NBA G-League team the South Bay Lakers are currently ranked first in the Pacific Division. With a talented group of players lighting up the second-tier league, some players have caught the eye of Los Angeles Lakers’ fans. Here are some South Bay players that can produce in the NBA:
Five South Bay Lakers Who Could Produce in the NBA
Drafted in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft out of Croatia, Ivica Zubac looked like the Lakers’ center of the future in his rookie season. Last year, at 19-years-old, the 7’1” center averaged 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in 38 games for the Lakers. Zubac performed well in a small sample size of games during his rookie season, leading many fans to believe that his career was headed in a positive direction.
When Vegas Summer League came around, the media surrounded the much-anticipated debut of Lonzo Ball. When the Lakers lost their first summer league game to the Los Angeles Clippers, a bulk of the blame fell on Ball. However, Ball wasn’t the only Laker to struggle in the first game of Summer League. Zubac failed to make an impact against the Clippers, and his play worsened from there. Zubac’s uninspiring Summer League stint affected his image going into the regular season.
The silver lining of Zubac’s showing might be difficult to find, but Zubac’s personal life positively changed after Summer League. According to Lakers’ reporter Joey Ramirez, “[Zubac] changed his diet and committed to the weight room, which led to him arriving at training camp at just 8 percent body fat — an 11 percent drop from last year.
This season is full of growth for Zubac, as he’s split time between the main roster and the G League. In 13 games with South Bay, Zubac dominated the competition, posting 21.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. On the main roster, Zubac has averaged 3.0 points on 59% shooting and 1.8 rebounds. Zubac’s last three games with the Lakers have been nothing short of brilliant. Averaging 16.5 minutes of the bench, Zubac has put in 12.3 points on 84% shooting and 6.7 rebounds, including 2.7 rebounds on the offensive end.
If Zubac’s last three games are any indication of his future, his days as a South Bay Laker are over. However, Zubac’s experience with South Bay vastly improved his work ethic, playing style, and confidence, which benefit all parties involved.
The Bryant name holds a special significance in the hearts of Lakers fans. In an illustrious 20 year career, Kobe stole the show with his intensity, basketball IQ, and late-game heroics, solidifying his spot as one of the greatest Lakers of all-time. Now, a new Bryant is trailblazing his own relationship with the Lakers’ faithful.
Thomas Bryant shined on the basketball court during his two-year tenure with the Indiana Hoosiers. Bryant started every game during his time with the Hoosiers, averaging 25.3 minutes between his freshman and sophomore seasons. In his two seasons in Bloomington, Bryant posted 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and even shot 37% from three. Indiana’s disappointing season, in combination with a questionable shot selection, led Bryant to slip to the second-round on most draft boards. The Lakers selected Bryant with the 42nd pick, which the team acquired in a draft-day trade that sent the Lakers’ 28th pick to the Jazz for the 42nd and 30th picks (Josh Hart).
Bryant’s Summer League performance pleasantly surprised Lakers’ fans. Bryant brought a certain degree of energy and intensity that willed the Lakers to the Summer League Championship. In Summer League, Bryant averaged 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds, creating anticipation for his rookie season.
However, Bryant has been promoted and demoted 19 times this season. Amongst all the turmoil, Bryant hasn’t complained once.
Bryant provides a versatile, hard-nosed style of play that allows him to affect the game in more ways than one. With South Bay, Bryant is averaging 19.2 rebounds on 60% shooting, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. His dominance in the G League has yet to translate to the NBA, which has less to do with Bryant’s talent and more to do with his lack of minutes.
As shocking as it may seem, Bryant has only played in eight games for the Lakers, and most of his minutes come in the fourth quarter during blowout games. Bryant’s modest line of 1.4 points and 0.8 rebounds might not seem important at all, but Bryant’s impact goes far beyond his stat line. The Lakers’ fan base loves TB, and many fans wish they could see more of him on the court. As long as Bryant continues to grind in the G League, expect to see his minutes steadily increase.
Although they don’t share blood, play the same position, or possess a similar skill set, TB exemplifies the spirit of Kobe that Lakers fans have grown to love. With grit, determination, and a never-say-die attitude, Thomas Bryant will eventually solidify his role as a solid contributor for the Lakers.
Phil Jackson is a hard man to please. Through 11 championships, Jackson was never afraid to criticize the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant during his coaching career. Few men have garnered positive praise from Jackson, but Travis Wear is one of them. While Wear was a member of the New York Knicks, Jackson once said, “[Wear’s] 6-10 with a terrific handle, outstanding athleticism and a nice touch from beyond the arc. He was overshadowed at UCLA, but has the skill set to play every position from 1 to 4…”
Wear’s rookie season with the Knicks was rather standard, as he came off the bench in 51 games. Wear’s 3.9 points and 2.1 rebound season wasn’t enough to keep him on an NBA roster, so he played a year in Spain with San Sebastián Gipuzkoa Basket Club.
After the 2015-2016 season ended, the Lakers decided to bring Wear back to the NBA where he played a year with the LA Defenders. In 42 games with the Defenders, Wear posted a 12.7 point, 2.1 rebound statine, while shooting 43% from the floor and 34% from three.
Before the 2017-2018 season began, Wear had a chance to show off his talents during Las Vegas Summer League. Wear showed out at Summer League, averaging 7.9 points on 40% shooting and 3.9 rebounds in eight games. Wear’s ability to shoot off the dribble and catch did not go unnoticed. Before the tournament ended, he and Kyle Kuzma wound up being two of the most clutch performers on a championship-winning team.
Fast forward to this season, in 33 games, Wear has already surpassed his scoring total from all of last year. His current 16.4 point, 8.2 rebound stat line is a vast improvement from his 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds stat line from last year. Wear’s overall shooting numbers have also spiked up from last year. Wear’s 42% three-point shooting percentage ranks him at 12th in the G League, and 2nd amongst players who’ve attempted 200+ threes. Even though Wear’s prowess is on the offensive end of the court, he has posted a respectable 106.5 defensive rating.
At 27-years-old, Wear is cementing himself as a stretch power forward, with unlimited range and a deadly pull-up jumper. The Lakers’ depth at the four is deep, so Wear’s exclusion from the main roster is not surprising. However, his skill set is one that easily translates to today’s NBA game. Wear’s versatility makes him an imposing offensive player that Lakers’ fans could see playing in Staples Center by April.
Scott Machado has bounced around the professional ranks, both domestic and international, for the last 5 years. As a rookie coming out of mid-major Iona, Machado’s experience helped him find a spot with the Houston Rockets. After landing with the Rockets, Machado split time between the NBA and the G League. In his short time with the Rockets, Machado averaged 1.3 points and 1.0 assist in six games. His G League career lasted until 2014 before Machado took his talents to Europe.
Machado’s three-year professional career in Europe gave him the confidence he needed to be an effective player in the NBA. As a member of EWE Baskets Oldenburg, Machado was a key factor in a German Cup championship season. Machado’s most notable success came in the EuroCup, where he averaged 5.4 points and 3.6 assists in 16 games.
In 2017, Machado returned to the G League with the South Bay Lakers and has been one of the best offensive weapons in the league. In 37 games this year, Machado is averaging 15.5 points, 8.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, while shooting 44% from the field and 38% from three. As South Bay’s primary starting point guard, Machado has recorded 13 double-doubles. Machado has even recorded double figures in scoring in all but six games this season.
Machado has the talent and potential to be a key component of any team in the NBA. His ability to score the ball is uncanny and his passing ability only makes him a more attractive player. The Lakers’ crowded backcourt with Lonzo Ball, Isaiah Thomas, Alex Caruso, Gary Payton II and Tyler Ennis all taking up minutes, Machado would have a difficult time making an appearance in the NBA this year. However, the future is a mystery and Machado could play his way into an appearance for the Lakers this season.
Stephaun Branch is a SoCal kid at heart. Branch is a native of Upland, California, where he honed his craft at the local high school. After graduating from Upland High in 2013, Branch went the JUCO route, in order to obtain a college scholarship. Branch attended Mt. San Antonio College for two years before transferring to Division 2 West Georgia in 2015. In Branch’s senior year with the UWG Wolves, he averaged 13.5 points and was selected to Second Team All-GSC.
Branch’s road to the G League was full of trials and tribulations. Branch played in the Drew League, while simultaneously trying to land a spot on a G League roster. Branch’s agent came across an opportunity for a tryout for the South Bay Lakers, which he quickly offered to Branch. Of the hundreds of people who tried out, GM Nick Mazzella gave Branch a spot on the roster.
As a 22-year-old, 6’5” shooting guard, Branch averages 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.5 steals for the South Bay Lakers. Branch typically finds his minutes off the bench, a role that has suited him well up to this point in the season. When on the court, Branch has the ability to drive, score under duress, and create his own shot when necessary. His 32% three-point shooting percentage is respectable, as well.
With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a one-year contract, the Lakers will look for depth at the shooting guard position this offseason. If the Lakers want to save their money, Branch can be a quality asset at a cheap price. Branch’s work ethic and drive have gotten him this far, so maybe finding a spot on the Lakers roster next year doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary.
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