Bulls’ fans hadn’t heard much about 2-way player Adam Mokoka for most of the season. The 6-foot-5 swingman was putting up modest statistics for the Bulls’ G-League affiliate. He’s currently averaging 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting 36.1% from the field and 30.8% from the 3-point line.
When the injury epidemic hit for the Bulls in mid-January, healthy bodies were at a premium and Mokoka began to spend more time with the NBA team. Then came the night of February 6th, when Mokoka came off the bench in garbage time and put up a record 15 points over the final 5 minutes, the first points of his NBA career.
Head coach Jim Boylen started gaining more confidence in the powerfully built rookie from France, and on March 2nd, he gave him the assignment of guarding Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic, one of the toughest covers in the league. All Mokoka did was frustrate Doncic repeatedly, holding him to just 2 points in the 4th quarter as the Bulls scored only their 2nd win of the season over a team with a better than .500 record.
Mokoka may be only 21 years old, but he’s hardly a rookie when it comes to playing professionally. He’s already been a part of European championship squads with France’s U-16 and U-18 national teams, and this is his 5th season as a pro.
“I left home when I was 15 to play professionally in Gravelines (France)”, Mokoka told me following the Windy City Bulls’ game on Wednesday. “And, then I left the country last year to play in Serbia. It’s kind of tough because you have to grow up fast. You’re by yourself, even if your family can visit you, you’re kind of by yourself. You’ve got to learn stuff quickly, be strong, and keep your mind right. Just be focused on your goal to achieve it.”
Mokoka started all 34 games for his pro team in Serbia last season and said the experience proved valuable in more ways than just basketball development. “I learned a bit of Serbian, which was kind of cool, and I improved my English too out there because the only way to express myself was in English. So, it was kind of a cool experience for me. I really liked it out there.”
The Bulls scouted Mokoka during his one season in Serbia and invited him to play for their Summer League team. He showed enough potential there as a 3 & D prospect to earn a 2-way contract.
At the age of 21, he has the potential to be an NBA rotation player if he becomes more consistent with his outside shooting because his defensive ability is already a major plus. Just ask Doncic, who was visibly frustrated trying to score with Mokoka, refusing to give him any air space or bite on his multiple ball fakes. Doncic is known for complaining to the officials on just about every play, but Mokoka told me the 2nd year star didn’t have much to say Monday night. “He wasn’t really talking, or even arguing with the referee. I mean, I didn’t see it. Like, when I was guarding him, he didn’t really complain. He was just trying to do his thing.”
Mokoka played on the same Serbian professional team as Dallas reserve center Boban Marjanovic, and the two players shared a brief conversation after the game. “He just told me a couple words of advice. Asked if I was good playing here, enjoying my time.”
Boylen gave a lot of the credit for the Bulls’ win to Mokoka’s defensive effort against Doncic. “I’m out there trying to do my best, and help the team to win. If the coach is happy about the work that I put in, it’s really cool, like I’m really happy about it.”
Under league rules for 2-way contracts, players can only be with their NBA teams for 45 days including practices and travel, but not including the time before and after the G-League regular season, which ends later this month. Boylen told reporters on Tuesday Mokoka has 9 days left to be with the Bulls, and they’ll make the best use of that time to get him more experience at the NBA level.
Mokoka seems unfazed by it all, enjoying his experiences playing with his teammates and getting to learn more about professional life in the United States. He says he loves the city of Chicago, his only complaint is that the winters are too cold. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how mild this winter has been. He’ll probably have to invest in some warmer coats for what could be a long run with the Bulls.