Isaac Bonga entered the 2019-20 season as a veritable blank slate. He got just 120 minutes as a rookie, and he was awful when he played. But he was young, long, reasonably athletic and with the sort of “almost there” skills to make it reasonable for observers to project him as anything from a big PG to a stretch four.
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks slotted him as a 3&D wing and may have found the role that makes the most sense. Bonga is a decent ball handler but not good enough to be a full-time guard. He’s an okay passer but doesn’t flash the vision or inventiveness of the kind of playmaking that makes coaches want to put the ball in his hands.
His greatest strength at this point is defense. He’s not a lockdown one-on-one artist, but his combination of length, agility and tenacity helped make the Wizards 10.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the floor. When Bonga was on the floor without Isaiah Thomas, the Wizards had a defensive rating of 107.3, the level of the league’s fifth best defense this season.
The defense part of my Player Production Average metric was a bit less enthusiastic. It saw him as a better than average defensively but not among the game’s best wing defenders.
Offensively, Bonga was efficient and extremely low usage. In Before Times play, I had his usage at 11.3% (average is 20%) with an offensive rating of 121 points produced per 100 possessions. In the Bubble, his usage rose to a still low 15.1% and his efficiency plummeted to an ortg of 96.
His overall efficiency for the season was good but doesn’t stress the defense because he just doesn’t do much — 2.7 three-point attempts per 100 team possessions, 71 for the entire season. How bad was his shooting in The Bubble? In the Before Times, he was at 40% on threes. He ended the season at 35.2%. In The Bubble, he connected on 18.8%.
That increased usage in the Bubble was entirely comprised of missed shots and turnovers. Don’t jump to any conclusions from 224 bad minutes, but it’s worth noting as a potential caution for whether Bonga can handle increased responsibility.
Here’s how Bonga rated, according to PPA (average is 100, higher is better and replacement level is 45):
- Before Times — 1,025 minutes: 91
- Bubble — 224 minutes: 50
- Full season: 1249 minutes: 84
Considering his age (the NBA’s 15th youngest player this season — he doesn’t turn 21 until November) and inexperience, Bonga’s season has to be considered a success. Obtained for free from the Lakers, Bonga showed 3&D potential that’s sufficient for a rotation role off the bench or as a fifth-option starter.
In addition to demonstrating catch-and-shoot competence, Bonga attacked close-outs off the dribble enough to be interesting. If he can accelerate his glacial shooting motion, improve his ball handling, get stronger and develop his confidence, he could prove to be a valuable player in the style of a Trevor Ariza type.