With the 2021 NBA Draft a little more than three months away, college players, NBA G Leaguers and young overseas pros are beginning to declare their pro intentions. Two of the most highly touted in this year’s collection of prospects are Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs, two standouts who may share a name but took vastly different paths to their NBA dreams.
Green, the No. 1 player in ESPN’s 2020 Top 100 list, elected to go to the G League rather than play overseas or in college. Suggs, who was the sixth-ranked player on ESPN’s 2020 Top 100 list, took a more traditional path, leading Gonzaga to the college basketball national championship game. While Green has not yet declared, Suggs announced his departure from the Bulldogs on Monday.
According to an Ohio State study, five-star football recruits are estimated to be worth $650,000 in revenue for their programs. Basketball recruits would not be far behind and at schools without football teams, they may even be worth more. But, of course, under NCAA amateurism rules, none can be paid a salary.
Green decided that wasn’t for him. Instead of spending this season on a college campus, he’s been in Walnut Creek, Calif., playing for the NBA’s G League Ignite, a team focused on developing players in the NBA’s minor league. Unlike Suggs, he’s able to receive pay, and his salary reportedly exceeds $500,000. He also didn’t need to wait for the NCAA to allow him to earn money from his name, image and likeness.
Last year, Green signed with Aaron Goodwin, the sports agent who negotiated rookie shoe deals for LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And though he has yet to sign an endorsement deal, he’s expected to earn seven figures per year from whichever shoe brand he signs with. On top of this, he’s also receiving life skills training, such as financial literacy classes.
Green said on his Instagram Live story when he announced his decision, “the ultimate end goal is to get to the NBA. With that being said, I have decided to partner with the NBA G League’s new team for elite players. The main reason for this is I want to get better, I want to develop a better game. I want to work on my craft, get stronger and things like that. That way, I can be better for the NBA. This is the best route to prepare myself to get one step closer so I can be ready when that time comes.”
Irwin Kishner, co-chair of the Sports Law Group at New York law firm Herrick Feinstein, understands the decision-making process behind choosing the G League.
“The fact is, you can make a little more money in the G League as it’s currently structured,” said Kishner. “I think the level of play in the G League and the top collegiate play is pretty close, I don’t think there’s a significant difference between a G League game and an elite eight game. At the same time, G League doesn’t get a lot of attention, and the tournament does.”
On the other side of the decision tree is Jalen Suggs. Heading into the draft, the freshman guard has arguably gained more momentum than any collegiate player this year. For Suggs, even though he was ranked a Top 10 player coming out of high school, some 2021 mock drafts did not slot him as a lottery pick. It is hard to imagine that now.
Contributing heavily to Gonzaga’s would-be undefeated season, were it not for the national championship game loss to Baylor, Suggs skyrocketed up draft boards—and not just because his now-iconic, 40-foot buzzer-beating shot in the Final Four; he showed versatility all season.
Despite not making the half million dollars that Green has made, one marketing expert believes playing a college season greatly benefited Suggs.
“There’s a lot more at risk on a day-to-day college basketball season versus the G League,” said Steve Rosner, co-partner at 16W Marketing, a marketing firm that represents Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. “I don’t think there is an overall right or wrong here. I think it’s a talent-by-talent scenario, but after looking at what these two Jalens have done, I think it would be hard to argue that Suggs does not have a little advantage over Green coming into the draft.”
Last year’s draft saw each of the first five picks earn more than $5 million in their first seasons, while the remaining lottery picks (6-14) earn no more than $4.8 million as a rookie.
Both Green and Suggs are the premier talents of this year’s NBA Draft, but it remains to be seen who will be selected first. If Green is selected, future classes could begin to declare for the G League to earn money instead of going to college. If Suggs is selected, it maintains the notion that the collegiate basketball system is still the preeminent place for elite players to prepare for the pros.