The case for the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft is an interesting one, particularly in comparison to the most recent crop of prospects that had French phenom Victor Wembanyama billed as the top selection for well over a year.
This draft cycle will be quite the opposite with several different players shuffling through the No. 1 spot as the season rolls on.
A name worth knowing among the prospects who will try and stake their claim for the top pick is G League Ignite star Matas Buzelis.
The 6-10 wing was a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American who passed up major college offers from schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas to take the professional route that he felt was better suited for his path to the NBA.
Buzelis has yet to make his official debut with the Ignite due to an ankle injury, but the 19-year-old fits the archetype of a versatile offensive weapon that every team is looking for in today’s league.
He has a smooth 3-point shooting stroke off the catch and is confident in creating his own shot off the dribble. He’s an active cutter in the halfcourt who also does damage running the lane in transition. His length and creativity for a near-7-footer might seem more commonplace in the NBA as of late, but it’s still a vastly unique and valuable skillset for a teenage prospect.
Buzelis hopes that taking the Ignite’s development path — which has produced more NBA players than any other individual program since its inception in 2019-20 — will allow him to keep a laser focus on becoming the best basketball player possible while putting his strengths and weaknesses to the test against other pros.
He’s already feeling some of the differences of playing at the professional level, but that was always one of the biggest incentives that this route provided for him over going to college.
“The pace of the game has been very different. I’m still adjusting to that,” he told The Sporting News when asked about the unexpected challenges he’s faced early on in the season.
“Conditioning, for sure. But also the physicality of the game.”
And since he’s been grinding daily on the court, in the weight room and in the film room, Buzelis is already seeing signs of improvement that he’s excited to show off.
“[The Ignite] are trying to show my versatility on both offense and defense, but also they’re trying to show the energy that I play with,” he said when asked about his areas of growth.
“I want to show more defensive intensity and show what I can do. Because I can be way better at that.”
Buzelis is a hoops junkie who is constantly watching some of the league’s best players, looking to take parts of their game and implement them into his. When asked about the players he studies the most, it shouldn’t surprise you that he listed four of the most skilled offensive players in the NBA.
“I like to take a piece of everyone’s game. I’m watching Paul George a lot. A little bit of Luka [Doncic] and Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander],” he told SN.
“Jokic has been killing,” he continued. “… It’s crazy what he does with the ball. It looks so simple.”
Buzelis also has a guilty pleasure of watching J.R. Smith highlights on YouTube, perhaps to gain a sense of his irrational confidence and greenlight mindset.
“I used to watch J.R. Smith play. The way he plays is like art, you can’t describe it,” he said with a smile.
As the saying goes, those idols are soon to become rivals once Buzelis takes the leap to the NBA next season. The 19-year-old won’t be starstruck by the moment, though.
“I’ll match up with anybody. I’ll take on any challenge,” he said with a confident tone after I asked who he was looking forward to facing the most next year.
But Buzelis isn’t ready to look ahead to the future just yet. He’s most looking forward to getting on the court and proving himself this season. “I’m ready to play with all my guys,” he added.
We’ll get to watch Buzelis’ entire G League Ignite journey play out in the second season of a docuseries titled, “The Break, presented by The General,” which debuts on Wednesday, Nov. 22 on the G League’s official YouTube channel.
Season 2 will be narrated by NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, and will follow Buzelis and the Ignite throughout the season, along with cameos from NBA champion Juan Toscano-Anderson and former Ignite guard-turned-Trail Blazers player development coach Pooh Jeter.
“I think [the viewers are] gonna see some of the struggles we’ll have during the season, but also how we transition from the struggles that we’ve had,” Buzelis said of “The Break.”
“I think it’s cool to watch.”
You can find the full first episode, “The Pro Route with Matas Buzelis,” below.
Source : ESPN.com