Notable NBA veterans who are eligible for 2021 G League Draft

When the upcoming NBA G League season tips off next months, fans can expect to see more familiar faces than they would in a typical year.

When the upcoming NBA G League season tips off next months, fans can expect to see more familiar faces than they would in a typical year.

The NBA G League is hosting a bubble tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sport Complex in Florida. Once teams are assembled, they will arrive to the location by January 26 for physicals and onboarding. The first game is set for February 8 and teams are expected to play a “12-to-15 game schedule” before their single-elimination playoffs from March 5-March 9.

This offseason, per ESPN, the league also eliminated restrictions for signing players with at least five years of NBA experience. For example, as reported by Adam Johnson, this is how Jeremy Lin was able to sign outright with the Santa Cruz Warriors rather than enter the draft pool. This is reportedly a one-time exception for the G League.

Similarly, others with NBA experience signed outright as veteran mentors for the inaugural G League Ignite squad. Players like Amir Johnson and Bobby Brown will lend a hand for top prospects like Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green as they transition to the pros.

Otherwise, however, players not already on a roster who are looking to get back on the court and play in the upcoming bubble season will have to hear their names called on Monday. Over the last few days, we have learned about several players (e.g. Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson) who recently signed NBA G League Standard Player Contracts.

Even those who have been around the league for years have no guarantee of being selected, though. There are only 17 teams playing in the bubble, as 12 have opted out.

While the draft will have a maximum of 26 players selected, teams are allowed to forfeit their picks, so that number could end up even smaller. But that has not swayed the nearly 200 players who are hopeful about suiting up in Florida.

The 2021 G League Draft is scheduled for Monday, January 11, at 1:15 PM EST. Below are some of the most notable candidates, listed in order of how many minutes they have played in the NBA:

Meet Jonathan Kuminga, one of the top basketball prospects in the world

Jonathan Kuminga is an emerging star on the first-ever NBA G League Ignite team, a select contract given to the top prospects in the world.

Jonathan Kuminga is an emerging star on the first-ever NBA G League Ignite team, a select contract given to the top prospects in the world.

A 6-foot-8 forward originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuminga was a standout star in high school before signing a one-year contract with the G League developmental program.

Kuminga recently caught up with HoopsHype to discuss what the program has looked like, the bond he and his teammates share and more.

Please note this interview was very minorly edited for brevity and clarity.

You’ve been one of the top prospects for a few years now. But I’m curious: how did you first fall in love with basketball?

Jonathan Kuminga: I don’t even remember the first time I fell in love with it because it’s been there since I was a little kid. My parents played basketball. My brother played ball. Growing up, we used to see Kobe Bryant. We used to go on YouTube the day we got money from our mom whenever she got paid. There were places we could buy internet access and you were able to use the computer for 30 minutes. I would type in the name Kobe and it gave you everything. I loved watching Kobe.

When did you first realize you had a talent for the game and that basketball had the possibility of taking you somewhere?

JK: Everybody that I grew up around was way older than I was. Everyone has their own skill level. But I felt like I was getting better, fast. Every day, I put work in and competed well against all the players I faced. I was standing out and that’s how I got my chance to come to the United States. Now, I’m here today.

What would a younger version of yourself think about the opportunities that you have now as a professional basketball player for the first time?

JK: I don’t know how to say it but I feel like it’s just a big blessing to be here. I’m learning more things every day being around all different types of people.

That is something I wanted to discuss with you today. Your team on the G League Ignite comes from all around the world. Kai Sotto is from the Philippines. Daishen Nix is from Alaska. Princepal Singh is from India. You’re from Congo. What’s the best part about the chance to experience such a melting spot in one space?

JK: It’s been great. I feel like I get to see so many different cultures. Any time I hang out with Kai and Princepal and Daishen and Jalen and Isaiah and the vets, I’m learning new stuff. I’m listening to what they’re saying and listening to what they’re doing. I’m watching what they’re doing and learning every day.

Speaking of the veterans, what’s it like playing with guys like Amir Johnson who have been in the NBA? That was a cool idea. What are you taking away from that?

JK: It’s been a great thing to be around them. Any time you do something and you were great, even if you were a top recruit, there will always be people that have been there and have done the same thing that you want to do. Being around all those guys, they can correct you on any of the bad things you might be doing. It’s been great having them around. They tell me you have to get your job done early. You have to listen to what everyone tells you. Focus. Work hard every day. Those are the small things that can prepare you and make you be great.

What is the environment like now that you are a professional for the first time in your career?

JK: We are around each other all of the time. We have our own places but we hang out all of the time. We’re family. We’re brothers. We spend so much time together, we have jokes, we talk about everything.

These are some of the best prospects in the world. How competitive are the practices and what is the intensity like?

JK: It’s a different level. It gets too crazy, super competitive. Just being around those guys, nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants anybody to bully them or do anything like that. It gets crazy. We really go at it each and every day. We put in the work every day. Every day we step on this court, we really work hard. We have lifting in the morning. We come back. We get on the court. The facility is a pretty nice place. We have our logo on the floor.

You were one of the best high school players in the country and one of the top players on the Nike EYBL circuit. But how do you think you have gotten better since we’ve last seen you?

JK: A lot of people haven’t seen me play since my last game of high school. Now that I’m a professional athlete, I feel like I’ve grown more of my game. My outside game, my inside game, my shooting skills, my dribbling skills, just playing off the ball more, playing defense. I’ve really worked on that. I’ve really worked on my jumper. It feels way easier. I’m way more consistent at it. It’s the main thing I had to work on and I’ve gotten a lot more intelligent when it comes to the way to play the game of basketball. My mobility has improved. I’m more flexible. I’m working on my knees. I’m working on my body. If your body is not feeling good, you are not really going to perform at the highest level.

I’m also curious: who are some of your favorite players from Congo?

JK: I’m my own favorite. I’ll say it. [Laughs] Dikembe Mutombo is also a legend from the Congo. Everyone knew who he was.

I’m sure another one of your favorites was your brother Joel Ntambwe. What would it mean for you to be able to play with him again one day?

JK: Hopefully next year in the NBA, I can either play against him or we can play on the same team.

Last one for you: I know you love fashion. What are your favorite shoes to play in?

JK: I like to hoop in Kobe’s. I also like the KD lows. They’re my favorite players and I feel like I kind of move like them. It’s super comfortable playing with those shoes.

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NBA G League’s Princepal Singh: ‘I hope to inspire the youth in India’

Princepal Singh is a 6-foot-10 big man from Firozpur, India who signed a contract to play for the NBA G League Ignite for elite prospects.

Even though India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, few players in NBA history have ever been of Indian descent. In fact, the first in this lineage was Sim Bhullar in 2015 and since then there have been only three to play in NBA Summer League or the NBA G League.

Princepal Singh, a 19-year-old big man who signed a contract to play for the NBA G League Ignite for elite prospects, is the next who hopes to make a splash as a professional basketball player in the United States. His training with the NBA G League Ignite under head coach Brian Shaw recently began in Walnut Creek, California.

But before he arrived, the 6-foot-10 Singh caught up with HoopsHype to tell us about his experience. Right before our conversation, Singh actually had unexpected guests at his home: A local television station showed up to join the excitement and chat with the basketball prospect.

“It’s been really crazy since the news has come in,” Singh recently told HoopsHype, through a translator. “My house is loaded with people. I’ve seen more people in the last two days than I had seen in the previous four months. People are pouring in and my family is just feeding them snacks to celebrate the announcement. I’m just trying to take it all in.”

One of the best moments for the NBA prospect was when the Chief Minister of Punjab tweeted about his achievements. The praise is more than warranted as he is the first alumni of the NBA Academy to sign a contract with the G League.

Since then, several local celebrities have stopped by his house to offer their congratulations as well. Even if it has been a bit of a whirlwind for Singh and his family, he has kept them at the front of his mind as he continues his path to the NBA.

“We’ve struggled in the past,” said Singh. “If I keep working hard and move on to the next level, I want to help my family as much as I can. I don’t want my family to see those days we’ve seen before.”

Singh, who is 6-foot-10, is still expanding his game but has been successful during his time on the court. He averaged 22.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.0 block and 0.7 steals per game for India during the U16 Asia Championship in 2018. When watching film of his game, it is evident that he has a soft touch and a silky-smooth feel to his approach.

He had the second-most rebounds per game in the tournament, trailing only future teammate Kai Sotto, and also recorded the second-most points per game. He was directly involved with 39.8 of the buckets that India scored in their three games as either the scorer or passer, per RealGM, which was actually the highest rate of all participants.

These impressive marks helped him become the youngest player who has ever been selected to play for the Senior Men’s National Team for India.

Singh likes to play on the short corner and finish from the elbow, though coaches who have watched him in practice tell HoopsHype that he is also starting to expand his game into more high pick-and-roll possessions with pick-and-pop opportunities.

While he only took one shot per game from beyond the arc while he was playing in the U16 Asia Championships, he is working on expanding his game to become more of a floor stretcher in the frontcourt. He is also capable of passing well out of the post, finding open teammates cutting to the basket when multiple defenders collapse onto him.

One of his biggest specialties is his spatial awareness and his ability to read the opposing defense. He can slide to the proper position at the proper time, which often manifests itself on easy offensive rebound putbacks and finishing on the wing in transition.

“There is no substitute for hard work. I’ve lost out on some opportunities in the past but I’ve never looked back,” added Singh, who is lauded for his competitiveness. “I’ve always focused on what I wanted to be.”

Troy Justice, head of international basketball development for the NBA, believes that the “growth and development and improvement” that Singh was showing as a player and personally and professionally helped provide him with the resumé to fit the roster of elite talent mentioned above. He called the prospect a “hungry lion” who knows what he wants and will continue to improve.

“He is very resilient,” said Justice. “He is very determined and focused. On a bad day, he remains tough-minded, singularly-focused and very disciplined. He has the ability to continue to pursue his goals and dreams. It’s been great just to watch his development. He has matured greatly in all areas, year-over-year. That’s one of the reasons we are big believers in Princepal. He has a desire deep within him that allows him to continue on and stay focused and to grow.”

Justice is confident that the NBA G League Select Team will give Singh the opportunity to train with and play against some of the best competition in the world while also working with the best coaching available to him.

His consummate team-first mentality and willingness to create for others, like constantly setting screens, will also help bring out the best in his teammates. Singh can constantly flirt with a double-double but does not need the ball in his hands to make an impact.

He told HoopsHype that he is most excited to train with top prospects in the G League like Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Daishen Nix, Kai Sotto and Isaiah Todd.

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“If you go down the list of the players that he will be playing with and practicing against, it is going to put him in an incredible situation for him to take a huge step forward,” added Justice. “My prediction is he will meet the challenge. We’ve seen him do it before and he will do it again. He has the physical tools and he has the right mindset. He has a love for the game.”

For him to be included among those names is also a huge milestone for the NBA Academy. Singh was part of the inaugural class of athletes to attend the program in India back in 2017.

“The exposure that I got through the NBA Academy was great,” added Singh. “I learned about the importance of weight training and diet. That really helped turn me into the player that I am today.”

Overall, there are 31 players who have attended the NBA Academies that are either attending or have committed to D-I programs in the NCAA. Top prospects include big Oumar Ballo (Gonzaga), wing Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona) and guard Santiago Vescovi (Tennessee).

Seven graduates of the NBA Academy, including Singh, are either playing or are signed to play professionally. Two of the more notable names include Mojave King (Cairns Taipans) and Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers), both of whom will play in the Australian National Basketball League Rising Stars program.

Credit: NBA Global Academy

Singh also participated in the NBA Academies at G League Showcase in both 2018 and 2019. Justice said that prospects either sink or swim when facing elite competition and noted that Singh always stepped up. He recalls initial hesitance evolving into a more confident smile, a transformation highlighted by a little extra bounce in his step.

Justice called the journey for Singh to go from the NBA Academy the NBA G League a “natural pathway” for the 19-year-old prospect. Singh knows that if he eventually makes it to the NBA, it will increase the popularity of the sport for children in India.

“I hope to inspire the youth in India,” added Singh. “Kids come up to me a lot of the time when I come back to India. They ask me about my experiences. But I still want to do more for them because they look up to me. This is just the next step that I’ve taken.”

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