On Wednesday afternoon, The Athletic/Stadium’s NBA insider Shams Charania reported that the Los Angeles Lakers would waive guard Zach Norvell Jr, whom they had on a two-way contract. That spot will be immediately filled in by forward Devontae Cacok, who has spent the last month playing with the South Bay Lakers, their G League affiliate.
Although he entered the 2019-20 season facing high expectations after impressive showings in Vegas Summer League and the preseason, Norvell struggled during his first month in the G League. In 12 games with South Bay, he averaged 13.2 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 35% from the field and 34% from 3 on 7.9 attempts per game. Those numbers allowed him to maintain a 51% True Shooting Percentage.
At the same time that the former Gonzaga guard had a rough start to the season, the opposite was the case for Los Angeles’ newest front-court player. With South Bay, Cacok has averaged 16.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.1 steal on 67% from the field in only 23 minutes per game. That impressive production has allowed him to maintain a 70% True Shooting Percentage.
So far this year, his production on offense has come from rolling to the paint, transition, on-ball driving, and putbacks. Among those traits, he does most of his work as a roll man. That makes a lot of sense as the 6’7, 240 pound forward is an excellent target due to his bigger frame, quick feet and ability to leap for go up for alley-oop slams. An example of that is evident below as our subject sets a screen for Gary Payton Jr, rolls to the paint and then can both catch and finish with a layup while in mid-air.
Another way that he’s able to utilize quick feet and athleticism is through moving up the court in transition. During his short run with South Bay, he’s shown himself to be a very solid rim-running forward as he’s able to quickly sprint down the center of the court quicker than most players his size. That quickness usually allows him to gain an advantage in the transition defense. The edge gives Cacok open lanes to get to the paint, capture the pass and finish at the rim.
Although he hasn’t utilized this trait a lot during his time with the South Bay Lakers, the UNC Wilmington alum shows upside when it comes to being able to drive to the rim with the ball in his hands. While this is still a rare part of his offensive arsenal, the rookie forward shows confidence in the play below as he makes a little crossover move before finishing with a left-handed layup.
While all of those skills have been reliable parts of his offensive arsenal, the rookie forward was given a two-way deal primarily due to his fantastic work as a rebounder. As of the time of this piece, he’s currently averaging 18.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. That average places him behind Maine Red Claws reserve John Bohannon, who is averaging a league-best 18.9 rebounds per 36 among G Leaguers that have played at least three games. Another metric that Cacok finishes second in would be Total Rebound Percentage (TRB%) as he’s currently sitting at 25.1%.
Although he’s trailing Bohannon in TRB%, the 6’7 forward is on a historic pace. If Cacok can continue on this run, he’d maintain a better average than any player in G League history. That includes former LA Clippers two-way player Angel Delgado, who was able to win G League Rookie of the Year during the 2018-19 season due primarily to his ability to crash the boards, as he averaged 14.8 rebounds and maintained a 24% TRB%.
As we explained in a July piece on him, the new Lakers forward impresses as a rebounder due to a few traits: recognition, strength, footwork, flat out aggression. Some of those skills are evident in the clip below. After rolling to the paint after setting a screen on David Stockton, Cacok finds himself parked at the right end of the paint as the ball leaves the guard’s hands. However, that quickly changes as he moves towards the center before the ball even graces the rim. That immediate reaction in addition to him pushing a Santa Cruz big out of the way gives the 6’7 forward the freedom to snag the rebound and quickly put it back in.
Although he stands as a substantial offensive presence and arguably the best rebounder to play G League basketball, he still has his weaknesses. The biggest issue would be his struggles to stay on the court by currently averaging 5.1 fouls per 36 minutes. In addition to those fouls giving the opposing team an advantage, that issue also limits the time that Cacok can spend on the floor. That’s unfortunate as the 6’7 rookie stands as one of the best front-court players in the league whenever he’s playing basketball and not sitting on the bench.
Outside of that clear issue, the Lakers made a smart move with signing the rookie forward to a two-way deal. Although waiving Norvell over Kostas could come back to bite them in the ass in the future, another of the 29 NBA teams would’ve swooped up to snag the UNC Wilmingtonalum if the Lakers didn’t. Despite only playing 12 games of G League basketball, he’s already established himself as arguably the best rebounder to step foot on a G League floor. That fact, in addition to his status as a rim-running, alley-oop slamming forward, allows Los Angeles to keep a potential diamond in the rough within their organization.