NBA G League coach Brian Shaw is no stranger to developing young big men. And he intends to do the same with Filipino prospect Kai Sotto, whom he compared to Denver Nuggets’ 7-foot star Nikola Jokic.
Shaw has done it in the past with former Los Angeles Lakers centers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Even NBA great Shaquille O’Neal was mentored by Shaw when they played for the Orlando Magic, before reuniting at Los Angeles.
Needless to say, Sotto is right on track in his quest to becoming the first homegrown Filipino to reach the NBA with Shaw guiding him on the G League select team next season.
But while there has been so much hype surrounding Sotto, Shaw, a three-time NBA champion, was quick to temper expectations, pointing out that the 7-foot-2 Filipino has his work cut out for him before becoming an NBA-caliber talent.
“Kai is young, and a lot of times, when you grow that fast in such a young age, it takes a little bit more time to get your body and your strength and get a foundation to catch up with you,” Shaw said in a media availability session with select media from the Philippines on Thursday.
There’s no question though that the former UAAP Juniors MVP has what it takes to become an elite player judging from what Shaw has seen so far.
“Kai can shoot the ball from the outside. Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to be around him yet, but from the film I’ve watched on him, it looks like he can shoot the ball from the outside,” Shaw said. “He can be a facilitator where you can put him on the top of the floor, give him the ball, and do dribble handoffs much like Jokic.”
Jokic, a Serbian, has emerged as one of the league’s top talents in recent seasons with his all-around play. Sotto’s has shown a certain comfort level playing inside the paint and in the perimeter if his team needs to space the floor.
“I see him as a guy that’s pretty versatile,” Shaw said. “Obviously, he has to get stronger, but I think that he can play with his back to the basket as well as facing the basket and facilitate for his teammates.”
It will be up to the 18-year-old Sotto on how fast he develops into the player he wants to be. But Shaw promised to be patient with Sotto, pointing to Bynum as an example.
“One of the players I’ve coached, he was at the time the youngest player to ever come into the NBA, was Andrew Bynum with the Lakers,” Shaw said. “He was a young big guy who eventually became very, very good, but it didn’t happen overnight.”
For Shaw, one of Sotto’s key attributes is his high basketball IQ.
“So I think if Kai puts in the work, obviously he’s going to spend a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger with our strength and conditioning coach, I think he has the aptitude to play the game and has high basketball IQ,” Shaw said. “It’s just a matter of putting in that work every day, during games, putting everything at game speed.”
“I think with the work we’d be putting in every day, some of the things I’ll be able to share with him and chart his progress like I did with a young Andrew Bynum or a young Pau Gasol—I even played with Shaq when he was young—they got better and better as time went on, so I don’t see how it’ll be any different with Kai,” he said.