7-footer, Pure Shooter, Stretch Big

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Lauri Markkanen enrolled at Arizona as a highly touted pro prospect, after impressive appearances in FIBA junior events for four straight years, and I think it’s fair to say the seven-foot gunner from Finland met expectations.

His rebounding didn’t translate against American competition but his shooting turned out to be even better than expected and he posted one of the most remarkable shooting seasons in NCAA history.

Despite taking 74.7% of his shots away from the basket, Markkanen averaged 1.53 points per shot and Arizona averaged 134.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, 15th best in the country, which made him indispensible to what turned out to be a legit title contender.

Arizona won 32 out of 37 games, won a share of the PAC 12 outright, won the PAC 12 tournament and lost to Xavier by a possession in the Sweet Sixteen. Markkanen led the team in minutes and was the driving force behind the 16th-ranked offense in adjusted offensive efficiency, despite his unimpressive 22.8% usage rate, because he is one of those players who can make an impact without touching the ball.

Given his stature, it’s enticing to think of Markkanen as an eventual full time center, providing the sort of spacing that should stretch any defense to its breaking point, but he is a poor defender at this point of his development and seems far from becoming the sort of big man who can be trusted with directing traffic, calling coverages and acting as the last line of defense.

Arizona managed to build a top 30 defense in spite of him, though. It successfully hid him by pairing him up with a prototype center for just about every minute he was on the floor. It was rare to see opponents putting him in pick-and-roll defense constantly to try exposing him in space, which will be a lot more challenging in the pros.

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

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7-footer, Catch&Score Finisher, Post Scorer, Stretch Big

Zach Collins Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All American last year but he was, for the most part, an unknown commodity entering the season as far as draft prospects are concerned.

Rivals ranked him 21st in the 2016 high school class and there wasn’t a lot of expectation the seven-footer would get a prominent role right away at Gonzaga, with stalwart Przemek Karnowski returning for a fifth year of eligibility and highly touted transfer Johnathan Williams becoming available after sitting out a year.

He was even expected to face some competition for the third big spot in the rotation, with Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura – two players who have impressed in FIBA junior events – also joining the program.

But Collins did break out immediately and while his playing time was still limited (just 17.3 minutes per game) due to the two veterans ahead of him in the pecking order and his constant foul trouble, the 19-year-old showed enough promise in his one year of college basketball to end up ranked 12th in Draft Express’ top 100.

Collins is certainly talented but he was also fortunate to join a team that put him in the best possible position to succeed. In a time where post play is getting increasingly devalued by the day, Gonzaga got a quarter of its shots coming out of the low block – as well chronicled by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn.

With his 232 pounds well distributed over his seven-foot frame, Collins has an advanced physical profile for someone his age and was able to earn good position with his back to the basket from the get-go, though just as important was the fact that Gonzaga was a team run by veteran guards – with Jordan Matthews, Silas Melson, Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss entering the season with a combined 271 games of college basketball experience under their belts.

Collins did well demanding the ball but those ball-handlers did just as well getting it to him and that system empowered him – as he posted a 24.9% usage rate.

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

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7-footer, Post Scorer

Dusan Ristic Scouting Report

CONTEXT

With Kaleb Tarczewski finally gone, Dusan Ristic has stepped up to a more prominent role as Arizona’s starting center this season. After logging just 869 minutes in his first couple of seasons, the seven-footer born in Serbian is already up to 518 minutes in 21 appearances this year and has averaged 24.7 minutes per game.

Unfortunately for Ristic, the game is going away from old school throwback types like him – who can’t defend pick-and-rolls beyond the foul line or pick up smaller players on switches and can only substantially contribute on offense from the post but without doing so in a dominant manner.

Because of that, Draft Express does not rank Ristic in its top 100.

POST GAME

Ristic uses the strength in his 245-pound frame well to get deep seals against just about every center he’s faced at the college level. He doesn’t have particularly fluid footwork or a diverse set of shot fakes and relies mostly on his general size to bully his way into short range attempts.

Ristic does have good touch on turnaround hooks over the defender’s left shoulder, though. And he’s even flashed a turnaround-fadeaway jumper in the game against UCLA (hiking his leg Dirk Nowitzki-style) but for the most part hasn’t shown to have that as a real asset he can go to regularly.

Ristic has also not shown much lately in terms of being able to pass with his back to the basket, assisting on just 3.7% of Arizona’s scores when he’s been on the floor this season – according to basketball-reference.

OFFENSE AT THE RIM

He is a good screener who looks to draw contact and whose picks are tough for on-ball defenders to navigate around but doesn’t have the athletic ability needed to act as a credible scoring threat out of the pick-and-roll consistently.

Ristic can’t roll hard to the basket, can’t play above the rim as a target for lobs and needs to catch and gather himself before going up strong, even out of the dunker’s spot. He does have great touch near the basket, though, converting 79.7% of his 64 shots at the rim this season – according to hoop-math.

Ristic doesn’t have great leaping ability or play with a high motor but he is able to set inside position on the offensive glass with some regularity and has length to rebound outside of his area – collecting 10.3% of Arizona’s misses when he’s been on the floor, which is not a difference making mark but a positive contribution nonetheless.

OFFENSE AWAY FROM THE BASKET

He has flashed the ability to make standstill shots from mid-range if given space to go through his methodical release and has even nailed eight of his 14 three-point shots over the last two-and-a-half years but rarely spots up in a shooting stance and doesn’t have the sort of dynamic release that suggests he could be used in the pick-and-pop.

Ristic has also flashed some ability to facilitate offense from the elbows but Arizona does not use him that way regularly.

DEFENSE

Just like on offense, he excels on areas where he can rely on his combination of size and strength.

Ristic is a stout post defender and tough to rebound or finish around, as he is attentive to his boxout responsibilities and has good awareness to rotate to the front of the rim and make himself a presence dribble drivers or cutters have to deal with.

But coming off the weak-side in help-defense is tougher because he doesn’t have any quickness and getting off the ground is a chore for him. Ristic can’t play above the rim as a shot blocker, picking up just 44 blocks in his 91 appearances in college. That lack of leaping ability also limits his impact on the glass. He’s collected 19.6% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor, which is a good mark but not dominant.

The biggest struggle for Ristic is defending outside the lane, though. Even in post defense, he needs to leave a cushion to face-up big men so he doesn’t get so easily beaten off the bounce and is vulnerable to having them burring jumpers in his face.

Against the ball-screen, Ristic is no option to switch or hedge high in the perimeter and needs to drop back. He actually shows some lateral mobility to contain dribble penetration when the ball handler snakes the pick-and-roll but can’t bend his knees to get down in a stance and has no shot keeping pace with dribble drivers when they get downhill.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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7-footer, Stretch Big

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Lauri Markkanen has been about what he was expected to be.

As I profiled prior to the season, the seven-footer born in Finland is an exceptional shooter who affects the game with his mere existence on the court, without even necessarily needing to touch the ball – as he leads the Pac 12 in offensive rating, according to basketball-reference.

Markkanen is also not a good enough defender at this point of his development to unlock the lineups that would stretch opponents to their breaking points, the ones with him at center, because he cannot protect the rim or control the defensive glass.

But he hasn’t been that severe a liability when paired up with a center. Markkanen has the third worst defensive rating on the team but it’s not as if Arizona is hemorrhaging points with him out there. He averages 31.3 minutes per game but hasn’t prevented the Wildcats from fielding the 12th best defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency.

OUTSIDE SHOOTING

Markkanen has had a historic shooting season for someone his size at the collegiate level. According to hoop-math, he’s taken 74.5% of his shots away from the basket, which makes his .637 effective field goal percentage even more impressive, as he’s nailed 50% of his 96 three-point attempts and 40.3% of his 62 two-point jumpers.

The types of shots he’s taken is perhaps even more impressive than his raw percentages, though. Markkanen has a quick trigger and a dynamic enough release that helps him get the sorts of looks that opposing big men have a hard time defending.

Arizona has done very well getting him open with pindown screens, which are tough for big men to navigate around and then try running him off his spot or contesting him. By the time they get there, Markkanen has let it fly already.

His biggest impact has been in the pick-and-pop, though. When he sets a ball-screen, Markkanen immediately erases a defender for his teammate to deal with, as that big assigned to him is told to have no help responsibility trying to contain the dribble driver. That was evident in the game against UCLA last weekend, when TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh would stick to him and not worrying about Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen getting downhill.

INTERIOR SCORING

Markkanen is very fluid off the bounce, attacking closeouts from the top of the key all the way to the basket. He can’t blow by his man on speed but has pretty good core strength in his 230-pound frame to maintain his balance through contact and sometimes pivots into a very well coordinated spin move.

Just like the Finnish junior national team did, Arizona has gotten Markkanen some ball-screens from time to time and he’s proven himself able to drive to the rim against this higher level of competition as well. He always goes left and hasn’t shown anything in terms of being able to pass on the move yet, though, assisting on just 6.9% of Arizona’s scores when he’s been on the floor.

In isolation, Markkanen has a decent handle for someone his size[1] but hasn’t developed any dribble moves to shake his defender side-to-side as of now. He has, however, flashed the ability to dribble between his legs to gain separation for a step-back jumper.

With Dusan Ristic or Chance Comance always in the game with him, Markkanen rarely has space to roll hard to the basket in the pick-and-roll. But in the few times he’s been able to, he has shown soft hands to catch the ball on the move and touch on non-dunk finishes – converting his shots at the rim at a 70.4% clip. That said, Markkanen can’t finish through contact and hasn’t flashed the ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs.

Due to his role as a floor spacer and creating his own shot[2], he’s made no impact in the offensive glass.

Markkanen also hasn’t done a ton in the post. That doesn’t matter for now because his college opponents have not been aggressive attempting to defend him with smaller players or switching against him aggressively but that’s something that will surely come up when he gets to the pros.

DEFENSE

Markkanen steps in to the front of the rim to draw some charges from time to time but can’t elevate off two feet explosively to play above the rim as a constant shot blocking threat – picking up just 10 blocks in 20 appearances so far this season. And he hasn’t shown to be the most aware help defender to begin with, often failing to rotate when a mere step or two was needed to for him just be a presence near the basket.

With that as the case, Markkanen has always matched up against the smaller big man. When he’s needed to guard in the perimeter, Markkanen has proven able to bend his knees to get in a stance and has even shown some lateral mobility not to get beaten off the bounce badly.

He hasn’t done well closing out to shooters at the three-point line, though, unable to run them off their spot.

But the biggest concern is when he gets to match up against bruising old school types. Despite his size, Markkanen isn’t very tough. In the game against Berkeley, Arizona doubled immediately whenever Ivan Rabb (not exactly known for his power moves) caught the ball against him in the low post.

Markkanen is attentive to his boxout responsibilities but doesn’t get very physical and lacks the standing the reach and leaping ability to rebound in traffic, collecting just 17.3% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor – which is a disappointing mark for someone his size.

[1] His 7.7% turnover rate is low in general but is even more appealing in the context of his 22.4% usage rate

[2] Just 24 of his 63 two-point baskets (38%) have been assisted

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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7-footer, Post Scorer

Udoka Azubuike Scouting Report

It’s unfortunate Udoka Azubuike is going to the miss the remainder of the season after undergoing wrist surgery. The 17-year-old[1] born in Nigeria posted impressive numbers in his 142 minutes through the non-conference part of Kansas’ schedule and might have remained an active part of the rotation throughout the year, even if in a limited role – as he was averaging just 13 minutes per game and posting a 21.1% usage rate.

Despite his age, the seven-footer managed to dominate low level competition[2] due to his strength and physicality. Kansas lists the teenager at 280 pounds and he right away managed to translate his general size into consistently great position below the foul line and the ability to bully opponents into short attempts near the basket. According to hoop-math, he shot 20-for-29 at the rim and earned 8.2 foul shots per 40 minutes – per basketball-reference.

Azubuike will probably have a size advantage against just about every opponent he faces at the college level but when he eventually makes it to the pros, he’ll need to improve his skill level, which is still in its infancy. There will be players who can elevate out of two feet in a pinch and block his shot, so Azubuike needs to develop footwork for some counters, touch for his hooks, an escape dribble and passing skills against double-teams[3].

Being an ace post scorer should be essential for his odds because Azubuike doesn’t project as much of a finisher out of the pick-and-roll, as he doesn’t have enough explosiveness to play above the rim as a target for lobs. There is, of course, always the chance that he becomes a Tiago Splitter-type of rim-level finisher but Azubuike hasn’t shown that sort of nimbleness in his rim runs.

He also hasn’t yet shown anything in terms of an outside jumper, given he probably never had to work on that in high school, so there is no indication he could one day become a potential pick-and-pop threat years down the line, especially considering he converted just 11 of his 29 free throws this season.

So other than scoring with his back to the basket, the only area Azubuike can make an impact on offense at this point of his development is grabbing some offensive rebounds. He is not a high leaper but can set inside position, should be a pain to boxout if he plays with some energy and has a seven-foot-five wingspan to rebound outside of his area. Yet, Azubuike collected just 10.5% of Kansas’ misses when he was on the floor, which is not quite a disappointing mark but also not a particularly impressive one for someone with his measurements.

Defensively, Azubuike also produced the most close to the basket thanks to his size. He showed decent awareness rotating to the front of the rim when he only needed a step or two, proved himself able to get off the ground well enough for his length to make a difference and looked attentive to his boxout responsibilities – averaging 5.1 blocks per 40 minutes and collecting 25.1% of opponents’ misses when he was in the game.

He fouled a ton, though. Azubuike flashed some ability to jump up vertically challenging shots the basket but was rarely given the benefit of the doubt in his first year, being called for 8.7 personal fouls per 40 minutes on average.

But the real big concern regards his mobility. Azubuike didn’t look as good when he needed to come off the weak-side in help-defense, often unable to get there in time. And he’s not suited to guard above the foul line, which might make him unfit for this new era where more and more ball-handlers are starting to develop a pull-up three-pointer out of the pick-and-roll to punish big men who can’t venture beyond the lane.

[1] Udoka only turns 18 in September, so he’s ineligible for the 2017 draft

[2] Kansas ranked only 37th in strength of schedule through the non-conference part of it, according to CBS Sports

[3] Azubuike had just two assists in 11 appearances and averaged 4.2 turnovers per 40 minutes

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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7-footer, Catch&Score Finisher, Tall Passer

Anas Mahmoud Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Anas Osama Mahmoud has averaged 27 minutes per game over his last four appearances prior to yesterday’s game against Pittsburgh, after logging just 17.6 minutes per game over the previous nine.

A bit player in his first couple of seasons at Louisville, the seven-foot center from Egypt is becoming a more prominent part of the Cardinals as the ACC portion of their schedule heats up.

And the way he’s performed so far, Mahmoud has become an interesting long-term pro prospect, though the fact he’ll turn 22 in May gives you some cause for concern regarding his development curve.

Lack of strength and toughness might ultimately prevent him from getting a real chance in the NBA but his height, ball skills and defensive intelligence should surely earn him paychecks in an alternative market elsewhere.

MOBILITY, SKILL LEVEL, IQ

Mahmoud has exceptional mobility for someone his height.

He is an asset to pick up smaller players on switches – proving himself able to bend his knees to get in a stance and shuffle his feet laterally to stay in front or keep pace with them on straight line drives to use his length to contest their shot at the basket.

Mahmoud has also shown a lot of intelligence making timely rotations as the last line of defense, beating dribble drivers to the front of the basket, preventing them from attacking the rim and forcing them into pull-up jumpers or floaters from the dead zone.

If they do decide to challenge him, Mahmoud can elevate off the ground out of two feet quite easily, jumping up vertically to legally knock the finisher off balance in the air or using his standing reach to alter and block shots – averaging 5.3 blocks per 40 minutes this season prior to yesterday’s game, according to basketball-reference.

Mahmoud is a foul machine, though. He’s averaging 6.1 personals per 40 minutes.

On offense, he also excels in areas related to his quickness, aside from showcasing some very appealing ball skills as well.

Mahmoud has good hands to catch the ball on the move and can play above the rim as a target for lobs diving down the lane out of the pick-and-roll or hiding behind the defense in the back-side. He’s also shown nice touch on non-dunk finishes – converting 25 of his 30 attempts at the basket this season prior to yesterday’s game, according to hoop-math.

His most impressive contribution on offense has been as an asset helping facilitate offense, though; handling in the high post for dribble-handoffs, hitting backdoor cutters when the perimeter defender overplays and passing out of the short roll to shooters made open by the threat of his rim runs – assisting on 10.5% of Louisville’s scores when he’s been on the floor, though his 19% turnover rate is sky high in the context of his 13.4% usage rate.

Mahmoud has flashed a catch-and-shoot jumper from mid-range in a couple of occasions a guard got so deep into the lane before pitching him the ball that he was wide-open on the catch, caught it in rhythm and felt compelled to let it fly but hasn’t yet developed into any sort of a real threat in these instances. He has a low release, almost letting the ball go on his way down, and his 50.8% career free throw percentage suggests he’ll need to build his mechanics from the ground up.

Mahmoud has also flashed some skill scoring on emergency post-ups; impressing with the way he can catch the ball, plan on doing something else but then pivot into a quick turnaround hook in a well coordinated manner.

STRENGTH AND TOUGHNESS

But Mahmoud is not a viable option to get isolated in the low block regularly. He has a very lean 215-pound frame in the context of his seven-foot height, struggling to get deep enough seals and generating space for his finishes by backing down his defender.

The biggest problems are on defense, though.

Mahmoud gives up deep post position to opposing big men with any sort of strength. He’s proven able to elevate out of two feet and block a shot from time to time but can’t hold his ground and often gets backed down all the way to under the basket.

He’s attentive to his boxout responsibilities and often puts in the effort to put a body in his opponent but lacks strength and physicality to push him out of inside position. At this point of his development, Mahmoud is a massive liability protecting the glass, collecting just 9.8% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor this season.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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