key. Explosive bounce and improved shooting have been major selling points for Green and the idea he's worthy of a pick in the same tier as the top NCAA prospects.

    He did miss a few more shots, including a lefty runner and a pull-up off a ball screen. And he'll need to sharpen his execution in the mid-range and lane.

    It wasn't a performance that screamed "NBA star," as he clearly has work to do with his shot selection and defense, and he got beat throughout the game while guarding ball screens. But it was only Green's first game, and he was playing a completely different role than what he's used to.

Jonathan Kuminga, SF/PF

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    Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

    Stats: 19 PTS, 2 REB, 4 AST, 4 TO, 2 BLK, 9-18 FG, 1-7 3PT

    Grade: A-

    No player on either team made a stronger impression that Jonathan Kuminga, who strengthened his case as the Ignite's top prospect and a potential top-three pick in the 2021 draft.

    He was aggressive from the tip, scoring on a baseline spin move from the post and then a fadeaway in the lane and a coast-to-coast take into a dunk. But then Kuminga delivered a pair of passes that showed vision and playmaking ability that wasn't noted on the scouting report.

    Working one-on-one, he drew attention and eventually the help defense before hitting open cutters for easy finishes.

    Back to creating scoring chances in the half court, Kuminga showed off his attacking game, earning himself high-percentage layups after beating his man with change of speed and direction from the arc.

    In the second half, he displayed more passing, delivering a dime from half court to a streaking Jalen Green and another assist off a ball screen, demonstrating patience to let the play develop and the roller slip free.

    More flashes of isolation scoring, including a beautiful spin move into an and-one layup, got Kuminga up to 19 points.

    He did miss six of seven three-pointers and force a couple of pull-ups and runners inside the arc. It's worth questioning his line-drive shot and how consistent it will be early.

    His results on defense were mixed, as he had trouble chasing and keeping up with Jordan Poole, though it's safe to assume he won't cover guards regularly. On the plus side, his athleticism came alive on the Warriors' final possession, when he got up for an emphatic weak-side rejection on Poole after he beat his man on the other side of the rim.

    Kuminga showcased eye-opening skills (for a player who is 6'6" in socks) to create his own shot and convert from each level. His comfort with scoring and playmaking in the half court was highly impressive for an 18-year-old.

    Scouts will be eager to see how he performs going forward, particularly since the Warriors didn't have many formidable wings or bigs. But after one G League game, the hype seems legitimate.

Isaiah Todd, PF

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    Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

    Stats: 2 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO, 1-4 FG

    Grade: C

    It's already worth questioning Isaiah Todd's decision to pass on college for the Ignite if his primary goal was to maximize his stock for the draft.

    Only one play seemed to be run for the 6'10" big man who decommitted from Michigan. It was an isolation possession against Jeremy Lin from the short corner that Todd blew by settling for a jumper.

    His lone bucket came on a made jump shot from around the foul line, which he impressively hit off movement. Otherwise, he was not involved on offense, finishing with four shots in 17 minutes.

    On defense, Todd did show promising foot speed when forced to switch onto guards around the perimeter. Inside, however, he didn't provide much rim protection.

    He had a few lowlights, including a failed self alley-oop off the backboard, a missed finish in transition and a poor-effort play on defense when he had a chance to contest a shot at the rim but bit on a fake and didn't bother to recover.

    Todd still has time to bounce back and showcase the athleticism and shot-making potential that earned him the chance to play with the Ignite in the first place. But scouts evaluating him for the first time didn't likely see any enticing skills or strengths against the Warriors.

G League Ignite Experiment

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    Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Ignite prospects finally got to make their pro debuts alongside former pros and against recent draft picks with scouts on hand. The game was competitive, and Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Green and Daishen Nix didn't seem out of their league.

    The Warriors were strong enough to create a challenge and vulnerable enough for scouts to see what these teenagers can do.

    Adding veterans to the Ignite forced the prospects to make adjustments after they've been focal points and ball-dominant for their high school and AAU teams. And that seems like useful experience as they prepare to transition to the NBA.

    On the downside, some of those veterans played too big of a role, limiting the chances of the younger players who are the priorities. In a tight game, Jarrett Jack made the big plays and decisions—not point guard Nix or Green, whom scouts want to assess in big moments.

    We'll see if the younger players' roles grow or if winning continues to seem as or more important than player development.