David Nwaba probably couldn’t have scripted the last year of his life any better.
The former Cal Poly men’s basketball standout officially signed a 10-day contract with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday morning, according to an announcement by President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Nwaba, who grew up in Los Angeles and was a star basketball player at University High School, becomes the first ex-Mustang in program history to sign an NBA contract.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Nwaba told NBA.com Tuesday. “Just growing up a Lakers fan and dreaming of this day. It finally happened.”
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The 24-year-old Nwaba played in 38 games this season for the L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers’ NBA Development League affiliate, averaging 13.9 points on 64.5-percent shooting (the fourth-highest mark in the league), to go with 7.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 assists in 29 minutes per game. Most 10-day contracts for rookies are worth the prorated amount of the league’s minimum salary of $543,471 — or approximately $31,000.
Los Angeles (19-41) had an open roster spot after the team waived veteran backup point guard Jose Calderon earlier Tuesday morning. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Nwaba will get a chance to prove himself under rookie head coach Luke Walton, while playing alongside a trio of young, offensive-minded guards in Nick Young, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.
“I love his defense,” Walton told reporters during Tuesday’s shootaround. “As we continue to try to be a more defensive-oriented team, as far as making growth, I think it’s important that we get defensive-minded people around here.
“Going to D-League games and watching him on tape, I think he’s the type of guy that can really do that and help us build an identity that we want to play defense.”
It’s a remarkable ascension for Nwaba, who was an honorable mention all-Big West Conference selection during his senior season at Cal Poly. He went undrafted after leading the Mustangs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes last year.
Nwaba earned a spot with the Reno Bighorns through an open tryout during the summer and was acquired by the D-Fenders in a draft-day trade by Los Angeles. Nwaba signed a two-year contract believed to be worth $19,500 per season.
It didn’t take long for those inside the D-Fenders organization to notice Nwaba’s eye-catching athleticism and air-tight defense.
General manager Nick Mazzella told SB Nation in December that Nwaba, “really stood out in training camp.”
“He’s only a rookie,” Mazzella continued, “and he’s a guy that can really develop into a call-up candidate by the end of the season.”
D-Fenders head coach Coby Karl called Nwaba “probably the best defender in our league,” and that will likely be his avenue to sticking with the Lakers beyond his 10-day contract. Some have compared Nwaba’s skill set to Memphis Grizzlies veteran defender Tony Allen.
The Lakers, who have 22 regular season games remaining, can either sign Nwaba through the end of the season or to a second 10-day contract.
Here’s some of the online reaction to Nwaba’s signing:
Los Angeles Lakers upcoming schedule
- March 3 vs. Boston Celtics
- March 5 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
- March 7 at Dallas Mavericks
- March 9 at Phoenix Suns