The NBA G League announced on Thursday that Maine Red Claws guard Tremont Waters had won its 2019-20 Rookie of the Year award. Finishing second and third in the vote, respectively, were Salt Lake City Stars forward Jarrell Brantley and South Bay Lakers forward — and Lakers two-way contract player — Devontae Cacok.
Cacok averaged 19.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks during his first season in the NBA’s minor league after going undrafted out of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He also shot 65.9% from the field for South Bay, the highest percentage on the team and 10th-highest in the entire G League, and the Lakers’ G League affiliate was also an astounding EIGHT points per 100 possessions better on defense when Cacok played than they were when he sat. That was in large part due to how the undersized, 6’7 center grabbed a team-high 21.8% of all available rebounds when he was on the floor.
And whether one is judging by those averages, or just watching the force and energy that he plays with, it’s clear that Cacok might be the latest diamond in the rough the Lakers’ vaunted scouting department has found outside the draft, and people are starting to notice. Whether it’s this third-place finish, or Cacok winning Rookie of the Year from our sister site, Ridiculous Upside, it’s clear that the Lakers aren’t the only ones to think highly of him anymore.
The good news for the team, then, is that their faith in Cacok is giving them a bit more time to develop him in-house. Cacok is currently — along with Kostas Antetokounmpo — one of the Lakers’ pair of players on two-way contracts, with the team initially signing him to an Exhibit 10 deal after he impressed them at Las Vegas Summer League before cutting Zach Norvell Jr. to award their second two-way spot to Cacok. The Lakers believed in Cacok’s potential enough to make him one of just six players in the NBA on a two-year, two-way contract, similar to the deal they initially signed current contributor Alex Caruso to when he became the team’s first ever two-way player.
Will Cacok have a similar rise from obscurity to being a hyperactive, defensively sound, overachieving role player for the Lakers? That’s impossible to predict with certainty right now, but the Lakers are planning to bring him and Antetokounmpo to Disney World when the season resumes, where he might have a chance to play, as two-way players will reportedly be eligible for the postseason as replacement players if other members of teams’ normal rosters are deactivated with illness or injury. Teams can also give two-way players full NBA deals during the upcoming transaction window that will follow the June 24 deadline for players to inform their teams if they want to play in or sit out of the league’s resumption.
The current reporting is that the Lakers front office expects center Dwight Howard to play in Orlando, but given how outspoken he’s been about believing that the NBA shouldn’t resume its season right now, nothing is a guarantee on that front. If he does sit out, its been popular — even among some league executives — to suggest that the Lakers would just re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, and they might just do that.
But if the Lakers are worried about Cousins’ health, Cacok’s relentless energy and activity could give them an intriguing, in-house option to get some spot minutes from a player who is already familiar with their system and spent training camp with the team.
When Cacok signed his Exhibit 10 deal with the Lakers in Las Vegas, he told me it was “only the beginning” for him. Between his earning a two-way deal and finishing third in this Rookie of the Year vote, that’s already proven true. But if his season actually ended with him playing a playoff role for the Lakers on their potential title run in Orlando, well, the location for this NBA comeback would be fitting, because that’s literally a Disney movie in the making.