Kai Sotto has been working with the G League Ignite since August in California and has played two scrimmages against G League veterans in the past week.
In the scrimmages, Sotto chalked up five points, five boards, and two blocks in a 113-107 loss before slotting in six points, six rebounds, and a single block in a 125-99 rout in their second scrimmage.
Despite the low numbers for both games, Ignite coach Brian Shaw is still happy with what Sotto brings to the game.
"He is not going to put up super great numbers in a situation like this because it's a guard game," Shaw admitted. "He does not get as many touches as everybody else does, but you can see his skill set, his IQ, he does a lot of good things out there on the court so you can't really judge him by how many points he gets here and there."
"He is getting stronger, he is getting a better understanding, he's improving and I am really, really impressed with his skill set for a guy his size," Shaw added.
Sotto also had the privilege to work alongside NBA veteran big man Amir Johnson, who revealed he spends a lot of time with the Filipino prospect in the weight room.
"I catch myself working with Kai in the weight room a lot," Johnson said. "Kai has so much skill, and I feel like he has to work on a little bit of footwork, that could be better, and strength. I feel like those are the two things he kind of lacks in him."
"But for skill work? As a seven foot nine, eight foot guy? He's amazing man," Johnson said. "To shoot the shot, step out as a big guy and to do a lot of footwork in the post. He has it all."
The challenge for Sotto is to adapt to an increasingly guard dependent game, which has changed the role of a big man in the NBA in recent years. Johnson in particular has seen the game evolve up close since his first year in the NBA in 2005 and is helping Sotto fit in the modern game.
"As being a big man, there is always room to get better and that's why we're here in the G League to work on every spot on the floor. Because that is today's NBA," Johnson explained. "You want to be able to guard one through five and at the same time be that dominant post man."
"You want to be able to do that, and he (Sotto) is working on it, he is going to get there."
Sotto and Gilas
Asked to comment on Sotto's plans to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas in the upcoming FIBA Asia qualifying window in February, Shaw said he was unaware of it but added it is a good thing to want to play for and represent your country. He also believes Sotto would face stiffer competition if he stayed with the program come February.
"For Kai, as much basketball as he can play is going to benefit him," Shaw said in a post-scrimmage press conference. "I still believe that the competition that he would be playing here, if we are in a G League bubble or whatever, will be better competition than he would be playing there."
"But that is a decision that he'll make that we will have to live with."
Sotto previously said he would gladly suit up for Gilas Pilipinas for the next FIBA Asia qualifying window, but all that would be dependent on what the G League has planned for the upcoming months.
There has been talk of a potential G League bubble in the first quarter of next year, but no plans have been finalized as of yet.
Sotto made waves in the Philippines recently after recommitting to the Gilas Pilipinas Men program on Thursday, but did so without specifying he would be playing in the FIBA bubble in Clark in February.
Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin was hopeful Sotto would be available for the upcoming window, but admitted that talks were still ongoing.
"We like to think and we have every belief that will be for February but there still are discussions ongoing and everybody is hopeful," Baldwin said during a press conference announcing the global partnership between Smart and FIBA.
The Philippines will host Groups A and C of the FIBA Asia Qualifiers at Clark, the site of the recently concluded PBA bubble, from February 18-22.