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.
October 18, 2019, 2:04 amKawhi LeonardSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard checked in for Thursday's preseason finale against the Mavs and put up 13 points, three rebounds, four steals and two 3-pointers in 22 minutes.
Leonard took full advantage of some sloppy play from Luka Doncic to help make up for his poor 5-of-19 shooting performance. Kawhi's inching up closer to the middle points of the first round in fantasy drafts, and where you select him depends entirely on your tolerance for potential nights off.
October 18, 2019, 2:02 amLandry ShametSG, Los Angeles Clippers
Despite 37 minutes in Thursday's preseason game, Landry Shamet finished with five points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, a 3-pointer and a 2-of-10 shooting line.
The Clippers look prepared to give Shamet major minutes this season on the wing and at point guard, but his preseason play has been lackluster. We're going to chalk this up to a weirdly-timed slump and continue drafting Shamet in the later rounds of all drafts.
October 18, 2019, 2:00 amPatrick BeverleyPG, Los Angeles Clippers
Patrick Beverley (calf) and Lou Williams (rest) sat out of Thursday's preseason game with the Mavs.
No need for the Clippers, who figure to do lots of load managing, to force either of their vets through a meaningless game. Beverley's calf injury is suspected to be minor but we'll keep an eye on it as the season approaches.
October 18, 2019, 1:53 amJustin JacksonSF, Dallas Mavericks
Justin Jackson notched 18 points off the bench in Thursday's 102-87 win over the Clippers, adding six rebounds and three triples to round out his game.
Jackson ends his preseason on a strong note and it looks like he'll hold a solid rotation role for Dallas, and may even start if the forward core suffers injuries. That said, he's always been a weak fantasy play and would need immense volume to change anyone's mind.
October 18, 2019, 1:51 amMoses BrownC, Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have converted Moses Brown's training camp deal into a two-way contract.
It's a nice climb for Brown, who went undrafted out of UCLA. Portland's center depth could be tested if Hassan Whiteside misses time because of his sprained ankle but we'd be surprised if Brown saw much action at the NBA level this year.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
October 18, 2019, 1:41 amDorian Finney-SmithSF, Dallas Mavericks
Neither Dorian Finney-Smith (hip flexor) nor Seth Curry (right knee contusion) played in Thursday's preseason finale.
There's no reason for the Mavs to push either player through this, though we'll keep an eye out for updates before the real games begin. Both figure to be important reserves and should be able to deliver top-250 value in fantasy, if that means anything to you.
October 18, 2019, 1:39 amKristaps PorzingisPF-C, Dallas Mavericks
Kristaps Porzingis needed only 23 minutes to produce 18 points, 13 rebounds, a block and a 3-pointer in Thursday's preseason win over the Clippers.
Luka Doncic, not to be outdone, added 13 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and four 3-pointers of his own, though nine turnovers were pretty ugly. It wasn't always pretty but it's obvious that this young dynamic duo will threaten early-round value for as long as they're on the court. How much they're on the court, Porzingis is particular, is the question.
October 18, 2019, 1:37 amDelon WrightPG, Dallas Mavericks
Delon Wright put a fitting end to a quiet preseason on Thursday, scoring six points with three rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers in 22 minutes of action.
Wright was looking like a major breakout candidate but a poor preseason looks to have took some wind out of his sails. We still believe in his ability to rack up defensive stats out of a guard spot and his solid middle-round upside, so Wright's still worth a look sometime after pick No. 80.
October 18, 2019, 1:34 amJalen BrunsonPG, Dallas Mavericks
Jalen Brunson (sore left hamstring) posted six points, five rebounds, seven assists and a steal in 15 minutes on Thursday night.
Brunson started next to Delon Wright, which is something to remember in case the Mavs deal with injuries that force them to reshuffle the starting five during the year. He's only a deep-league option but did have some stints of relevance last season, so he's not someone to completely write off if injuries strike.
October 18, 2019, 12:44 amGiannis AntetokounmpoPF, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo blitzed the Wolves in Thursday's preseason win, racking up 26 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, three blocks and a 3-pointer in 27 minutes of work.
It's safe to say Giannis is ready for the regular season and is locked in as a top-5 pick in all formats. He went 9-of-15 from the field and a solid 7-of-9 from the line, and if that kept up all season fantasy players would be overjoyed. There's not much else to take from this one. Khris Middleton also had a good game with 18 points and seven assists.