April 19, 2019, 5:45 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to another installment of our International Spotlight weekly feature which will continue to keep you updated throughout the entire offseason. With fantasy season now in the books we will be looking at some young prospects that got little to no playing time this year before we turn the page and concentrate on the international class that will be eligible for the 2019 Draft in June.
Lakers combo guard/forward Isaac Bonga is the focus of our feature this week. The German prospect was one of the most intriguing International players of the draft last year, resembling Giannis Antetokoumpo in a lot of ways, as he played mostly in a lower division league and dominated against semi-professional basketball players. His stats in Germany really tell the whole story as he showed a lot of promise with the junior team but struggled in the majors against senior teams loaded with veterans.
Magic Johnson obviously loves big guards and the Lakers scouting department saw the potential in an 18-year-old kid who, at 6’8″, played point guard for the Frankfurt Skyliners in Germany. Leading up to the draft, the Lakers traded into the early second round for an opportunity to draft the Frankfurt native and the team then was smart enough to lock him down to a three-year deal in order to get him to come over immediately and develop in the G-League program.
As expected, he spent most of his rookie season in the minors, where he averaged 11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks for the South Bay Lakers, and failed to impress at the NBA level where he averaged just 5.5 minutes and shot just 5-of-33 from the field and 0-of-8 from behind the arc, even after the Lakers decided to give more playing time to their young prospects late in the season.
Summer League Appearance
Bonga was nothing short of a mystery man when he appeared in Las Vegas but he showed an impressive size for a ball handler and the length to match defensively with his long arms and legs in just nine minutes per game in seven appearances. A raw talent, he was the youngest player drafted last year and it was clear that he is still learning the fundamentals of the game, getting repeatedly called for traveling and palming violations while missing wide open dunks.
Lakers Among the Best at G-League Development
The Lakers have struggled to win the last few years but their G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, runs one of the most successful developmental programs around the league. By playing G-League veterans like Andre Ingram and former NBA players like Spencer Hawes they are able to win (they finished in the top-4 the last eight years) while at the same integrating young guys like former center Ivica Zubac and late-season sensation Alex Caruso.
Head coach Coby Karl has been given the freedom to build his own team every year and that has helped him develop teams with great chemistry that foster teamwork. His coaching style has been mostly about empowering his guys and not micromanaging them and his players have responded by showing tremendous growth and confidence in a short time. Luke Walton and Karl were on the same page during the entire season whenever there was a move to be made for a two-way player and the call-ups like Johnathan Williams, Alex Caruso and Jemerrio Jones have received significant playing time with the Lakers. The results speak for themselves as scrap guys like David Nwaba and Josh Magette were able to make it to the NBA after playing for Karl while Alex Caruso might not have the looks but has proved to be a solid rotation guard.
Physically Gifted with a Strong Basketball Mind
Bonga stands at 6’10” in shoes with a good wingspan (measured 7’0”) and his size at the point guard position is what instantly stands out with him. A late-bloomer physically, he might have an inch or maybe even more left while his underdeveloped frame has significant potential. He has struggled to gain weight so far, just like Giannis did when he entered the league, but I’m confident in his ability to physically develop under the guidance of a professional organization. Bonga excels in one-on-one defense against similarly sized players, as he is able to stay in front of them and use his size and his length to contain dribble penetration and contest shots even when getting passed by or when helping from the weak side.
An extremely gifted passer at such a young age, especially in transition, he uses his height to read defenses and drive to the rim and even though he is not very explosive, he compensates by showing impressive footwork and excellent body coordination. He still struggles to finish around the basket due to below average strength but he has the ability to get to the free throw line (2.7 trips per game) where he shot an impressive 81.2 percent. Possessing an outstanding feel for the game and great basketball instincts to go along with fluidity, intangibles and defensive potential, Bonga’s court vision and passing ability are advanced for a young player as he can handle the ball well with both hands. He shows a variety of creative dribbles including an inside-out, crossover and a lethal hesitation but turnovers are alarming and he will have to learn how to be a better distributor.
Shooting Woes and the Importance of Good Coaching
Coming from Europe, one of the things that pretty obvious about the rookie was how his jump shot was slow and needed a lot of refinement as Bonga disappeared when he was playing away from the ball.
In his Summer League and preseason play with the Lakers, Bonga attempted only four 3-pointers in total but once the G-League season started he was given the green light and finished the year launching 96 triples – 3.1 per game. The coaching staff worked on his stroke and Bonga’s jumper, specifically his confidence in letting it fly from 3-point range, saw a drastic improvement in his first year, something rare for kids coming from overseas.
His shot chart from the G League this season simply validates the above and leaves much to be expected from the young guard.
Point Guard or Off-Ball?
Bonga has an interesting foundational skill set thanks to his playmaking ability, positional size, defensive flashes, and potential jump shot and while he is a great stash candidate thanks to his youth, size, and all-around flashes, there has to be a plan about his long term development and the position he plays in the NBA. He is a gifted passer but smaller and quicker guards are able to steal the ball right from his hands due to the height difference that is not necessarily an advantage in today’s brand of basketball at the highest level.
Playing alongside lead guards like Alex Caruso and Scott Machado with South Bay has allowed him to experiment playing off the ball and he was able to quickly adjust due to his solid basketball IQ. His overall fantasy game can resemble that of a stat magnet as evidenced by his solid rookie season in the G League where he easily averaged a triple, a steal and a block in just 28 minutes per game. The question is whether he can evolve into a 3-and-D combo guard/forward like Giannis or a Ben Simmons-like point guard running the offense.
One-on-One vs. Team Defense
Bonga has the potential to be a multi-positional defender due to his size and mobility and he already guarded four different positions in the German league thanks to his quick feet and hands that get him a lot of steals and blocks. He uses his long wingspan to get in passing lanes and to contest shooters while he possesses the recovery speed and length to get back in plays, creating some memorable highlights.
— South Bay Lakers (@SouthBayLakers) March 1, 2019
Unfortunately, Bonga struggles with the concept of team defense as he doesn’t have very good instincts defensively, he is late to recognize switches and often gets beat backdoor due to his poor lateral quickness. During the last home game of the season the Jazz picked him apart by running back to back pick-and-roll plays against the rookie, who struggled to communicate with his teammates and rotate in a timely manner.
Busy Summer Ahead
Bonga knows he has to continue to work on his shooting and strength during the summer while he and Moe Wagner said in their exit interviews that they would love to play for the German national team this summer. The FIBA Basketball World Cup starts on August 31 and ends on September 15 so I’m not very optimistic about them getting more experience by playing with their national team since they would have to miss part of Summer League and the beginning of the training camp.
Bonga undoubtedly has unique tools with his size and mobility, but he looks like a tweener at this point and a questionable fit to the modern NBA with his skill set. He is an above-average passer who can guard smaller players, but he still doesn’t have the whole package to be a primary option on the offensive end. Next year will determine whether he can take the next step and we will be around to examine his progress.
Thank you for reading this article and please make sure you check us back again next week and throughout the offseason as more player breakdowns are coming up. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of RealGM.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of April 19th.
May 19, 2019, 11:44 amTrajan Langdon - Team - New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans are hiring Brooklyn Nets' assistant GM Trajan Langdon as next General Manager according to Shams Charania of the Athletic.
David Griffin makes his first big hire as the new Head of Basketball ops, getting a guy who played an essential role in the Nets' impressive turnaround. Langdon joins the league's most fascinating team from a front office perspective, holding the keys to what could either be a contending team or a jump-start rebuilding one depending on what is done with Anthony Davis.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 19, 2019, 11:38 amBradley Beal - G - Washington Wizards
The Lakers are looking at adding a litany of veteran players via trade this offseason, including: Kyle Lowry, Derrick Favors and Bradley Beal according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News.
The Lakers acquiring the fourth pick in the 2019 NBA draft will make them all the more competitive on the trade market. It has been well documented how LeBron James' teams have preferred established players over rookies, and that should be no different after coming off of the disaster that last season's Laker team was. The connection between the Lakers and Beal has been established for months, but it's worth keeping in mind as we get closer to the draft. Aiming to add vets like Lowry and Favors also makes sense, but obviously Beal would be the big get of that bunch.
Source: Sporting News
May 19, 2019, 11:28 amMike Conley - G - Memphis Grizzlies
Multiple teams are looking into trading for Mike Conley according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News.
The article lists a couple teams that have already been linked to Conley such as the Jazz and the Pacers, but one particularly interesting one that was introduced was the Miami Heat. The Heat may be looking to move on from Dragic, who is set to accept a player option that will book him for $19.2 million for the 2019-2020 season. With a combination of expiring salary and a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, the Heat could present themselves as an intriguing trading partner for the rebuilding Grizz.
Source: Sporting News
May 19, 2019, 11:06 amFrank Ntilikina - G - New York Knicks
The Knicks are shopping Frank Ntilikina for a late-first or 2nd round pick according to Marc Berman of the New York Post
The paltry return they're searching for tells the story for the former lottery pick. It hasn't been a strong first two years for the young PG, but there will likely be an offer or two for him out there from a bottoming-out team who may want to take a filer on him for his defensive upside. Still though, Ntilikina has a long way to go before he can be considered a reliable NBA player.
Source: New York Post
May 19, 2019, 10:52 amGoran Dragic - G - Miami Heat
Goran Dragic is unlikely to opt out of the last year of his deal according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
This is unsurprising given how Dragic will be set to make $19.2 million in his final season, a total that he is all but assured not to see on the open market. Dragic's most productive days are behind him, but that doesn't mean that the Heat won't be able to find a suitor who'd be looking to clear some cap space with his expiring deal.
Source: Miami Herald
May 19, 2019, 1:40 amStephen Curry - G - Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry scored 36 points in Saturday's 110-99 Game 3 win over the Blazers, adding six rebounds, three assists and five turnovers.
Curry led his team offensively, contributing 36 points on 11-for-26 shooting. On a night where teammate Draymond Green was the primary facilitator, Curry settled in on scoring the bulk of his team's points from off the ball screens and shots from behind the arc. The Warriors have the luxury to allow for multiple ball-handlers and Curry seemed happy to acquiesce as he and Klay Thompson combined for 55 points with seven 3-pointers. Look for Curry to continue to lead the team in scoring as Kevin Durant is not expected to be back this series.
May 19, 2019, 1:37 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that Damian Lillard has been playing through separated ribs in the Western Conference Finals.
Charania and Sam Amick have since reported that the injury occurred in Game 2 when Kevon Looney landed on Lillard's ribs. To this point he's playing with a pad on his torso, though his current run of poor shooting extends back into the second round before the injury was sustained. The Blazers are facing a deep hole down 0-3 to the Warriors, and Lillard will surely be finishing out the series despite his injury. Between the ailment and Golden State selling out to stop him, Lillard has had to battle through quite a bit in the WCF.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 19, 2019, 1:09 amDamian Jones - C - Golden State Warriors
Damian Jones got the start for the Warriors but played just three minutes after picking up three fouls in the first quarter to finish with no other countable statistic in Saturday's win.
Jones got the start and then got the hook early after drawing three fouls in the first 3:17 of Game 3. Jones got the start over Andrew Bogut after playing just two minutes in Game 2 and two minutes in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Bogut and Jones played a combined six minutes this game and did not contribute anything offensively. Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney picked up the slack and ended up playing 42 minutes and contributing 14 points. It is unlikely that Jones will start again going into Game 4.
May 19, 2019, 12:55 amDraymond Green - F - Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green went off on Saturday's win, posting a monster 20-13-12 line and adding four steals and one block.
Draymond was all over the court for the Warriors posting his seventh career postseason triple-double. With his team down 13 points to start the second half, Green channeled his inner Magic Johnson and rallied the Warriors with six rebounds, six assists and two steals to take the lead going into the fourth quarter. His defensive intensity continues to be a catalyst for the team and is a major reason why the Warriors continue to dominate in this series.
May 19, 2019, 12:39 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Moe Harkless scored six points and added three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in Saturday's loss.
Harkless did all of his damage in the first half and looked to be on his way to a great game scoring six points and adding two steals/blocks. Unfortunately he would not score again and added just one assist to his stat line in the second half. Fellow forward Al-Farouq Aminu added just two points in the losing effort and he and Harkless continue to get marginalized in the Blazers' small-ball lineup. Harkless has the ability to contribute for the team and they will need him to re-find his aggressiveness if the they plan on making this a series.