What is the NBA G League? It is the official minor league of the National Basketball Association (NBA). It prepares coaches, players, officials and front-office staff for the NBA, while acting as the league’s developmental platform.
The NBA G League was established in 2001-02. Back then, it was known as the National Basketball Developmental League (NBDL), or D League. There were eight founding teams, all from the Southeastern United States. In the inaugural season, the Greenville Groove took home the title in 2002.
In 2005, the NBDL was renamed to the NBA Development League (NBA D-League). It was also in this same year that a group led by David Kahn, Southwest Basketball, was granted permission to operate four new teams.
A year later, in 2006, the NBA D-League expanded into California with the addition of the Bakersfield Jam. Two months after that, four teams from the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) joined the league: the Dakota Wizards, Sioux Falls Skyforce, Idaho Stampede and the Colorado 14ers.
Not long after, the Anaheim Arsenal and the Los Angeles D-Fenders would join the fold. The D-Fenders would have the distinction of being the first team directly owned by an NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers. From there, more and more expansion teams joined the NBA D-League.
In 2017-18 the D-League entered into a multi-year partnership with sports drink manufacturer Gatorade. The league was then rebranded to the NBA Gatorade League, later officially shortened to “NBA G League” prior to the start of the season.
Today, the League has grown to the point that it has two conferences, Eastern and Western. There are 28 teams in total as of the 2019-20 season, with each conference housing three divisions. What are the current teams in the G League? As of the 2019-20 season, this is how it’s set up:
G League Teams & NBA Affiliates
Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers), Long Island Nets (Brooklyn Nets), Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics), Raptors 905 (Toronto Raptors), Westchester Knicks (New York Knicks)
Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers), Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Indiana Pacers), Grand Rapids Drive (Detroit Pistons), Windy City Bulls (Chicago Bulls), Wisconsin Herd (Milwaukee Bucks)
Capital City Go-Go (Washington Wizards), College Parks Skyhawks (Atlanta Hawks), Erie BayHawks (New Orleans Pelicans), Greensboro Swarm (Charlotte Hornets), Lakeland Magic (Orlando Magic)
Iowa Wolves (Minnesota Timberwolves), Memphis Hustle (Memphis Grizzlies), Oklahoma City Blue (Oklahoma City Thunder), Sioux Falls Skyforce (Miami Heat)
Agua Caliente Clippers (Los Angeles Clippers), Northern Arizona Suns (Phoenix Suns), Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors), South Bay Lakers (Los Angeles Lakers), Stockton Kings (Sacramento Kings)
Austin Spurs (San Antonio Spurs), Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets), Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz), Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks)
* The New Orleans Pelicans will be debuting their G League affiliate from Birmingham in 2022.
**The G League is also exploring expansion outside of the United States, with Mexico being considered as an option due to its geographical proximity.
How does the G League work?
At its very core, the G League functions like any other basketball league. Teams play out a regular season, in the G League’s case each team has a 50-game schedule (in the NBA, teams have an 82-game schedule). At the end of the regular season, playoffs are set and played out.
The G League has a different playoff structure compared to the NBA. As of 2017-18, they follow a 12-team playoff format. They are comprised of six “division winners” and three wild card teams from each conference. The playoffs begin with three single-elimination rounds, with the top two seeds from each conference earning byes into the second round. The G League Finals are played as a one-one-one best-of-three format.
That’s how it works as a basketball league. How does the G League function as a developmental league for the NBA?
- Firstly, most G League teams have parent NBA teams. Coaching staff, players and trainers can be elevated to the parent NBA teams.
- In 2017 the NBA increased its team rosters from 15 to 17. The additional spots are for players who are under “Two-Way Contracts.” These players will spend the bulk of the season playing in the G League and not more than 45 days with their NBA team. Only players with four or fewer years of NBA service are able to sign Two-Way Contracts, which can be for either one or two seasons.
- The G League also offers a “Select Contract” as part of a comprehensive professional path, introduced in the 2019-20 season. This allows teams to sign elite prospects who are not (yet) eligible to play in the NBA but are eligible to play in the G League. They have to be at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.
- NBA teams are allowed to “assign” players to their NBA G League affiliate. That player remains under an NBA contract and the assigning NBA team has the exclusive rights to recall that player at any time. An assignment can be used for developmental or rehabilitation purposes. Like when a player is recovering from an injury and needs to get some active floor time before returning to play in a full NBA game.
- There is a rule that allows G League teams to directly acquire players on their parent NBA club’s draft list, bypassing the usual NBA G League selection process. These are called “draft rights players.” NBA teams use this to decline to sign a drafted player to an NBA contract and instead have him sign a contract with their G League affiliate. This allows NBA teams to “stash” players by holding their draft rights but at the same time focus on their development.
G League Salaries
In 2018 the G League announced a huge salary increase for its players. The salaries were bumped up to $35,000 for most players and up to $385,000 for those on two-way contracts.
Bonuses and call-ups can also enhance a basic G League salary. In 2017-18 this amounted to $11 million in additional salary. This is competitive, if not surpasses what is offered by professional major-league teams in Europe.
Rules differences between the G League and the NBA
The G League’s rules do not mirror those of the NBA. Since part of its function is for research and development, the NBA uses the G League to road-test various rule changes they are considering.
Here are a few rules that the G League has that are not used in the NBA (courtesy of NBA.com):
- 14-Second Reset on Advance: The shot clock will reset to 14 seconds or will remain the same, whichever is lower, anytime the ball is advanced to the frontcourt following a reset (formerly known as a reset timeout) or a team timeout.
- Transition Take Foul: A transition take foul occurs when a defender commits a take foul (a foul in which the defender does not make a play on the ball) against an offensive player who has the ball or has just released a pass; a foul is committed during a transition scoring opportunity; and a foul does not meet the criteria for a clear path foul. The fouled team may select any player in the game to shoot one free throw and retains the ball at the point of interruption.
- Reset Timeouts: Each team will be entitled to a “Reset Timeout” in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and final two minutes of any overtime period. “Reset Timeouts” do not allow teams to huddle, but otherwise mirror standard timeouts, allowing teams to advance the ball (when applicable) and make unlimited substitutions. If either team huddles or prevents the ball from immediately being put back into play, it will result in a delay of game being issued to the offending team. The “Reset Timeout” replaces the “Advance Rule” which had been used in the NBA G League for the past two seasons.
- The away-from-the-play foul rule (also known as the rule that attempts to combat “Hack-a-Shaq”): An away-from-the-play foul is defined as any illegal contact by the defense which occurs either deliberately away from the immediate area of offensive action, prior to the ball being released on a throw-in, or both. If an away-from-the-play foul is committed at any point in the game, personal and team fouls will be assessed and one free throw attempt will be awarded to any player in the game at the time the personal foul was committed.
A new NBA rule in 2019-20, the Coach’s challenge rule, which allows a coach to challenge a call made by a referee, was first tested out in the G League.
Notable G League Players
There are various types of G League players. Some players in the past have been drafted by NBA teams in the NBA Draft straight from the G League. They include Mike Taylor (2008), Latavious Williams (2009), Chu Chu Maduabum (2011), Glen Rice Jr. (2013), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (2014, pictured), P.J. Hairston (2014), and Alen Smailagic (2019). In 2014, Hairston became the first first-round NBA Draft pick the NBA G League has ever produced.
Some notable NBA players who have been assigned to the G League include Rudy Gobert (Jazz to Jam, 2013-14), CJ McCollum (Blazers to Stampede, 2013-14), Clint Capela (Rockets to Vipers, 2014-15), Terry Rozier (Celtics to Red Claws, 2015-16).
One of the narratives of a G League player finding success in the NBA is that of Pascal Siakam, the 2018-19 Most Improved Player award winner and member of the first-time championship-winning Toronto Raptors. Siakam had previously helped their G League affiliate, the Raptors 905 win a G League championship as well.
Tragedy on the court
Not all G League stories have had happy endings. In 2018, Zeke Upshaw, a player for the Grand Rapids Drive, died two days after collapsing on the court during a game.
Upshaw was drafted in 2016-17. He played 34 games that season and posted averages of 6.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
The Drive’s NBA affiliate, the Detroit Pistons settled a lawsuit filed by Upshaw’s family. The suit stated that life-saving measures were not attempted in a timely manner. No details of the settlement have been disclosed.
The lawsuit continues against other defendants in federal court in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Team on Top
The current defending champions are the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. They defeated the Long Island Nets in Game 3 of the three-game Finals series. This the third G League championship for the Vipers. They previously held the title in 2010 and 2013.