As a 6’0 guard who won Florida’s “Mr. Basketball” award three times and then captured a national championship at North Carolina, Joel Berry II has already become a master of defying the odds. And even though he went unselected in the 2018 NBA Draft, by getting a training camp invite from the Los Angeles Lakers, Berry has given himself a chance to exceed expectations once again.
Berry would already be pulling off an upset were he to even make a Lakers roster that already has the maximum of 15 guaranteed contracts and both of its two-way contracts used up, but when asked what goals he’s set for himself as a rookie, Berry told Drew Ruiz of Hoops Hype that he’s aiming even higher than that (emphasis mine):
JB: I’ve set high goals for myself. My first plan is just to make the official roster. But having to take the path I’m taking – being undrafted and having to do a lot of pre-draft workouts – getting a chance with the Lakers was the first goal of mine. So now it’s taking it step by step, making the roster and once I get on the roster, I want to be able to contribute and play. My goal is not just to make it to the NBA, but be somebody one day. That’s what I’m striving for. I’m going to set high goals for myself and I want to be in the talks of winning Rookie of the Year. I know that’s a long way and I have to do a lot, but those are the goals I want to set for myself.
Berry certainly isn’t setting the bar low for himself, but on some level that’s to be expected. A slightly undersized point guard doesn’t have the success Berry has had at every level of basketball without a supreme belief in his own talent and skillset.
Still, Berry would have to either play well enough in training camp that the Lakers were willing to either cut Alex Caruso or Travis Wear from their two-way deals and give it to Berry just to get a two-way contract — already no small task — and to be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year he’d need more minutes than that type of deal could realistically provide him.
To vault into that status quo, Berry would have to play so exceptionally well in training camp that the Lakers were willing to cut a player on a guaranteed contract and want to play him significant minutes on a team with postseason aspirations. I suppose that’s theoretically possible, but it’s almost more likely that Berry would make the roster because of some sort of injury apocalypse in the Lakers’ backcourt than it is that a rookie could play well enough to make the team eat money and trust a first-year floor general on a LeBron James-led squad.
So while it’s understandable that Berry is confident in himself, it seems wildly unlikely to the point of impossibility that he’ll actually be able to meet these goals. Still, he’s certainly aiming high, and it’s like they say: Shoot for the moon, and you might just land on the Lakers’ roster. Or something like that.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.