MANILA, Philippines – After a slow, injury-plagued start in his Australian National Basketball League (NBL) sojourn which had him play just one game in the first two months of the season, Kai Sotto has bounced back strong with solid showings in the four outings he saw action for the Adelaide 36ers in January.
The past two weeks, head coach CJ Bruton has utilized Sotto as the first big man off the bench in a three-man rotation for Adelaide’s deep frontline.
The 7-foot-3 Filipino giant served as chief back-up to longtime 36ers main man and former Australian national team player Daniel Johnson and former Chicago Bull Cameron Bairstow. Bairstow has taken over the starting slotman role in lieu of the injured Isaac Humphries, who is out for an estimated three weeks. Humphries himself is a former NBA player with the Atlanta Hawks and a former Australian national team member.
There were initial questions about Sotto’s readiness for a tough and rugged league like the NBL and the willingness of the Adelaide coaching staff to play him significant minutes after he posted pedestrian numbers in his lone outing last December 18 against the Cairns Taipan. In that game which saw Adelaide lose by 26 points, Sotto was fielded in for just 9 minutes and ended up with 1 point, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks.
Bruton had stated before the season started that he intended to help Sotto achieve his NBA dream by providing him with the necessary exposure in the NBL. Bruton delivered his end of the bargain this January by giving Sotto his fair share of floor time, and Sotto repaid his coach’s trust by making solid contributions.
Sotto scored in double figures in three games this January. The only time he failed to score at least 12 points was in their 78-97 loss to Melbourne United last January 22, when he tallied 6 points. He did, however, pluck 8 rebounds in that game.
Only five other Adelaide 36ers put up double digit contributions in points in at least three games this January. American reinforcements Dusty Hannahs, who had two previous stints with the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA, and Todd Withers along with starting shooting guard Sunday Dech have also scored at least 10 points in three games this month, while Johnson and Bairstow have produced double figures in four games. These five, however, each played five games this January, one game more than Sotto. The Filipino was not fielded during their January 18 victory over the Perth Wildcats.
In four games this month, Sotto has averaged 10.5 points. He was at his most impressive in their Sunday, January 30 rematch against the Melbourne United. Sotto scored 5 points in each half to end regulation period with 10 points. After Bairstow missed two attempts in overtime, Bruton decided to go with Sotto in the endgame. The 19-year old showed nerves of steel as he hit a clutch jumper in the closing seconds of overtime to give Adelaide a five-point cushion and dash any hopes of a comeback by the league-leading Melbourne squad.
Sotto also grabbed an average of 4.8 rebounds this January. Sotto posted these averages in just 16.8 minutes of floor time per outing.
The Adelaide 36ers have won just two out of its five games the squad so far in 2022. The two wins, however, came against Perth and Melbourne, two of the top three in the team standings.
Sotto is still in the early stages of his exposure to professional basketball. His games thus far in Australia have revealed chinks in his game that he must continue to work on. He has already proven he could put up the points. His rebounding ability and his defense, particulary his ability to be a rim protector and to switch and recover, must be high on his development agenda in the succeeding games.
He will have plenty of chances to further showcase his skills in the next two weeks as the Adelaide 36ers have five games scheduled from February 3 to 12 . The team could still be missing Humphries, which will mean more chances for Sotto to be playing significant minutes. As it is, Sotto has already proven he deserves a spot in the Adelaide rotation. – Rappler.com