Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s discuss Devontae Cacok.
How did he play?
Cacok didn’t play much for the Los Angeles version of the Lakers this season. He only appeared in one game and played nine total minutes, the second-fewest on the team (and least of anyone still on the roster).
That sparse playing time did not, however, preclude Cacok from making an impression. He spent a ton of time playing for the South Bay Lakers in the G League, where the undrafted rookie out of UNC Wilmington was nothing short of a revelation. Cacok averaged 19.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks during his first G League season, instantly becoming one of the best players in the league and making the All-NBA G League first team and All-Rookie team as a result, also finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting.
Unfortunately for Cacok, while the Lakers could see his talents in G League, their glut of big men while chasing a title meant he never really had much of a chance to play, barring injuries that ultimately never came. As is typical for how he’s exceeded expectations all year, though, he managed to make his presence felt in that one game he did get on the floor, grabbing 5 rebounds and scoring 6 points in just nine minutes against the Kings in the Lakers’ final game before the playoffs. And as Cacok told our own Jas Kang before heading to the NBA bubble, doing the little things is how he knows he can most make an impact.
“I understand that everyone isn’t going to be that scorer (in the NBA), it’s about being a role player,” Cacok said. “In the NBA, you have two-to-three guys, and surround them with role players who are good at what they do. When I go out there, I’m going to set a lot of good screens, I’m going to roll hard, get a lot of rebounds, and play defense. That’s my role.”
He played it to a T, and it’s why the Lakers have to be excited about what he could develop into as he continues to work and grow.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Cacok is already under contract for next season, one of just six players in the NBA on a two-year, two-way contract.
Will he be back?
Two-way players can theoretically be traded or cut, but short of something truly unexpected, Cacok will be back developing with the Lakers (and South Bay) next season. Quick and mobile small-ball centers with Cacok’s defensive instincts and nose for the glass don’t come along every day, so the Lakers were smart to get him on a two-year deal so they can watch him develop, much like they did with Alex Caruso during his two years on a two-way contract before he became an integral piece of their title puzzle this season.
Contenders have limited means to add young talents and watch them develop, but the Lakers’ scouting department may have found their latest diamond in the rough here if Cacok can follow anything close to a similar path as Caruso (something he’s already on track for, to a degree). He told Silver Screen and Roll that the biggest thing he learned from this first playoff run was the “attention to detail” it takes to win in the postseason.
“When we got into the playoffs and we started scouting on Portland, I had never watched that much film in my life,” Cacok said in a text message this week. “There was a breakdown of each player, each play they had, and more. That’s what I feel like helped us in prepping for each game and being successful.”
It wasn’t just the opportunity to learn from and be around the Lakers’ veterans and coaching staff every day that helped his development, though. He felt like the time in the bubble gave him a head start at working on the skills he wanted to develop anyway.
“The funny thing is, everything that I wanted to add to my game/work on (this offseason), I already was working on in the bubble. I feel like I have gotten better,” Cacok said, specifying that he hopes the work he put in on his shot and handle will carry over to next season, whether he’s playing on the Lakers’ G League or NBA roster.
And that Cacok was working on those areas should be music to Lakers fans’ ears, because his rebounding is already an NBA level skill. His 11.9 boards per game ranked fourth in the G League last season, and he grabbed 22.8% of all available rebounds while one the floor (and 15.8% of all offensive ones), which ranked second and third in the league, respectively. Still, he’ll have to be able to do more to be able to get on the floor, and so in addition to the improvements he mentioned, he’s working to be able to space the floor and dribble a bit as well.
“During this offseason I will continue to work on my 3-point shooting and my handle, and show that I can do even more next season,” Cacok said.
If he can do either of those things in addition to everything else he already does well, he’ll prove he can be a real player for this Lakers team moving forward.