Why the G-League was the optimal choice for Kai Sotto

It’s official: Kai Sotto — the first truly realistic hope of the Philippines to have a homegrown NBA player — has moved one step closer to the NBA after signing with the NBA G-League for their pathway program. 

Amidst all the buzz surrounding this decision, there are a lot of question marks as to whether the G-League is really the optimal route for Kai Sotto to enter the NBA. The main point of skepticism is that this is the first time that the G-League is going to conduct this program; The NBA G-League has no previous results to showcase, while traditionalists can easily point to the NCAA, or even more proven producers like the Euroleague or the NBL in Australia.

One of the main benefits of the G-League pathway program that has been emphasized in the media has been the fact that prospects will receive a rather hefty salary. According to ESPN sources, Jalen Green, the top recruit of the 2020 class, is set to receive $500,000, and that’s net of any endorsement deals which he’s allowed to sign. Of course, the NCAA notoriously has not allowed prospects to receive any form of income throughout their collegiate careers (A rule which they are suddenly considering changing in the 2021-2022 season).

However, many have pointed out the fact that the salaries are chump change vs NBA contracts, and may not be enough incentive for players who aren’t in immediate need of the money to potentially sacrifice their development. 

But there are two reasons why I believe this is a flawed way of thinking.

Photo from NBAE

First, the money is by no means the most important benefit of entering the G-League. The end-goal for nearly all of these prospects is still to make the NBA, and I believe many of them would be willing to bite the bullet for a year if it meant they would accomplish their end goal, and therefore receive the big bucks.

Second, the idea that entering the G-League risks a player’s development and potential to make the NBA (at least, as compared to other routes) misses the point of the entire program. The G-League and this select team program is meant to expedite the development of these prospects, and, while indirectly, the success stories are found in the likes of past undrafted players or raw draft picks like 2019 NBA Champions Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam (and Nick Nurse, if you want to look at it that way).

“The NBA is the best development system in the world, and those players shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to develop for a year. They should be in our development system,” NBA G-League Commissioner Shareef Abdur-Rahim told ESPN. 

Beyond the G-League track record, some are also unconvinced about this program because of the uncertainty still surrounding the exact process that the teenagers will go through when they are on the team. It’s true that the details about the program are still quite unclear, but what I think matters more is that regardless of the actual program, these players will immediately be exposed to the same training that they would as NBA players, even in the most detailed forms.

There will be a high emphasis on skills development and training, and really looking at transferable skills. At the same time, [teaching them] to understand the NBA game, the NBA style of play, NBA terminology. From a physical fit standpoint, helping them grow and build their bodies in a smart way. So all the components of a smaller team, but with an emphasis on them individually and how to improve their game,” Abdur-Rahim said in a separate conference call with Filipino media.

Photo from NBAE

That doesn’t even encompass the additional mentorship from former NBA players, financial literacy programs, and personal development training which Abdur-Rahim touched on as well. Given that Kai is an international prospect with a bigger adjustment curve than his peers, this will be even more beneficial for him as he tries to fully assimilate to the U.S. style of training.

The G-League Commissioner himself believes this should definitely help propel Kai up those draft boards.

“Some of the American players… They get this kind of coaching and they’ve seen these coaches before. This may be the first time Kai has participated in this level of training, and I just think it’s going to be tremendous for him. Once he has this level of coaching and training every day, his prospects will just take off,” Abdur-Rahim added.

From a connections standpoint, it also helps that these prospects will have a foot-in-the-door. The coaches and staff that will train Kai and company will surely be well-connected with plenty of the front offices and staff of existing NBA teams. Names such as 2007 Coach of The Year Sam Mitchell, and former NBA Head Coaches Brian Shaw and David Fizdale have already been thrown around as potential coaching staff members. The credibility that will come from the scouting reports of those coaches is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the advantages of an early entry into the NBA ecosystem, and that’s valuable for a prospect as mysterious as Kai Sotto.

A long road ahead remains for Kai Sotto and his journey to the NBA. Despite all of the aforementioned benefits of taking this G-League route, there is still a lot of variables that comes with that decision. But for the skeptics and the clueless, be at peace knowing that the NBA G-League’s primary objective will be to develop Kai into a future NBA player, and that makes it the most optimal route for our hero to take.