LAS VEGAS- Zach Auguste didn't play in the Los Angeles Lakers' third game of Las Vegas Summer League, but that couldn't quiet one specific member of the peanut gallery.
"Yo, you fake, man!" the heckler yelled at Auguste.
Fortunately, this wasn’t an out of control fan. It was Auguste’s friend and former high school teammate, Noah Vonleh, who was having a good natured back and forth with the undrafted Lakers’ forward for running off down the team tunnel and past a media scrum without him after the Lakers’ Monday win over the Golden State Warriors.
More happily for the Lakers, Vonleh is wrong. Auguste didn’t play against the Warriors as the Lakers handed out several DNP-CDs to give minutes to other players who the team hadn’t used much yet, but he has shown flashes of being a very real prospect during the Lakers first two game at Las Vegas Summer League.
"I think I've played pretty well. It's about the team but I think I came in and contributed, gave great energy,” Auguste told Silver Screen and Roll of his performance in summer league so far. The Notre Dame product has averaged 8.5 points while shooting 61.5 percent from the field to go along with 5.5 rebounds and one steal in 17.5 minutes per game, and he credited his teammates, especially D’Angelo Russell, for helping put him in a position to succeed.
Auguste deferred credit, but he has helped his teammates too. The Lakers have several players who need the ball and can make plays on their roster, and need guys to do “the little things,” and Auguste thinks he can provide them.
"Great energy, run the floor, transition, and the pick-and-roll,” Auguste said when asked to describe what he brings to the Lakers. “I think I can actually help on the defensive end as well."
Auguste’s self-assessment of his skillset is essentially the list of qualifications on a theoretical Craigslist Ad for the perfect modern big. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss need frontcourt help, and every team wants explosive athletes who can catch and finish out of pick-and-rolls.
In fact, the main thing working against Auguste is the Lakers just signed a very similar player in Tarik Black to a long-term deal. Still, the big man acknowledges that all he can control is his own performance, which has impressed the Lakers summer league head coach, Jesse Mermuys.
“I really like Zach's energy, he's been awesome for us coming off the bench, attacking the offensive glass, keeping basketballs alive, his screen-and-roll game,” said Mermuys. “He's been a big part of those first two wins, his energy off the bench has been crucial for us, and given us a lift. I'm really impressed and we like him a lot.”
It’s easy to see why. Auguste has taken a cue from fellow Lakers’ forward Larry Nance, Jr., who he’s spent minutes alongside in small-ball lineups during summer league. The endless activity of the two leapers memorably helped key the Lakers’ late comeback against the 76ers, which led to a new nickname for the pairing:
“He's definitely been my vet,” Auguste said of Nance, Jr., who is now mentoring approximately every player in the Lakers’ summer league frontcourt. “He's been telling me throughout practice if I'm missing plays or kind of what to expect. How to come out here and handle certain things, he's definitely been like a big brother out here."
Having Nance, Jr. as a pseudo sibling has been helpful for Auguste, whose family couldn’t make it out to summer league. That doesn’t mean they aren’t watching him, however, and they might be offering as many or more tips than Nance, Jr. The 23-year old rookie receives texts from his parents after every game, sometimes telling him he played well, and often with tips on what he can do better.
Auguste’s parents aren’t wrong. He’s by no means a perfect player, and his hyperactivity could lead to foul trouble of fruitless gambles on defense at the next level. He can’t create his own shot either, but he’s shown enough interesting tools to warrant a further look from the front office.
Auguste’s energy and excitement to be a part of the “prestigous” Lakers organization come across in his rapid-fire cadence and the way he practically bounces up and down during conversation. The less-heralded member of the “Bash Bros” hopes he can show the team enough to make the pairing more permanent, but he’s aware there is plenty more work to be done.
"Yeah. I'm confident,” Auguste said of his chances of getting a shot at training camp with the team. “But I always want to do better. I always want to do more. I feel like I can, and I will."
Depending on how much “more” he does, the Lakers may have found a diamond in the rough outside of the draft, and the “fake” Auguste will be acknowledged as the real deal.