The Los Angeles Lakers had a bit of a surprise last night at the NBA Draft Lottery as they jumped up from their projected No. 11 slot to No. 4. It’s still unclear what they’ll eventually end up doing with the pick as talk has ranged from keeping it and making the selection, to using it as part of a package for an established player.
What is clear though, is they’ll have to make decisions on some of the young talent they already have on the roster. With LeBron James still playing at a high level and three years left on his contract, the pressure to win now is clear.
Many of the young players on the team were mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the trade deadline. One player whose name didn’t seem to pop up as much was Isaac Bonga. Bonga was a second-round pick last summer, and he earned his way onto the roster through training camp.
Potential is often times a dangerous word when it comes to the NBA. It can get executives fired. But looking at Bonga and his overall skill set, it’s kind of safe to say that he’s oozing with potential. Despite rarely playing, he was just thrilled to make it to the league.
“It’s just like a dream come true. I feel like everybody dreams about playing in the NBA,” Bonga told Basketball Insiders. “When I just think about how many kids really are trying to be here, and you get chosen to play here, it’s still crazy for me. But I’m just trying to work, it’s like a new the beginning of a new chapter.”
Standing at 6-foot-8 with point guard skills, he’s seemingly the type of player who can thrive in today’s NBA. He suited up in only 22 games with the Lakers this season, spending most of his time with their G League affiliate the South Bay Lakers. It was quite the rookie experience for the German native.
“It had ups and downs. But I had fun, enjoying everything. It’s just a process, I feel like it’s one big process,” Bonga told Basketball Insiders. “Starting in the G League, going up and down getting call-ups, I usually enjoy everything, just try to be ready for each and every game day and each and every practice.”
For many rookies, it’s a bit of a hurdle adjusting to the NBA game. For Bonga, he didn’t just have to adjust to the NBA, but to the G League as well. The transition went fairly well, however. Bonga ended up having some big performances with South Bay.
He played in 31 games with South Bay, including 29 starts. He averaged 11.9 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 blocked shots. While he shot 34.4 percent from the three-point line, he showed enough glimpses to believe that he could become a very consistent shooter from distance.
“It definitely takes getting used to the speed of the game between the G League and the NBA. I feel like here [NBA] is a little bit faster, we got guys who are stronger and faster and smart,” Bonga told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to get used to everything here. But I feel like for next year, I learned a lot of things, and I kind of know what I need to work on.”
Bonga has a guaranteed contract for next season, but again, with the pressure on the team to win now, it’s unclear what type of role he may have next season, especially with him being incredibly raw.
What’s impossible to deny, however, is his versatility. In the G League, he switched between both forward positions as well as point guard on the offensive end. Defensively, his length and ability as a shot blocker were promising, and he can guard multiple positions.
He’s confident that if given the opportunity, he can provide quality minutes for the Lakers.
“Definitely length, defense, versatility and pace. I’m a guy who will pass, but I’ve been working on my shot too,” Bonga told Basketball Insiders. “But definitely the kind of aspects that they’re looking for. I just want to work and I really want to play.”
Overall, this season was a learning experience for Bonga. He was able to identify the areas of his game that the team wants him to improve upon if he wishes to have a bigger role moving forward.
“I already know right now what I want to work on. I want to get stronger, my shot, decision making, all of that stuff,” Bonga told Basketball Insiders. “I’m going to be working on all the little things. I feel like if you do all the little things, you’re definitely going to get chances.”