The G League Ignite hosted their second annual showcase game against an international team, following last year’s matchup with Victor Wembanyama to hosting the Perth Wildcats of the NBL this year. The Wildcats have Alex Sarr, a French big formerly with Overtime Elite. The Ignite have the most prospects they’ve ever had on one team in their short existence, with the following players: Matas Buzelis, Ron Holland, Izan Almansa, London Johnson, Tyler Smith, Babacar Sane, Thierry Darlan (did not dress for this game), and Dink Pate (2025 eligible, did not play). Here’s a look at how each prospect did in this game:
Buzelis had an interesting progression of the game, really struggling to find his role due to passiveness and tight defense, but as the game picked up he had his moments of takeover stretches, high-level shooting as advertised, some crafty passes, and capability in using his size to give him a larger margin for error defensively. However, it should note that a good portion of his stats did come in the second half when the game was out of reach. Buzelis finished the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks on 7/13 shooting.
One thing that stood out was his ability to win matchups on the baseline at all three levels. He hit a spot-up 3, a face-up mid range jumper, and several drives along the baseline leading to both his own reverse layup attempts and also a good pass to the cutter. If Matas can dominate in spots consistently like he did vs Perth in their first exhibition at the baseline, teams should be able to buy into his upside.
Defensively, Buzelis had good results, but didn’t always have the best processes to get good results. In a couple of the clips, he leaves his feet on fakes, but still recovers to get the block by using his length to stay in and win possessions. How well Buzelis utilizes his length defensively is likely to swing the balance each night defensively, since he has shortcomings that set him up for being an inconsistent defender.
Ron Holland was advertised as the best prospect on the Ignite and the number one overall prospect for 2024, and he lived up to the hype: 23 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, and 1 block on 9/13 shooting.
Holland stood out in several areas: slashing, shot creation, slashing, and defensive flashes.
As a scorer, Holland used his first step well, as well as length at the rim to extend past sitting rim protectors.
While Holland started this game slowly, his motor never stopped, and he remained creative. In the first clip Holland hits a difficult stepback jumper in quick offense against a mismatch defender that expects the drive, allowing for Holland to create even more room for himself off of his stepback. After that, he showcased the ability to absorb contact on drives to still use athleticism, length, and touch at the rim to finish through strong defenders. This includes drives with both hands and in both directions, as well as an impressive finish past Alex Sarr by using his quick first step and long separation ability on drives, which should be a standout area to help him become a great finisher.
One play that stood out in transition was the foul drawn at the 0:35 mark when he runs full steam in transition, catches the ball, and uses outstanding body control to keep his balance and quickly go into his shooting motion. This display of both body control and strength are promising as he continues to develop his body.
The last play in the clip was a strong defensive possession, an area he excelled in during high school of being a stopper against multiple positions. This play was yet another example, this time against a pro by adapting to the switch as he drops against the screen, takes away the spin with good defensive footwork, then reacts smoothly to fakes which allows for him to close out the possession with quick hands to rip the shot attempt before the shooter can get his fully shot up. This play is a prime example of Holland’s strong defensive instincts, which makes defense a key strength that puts him in the number one pick conversation for the 2024 NBA Draft.
Holland had a great second game against Perth too, dropping 33 points on 9/19 shooting with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 5 steals.
Izan Almansa came off the bench for the Ignite and played starters minutes to put up 14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block on 5/8 shooting.
Almansa’s passing stood out, being able to smoothly pass out of drives and seeing the floor as he headed towards the basket. While he needs to tighten his handle to reduce turnovers, the upside as a slasher at his size is a coveted skill for NBA teams, given his good rim touch.
He had a similarly productive game Friday, also showcasing defensive stats. Almansa’s intelligence is going to create plays for him in every way for him, which allows for him to utilize his great combination of skill & size. Almansa has the ability to impact the game in a unique way, both with big statlines or a low-volume stat game. This means that his impact will be noticeable more by watching the games than box scores, especially as part of a loaded G League Ignite roster. If he lands on a roster with a strong and established culture, Almansa will thrive in the way championship teams have often utilized their utility centers, a la Kevon Looney, for example.
The key returner from last year’s team, London Johnson is a sleeper guard that loves getting to the mid range and creating for others. He plays with his head up when he dribbles at all speeds, and he is mastering how to manipulate defenders in the pick & roll. While he had a quiet game with 8 points on 3/9 shooting with 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 block he still made an impact, particularly in creating for others.
London also does a good job of creating & absorbing contact, so as he masters the consistency of both scoring and playmaking together, Johnson should become a quality guard prospect that profiles the ideal mid-first-round guard prospect.
Tyler Smith had an efficient 25 minutes of action in game 1, showing off a smooth lefty jumper with great size at 6’10 and still 18 years old. Smith finished the game with 15 points on 6/9 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.
While the shooting very obviously popped, he does need to add strength to fully maximize his potential. At a minimum, Smith has a clear role as a tall shooter. If he can add strength to avoid being pushed off his spots defensively, Smith could be looking at a Jabari Smith Jr type role as an efficient two-way off-ball forward.
Babacar Sane was considered the sleeper of the Ignite, having played for them last season. In this game vs Perth, Sane recorded 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 turnovers on 50% shooting. While his impact beyond scoring was limited, his strong NBA ready body at 6’6 makes scouts intrigued with his scoring ability. The two plays above are easy to see how he can be a microwave scorer on the bench in the NBA: an isolation jumper and an impressive left-handed dribble drive with a right-handed finish at the rim. Sane profiles as a quality bench scorer as a second round prospect come June.
My third ranked prospect in this game, Alex Sarr had an outstanding pro debut against the Ignite. He finished the game with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 6 blocks, and 1 steal on 6/13 shooting, including 2/3 from 3.
With an outstanding combination of size, length, and athleticism, Sarr also has a growing perimeter game which has already helped him move up preliminary boards. On top of that, he projects to be an ideal, intelligent and switchable mobile defender. He has reminded me of Isaiah Jackson at Kentucky in some ways, particularly defensively, but with more polish playing overseas as a pro. While Sarr will be prone to mistakes, he will likely make equal and opposite level highlights from correct processes by using great timing and instincts on the defensive end. Offensively, Sarr projects best as a defensive anchor with off-ball ability as a play-finisher with room to grow as a creator as he improves & tightens his handle.
Overall, Sarr had an impressive game and scouts should be impressed with how much he showed off his game, and how smooth many areas of his game were in this level of competition. With real-game shooting ability and projectable free throw form, jump shooting feels like a projectable area of his game. He also had good vision on the floor with the ball in his hands, helping him be a connector out of the P&R offensively.
The Ignite vs Perth Wildcats series was a win as part of the new classic the Ignite are now hosting for the foreseeable future, after hosting Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama last year. As the Ignite grows and establishes a clear place in the NBA with agencies and teams, this event should continue to improve and become a staple as part of the NBA kick-off.