The Washington Wizards want to be known as the hardest working team in the NBA bubble even if many believe they are undeserving to have a shot at the postseason. After consistent questions about the effort level, the organization is trying to instill a new hard-working culture. Second-year player Isaac Bonga is the perfect example of what Washington is trying to do, develop NBA players through diligence. Humble as ever, Bonga credits his teammates for making him a hard worker.
"It's kind of easy for me because I just like being around everybody out here," Bonga said about his approach to basketball. "The positive energy everybody brings is a good thing."
When Bonga talked to Hoop District before the season over nine months ago, he was motivated by the ample opportunity that would be afforded to him in Washington. With no Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, or John Wall in Orlando you might think Bonga is producing because his number is being called more often. The opposite as the versatile athlete is hustling his way to stats.
"I run zero plays for him," Scott Brooks (a hard-working player himself back in the day) explained. "He likes to be engaged because of his enthusiasm, his effort, just his spirit. Everybody wants to play with him because he plays so hard, he plays to make the right plays. He's not thirsty out there, he wants to make plays for his teammates and that's why he's loved by everyone. When we first got him, Tommy Sheppard told me, 'you're going to love this kid. He's gonna grow on you from the first day that you have him.' And he has. I just love his way about him, he has a great disposition and that's why he does so well without any plays called for him because he just plays the right way and it's contagious. And he's gonna keep getting better, he's 20-years old. His effort, his energy, his worth ethic is outstanding."
In just 28 minutes of play as Washington eases their players into end of season NBA readiness, Bonga scored 15 points on just 4-for-7 shooting from the field thanks to 7-for-9 shooting from the charity stripe where he was the only Wizard to shoot better than 60%. The 6-foot-8 player also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, which would have been a career-high if this were a regular-season game.
"In a word, great," Thomas Bryant said to describe Bonga's performance. "We can depend on Bonga on the defensive end, we can depend on Bonga on the offensive end when he's aggressive like that. That's a real big thing that we really need from a guard standpoint, somebody to be aggressive on the offensive end and defensive end that's what he brings."
"My first impression was, I didn't know how tall he was or how lanky he was, and he's a pest on defense," more recent teammate Jerome Robinson expressed. "Can guard a lot of positions, I would say 1 through 4, easily. What I discovered about Isaac was his passing, he can really pass the ball and find guys and facilitate when getting downhill. He's a great player."
Tommy Sheppard acquired Bonga (and Moe Wagner) from the Lakers during the Anthony Davis trade costing the Wizards nothing. Now, Isaac Bonga is on a team-friendly contract for the 2020-21 season and is poised to be a key rotational piece.
"He did a great job, he does a lot of little things. It's not on the scoreboard, but he does a lot of little things for the team. I want him to play like that next game, it's going to be fun," Rui Hachimura described his friend Isaac Bonga.