Trevor Mbakwe is one of the very best pick-and-roll finishers in Europe. He is a good screener who looks to draw contact and free the path for the ball handler, then dives to fill the open space around the rim very naturally. Mbakwe is a lot more athletic than the avergae center in the European game, has good hands to catch the ball on the move and plays above the rim, a perfect target for lobs as he leaps off the ground in a pinch and with force. He averaged 1.58 points per shot on 295 attempts over 1,310 total minutes in the Italian league and the Eurocup mostly due to his pick-and-roll proficiency and running the floor hard in transition.
Mbakwe is also a menace on the glass. He showed tremendous leaping ability to grab the ball at a higher point than the average opponent he faced last season. He was active keeping the ball alive and then displayed very impressive second-jump ability. And he proved himself able to rebound outside of his area thanks to his seven-foot-four wingspan. Mbakwe ranked third in the Italian league in offensive rebounding rate, generating second chances on 16.5% of Virtus Roma’s misses when he was on the floor.
He is undersized for his position – listed at six-foot-eight – and possesses a lean frame but is in fact a 244-pound bull whose weight is incredibly well distributed and possesses noticeable upper body strength. Mbakwe proved himself strong enough to set deep post position regardless of the size of his opponent. He is not, however, a particularly polished post scorer at this point, flashing a very solid jump hook over his right shoulder when he gets to go through his mechanical progression but otherwise lacking touch to finish at rim level and getting flushed whenever doubled, posting a sky high 21.7% turnover rate for a center.
Mbakwe was fouled quite a bit (0.53 free throw attempt to field goal attempt ratio) thanks to his edge in athleticism against the average competition and was a solid foul shooter, hitting 76.1% of his 155 free throw attempts. He has a decent release, mostly only missing when he rushes things a little too much. He flashed an OK catch-and-shoot jump-shot from the foul line area every now and then but isn’t any sort of real threat when operating away from the lane. Mbakwe’s purpose on Roma’s offense was as a finisher, and he produced awfully well in this role, which in part helps explain his 3.5% assist rate.
Rebounding and playing above the rim are also how Mbakwe contributed on the defensive end. He is an excellent shot blocker off the weak side, ranking third in the Italian league and sixth in the Eurocup in block rate, displaying great timing and bouncing off the floor to protect the basket. His 4.5 personal fouls per 40 minutes were mostly the cost of doing business. Mbakwe dominated the glass, leading both leagues in defensive rebounding rate, grabbing over 31% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor. He is short and not a particularly wide body but a difficult guy to be pushed off his spot because of his strength (something that also holds true on post defense) and very quick reacting off the miss.
Mbakwe is a mobile player for his position but was inconsistent guarding in space. He was asked to do it all on pick-and-roll defense; hedge, switch and drop back, depending on the type of ball handler they were defending. He didn’t hedge effectively; Mbakwe isn’t sudden with his moves, so smart opponents took advantage with his uneasy show-and-recover to bump into him and draw some cheap fouls. But he proved himself quite capable of keeping pace with smaller players in isolation, enough to hold them from trying something at the rim, while possessing the length to adequately contest pull-up jump-shots in the perimeter. He was still more comfortable dropping back to patrol the lane, though.
Closing out on spot up shooters was a problem for him, as he can’t change direction on a dime, struggling to maintain his balance after he forces the opponent to put the ball on the floor. Even average athletes like Josh Carter and Jeff Viggiano were able to blow by his closeouts to get to the lane.
But Mbakwe was still a positive presence in general. Roma allowed on average 111 points per 100 possessions in the Italian league, but only 105 with him in the lineup, the fifth best defensive ratong among centers. His impact was just as true in the Eurocup.
Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at basketball.realgm.com.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.