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Brian Shaw says Kai Sotto has tools 'to play like Nikola Jokic'

Kai Sotto could play like Nikola Jokic, according to NBA G League Select coach Brian Shaw. KC Cruz/ESPN5

Brian Shaw hasn't really worked with Kai Sotto yet, but the five-time NBA champion has seen enough film of the Filipino prodigy to envision him playing a role similar to that of Denver Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic.

"I think he has the ability to play like Nikola Jokic," Shaw, the NBA G League Select team head coach, said in a media availability on Thursday.

"Obviously I haven't had a chance to be around him yet, but from the film that I've watched on him, it looks like he can shoot the ball from the outside. He can be a facilitator where you put him on top of the floor, give him the ball, and let him do dribble handoffs, much like you see Jokic do," he added.

Though Sotto has a ways to go before scraping the Serbian star's level, the versatility and high basketball IQ that Shaw noted have been strengths that the 7-foot-2 center has displayed even before moving to the U.S to pursue his NBA dream.

In his final UAAP season, Sotto handed out 3.4 assists to go with 25.1 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets. When the big man later suited up for Gilas Youth in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Greece last year, Sotto tallied 2.0 assists on top of 11.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.9 rejections.

Shaw, however, said it's just a matter of doing everything at "game speed" for Sotto once he sees G League action in the future.

"I haven't seen as much of Kai Sotto, but [he's] a big guy with a nice skill set, nice touch, he seems to have a very good understanding of the game," he said.

"Kai can shoot the ball from the outside. I think he has the aptitude to play the game and has basketball IQ, and I think he has a good skill set as well. It's just a matter of putting in that work every day, doing everything at game speed. And once he does everything at game speed, I think he'll just naturally get better because he has the drive to get there."

And while Sotto has gained more than 20 pounds since he first began training with The Skill Factory in Atlanta, Shaw said strength continues to be an area of development for the 18-year-old.

"I see him as a guy that's pretty versatile. Obviously he has to get stronger, but I think that he can play with his back to the basket as well as facing the basket, and facilitate for his teammates," he said.

Shaw is no stranger to being around big men that are All-Star caliber. With the Los Angeles Lakers, the retired guard teamed up with Shaquille O'Neal in his playing days, and worked with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in his time as an assistant coach with the franchise.

In Sotto's case, Shaw believes the young prospect can keep on improving if he keeps on putting in the work like his former teammates and wards have in the past.

"Obviously he's got to spend a lot of time in the weight room, getting stronger with our strength and conditioning coach," he said.

"And he doesn't aspire to play in the G League, he wants to play in the NBA. And so I think with the work that we'll be putting in every day, some of the things that I'll be able to share with him, and chart his progress like I did with a young Andrew Bynum or a young Pau Gasol, or even Shaq when he was young. They got better and better as time went on and I don't see why it will be any different for Kai."

Jalen and Kai

Shaw will also get to work closely with Filipino-American rising star Jalen Green, whom the coach described as a "very, very talented player" with "tons of potential."

"I'm excited about the opportunity to coach these two young players. I had the good fortune of being able to coach Jalen Green last summer in the Nike Hoop Academy down in Los Angeles," he said of Green.

Green, the first player named to the reshaped NBA professional pathway program, said he's looking forward to playing alongside Sotto.

"Me and Kai, we have a good relationship," the guard said.

"He went to Atlanta, came to the States and worked out and I told him, 'I hope you're doing good, I hope you're getting better' and stuff. And when he got to the G League, I told him 'Congrats, I can't wait to be your teammate and I'm excited to play with you and represent the Philippines,'" he added.

Shaw hinted at running the egalitarian triangle offense in order to highlight the strengths of Sotto, Green and the entire G League lineup also composed of Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, Jonathan Kuminga and Princepal Singh.

"Right now, we only have six players signed to our team. So the rest of the team won't even be put together probably for another couple months. I'm still wrestling with what offense I would run once we actually start playing games," he said. "[But] I think that the triangle offense is one that can actually help highlight all the players' skill set.

"I want to put all of the players in all of the positions to be able to highlight and showcase what they can do. So if Kai for instance, is good out on the top of the floor and he can facilitate for his team, I want to put him in those positions so that he can succeed. Jalen Green has an exceptional ability to post up as a guard. Sometimes he'll be inside posting up."

Shaw will also be looking at teaching Sotto, Green and the rest of the team a variety of offensive and defensive systems in order to speed up their growth.

"I'd like to think that that's something that I specialize in -- developing. The players have to -- and they will -- do their part. They have to put in the work. And I can offer my experience, I can kind of give them a blueprint as to what has worked in the past with some of the players that I played with and that I coached," he said.

"My job as a coach is going to be to try to develop these guys and teach them as best I can through my experiences, how to be pros on and off the court. And so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to do that," Shaw added. "Now it's going to be a little challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic that's going on in terms of the protocol that we have to follow coaching these guys, but I'm looking forward to that challenge."