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.
June 4, 2020, 2:00 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
The Board of Governors has approved the NBA's 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 season.
The vote was 29-1. It was widely expected that the format would get the go-ahead, even though more than one team didn't fully support the proposed plan, and the NBA has at least settled on what the season will look like once it's able to resume. They have also set the draft lottery for August 25 and the draft for October 15. The biggest hurdles remain anything that has to do with COVID-19, and to this point the league has yet to say anything about those challenges, but there is plenty of forward momentum these days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 9:23 pmEnes KanterC, Boston Celtics
Sean Deveney reported that "multiple agents say not all players are on board with an NBA return".
One agent said, "Most of the guys are excited, fired up, they want to get back out there. Those are 95 percent of the conversations I have had". There are players that feel the money is not worth putting themselves and their families at risk. Enes Kanter weighed in on the topic, saying "there are some other team's players out there, that they don't want to play. They're like, 'It's just a game. I'm not going to risk my life". It is likely that the high-profile players will still play, but it looks like some role players may not be willing to take the risk to join their team when the NBA season resumes.
June 3, 2020, 4:39 pmDerrick RosePG, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.
Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.
Source: James Edwards III
June 3, 2020, 11:41 amZion WilliamsonPF, New Orleans Pelicans
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.
This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 11:36 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.
This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 10:02 pmCorey BrewerSF, Sacramento Kings
Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.
Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.
June 2, 2020, 9:47 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.
June 2, 2020, 8:45 pmJohn WallPG, Washington Wizards
John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."
Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.
Source: The Athletic
June 2, 2020, 8:27 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.
An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.
Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 7:58 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.
With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter