Lee Hyun Jung “must improve defensively” to make it in NBL and NBA, Baba says
August 4, 2023
Written by EASL
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Japanese National Team guard Yudai Baba shares his overseas experience playing in the NBL and NBA G League
Rising Korean star Lee Hyun Jung must work on his defensive game to meet the demands of overseas leagues like Australia’s NBL and the NBA, Japan Men’s Basketball National Team shooting guard Yudai Baba has said.
Speaking to East Asia Super League (EASL) at last week’s Korea v Japan national team series in Seoul, Baba said Lee’s upcoming stint in the NBL will be good grounding for a shot at the NBA. The Australian league is “way better” than the NBA’s developmental G League in several aspects, he said.
Baba has played between the NBA G League and the NBL in recent seasons as he pursues his own career at the top level of the game.
The 22-year-old Lee signed a three-year deal with the NBL’s Illawarra Hawks this July, after a spell this year in the GLeague with Santa Cruz Warriors.
Baba said, “I saw his play before. He can shoot well. I think where he’s standing out is three-point (shooting). But I think if you want to keep playing in the NBL, you have to be better defensively. They are so physical … you have to stop their best players and then you’ll be able to play the entire match.”
Baba knows the way to the top can be a roller coaster. His career started in the B.LEAGUE with Alvark Tokyo, where he was a two-time Japanese champion in 2018 and 2019, winning Finals MVP in 2019. He signed with NBA team Dallas Mavericks in September 2019. A month into his contract, without playing a game, he was waived by the team and delegated tothe Texas Legends, its NBA G League affiliate.
Baba played 41 games for the Legends in2019-20, averaging 6.3 points in nearly 20 minutes a game. He was recognized for becoming the first Japanese player to make it from the B.LEAGUE to the NBA and was given the B.LEAGUE ‘s Break the Border award that season.
“As an Asian player, it’s not easy to play inthe U.S.,” Baba told EASL. “We have to adjust to the American culture and the American basketball style.”
A strong mentality and faith in his own abilities has been essential to maintaining his momentum through the ups and downs, he added:
“I don’t want to quit until my dream may cometrue. That’s my mentality. That mentality keeps pushing me. You definitely haveto have a strong mind. There will be many obstacles if you play overseas, inthe U.S. But you have to trust yourself … If you can trust yourself, you can be whatever you want.”
Baba turned his eyes to the land down under during the 2020 offseason, signing with the NBL’s Melbourne United and becoming an integral part of a championship run. The Japanese guard was named Melbourne United’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“That (NBL) experience was so good. The competition level is so high,” Baba said. “Compared to the G League,physical-wise, team basketball-wise - it’s way better than the G League, I think.
“If you want to be an NBA player, you have to be [stronger] … if you keep playing for the NBL, you can definitely get stronger and smarter as a player. The NBL teams are organized … so you can learn team basketball out there. I think there are only good things to play for the NBL.”
Baba has since gone back and forth between the Legends and Melbourne United and is now in his third stint with Texas.
Lee’s journey started with high school basketball in Australia, where he went in hope of getting noticed by American college scouts. He then played college basketball in the US for Davidson College, NBA superstar Stephen Curry’s alma mater. He would become the secondmen’s player from South Korea to play NCAA Division 1 basketball.
After getting undrafted in the 2022 NBA Draft, Lee signed with Golden State Warriors’ affiliate Santa Cruz Warriors, averaging 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 12 games during the 2022-23 season. This past summer, Lee competed for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2023 NBA Summer League, where he scored 10 points in 22 minutes in Las Vegas.
NBA teams have relied on their G League affiliates during roster shortages due to injuries and other mishaps over the past few seasons. At least 30 NBA G League prospects have been called up to the NBA in each of the past nine seasons. A record 164 call-ups of 117 different players occurred during 2021-22. NBA stars who were called up from the G League include Raptors All Star and 2019 NBA Champions Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and three-time NBA champion Danny Green.