Editor’s Note: The Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season (The 15 guaranteed contracts plus the two guys on two-way contracts). We continue today with No. 13, Isaac Bonga, and will be counting down to the Laker we think is most interesting with a new piece each weekday until we hit No. 1.
Perhaps the biggest (or at least quickest) indictment of Los Angeles Lakers draft pick Isaac Bonga’s showing at Las Vegas Summer League is that despite him playing in seven games in Las Vegas, the photo wire services Vox subscribes to had zero pictures of the German guard other than three photos of his Adidas shoes.
Now, eventually we were able to find some pictures of Bonga, but while the shoe photos might have been great marketing for Adidas, the struggle to find photos of Bonga was a perfect illustration of how Bonga didn’t exactly earn the focus of the cameras with stellar play in summer league.
Bonga almost averaged more turnovers (2.43) than points (2.14) and assists (0.57) combined in Las Vegas, and the performance was poor enough to even make Brandon Ingram’s first NBA season look impressive for such a young player in retrospect.
In short, Bonga looked more like Bambi, as the 18-year-old was the epitome of a deer in the headlights.
There were reasons for that, sure. Bonga being just 18, for one, as well as the fact that he had never played against NBA players — or whatever summer league players are — before. Couple that with the reality that Bonga didn’t get to compete in Sacramento with the team, participate in their abbreviated training camp, or even truly practice outside of a walkthrough before his first game and whatever limited practice the team had after, and his issues make more sense.
But while all that context helps, it doesn’t completely absolve or excuse Bonga’s poor play, or eliminate it as at least a concern moving forward. Yes, players selected with the 39th overall pick are hardly expected to be immediate contributors, but with Moe Wagner and (especially) Svi Mykhailiuk showing more than advertised heading into summer league, the stakes are higher for Bonga, and the pressure is on to prove that he was a worthwhile gamble for the Lakers, rather than the first draft whiff of the Magic Johnson/Rob Pelinka era.*
Bonga won’t be getting the chance to show that at the NBA level. While Bonga will surely go to plenty of Lakers games, he won’t be playing in them outside of garbage time situations. The majority, if not all, of his playing time this season will come in the G League.
With the South Bay Lakers, Bonga will get the opportunity to demonstrate why Johnson showed faith in another oversized point guard, and while his development won’t be the most discussed storyline around the Lakers this season, it will warrant checking in on throughout the year.
If Bonga can be another success story for the Lakers’ player development staff, and another nailed draft pick, then he’ll be a boon for the Lakers’ depth down the line and either serve as a found-money reinforcement for the tail end of the LeBron James era, or as a bridge to whatever’s next when the King leaves his current kingdom.
And a success story for Bonga, as a teenager living in a new country while playing professional basketball for a new organization doesn’t necessarily mean he has to tear up the G League this season. It just means Bonga has to show something, flashes of floor vision that were all-too-inconsistent in Las Vegas, even if they were there sporadically.
With a whole summer to prepare and a training camp on the veteran-laden Lakers before that, it will be fascinating to see how Bonga comes out to start the year, and how the team feels about him a few months in, as well as at the end of the season.
And who knows? Maybe if Bonga shows enough, someone will actually bother to take a few pictures of him at some point.
*Yes, Thomas Bryant isn’t on the team anymore, but that’s not because he was some draft miss.
The countdown so far:
13. Isaac Bonga
14. Lance Stephenson
15. Luol Deng
16. Alex Caruso
17. Travis Wear