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Why do we feel so differently about the NBA’s G League?

Sports fans accept minor league baseball and hockey, so what’s different?

High School Basketball: McDonalds High School All American Games Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After Darius Bazley announced his decision to play next season in the G League, I understand why Syracuse Orange fans would be disappointed. I wasn’t surprised to see angry responses, but it was a little more shocking to see many people claim that what Bazley was choosing was stupid.

Now I’ll admit there is a great unknown in terms of what a year in the G League will do for his 2019 NBA Draft standing. Bazley’s a top high school player, and the general consensus is that a year at Syracuse would be the route to being a first round pick. Will he keep that status if he struggles against professional players in the G League this coming season? That’s anyone’s guess. But it makes me wonder why so many are searching for ways to react to the move.

In baseball and hockey, we’ve come to expect that most draft picks will spend time in the minor leagues developing their games. We know those players will face challenging travel, play in facilities which don’t rival those in the professional leagues and not be seen often on national television. Despite this, sports fans recognize that time in these leagues is needed to prepare athletes for the next step — especially those of us who live in Syracuse and see players come through town in those sports (referencing the AHL’s Crunch and the Syracuse Chiefs/Mets).

Obviously, the draft status and team’s investment in the development of the player differs in Bazley’s case. He’ll play next year as some sort of G League nomad in that he might end up on a team where he’ll have to compete for minutes with players affiliated with a parent NBA franchise. No one’s certain what that means for his development, but as the test case, there is plenty of reason for the NBA to take an active role in making sure Bazley is not supported both on and off the court.

If you look at Bazley’s NBA development as the reason for his decision, it certainly makes this seem a worthwhile question to ask.

Take off the last part about the track record of developing pros (which is a longer, separate discussion to take apart) for a second and think about this: If the goal is to be an NBA player, can we say that the Syracuse system — along with attending classes and dealing with NCAA practice limits — is the best way to develop for everyone?

Darius Bazley wants to be a NBA player. He’ll now have the opportunity to work in a pro system with pro coaches and against other pros. He’ll play in games in front of many NBA staff members, sometimes on a television network owned by the NBA (plus places like Twitch). Exposure to scouts and the NBA’s decision-makers is not lacking in this scenario even if he’s not playing in front of millions on ESPN.

Will this ruin college basketball? No. Does it mean the NCAA should push the NBA to adopt the baseball draft rule? Absolutely not. If anything, the NBA should follow the NHL example and allow prospects to get advice from agents and allow teams to hold the draft rights to players who decide to attend college.

This allows the athletes to choose what works best for them, which is what will ultimately be the best for all parties involved. As incredible as Ben Simmons is on the court, his lack of interest in being in college might have prevented the LSU Tigers from getting any benefit from his one season in Baton Rouge. Perhaps the same would have occurred for Bazley next year? Maybe he would have had one eye on the NBA instead of a complete focus on the Orange?

What happens next is also uncertain, but it shows that basketball might soon join baseball and hockey in having a viable minor league system for developing the next all-stars.