These are exciting times for Filipino NBA fans.
Kai Sotto recently announced that he’s joining the 2022 NBA Draft. The last homegrown player we had who was this close to achieving the NBA dream was Japeth Aguilar.
Kai’s announcement comes at a great time with the NBA Playoffs in full swing. Before all the madness of the draft and free agency begins, it’s a good time to look at which teams will best fit him. Here are three franchises, each with its own unique appeal for Kai.
Best roster fit: Charlotte Hornets
Standing at 7’2”, Kai is a true center. He will most likely slot into a team’s reserve big man role. The Lakers and Nets need a center but those two teams are chasing championships and won’t have time to develop a 19-year-old.
Kai fits better into the Charlotte Hornets’ timeline. Currently, the only centers that have a firm role on the team are Mason Plumlee and Montrezl Harrell. Plumlee is signed to a long-term deal, but Harrell will be a free agent in a couple of months. There’s a real possibility Harrell leaves, opening up a roster spot that Kai could slide into.
As fun as it was to think of him playing alongside LeBron James or Kevin Durant, the idea of LaMelo Ball throwing Kai lobs is just as juicy. If his stint with the Adelaide 36ers has proven anything, it’s that Kai excels as a backup big man that’s used in short bursts.
Right now, the Hornets’ center rotation isn’t exciting. You know what’s exciting? The connection that LaMelo could develop with a fellow NBL alumnus playing off the bench.
Best development fit: Toronto Raptors
The main knock on Kai’s draft resume is that he doesn’t have the physique or strength to bang around with the big men of the NBA. He definitely needs time to develop if he does make it to the league. There’s one team in the league that excels at turning projects into productive NBA players: the Toronto Raptors.
Just take a look at their rotation. Fred VanVleet was undrafted, now he’s an All-Star. Chris Boucher was a free agent pickup who’s now a valuable backup big. The reason for their rise is because the Raptors have a system for developing players which everyone buys into. That includes their G League affiliate, the Raptors 905. They're patient with their players, allowing them to grow in an environment focused on fundamentals and winning.
Putting Kai into that system will not only allow his body to catch up with his basketball skills, but it will also give him a chance to learn the ropes in a low-pressure situation. He’s not under the constant scrutiny that comes with joining a big market team. It’s more mellow up north and Kai can simply focus on getting better. Once he’s gone through the system, it’s a safe bet Kai will be a much better player, helping the Raptors win.
Best fanbase fit: Golden State Warriors
Adelaide must have felt so foreign to Kai. Well, playing in the Chase Center will probably remind him of playing in Araneta Coliseum with the sheer number of Filipino fans in attendance. Based on a 2019 report, San Francisco ranks second in Filipino population among all metropolitan areas in the U.S. While LA has the highest population of Filipinos, it’s the Golden State Warriors who have truly embraced Pinoy fans.
Back in 2015, the Warriors were the first NBA team to ever stage a Filipino Heritage Night, which has become an annual tradition. Now, imagine if Kai started a game in front of hundreds of Pinoy fans during Golden State’s Filipino Heritage Night. The amount of support Kai would get playing for the Warriors will make him feel like he’s home. Fans will proudly wear his jersey, warmly invite him to community gatherings, and protect him rabidly like he’s family.
It also gives the franchise another first. Back in 1978, the Warriors drafted Raymond Townsend, the first Filipino-American to play in the NBA. This year, they could make history once again by drafting the first full-blooded Filipino player.