Last Tuesday, Andre Ingram played in his first-ever NBA game after spending 10 years in the G-League.
The 32-year-old “rookie” forward didn’t waste his opportunity debuting for the Los Angeles Lakers. He dazzled the Staples Center crowd, scoring 19 points on a hot 4/5 3-point shooting.
Ingram went undrafted out of American University in 2007 and has spent the last decade toiling to make his NBA dreams a reality. In order to supplement a roughly $25,000/year G-League salary, Ingram took on a side job tutoring kids in math.
On Tuesday, his years of hard work finally paid off, with Lakers head coach Luke Walton presenting Ingram with a game ball. Lakers legend (and Oscar winner) Kobe Bryant even toyed with the idea of making a movie about his life.
“Dude, (the story is) ridiculous. Like, are you kidding me?” Bryant told USA Today. “I mean to have the courage and resolve to stick with that dream, and to now get your shot and to come through in that way? I mean, that’s impressive, man.”
Ingram’s debut represented one of the best feel-good moments of the 2018 NBA season. It also illustrated what the NBA’s developmental league players are capable of.
In addition to Ingram, another un-drafted G-League player has made waves in recent weeks. Golden State Warriors guard Quinn Cook stepped up to replace an injured Stephen Curry in March and has performed up to the lofty task.
Over the final 20 games of the regular season, Cook averaged 13.8 points and four assists per game, eventually earning a two-year contract to stay with the team. Cook is now playing significant minutes in the NBA Playoffs, the same season he received first-team All-G League honors.
Ingram and Cook have proven that G-League players can make an impact on the highest stage. Now, it’s time for more to get a shot in the NBA. Instead of functioning as a distant, alternative league for basketball’s journeymen, the league should operate more as a feeder for big-league teams, similarly to baseball’s minor league system.
Two-way contracts are a huge step toward this reality. Introduced last season, two-way deals allow NBA teams to sign two extra players (roster sizes increased from 15 to 17), who can play in both the G-League and the NBA — the latter for a maximum of 45 days. Before signing his new NBA-exclusive contract, Cook played on one of these contracts, which allowed him to move back and forth between Golden State and their G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors.
The two-way deal has been successful at creating more ties between NBA teams and their G-League counterparts, allowing for closer development of raw prospects, like Cook.
They also give undrafted players incentive to choose the G-League over more lucrative leagues overseas. Players can earn up to $300,000 a year on two-way deals.
Still, the G-League has a lot of work to do. Two-way deals have their limitations — they allow players little freedom of movement during seasons, and the 45-day cap on time spent in the NBA is far too low in giving prospects a taste of the big leagues.
But it continues to make strides in the right direction. The D-League’s rebranding as the G-League in 2017, under a new long-term partnership with Gatorade, was a wise marketing decision for an organization with little existing brand value. It’s already paid dividends, with the league announcing on Tuesday a 35 percent salary increase for players.
Personally, I’d like to see the G-League compete with NCAA programs for high-profile recruits on a more frequent basis. Pay-for-play scandals dominated headlines for most of the 2017-18 college hoops season, slowly breaking down the facade of amateurism in collegiate sports.
By playing in the G-League, prospects can develop their skills against decent competition and get paid for it, without having to go under the table. The G-League may not compare to playing for college basketball heavyweights like Duke or Kentucky in terms of competition, but for athletes who would rather jump straight to the pros, the G-League allows them to do so without going overseas.
One high-profile prospect has already made this decision, potentially creating a blueprint for many to come. A few weeks ago, five-star recruit Darius Bazley decided to join the G-League instead of Syracuse, where he originally committed. He’s not the first to choose the G-League over college, but he might be the most high-profile recruit to do so thus far.
“In the G-League, which I’m about to go into, you’re preparing for the NBA,” Bazley told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “When you’re in college, they prepare you a little bit, but for the most part, you’re preparing for your opponent, preparing for that game.”
This season, Ingram and Cook have proven G-League players can shine when given the chance to play on NBA rosters. They may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Here are a couple of things I enjoyed in sports this week:
USC baseball shines on Saturday
For most of this season, USC baseball has been incredibly inconsistent. Defensively, they’ve held their own, but the batting order has struggled mightily against upper-tier Pac-12 competition. Last year’s standouts juniors left fielder Lars Nootbaar and third baseman Brandon Perez were supposed to take the Trojans to another level. Unfortunately, both have regressed dramatically in 2018.
For all of their faults, USC is still capable of the occasional high-scoring performance. On Saturday, they destroyed 21-12 Arizona 12-2 on 14 hits. Nootbar, who’s currently batting .232, went 2-4 with an RBI single.
While USC is far from being a contender in the Pac-12, games like these offer reminders of their potential. Hopefully, they can put it together more often during the final stretch of the season.
I always find myself enjoying the NBA Playoffs, with its more physical style of play and heightened stakes compared to the regular season. But this year’s Playoffs has a chance to really stand out — there’s a sense of uncertainty unseen since the Warriors dynasty began in 2015.
In the Western Conference, the No. 1 seed Houston Rockets offer a direct threat to the Warriors, especially with Curry still out due to injury. The Eastern Conference is even more wide open with the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers looking like legitimate threats to keep LeBron’s James’ Cavaliers from a fourthstraight NBA Finals appearance.
Sit back and enjoy the ride, because this could be the most unpredictable NBA post-season in recent memory. If the Warriors and Cavs still end up facing each other in the Finals, well then I give up.
Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” ran Wednesdays.