The start of the 2021 G League season is almost here, with tip-off set for Feb. 11 inside the G League bubble in Orlando.
That means we'll get to see G League Ignite stars and possible 2021 NBA Draft prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga in action against real teams for the first time.
The two potential top five picks have already played two exhibition games against a "G League Veterans" squad back in December and the returns were promising. Kuminga led all scorers with 26 points with Green not far behind him with 22 points in their first contest as professionals.
MORE: Kuminga, Green star in G League Ignite's first scrimmage
But it's been nearly two months since they've seen any five-on-five action against opponents other than their own teammates and the pairing is anxious to get their first real professional games under their belt.
Ahead of the start of the season, Ignite head coach Brian Shaw - a five-time NBA champion (three as a player, two as a coach) with the Los Angeles Lakers - spoke to the media about how the talented young tandem has improved their strength, stamina and understanding of the game since joining the development program back in October.
"They've gotten better at learning the NBA terminology and understanding the generic NBA sets that most teams run," coach Shaw stated. "Defensively, learning how to negotiate through screens. Most young players struggle to defend when they get into the NBA, trying to defend pick-and-rolls, shooters coming off of pin downs and things like that, so they're getting a lot of reps at doing that. … They're getting better at it, I'm seeing them progress in that area."
And while the duo has already made improvements to certain areas of their game, there are still certain aspects in which coach Shaw wants to continue to see them get better once their regular season gets started.
One area he harped on: moving off-ball, finding ways to score without the ball in their hands.
"The hardest part for them was they have been so dominant up to this point that they were used to playing with the ball in their hand all the time," coach Shaw told NBA.com. "If you only have the ball in your hand 20% of the time, you really need to learn to play without the ball in your hand."
Shaw talked about how he has Green and Kuminga watch film on All-Star guard Stephen Curry, the best in the business at freeing himself up off-ball for open shots. For the visual learners out there, you can see what Shaw is talking about below.
"As dangerous as [Curry] is with the ball in his hands, he's just as dangerous once he gives the ball up," coach Shaw preached. "Those are some things that [Green and Kuminga] never really had to do before because they've always had the ball in their hand."
Along with that, coach Shaw wants to see the dynamic duo simplify things on the offensive end by letting the game come to them, as young players have a tendency to try and do too much with the basketball.
"Reading the defense and taking what the defense gives [them]," Shaw told NBA.com of another area for improvement.
"What Jalen and Jonathan do, when the ball would swing to them and they're open, they would still try and get something better. But what's better than an open shot? That's when they would get themselves in trouble. They'd pass up an open shot to try and drive it in and get what they think is a better shot but they would get themselves in trouble and travel, or turn it over instead of taking the shot that's in the rhythm of the offense.
"It's like having a dance partner and you're in rhythm but then you step on your dance partner's foot. That's what it's like when they don't read and take what the defense gives them," coach continued.
"That's when you see NBA players that have arrived, when the game slows down and they take what the defense gives them. Like Kawhi Leonard - you can never speed him up. Trying to get them to see that, understand that, that's the biggest area I can try to teach them and get them to understand."
Green and Kuminga will have their first chance to show off these areas of development when the Ignite take on Jeremy Lin, Nico Mannion and the Santa Cruz Warriors on Wednesday, Feb. 10.
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