Checking in on Mangok Mathiang

Mangok Mathiang has only logged just three minutes of game time in the NBA, but he's shown promise in the NBA's developmental league. If Mangok --pronounced like mango-- can develop a more consistent jumpshot, he could have a successful career as a professional.

Who is Mathiang?

Born in the city of Juba in what is now South Sudan, Mangok, his mother, and his siblings fled the violence of the Second Sudanese War when he was five. After two years in Egypt, the family relocated once again, landing in Sydney, Australia. Soon after that, the Mathiangs moved to Melbourne.

In Australia, Mathiang showed promise as an athlete on the footy pitch. Because of his height, however, it was suggested he play basketball. When he was 18 years old, after a decade of living in Australia, Mangok moved once again, this time to the United States to play hoops. He would eventually commit to the University of Louisville.

His collegiate career was somewhat underwhelming, and he spent long stretches as a reserve. He did have a few promising games, which made his tumultuous journey all worthwhile. Here's Mangok explaining an emotional postgame moment with his mother:

“She just gave me the biggest hug like I dropped 40 in that game. She didn’t care. She didn’t understand what basketball was, but she was just so happy to see me on that stage. Just to see everybody that she didn’t even know cheering me on and cheering my name on. They were coming past [her] and saying ‘You’re Mangok’s mom. He’s a good player and all of that.’ That just made her so happy. She was crying after the game. Moments like that make you want to sleep in the gym and keep working.”

Mathiang went undrafted but ended up playing for the Charlotte Hornets during the 2017 NBA Summer League. Now he's making his bones with the club's G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. So far, there's a lot to like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ4uSXNRAc4

Where does he excel?

Right away, it's clear Mangok has a good feel for the ball despite his relative inexperience. He has a deftness to his offensive game that escapes many big men. Thus far, he's used this to give his Swarm a reliable interior offensive approach. In 24.4 minutes of gameplay, he's averaging 9.9 points and 1.0 assists per game.

Mangok combines tenacity and poise with what appear to be good instincts. At least in the G-League, he seems fully capable of having his way with opposing defenses.

Standing 2.08 meters tall, Mathiang is still rather slender. In the G-League highlights, he rarely seems to bully his way to the basket. Instead, he combines speed and impressively polished footwork to shake opponents. That said, his size doesn't seem to be an issue on the defensive side of the equation.

Mangok is turning in 8.4 boards per contest, including a monstrous 3.2 offensive rebounds. Throw in 1.0 block and 0.7 steals, and you have the makings of a well-rounded big man.

Where does he need to improve?

Through a dozen games in the G-League, it certainly appears Mathiang is at home on a basketball court. But he has a way to go before he can hang in the NBA.

The biggest obstacle is his shooting from distance. The Association is in the midst of a space-and-pace revolution, and a back-to-the-basket center is increasingly a thing of the past. So for all of his finesse, Mangok will need to add to his game. He's yet to make a three-pointer for the Swarm, which isn't very promising. Despite the trend on NBA athletes going lean and shedding weight, he'll still need to put on a bit of size to compete in the NBA.

Currently, Mathiang is shooting 75 percent from the free throw line. That's on the higher end of the spectrum for big men, and could suggest his shooting mechanics are far from a lost cause. It remains to be seen if he can put that to use beyond the charity stripe.

Now 25 years old, Mangok has had quite a unique path to the NBA. And there's still work to be done for him to really carve out a role in the league. But there's promise.