February 28th  2017 was a day David Nwaba will never forget, it was his first day as an NBA player for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. The undrafted rookie was called up from the Lakers’ Gatorade League affiliate, the Defenders (formerly the Developmental league). Nwaba is very similar to the Memphis Grizzlies’ lockdown defender Tony Allen. He has proven already with a small sample size that he is an NBA-level defender but can he become a three-and-D guy?

For those who haven’t heard of David Nwaba, he’s a homegrown LA product. He played for his high school team at University High School, then for Santa Monica College before transferring to Cal Play as a sophomore. After going on undrafted, he tried out and made the Reno Bighorns roster. He would get traded to the LA Defenders where it was only a matter of time before he got called up.

During his time with the D-Fenders coach Coby Karl said he’s “probably the best defender in our league”. It is his defense that has stood out the most when watching the Lakers play. Although it is a small sample size and he plays a limited number of minutes but in the last nine game he leads the team in defensive rating 98.6 and net rating at 2.6. (Purposefully left out Timofey Mozgov and Metta World Peace since they have only played in one and two games)

On two different occasions against the Rockets, he matched up with former Laker Lou Williams. He was able to move his feet and stay with Williams while avoided being called for a foul resulting in two stops that have been hard to come by for the Lakers these days. The best example of his defense came against the Phoenix Suns when he helped on the driver and blocked Tyler Ulis’ three-point shot attempt. Although it looks routine, it is a difficult rotation for any NBA player to go from the help position to closing out a shot let alone blocking it.

The comparisons to Tony Allen do not stop on the defensive end; they are also very similar on the offensive side of the court as well. Nwaba has great athleticism but is not a good shooter. He can still be productive on the offensive end when the Denver Nuggets defender focuses on taking the roller away, Nwaba back cuts to the basket for an easy dunk. In their last game against the Milwaukee Bucks he blew by Jason Terry for another two hand slam. He also turned a defensive stop where he was able to keep Khris Middleton out of the paint on a post up into a turnover and a transition dunk.

David Nwaba has the tools and skills to be an NBA player and he’s proving it with the Lakers. With teams constantly on the lookout for more three-and-D guys, he’ll have to extend his range offensively to be considered as such. It is still amazing to see a guard come up because of his defensive skills more than his offensive game. Coach Steve Ackerman of University High says of the message Nwaba’s ascension sends “to younger players that you can use your length, athleticism, ability to run the floor, and amazing ability to dunk the basketball AND still play ‘lock down’ defense to the expectation of your coaches at any level of play, high school, college, and pro.”

NBA Notes:

  • NBA Saturday Night – For the second night in a row, a team has chosen to rest their star players in ESPN on ABC’s primetime game. Last week it was the Golden State Warriors because of the schedule and now it was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie was out due to a minor knee injury and Kevin Love is not cleared for back to back so they chose to sit him out for the first game. At that point, not wanting to exert too much strain on LeBron James, they opted for rest. Probably smart considering their next game is against the Los Angeles Lakers and a strong first half effort might be able to turn that game into a blowout and allow them to rest their starters later in the game.
  • Forgotten Blazer – Surprising as it may sound but with all the attention on the play of Jusef Nurkic, people are not seeing the numbers Damian Lillard is putting up post all star break. Averaging 29.8 points while shooting 47.8% from the field and 40% from three; he has the Blazers in the thick of the race for the 8th seed in the West.

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