Over the past few years, the Los Angeles Lakers have had luck getting meaningful minutes from players taken late in the NBA draft, and in some cases undrafted players like David Nwaba and Andre Ingram, among others. While some of their luck might just be that, much of their success can be attributed to the way the team has utilized their G League team, the South Bay Lakers.
Since its establishment in 2006, the South Bay Lakers, formerly known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders, have been home to 29 NBA call ups, including Ish Smith, Gerald Green, Nwaba, Travis Wear, and most recently Ingram, whose story of hard work and perseverance made him an overnight star.
The Lakers’ G League affiliate has also had a hand in grooming NBA players like Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac and Josh Hart in recent years.
But if the Lakers are just one of 27 teams with G League teams, what has made them so successful? According to South Bay Lakers president/CEO Joey Buss, it has been the way the organization has went about handling their minor league team.
In an interview with Lakers reporter Mike Trudell, Buss talked about how the South Bay Lakers got to where they are today:
“I sat down with Rob, Magic and Luke and explained what my vision for a minor league system should look like, and how it should connect with the major league franchise, and they were 100 percent bought into that vision,” he recalled.
What was that vision? Simple:
“If there are undrafted players we like, we can bring them into Summer League, and bring some of those players to training camp or the G League,” said Joey Buss. “I see these teams as all connected, and the more cohesive it is, the more stories you’ll get of a Travis Wear, a David Nwaba, an Andre Ingram where they come through the system one way or the other and truly develop as a better player through that process so they can contribute to your team when you need them.”
So far, that vision seems to be paying off.
Since the NBA introduced two-way contracts, the Lakers have seemingly made a concious effort to reward players that have been with their minor league team in seasons prior. They did it with Vander Blue last season and they’re doing it again with Travis Wear this season.
It might not be the best practice, when they could instead be taking flyers on younger players with higher upside, but Buss thinks that sometimes that’s a trap:
“I think there’s a misconception that in order to develop talent, you have to only get one type of player, which would be a young, undrafted player with no experience,” he said. “The problem with that philosophy in the G League is you end up getting a collection of these players that may not play well together. If they’re not playing well together, the team may struggle. Then, are you really going to be able to properly evaluate those players?”
It’s hard to argue with the results thus far. You can also bet the Lakers are going to utilize the minor league system to get reps for some, if not all, of the rookies they picked up in the past NBA Draft. Isaac Bonga is the player most likely to spend the majority of his rookie season with the South Bay Lakers.
With increased wages and an audience that has grown through the league’s broadcasting partnership with Facebook, the G League could soon become an alternative to college or playing overseas. If that is soon to be the case, expect the South Bay Lakers to be at the top of every undrafted free agent’s list.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.