When an NBA player without a guaranteed contract is fighting for a roster spot, they have a very small window of time in which to prove themselves. For many of these fringe roster players, day one of training camp is the first time that they’re meeting the players, coaches and executives within their new organization.
The clock is ticking for them to make a positive impression.
However, that wasn’t the case for forward Zach Auguste, who entered the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp a bit more comfortable than your typical undrafted rookie. Talk to people around the franchise and you’d think Auguste has been donning purple and gold for a while. But, in reality, the 23-year-old has yet to play a single second for the Lakers (even including the preseason opener, since he didn’t enter the game).
What Auguste did do, though, was suit up for the Lakers’ Summer League squad in Las Vegas back in July, and that experience proved to be very helpful as he made the transition from Notre Dame to the NBA.
Auguste made a strong impression on and off the court during his stint with the Lakers in Las Vegas, so much so that the team’s young core essentially accepted him and made him one of the guys.
During Summer League, he averaged 5.3 points, four rebounds and nearly one steal in 15.8 minutes per game. These stats may not jump off the page, but he made plenty of contributions that don’t show up in the box score. And, most importantly, he won over his teammates and coaches with how he carried himself. He hustled non-stop, sacrificed his body and made the right play. He celebrated his teammates’ successes and offered support when they struggled.
Keep in mind, many players have a stat-driven, me-first mentality when it comes to Summer League. Everyone is trying to showcase their skills and turn their NBA dream into reality. It’s refreshing to see a player with a team-first attitude in this environment and it’s clear that Auguste’s teammates appreciated his support. Some of them are on lucrative, multi-year contracts, yet here’s this undrafted player cheering his teammates on despite having no professional contract and no idea what his future holds. Throw in a great personality and an excellent motor that Lakers head coach Luke Walton has praised, and it’s easy to see how Auguste quickly won over many people within the organization.
“Zach is a guy who everybody loves as a teammate because he’s genuinely happy for people when they do well,” Larry Nance Jr. told Basketball Insiders. “And I enjoy sharing the court with him because he knows how to play the game the right way.”
Plenty of L.A. players enjoy spending time with Auguste off the court as well. Auguste has done late-night workouts at the Lakers’ facility alongside D’Angelo Russell and other teammates, with the sessions sometimes lasting into the early hours of the morning (hence the #BreakfastClub caption he uses to describe the workouts on social media). He calls Brandon Ingram his “little brother” since he’s four years older than his fellow rookie. Nance Jr. has taken Auguste under his wing, with Auguste describing Nance as “my vet” and “like a big brother to me.” Last month, when Russell and Jordan Clarkson were the head coaches of Power 106’s Charity All-Star Game at USC, they were flanked by other members of Los Angeles’ young core, including Ingram, Tarik Black and, you guessed it, Auguste.
“That’s the special thing about basketball; you build relationships with players who are from all over the world, all over the country,” Auguste told Basketball Insiders. “The first day we got in there for Summer League, there were four or five guys from the team who were under contract and they kind of took me under their wing. They gave great advice to help me, especially Larry because he’s kind of from a similar situation as me [as a forward who spent four years in college] and has a similar playing style. I was looking forward to Summer League, and it gave me a great chance to kind of learn from players who have already been where I want to be.
“The opportunity to play with the Lakers in Las Vegas was great. It was a humbling experience to be able to go out there and showcase my skills and meet some of my coaches and teammates. I got to play against some NBA guys, some great talent. It was fun and it actually helped me a lot with my transition to the NBA because you kind of get a feel of the play, the speed and the physicality of the game.”
That physicality has been the biggest adjustment for Auguste. It’s tough going from being the biggest, most physical player on the court most nights to being the young rookie going up against grown men who have spent years bulking up for the sole purpose of pushing people around in the paint. Each step up has presented a tougher challenge in terms of how physical his opponents are.
“The physicality is definitely different from college, for sure,” Auguste said. “In training camp, it’s a little bit different from my Summer League experience too. There’s a lot more talent. We have some really good guys now that we have the vets here in addition to the young guys.
“But training camp has been great so far. It’s exciting to come out here and get some work done, learn some plays, get together as a group and get a feel for each other. It’s been a blessing to be here. The vets and coaches have been talking to me and helping me a lot, which is great. I’m loving all of this.”
It helps that Auguste attended college for four years. It makes him much more NBA-ready than many of the rookies in this draft class, both physically and mentally. On and off the court, he’s further along in his development than other rookies, which has benefited him throughout this adjustment (just as it helped Nance Jr. last year).
“I think spending four years in college kind of gives you a better perspective,” Auguste said. “You’re more mature and you kind of understand the process a little bit better. I felt it helped me in a way where I wasn’t as distracted and didn’t get as upset about things. You have quicker recoveries [rather than highs and lows], and you just really understand the game a little bit more. It just makes the transition from college to the NBA a little bit smoother.”
During those four years at Notre Dame, Auguste was very effective. As a senior, he averaged 14 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 56 percent from the field. He is also a student of the game, watching a lot of film of “bigs who aren’t just limited to the paint, who can do a little bit of everything.” He named Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh as specific players whom he enjoys watching.
“I like those kind of skilled bigs who can run the pick-and-roll, run the floor, dribble the ball if they have to and get shots up from 15 feet and out if they have to do so,” Auguste said. “I love watching bigs like that.”
After Summer League, the Lakers inked Auguste to a two-year, partially guaranteed contract that would pay him $543,471 this season and $905,249 next season.
With that said, in order to make the Lakers’ regular-season roster, Auguste will likely have to beat out a player who’s on a fully guaranteed deal (unless the team makes a trade, perhaps moving Nick Young as has been rumored at times). The Lakers have 20 players in camp and 14 of them have fully guaranteed contracts. Yi Jianlian, who has a partially guaranteed $8,000,000 salary, is expected to make the team as well, seemingly lessening the probability for a camp invite such as Auguste, Metta World Peace, Thomas Robinson, Julian Jacobs and Travis Wear to make the team. Anthony Brown, the No. 34 pick in last year’s draft, has the smallest fully-guaranteed salary on the team ($874,636).
It is worth noting that Auguste’s deal is partially guaranteed ($60,000) whereas World Peace, Robinson, Jacobs and Wear didn’t receive any guaranteed money in their camp deals. Sometimes, this is an indicator that a player will start the season with their camp team’s D-League affiliate (the Los Angeles D-Fenders, in the Lakers’ case). The partial guarantee for camp is essentially a way to supplement the modest salary the player will make in the D-League. If the Lakers and Auguste do decide to go this route, it would allow the rookie to play significant minutes, further his development and then potentially get called up later in the season.
Coach Walton has been complimentary of the Lakers’ five non-guaranteed players, but admitted that the numbers game makes things difficult for them.
“It’s hard in camp; there are 20 guys,” Coach Walton said. “We’re going to continue to give the guys who are under [fully guaranteed] contracts the first and second looks, so the reps aren’t always as high [for the non-guaranteed players]. But the way they’re playing – how hard they’re going – it catches the coaches’ eyes.”
Speaking specifically about Auguste, Walton noted, “Zach is relentless on the offensive glass,” while adding that he has been shooting the ball better lately.
Each team must trim their roster to 15 players by opening night on Oct. 25. Auguste, like most players, has tried not to let contracts and the business side of the NBA affect his game or how he approaches camp.
“Everybody is aggressive, coming out here and working their hardest to prove themselves,” Auguste said. “Everyone in here obviously wants to make this team and is trying to stand out, but you don’t want to get carried away and do stuff that isn’t part of your game. You have to play within yourself. I’m just focused on working hard and doing the little things. I think those things help you stand out.
“I don’t want to play selfish, but I want to go out there and showcase what I can do. I’m going to continue to do the things that got me here. I just want to go in there, do my best, bring that energy, showcase what I can do and help the team grow.”
So far, that’s exactly what he has done. People within the organization seem pleased, but we’ll see if it’s enough for him to land a roster spot.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.