About the G League
The NBA G League technically started in 2001 as the NBDL or the National Basketball Developmental League. At that time, the league had 8 teams, all located in the Southeastern part of the United States. During the 2017-2018 season, the league struck a multi-year partnership deal with Gatorade and re-branded to the G League.
If you're a young player with a lot of talent, your options today (in terms of how to navigate your career) are the best they've ever been. That's because you can legally join the G League prior to being eligible for the NBA draft. So while you need to be 19 during the calendar year of the NBA Draft to be draft eligible, you don't need to meet this criteria to play in the G League.
NBA G League Salaries
G League Minimum Salaries
The NBA G League is the official minor league organization of the NBA. As of the 2022-23 season, G League players are guaranteed a minimum salary of $40,500 for the 50-game regular season, which typically runs from October to March. This marks a slight increase from previous years, where the minimum salary was $37,000. However, it's important to note that some G League players may earn more than the minimum salary, depending on their experience and skill level. Additionally, players may be eligible for bonuses and incentives based on their performance, such as being named to the All-Star team or winning an MVP award. While G League salaries are lower than those of NBA players, the league provides an important opportunity for players to develop their skills and potentially earn a spot on an NBA team in the future.
G League contracts can seem complicated because there's a couple different notations that the league uses to classify contracts: Selects players and Two-Way Players. Before we dive into those designations, the chart below illustrates the salary appreciation in the G League over the past 17 seasons. While salaries have increased, the appreciation is no where near the rapid increase seen in the NBA.
G League Select Players
G League Select players are typically highly talented young men that apt to forgo college to play in the G League. Each Select player signs his own contract, but these contracts typically start at $125,000 for the 5 month season. Take for example, Scoot Henderson, who signed a 2 year, $1 million contract with the G League Ignite following his junior year of high school.
Jalen Green was another player that took advantage of the Select program by earning $500,000 during the 2021-2022 season before being drafted by the Houston Rockets.
Last fall, high school guard, London Johnson, opted to reclassify from the 2023 class to 2022 and joined the G League Ignite in October of 2022. His two year contract is reported to exceed $1 million, making him the highest paid G League player at that time.
Prior to the start of the 2017 NBA season, the NBA introduced "two-way contracts." These contracts allowed NBA teams to sign up to 2 players that could move from the G League to the NBA, back and forth. Per the NBA: “For the 2021-22 season, each two-way player will be paid a flat salary equal to 50% of the minimum player salary applicable to a player with zero years of service. A player under a two-way contract will be permitted to be on the NBA team’s active list for no more than 50 games during the regular season, with no limit on practices, workouts or other activities with the NBA team."
Realistically, most of these players will spend the majority of their time playing in the G League. However, the ability to play up to 50 NBA games is a unique opportunity should a team have injury problems, suspensions, etc. To be eligible for a two-way contract, a player must be in his 4th season or earlier. This is done to both avoid teams stashing veteran players and also to help develop young talent around the league.
Per the NBA: "The minimum salary for two-way contracts increased from an initial $81,955 minimum to an overall salary worth up to $449,155."
Highest Paid NBA G League Player
While Two-Way players can earn up to $449,155, this is still less than what Jalen Green, Scott Henderson, and London Johnson are pulling in. On April 18, 2023, Dink Pate, a four-star guard from Dallas signed the most lucrative contract in G League history. Pate will forgo his senior year of high school, graduate early, and spend two years with the G League Ignite. While terms of his contract weren't disclosed, it is said to be the richest contract ever offered to play in the G League.
I mentioned earlier in the article that young players have more options than ever to make money playing basketball. While playing overseas is always an option (Luka Doncic reportedly signed his first professional contract with Real Madrid when he was only 13 years old), college basketball is becoming more lucrative because of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals.
What Is NIL?
NIL refers to an athlete's name, image, and likeness. For years, the NCAA didn't allow athletes to get paid, but on July 1, 2021, the NCAA passed its new policy that allows athletes at the division one, two, and three levels to monetize their name, image, and likeness.
NIL is important because athletes that previously were looking at professional options purely for the compensation can now get paid (and handsomely) to play in college. Take this NIL valuation list from On3. As you can see below, for men's college basketball players, the guys at the top are making significantly more than what they'd potentially make in the G League or playing overseas.
Should You Consider Playing Overseas?
Absolutely. Basketball is popular all over the world, and I got a unique feel for that writing my last book, No Fear In The Arena, which included stories from the Italian League. There are so many professional leagues now all over the world, that what you can make, really depends on the league and the level of competition. The video below does a great job of breaking down some of those factors, including the taxes you pay and other things that affect your overall compensation.
So What's Next?
The introduction of NIL in college sports has been a gift and a curse. On one hand, athletes are getting paid what the market is willing to pay them (a good thing). On the other, the argument that the NCAA is still an amateur organization is long gone. The transfer portal in men's basketball is equivalent to NBA free agency, and players will continue to come and go as more lucrative opportunities present themselves.
Take for example, Miami Hurricanes guard, Nigel Pack, who left his starting spot at Kansas State to accept an $800,000 payday from Miami. To Pack's credit, he's had tremendous success and will play in the Final Four on Saturday night. On the flip side, Pack's departure opened the door for Markquis Nowell to fully take the reigns and lead K State to an Elite Eight appearance.
Opportunities are everywhere. Money will continue to grow, and the options for young players to decide on what's right for each have never been more plentiful (or more lucrative). It's a great time to be a basketball player and make a living from the game.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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