(First uploaded at Upside & Motor.)
Ivan Rabb was at first perceived as a potential lottery pick in the 2017 draft but has performed so well in half-a-season of college ball that he’ll for sure generate strong interest if he opts to declare for the draft this year. That’s because Rabb could be the sort of big man the NBA is looking for these days.
He is not ready yet; he needs to develop physically and has not yet shown what kind of shooting range he possesses because of what’s asked of him at Berkeley. But what Rabb already has that is so appealing is a combination of good height at six-foot-10 (measured at the Nike Hoop Summit), mobility and skill.
Once Rabb bulks up, the vision with him, if he fully develops, is a center with size to be a presence at the rim while providing switching flexibility on defense, then being a scoring threat in the post on offense.
The draft is about potential and the thing about assessing Rabb’s is that, not only what he has established is of interest but also it is possible he has an even more rounded skill-set than he has been able to show so far.
Despite being the most efficient player on the team (.641 effective field goal percentage), Rabb is only fourth in usage. That’s the case because Berkeley has another lottery pick on the team and three other guys with a shot at potentially becoming second round picks. Rabb is dependent on these perimeter players getting him touches but two of them like to pound the ball while the other two are gunners.
If he had more opportunities for rim-runs, in transition and out of the pick-and-roll, Rabb could display his finishing ability more often but Berkeley plays at a remarkably slow pace (217th in the country, according to Team Rankings) and cannot adequately space the floor in the half-court.
So, most of Rabb’s production this season has come out of the post. He added some weight upon his arrival at Berkeley (currently listed at 220 pounds) and no longer gets pushed away from the block as easily as he did at Bishop O’Dowd. Rabb doesn’t set deep position consistently but has been able to sustain enough of a seal in the mid-post regularly and create separation against the level of competition he has faced so far.
But he has really stood out because of his skill working with his back to the basket. Rabb has exhibited rather fluid footwork in the post and a fairly diverse arsenal; showcasing turnaround hooks over either shoulder, up-and-under fakes and a fade-away jump-shot.
He was left hand-dominant in high school but has shown development finishing with his off hand in college. According to hoop-math, Rabb has converted 45.8% of his 59 two-point field goals away from the basket.
He has not taken opponents off the bounce as much as he did at Bishop O’Dowd, though, where he flashed the ability to blow by opposing big men on short drives from the baseline and the elbow.
Rabb has also not shown to be much of a passer at this point. He has flashed enough vision to take advantage of a collapsing defense when the open shooter or cutter is evident but nothing beyond that so far, picking up just 13 assists in 17 appearances.
MOBILITY ON DEFENSE
Rabb’s ability to score one-on-one has attracted the most attention and will be a legit asset for him in the pros, even in the modern Era, since it is expected to prevent opponents from switching smaller players onto him comfortably.
But the most appealing aspect of his skill-set to me has been his mobility defending in space. That’s key for big men entering the league over this next decade of pace-and-space basketball.
Rabb started the season playing center full-time but has defended a little farther away from the basket over the last month, with Kingsley Okoroh now a part of the rotation.
As a center, Rabb proved to have agility to cut off dribble penetration and rotate to the front of the rim coming off the weak-side in help-defense. He does not have enough explosiveness to play above the rim as a constant threat to block shots but has shown he can leap off the ground quickly and hang in the air vertically to contest shots effectively at the basket. His seven-foot-two wingspan makes a difference against smaller players trying to finish around him at the basket.
As a power forward, Rabb has flashed the ability to pick up smaller players on switches. He lacks lower body strength to contain dribble penetration through contact and doesn’t really stay in front of these smaller dribble drivers but has enough lateral quickness to keep pace and stay alive in the play to effectively contest or block from behind a mid-range pull-up or a shot at the rim.
Rabb is also a terrific rebounder.
Some more physical big men have been able to push him out of the way fighting for position below the rim at times due to his thin 220-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-10 height.
But he is attentive to his boxout responsibilities and has shown tremendous athleticism chasing the ball off the rim, collecting 22% of opponents’ misses so far this season – according to basketball-reference.
Rabb also possesses ‘second-jump-ability’ and a nine-foot standing reach to fight for tip-ins on the offensive glass, generating second chance opportunities on 13% of Berkeley’s misses and converting 22 of his 49 offensive rebounds into putbacks.
LESS DEVELOPED ASPECTS OF HIS GAME
Every other area of Rabb’s game is either not yet developed or he has not been put in a position to show enough.
On offense, Rabb has flashed the ability to catch the ball on the move and even play above the rim as a target for lobs positioned at the dunker spot. He is unable to finish through contact at this point but has pretty good touch on non-dunk finishes with either hand, converting 79.7% of his 69 shots at the rim.
But Berkeley does not run enough high pick-and-roll to assess how effective a finisher Rabb can be diving down the lane. And even when Rabb does screen for Jordan Mathews on the side of the floor, opponents can clog the lane easily because it often means Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown are spotting up off the ball and they carry no gravitational pull.
Rabb took a smooth-looking catch-and-shoot jump-shot from mid-range in the game against Utah but Berkeley does not run pick-and-pop or spot him up much, so it’s hard to tell how legit his face-up jumper off the catch is. He is, however, a 76.6% foul shooter, which brings to the table the possibility he can potentially develop a jump-shot as a real asset.
Defensively, post defense is massive weakness of Rabb’s at this point. He lacks strength to hold his ground in the block, and opponents of all levels have been successful backing him down.
It’s critical Rabb bulks up in order to stop being bullied in the post because his length, while effective against smaller players, shouldn’t be as much of an asset to bother guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis and the only way to defend them will be trying to muscle into tougher looks.
Rabb should be drafted in the lottery because his combination of skill, mobility and good size is a commodity these days but the way TJ Cline absolutely dominated him in the game against Richmond makes me think he will play very little as a rookie in the NBA.
Editor’s Note: 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