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.
NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises
The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.
Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.
While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.
The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.
The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.
The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.
Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.
Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.
Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.
Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.
Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.
When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.
Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.
The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.
Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.
NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers
Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.
There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.
Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.
Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.
And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.
But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.
He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.
For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.
“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”
“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”
To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.
And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.
Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.
In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.
“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”
“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”
Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.
He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.
“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”
With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.
“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”
For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.
Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.
“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”
And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.
NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio
Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.
Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.
Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.
Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginóbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.
It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.
The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.
And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.
Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.
As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.
Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.
While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.
Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.
White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.
Trick now for Lonnie Walker is to stay aggressive even after DeRozan comes back. "He doesn’t lack for anyone repeating that to him," Pop said. "There are like nine coaches, and we are all saying the same thing to him. We are trying to make it a habit – take no prisoners."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) January 13, 2021
Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.
The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.
Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.
Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.
Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.
And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.