The NBA started the G League Ignite program in 2020 as an alternative pathway to the league for top prospects who didn’t want to go to college or spend their pre-draft year playing professionally overseas. The Ignite have produced some top NBA prospects in every year of their existence, with Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga emerging as the No. 3 and No. 7 overall picks in the 2021 draft, Dyson Daniels becoming the No. 8 pick in the 2022 draft, and Scoot Henderson poised to be a top-3 pick in the 2023 draft.
The Ignite are going to be loaded again next season after solidifying arguably the best incoming class in the program’s existence on Wednesday afternoon. First, Matas Buzellis — a 6’11 ball-handling forward from Hinsdale, Illinois — officially signed his contract with the Ignite. Shortly after, Ron Holland, the best available uncommitted recruit in high school basketball, chose the Ignite over offers from Arkansas and Texas.
While the league is waiting on the 2023 NBA Draft at the end of June, it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2024 draft. Right now, we rank Buzellis and Holland as the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the 2024 NBA Draft class. Once again, you won’t find either playing in March Madness.
The best-of-the-best prospects bypassing college basketball is becoming more and more common. The top-three prospects on my 2023 NBA Draft board — Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and Amen Thompson — played in France, for the G League Ignite, and in the upstart Overtime Elite league respectively. It was only a few years ago that LaMelo Ball chose to play in Australia before becoming the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Buzelis and Holland are worthy of the hype. While the early read on the 2024 NBA Draft is that it’s a weaker class lacking a definitive top prospect, both players have the talent to ultimately emerge as the No. 1 pick and become excellent NBA players.
We’ll start with Buzelis, who immediately stands out for his ball-handling and playmaking ability with incredible size at 6’11. Buzelis is at his best in the open floor: he can push the ball after a rebound and make live-dribble passes over any defender on the break. He makes some audacious plays with the ball, routinely attempting spectacular passes and shifty crossover moves to create separation. He’s still polishing his game as a scorer, but his long arms and swooping strides are an asset when attacking the basket. NBA scouts will want to see how Buzelis handles the physicality of the G League, and will also be interested to see where he’s at as a shooter after some inconsistent percentages during his high school career.
Holland doesn’t have Buzelis’ outlier size or flashy perimeter skill set, but no prospect in the 2024 NBA Draft “has that dog in them” more than he does. A strong 6’8 wing out of Texas, Holland has won over new fans throughout his high school career by playing with a non-stop motor that impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He’s a long, rangey defender whose intersection of speed and power allows him to check a variety of different positions. He’s so good at turning defense into offense, getting a steal and pushing it the other way for an easy dunk. He’s also a dynamic driver and finisher on offense who thrives in transition.
Holland will have to prove himself as a shooter. NBA evaluators will be interested if his passing and ball handling is impressive enough to eventually develop into a No. 1 option. Still, Holland has such a high floor because of his physical tools and competitive nature, and that makes him a real candidate to go first overall in a weaker draft.
There’s not one correct answer for what a top basketball prospect should do after high school to reach the NBA. The G League Ignite’s biggest advantage is that it prioritizes individual development while college programs prioritize winning. College’s biggest advantage is the marketing power behind the sport, and the fact that players actually play in meaningful games in intense atmospheres. The G League will never be able to match the big game feel of college hoops, but players can still turn into NBA stars taking either path.
Selfishly, it would have been fun to see Holland — who recently decommitted from the Texas Longhorns — and Buzelis play in the NCAA tournament. Oh well. Basketball fans are eventually going to be able to watch both play in the NBA for a long, long time.