In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 33 picks.
Today’s installment centers on German do-everything perimeter player Isaac Bonga.
18 year-old German guard Isaac Bonga has long been regarded as one of the more promising young talents in Europe and he recently declared for the upcoming NBA draft.
Many people in the United States won’t be aware of the hype and reputation that Bonga has coming out of Europe. In fact, he’s that highly rated that ESPN has Bonga ranked 58th amongst their top 100 prospects.
So, who is Isaac Bonga? What are his strengths and weaknesses? What is it about him that people hold in high esteem?
Before we get to the on-the-court-stuff, let’s get to know the chap a little more.
Isaac Bonga is a 6’9 inch guard/forward (however Bonga describes himself as a point guard) who currently plays for the Frankfurt Skyliners in the German Bundesliga. Bonga has split time this season between the senior team in the NBBL and the junior team in the Pro B. He is also a member of the German National Team, representing them at the U-19 level last year in Egypt, where Bonga and Germany were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by the United States.
His size at his position (and I agree with Bonga when he says he’s a point guard, he has that feel...we’ll touch on that soon) is what instantly stands out with Bonga.
In the NBA, however (if he’s selected/makes it), his position will be interchangeable — possibly 1 through 4 with ball-handling potential, certainly 1 through 3. He’s also long, boasting a seven foot wingspan which, again, further increases his intrigue.
Alright, let’s get to it... For the case of making all of this a little easier, I’m going to break this down into three areas: Offense (scoring, mostly), passing/playmaking (self explanatory) and defense (also self explanatory).
(Also, worth bearing in mind that the opposition Bonga played against this season — and in the clips I’ll be using — is not the greatest in the world, so take all of this with a grain of salt. Bonga wears number 17: you should recognize him because he’s, usually, the tallest player on the court.)
We touched briefly on Bonga’s length, and what stands out fairly quickly with Bonga is his ability to get to the rim, using his long strides to just skip to the rim with ease.
Against the USA, Bonga takes his man off of the dribble and only needs a few steps to get inside as he converts this layup, lifting it high off of the glass:
Off of a switch, Bonga again uses his length to stride inside and he finishes with this nifty layup:
Bonga also did a nice job switching hands as he skipped to the rim on that layup.
Here, Bonga receives a pass from the top of the key to the corner where he is planted in and proceeds to drive inside from the corner, sweeps across the lane and converts the left-handed layup:
You can see it briefly as he swept across the lane, but I liked how Bonga shielded the ball as he cut through the traffic.
On a switch, again, it only takes a few strides for Bonga to get from the three-point line to the rim as he scoops this layup off of the glass and in:
Off of a handoff, Bonga is able to take advantage of the defense and stride his way to the rim for the score:
You get the idea at this point: Bonga is able to get to the rim...
Bonga also possesses a decent floater should he need to pull up before he gets to the rim and it’s something he likes to go to.
From the three-point line, Bonga sweeps inside and goes to that floater, off glass, and it drops home:
On this drive, Bonga gets inside, draws the contact and rises into a floater/leaner which he hits:
Bonga can also just gather the rebound (or the handoff from a teammate if he gathers the rebound) and can just go from basically full court and make something happen.
Here, Bonga collects the rebound and sets off — not with a full head of steam, mind you — and gets all the way to the rim for the layup:
On this possession, Bonga grabs the rebound and sets off, driving all the way to the rim and drawing a foul, sending him to the free throw line:
Same, game, same thing: full court push and draws the free throws:
All of this sounds great, but at times Bonga lacks the soft touch required to take advantage of the position he’s able to put himself into with his burst and long strides/length.
Here, Bonga tries to take a big off of a switch but underarms this layup and it’s short in what was a little bit of a wild chuck:
In the full court, Bonga pushes and gets all the way to the rim but his right-handed layup is miscalculated:
(Big flashy dunks are not Bonga’s game — he’s more finessed, as you can probably tell by now...)
From basically mid-court, Bonga gets to the rim but his left-handed layup is too hard and it misses wildly in the end:
Bonga is still a bit of a tweener at this early stage of his career and sometimes slight contact can blow him off of his course/disrupt him:
(Also this, somewhat, falls into the category of lacking a soft touch...)
His burst, step and length are able to put him in great positions, but Bonga will have to work on developing a smoother touch at the rim. But generally speaking, the greatest aspect of Bonga’s offensive game right now when it comes to scoring is his ability to get to the rim — he’s good at it.
Things start to get a lot more sketchy when it comes to Bonga’s shooting and, to put it plainly, Bonga is not a good perimeter shooter right now — shooting 30% from three with the senior team on one attempt per game and 25% from three with the junior team on three attempts per game.
Opposing defenses have absolutely no concerns about his shot from the outside, often leaving Bonga all alone to shoot it:
The USA really didn’t care that he was left open, not even an attempt to close out Bonga here:
And it’s not just limited to one spot either: he’s just not good shooting the long-ball anywhere on the court, as he airballs this contested three-pointer from the corner:
With the help of a screen this time, Bonga receives the opportunity to spring into an open three-pointer but, again, can’t convert.
Even with extra time and an extra dribble to set himself (as well as taking an extra step inside the three-point (foot on the line), Bonga still can’t hit from the outside:
Even from mid-range, Bonga is on-and-off.
Sometimes it’s good:
And sometimes, more often than not (I’d give it a 65-35 in terms of ratio, from what I saw), it’s not good:
Bonga didn’t attempt a ton of two-pointers outside of the paint, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t have a jumper right now because his size at this position — more often than not — means he can just shoot over an opposing point guard:
Moving away from shooting, Bonga’s handle is interesting... We saw a bit of on display in that last clip, it’s not too bad but at times it’s a little loose.
On this possession, Bonga dribbles the ball off of his leg and the opposing defender is on the floor to try wrestle possession. Bonga joins him but the eventual result is a turnover:
Here, at the end of the second quarter, Bonga dribbles isn’t as tight as it needs to be (a little bit away from his body) and the opposing defender seizes the opportunity to race in a grab a steal as the second half ends:
These occurrences for fairly few and far between but definitely noteworthy.
Something else I want to talk about when it comes to Bonga’s offense is that he tries to make the home-run play a little too often — just tries to do a little too much sometimes, a bit too flashy.
Heading down the court, Bonga makes good progress but tries to whip the ball around-the-world but commits a turnover in the process:
In transition, Bonga again tries to go behind the back with the dribble but falls over and turns the ball over:
These types of possessions — where Bonga tries to do a little too much — come up every now and then...
Moving onto something a bit more positive, Bonga — thanks to his size and length — was a factor on the offensive glass, and a few of his points came from second chance opportunities (he also created opportunities for his teammates in the same way but we’ll look at that later).
Off of a three-point miss from his teammate, Bonga is in position underneath the basket to sky above and tip-in the offensive put-back:
Not really anything to do with his size and length, but on this possession Bonga is just in the right place at the right time and secures this offensive rebound before drawing free throws:
This next clip, however, has everything to do with size and length, as he boxes out underneath the basket, skies to secure to offensive rebound (really stretches for it too), fakes and stick the putback:
This helps add some variety to his offensive game because, honestly, there’s a not a whole lot else that Bonga has in terms of scoring points: it’s mostly drives, penetration, layups, a few second chance opportunities, some mid-range and maybe a three-pointer once every four/five games.
One of Bonga’s strengths is his ability and willingness to set up/find teammates for opportunities — he really is an unselfish player and averaged 2.5 assists with the senior team and 3 assists per game with the junior team.
At 6 foot 9 inches at the point guard position, Bonga boasts a significant size advantage over his point guard adversaries and this allows him to make passes over the top of the defense.
Here, Bonga is able to lift a pass over the stretched defense to the roll man for a score:
Even a switch on a bigger body doesn’t restrict Bonga’s ability to lift passes over the defense as he does so on this possession, but it ultimately does not lead to a basket:
Again, Bonga is able to whip a pass over the defense and it leads to an opportunity that goes array this time:
In the pick-and-roll this time, Bonga lifts this pass over the top of the outstretched defense to the roll-man for a score:
He has good feel and vision for the game, and it doesn’t take long to see that watching Bonga in action.
Here, Bonga shows some nice vision and then the execution of a bullet pass inside to a teammate who scores at the rim:
In transition, Bonga does a good job getting by the defense, makes a nice read and makes the right pass to the corner to his teammate, who elects not to shoot and the immediate opportunity is gone:
Bonga again shows his IQ and awareness as he no-looks this pass to the corner and sets his teammate up for three:
One of the great and fun things about Bonga’s facilitation it that he is able to set-up his teammates in a number of different ways.
We know that Bonga is able to get to the rim and this ability to break-down the defense, as you could probably imagine, leads to openings for his teammates.
Behind the three-point line, Bonga crosses, drives inside, draws the defense and then passes over the defense (there that ‘passing over the defense’ aspect again) to a teammate who draws the foul and free throws:
After a lot of dribbling, Bonga eventually uses a screen and draws the defender away from the screener, at which point Bonga finds his teammate for a score at the rim:
After a few screens and switches, Bonga drives inside, draws the defense and finds a teammate behind the arc, who takes a step in to shed the rushing close-out defender but misses the long two:
In fastbreak/transition situations, Bonga is also able to find his teammates.
After Bonga secures the tip, he leads the break, sees his teammate head towards the wing the whole way and he sets him up as he draws/leads the last line of defense towards the paint but the three-point attempt is offline:
After an offensive rebound is gathered, Bonga manages to come up with a steal and leads the break, puts pressure on the defense as they back-pedal, draws the defender from his teammate in the corner and Bonga finds that teammate in the corner, who can’t hit the three:
Bonga can also effective in pick-and-roll scenarios (and we’ve seen a few intances of this already).
Similar to previous examples, Bonga draws the defense after the screen and then lifts his pass over the defense to the roller, who finishes the play:
From what I saw, Bonga wasn’t involved in a ton of pick-and-roll scenarios but looked competent while doing so.
Touched on it slightly earlier, but Bonga can also create second chance scoring opportunities off of his own offensive rebounds.
After grabbing the offensive rebound off of a miss, Bonga tracks back to the three-point line and passes it off to a teammate, who then gives it back to Bonga before Bonga finds another teammate down the pipe for a layup:
He’s just able to find and set up teammates in all sorts of different ways, even in tricky situations:
That doesn’t mean that Bonga wasn’t perfect in passing situations, committing 3.5 turnovers per game with the junior team.
We’ve looked at some turnovers Bonga committed due to him trying the extraordinary and is ambitious at times when it comes to making passes to his teammates, like here for instance as he leads this pass a little long:
Sometimes Bonga leads his passes just a little too long, and this can also create turnovers:
Here, Bonga leads the pass to the roll-man a little long and he can’t maintain possession, leading to a turnover:
In general, Bonga has a great feel for the game, passes willingly and is able/has the ability to get his teammates involved in a number of different ways, though sometimes tries to do too much or lead passes a little too long.
Generally speaking, Bonga (from what I saw) is up and down defensively but there is something there...
Given his length and size, Bonga has interesting potential as a defender. With his 7 foot wingspan, defenses sometimes find it hard to get their passes over the top of Bonga.
Here, the offensive player tries to loop a pass over Bonga but his length allows him to intercept the pass and come up with the steal:
His length can be disruptive.
Here, Bonga manages to squeeze in front of the offensive player and with his outstretched arm, comes up with the steal:
On the baseline, Bonga keeps his arms outstretched by his side and manages to come up with a steal as the offensive player tries to squeeze the ball by Bonga toward a teammate:
Another advantage that Bonga’s size and length give him is the ability to switch defensively, which will help him guard multiple positions — something that NBA teams find extremely valuable.
Bonga’s on-ball/one-on-one defense wasn’t something that was tested a ton in the footage that I watched of Bonga. I honestly think part of that is because opponents — particularly smaller ones — are deterred somewhat by the imposing size and length of Bonga.
The one instance I did see of Bonga’s one-on-one defense was this play where he was beaten by a nice cross against the USA, leading to a score:
Yes, there was a partial screen at the end there but it wasn’t particularly effective: Bonga was beaten regardless. And this was good offensive move rather than poor Bonga defense.
Bonga’s defensive awareness in help situations isn’t too bad, it must be said.
Here, he shows good awareness/alertness to the danger to slide over from the corner and protect the rim, does a good job staying vertical and forces the miss at the rim, preventing what would’ve been a certain two points:
This next clip isn’t world beating by any means but it does show some of Bonga’s awareness to a potential threat. Bonga leaves his man in the corner to cover the open shooter at the top of the key before the pass is made to that spot, preventing an open three-pointer to be taken. The ball goes inside instead and Bonga eventually comes up with the steal:
On this possession, Bonga slides over late to prevent a possible layup and forces the pass to the perimeter:
Some shot blocking potential as Bonga rotates to swat the layup out of bounds after the penetration:
As good as some of this is, Bonga is prone to a few errors.
Here, Bonga finds himself in a poor defensive position (leaving himself more ground to cover to try and stick with the offensive player), is beat to the rim and the end result is a basket and the foul:
In a fast break situation, you’d like to see Bonga provide a little more resistance:
On this possession, you’d like to see Bonga switch and prevent this open three-point attempt:
Sometimes his lack of overall strength can cost him on the defensive end. From what I saw, didn’t see a lot of teams try to exploit him in the post (not a lot of players big/strong enough to really back him down) but on this possession Bonga is a little easily pushed aside and it leads to a score:
You could argue that’s a push-off but I disagree...
Bonga is up and down defensively but there’s definitely something there to work with here...
You can see why there would be intrigue when it comes to Bonga.
He has great size and length at this position and room to grow offensively if he can add a bit of a post game (which would be hugely beneficial given his size at his position) and improve his woeful shooting. His ability to drive/penetrate and break-down the defense is a great skill to possess as it opens things up for not only Bonga but for his teammates too.
His ball-handling is solid (can always improve), he’s unselfish, his feel for the game is solid and is able to set his teammates up in all sorts of different ways/situations.
Defensively, he could be better but has all the tools he needs to be a solid NBA defender should be selected.
In all aspects of his game, adding some muscle would be hugely beneficial but that’ll come with time. You have to remember: he’s just 18 years old and doesn’t turn 19 until November this year.
Will the Atlanta Hawks be the one to take a gamble on Isaac Bonga? Time will tell, but he could be in the mix at No. 30 or No. 33 overall.