Isaac Bonga had a so-so appearance at the 2017 FIBA World Championships U19 in Cairo three weeks ago.
Deutschland placed fifth in the tournament and the 17-year-old was a meaningful part of that performance, as the team was +16 in his 141 minutes on the court, according to FIBA.com.
That was the case thanks to the impact of his size and intelligence on defense. The six-foot-eight, 203-pounder covers a lot of space and creates events with his general frame and six-foot-11 wingspan to begin with but has also proven himself smart recognizing when he is needed to rotate or switch on the fly.
He struggled on the other end, though. Bonga is being developed as a point guard and is a very good passer for someone his size. But he did poorly as a scorer, from every area of the floor, which limits the impact of his contributions with the ball on his hands. Deutschland averaged 74.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, according to RealGM.
Bonga’s very impactful defense is particularly impressive when you consider he still has a lot to improve.
He didn’t often bend his knees to get down in a stance, which makes him vulnerable to getting shook side-to-side. Bonga is also not a very good option to defend the pick-and-roll, consistently struggling to get over picks at the point of attack, too big to be able to negotiate them cleanly.
But he is able to keep pace with smaller players on straight line drives, even if out on an island, as his long strides afford him the chance to cover a lot of ground very quickly. And he is not hopeless in the pick-and-roll, possessing great length to act as a threat to contest shots or deflect passes from behind if his big teammate can prevent the ball-handler from getting downhill and he works to recover quickly.
But for the most part, Bonga is best utilized in pick-and-roll defense when he switches onto big men. His 203 pounds are well distributed in his six-foot-eight frame and he’s proven to have enough strength to matchup against these types within his age group. Bonga puts in the effort to front them and box them out too — collecting 15.4% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor in Cairo.
Although the thought of him utilizing all that size and length to envelope opposing point guards at the top of the defense is tantalizing, Bonga doesn’t have above average quickness to be given that assignment on a full time basis and projects as a wing defender in the pros.
He can get burned on backdoor cuts from time-to-time and his closeouts are weak but Bonga excelled in one-on-one defense against similarly sized players, as he was able to slide laterally to stay in front, use his strength to contain dribble penetration and use his eight-foot-10 standing reach to contest shots effectively against that level of competition.
His recognition was his most impressive skill, though. Bonga showed great instincts using his length to make plays in the passing lanes and proved himself attentive to his responsibilities switching assignments on the fly and rotating off the weak-side to act as the last line of defense. Though he lacks explosive leaping ability to block some shots, his mere presence crowding the area near the basket is quite effective.
That said, Bonga’s defense came at the cost of him being foul prone, as he averaged 4.1 personal fouls per 40 minutes at the Worlds U19, which limited his playing time to just 20 minutes per game.
SHOT CREATION FOR OTHERS
Bonga’s top skill on offense at this point of his development is his passing. His height affords him an advantageous point of view in traffic and he’s shown to have very good court vision passing ahead in transition to speed up the pace of the game, spotting breakdowns behind the defense and firing passes over the top when the opponent keeps him from turning the corner or getting downhill in pick-and-roll.
Aside from basic drop-offs and kick-outs to the strong-side when the defense collapses to him, Bonga has also proven himself able to make well-timed pocket passes, use his length for wraparound passes and pass across his body to the opposite end of the floor on the move — assisting on 30.8% of Deutschland’s scores when he was in the lineup.
He’s also quite turnover prone, though, consistently looking for the splash play — coughing it up on 26.3% of his possessions in Cairo.
But Bonga needs to improve as a scorer in order to maximize the impact he can have on an offense. Despite logging 26% usage-rate at the Worlds U19, he averaged just 13 points per 40 minutes on 34.9% effective shooting.
That was the case because Bonga struggled with his touch in this tournament.
He doesn’t have an explosive first step to blow by his man on speed or side-to-side shake to get around him on agility, though he did flash a bit of hesitation move. He also hasn’t yet developed a whole lot of versatility to his handle, so he doesn’t have any dribble moves. As is the case, Bonga doesn’t get all the way to the basket for high percentage shots very often.
He can force the issue some and eat some ground quickly, able to maintain his balance through contact playing bully ball when he’s able to, but that often results in floaters off jump-stops because opponents play shell defense against him. These plays already don’t tend to be very efficient on average and Bonga’s so-so touch only compounded the problem.
Other than that, Bonga can get a mid-range stop-and-pop jumper off snaking the pick-and-roll or walk into unchallenged three-pointers as his defender ducks under a screen whenever he wants but that’s because opponents are happy to give him these shots. He looked more capable of hitting them playing the German second division but struggled at the Worlds U19.
Bonga gets little lift off the ground but rises in balance and seems able to get his shot off comfortably. His release is a bit methodical and a bit mechanical but doesn’t appear to be broken or anything. Yet, he missed 11 of his 12 three-point shots in Cairo and has been a poor outside shooter in every event he participates.
Given his limitations as a shooter, Bonga carries no gravity playing away from the ball, which restricts his ability to be employed as a secondary shot creator in lineups with another point guard on the floor.
When he did get to the rim, Bonga flashed some ability to adjust his body in the air for the eventual up-and-under finish but once again showed a lack of touch in his non-dunk finishes, converting his 41 two-point shots at a very poor 41.5% clip. He also hasn’t yet developed dexterity for drawing contact, despite his large frame, as he averaged just 3.6 foul shots per 40 minutes.
 Who turns 18 in November
 According to Draft Express
 Averaging 3.1 steals per 40 minutes in Cairo
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara