Nick Richards Scouting Report

CONTEXT

  • Nick Richards is ranked 28th on ESPN’s top 100.
  • Through the first 13 games, the seven-foot center averaged 17.3 points per 40 minutes on 61.3% effective shooting and 13.7 rebounds per 40 minutes[1].
  • Despite being a true freshman, he just turned 20[2] last month.
  • Richards has posted 18.1% usage-rate over his 227 minutes. He gets the ball in the post some but isn’t a go-to option in Kentucky’s offense by any means. They have him setting ball-screens but don’t offer enough spacing for the guards to hit him rolling to the basket regularly.
    • His most reliable way to get touches tends to be what he can get for himself in the offensive glass. Almost a fifth of his live ball attempts have come on put-backs[3].
  • On the other end, the native of Kingston, Jamaica has played with better intensity than what was expected based on his reputation. He’s been an effective rim protector when well positioned, while also flashing decent agility to defend out in space.

DEFENSE

  • Richards is quite athletic for someone his size and can venture far beyond the foul line to hedge-and-recover against the pick-and-roll.
  • He hasn’t been asked to pick up smaller players on switches a whole lot but has shown foot speed tracking ball handlers attacking downhill.
  • Richards is a proactive help defender stepping up to the front of the basket as the last line of defense and looks to challenge everything he is close by. He is very effective when well positioned and can block shots in volume thanks to his quickness elevating off two feet and his nine-foot standing reach – averaging 3.3 blocks per 40 minutes this season.
    • In large part thanks to that shot blocking prowess, Richards ranks second on the team in defensive rating among rotation players[4].
    • That high activity in rim protection has come at the cost of him being prone to biting on shot fakes and making himself vulnerable to whistles, as he’s averaged 5.5 personal fouls per 40 minutes, which have limited his playing time to just 17.5 minutes per game.
  • Richards is yet to develop into a help defender who makes preventive rotations that keep the opposing ball handler from getting to the basket in the first place and despite his shot blocking prowess, he hasn’t really acted as a deterrent.
  • Given his quickness, he should be suited to guard shooting big men but has struggled to closeout to the three-point line effectively.
  • Richards is attentive to his boxout responsibilities and is a tough body to move out of his rebounding area thanks to his 245-pound frame, collecting 22% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor this season.

OFFENSE

  • Richards hasn’t yet shown a particularly advanced post game in terms of working his man out of position patiently with head fakes, shot fakes and spin moves. He’s mostly looking to set up a simple turnaround righty hook, though he’s flashed a face-up jumper as well. His touch is iffy, though, as he’s missed 17 of his 27 shots away from the basket.
  • He is a good screener who looks to draw contact but has so-so hands catching the ball on the move and has struggled to finish a few alley-oops in traffic. Richards can elevate off two feet to play above the rim as a target for lobs sneaking behind the defense but hasn’t shown the same explosion going up strong in a crowd.
  • He is coordinated enough to catch and take a dribble to gather himself before going up with better balance or more power out of a standstill position. His touch from the in-between area is iffy but he’s been a very good finisher near the basket, converting his 35 such looks at an 80% clip.
  • Richards has been asked to help facilitate offense from the high post every now and again. He’s able to hit cutters on pre-arranged reads but that’s about it as of now, as he’s assisted on just 5.6% of Kentucky’s scores when he’s been on the floor.
  • Richards has flashed a catch-and-shoot jumper off the pick-and-pop, showing a reasonably fluid release for someone his size and a high arcing shot but Kentucky doesn’t run that pick-and-pop often and rarely has him spotting up on the perimeter, so it’s unclear how real of an asset his jumper could really be at this point.
    • For whatever it’s worth, he’s nailed 22 of his 30 foul shots.
  • Richards has collected 14.4% of Kentucky’s misses when he’s been on the floor, showing a knack for chasing the ball off the rim and using his seven-foot-three to rebound outside of his area.

[1] According to sports-reference

[2] DOB: 11/29/1997

[3] Based on the numbers available at hoop-math

[4] According to sports-reference

READ MORE: Marques Bolden | Wendell Carter, Jr.

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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DeAndre Ayton Scouting Report

CONTEXT

DeAndre Ayton is off to a hot start in what should be his only year in college, averaging 25.5 points and 15.9 rebounds per 40 minutes over the first three games. Arizona has played a very poor slate of opponents so far, ranked 313th in strength of schedule[1], but Ayton’s performance has been noteworthy nonetheless.

The 19-year-old[2] born in the Bahamas is one of those teenage phenoms draftniks have tracked for years, though one mostly perceived as the sort of prospect who managed to dominate in high school through athletic prowess alone.

But over these first 88 minutes, the seven-foot-one center has signaled he’s taking steps towards developing into a more skilled type of big man; one who can stress his defender with the ability to make shots from all over the floor and make quick decisions against double teams, though he’s certainly still in the early stages.

Arizona is also forcing him to stretch his game. All his minutes have been spent with one of Dusan Ristic, Keanu Pinder or Ira Lee in the lineup as well, as Sean Miller has shown a fondness for a two-in offense, despite having enough perimeter options to play four-out comfortably. As a result, Ayton hasn’t always had space to roll hard to basket in pick-and-roll and opponents have needed to cover less ground to double-team him decisively when he gets a deep seal in the post.

On the other end, Ayton possesses the physical traits to potentially become a difference making defender down the line; one able to create lots of events and make his presence felt all over the floor.

He is not yet that player all the time, though, since his motor on plays that require multiple-efforts leaves something to be desired.

[1] According to kenpom.com

[2] Who only turns 20 next July

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

Mohamed Bamba Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Mohamed Bamba is known for his physical profile and athletic ability. The 19-year-old[1] measured at seven-feet and 216 pounds with a remarkable seven-foot-nine wingspan at this year’s Nike Hoop Summit, where he looked like the prototypical center for this pick-and-roll driven era of basketball due to his explosiveness leaping off the ground in a pinch to finish lobs and block shots.

But the Harlem, New York native used Texas’s preseason trip to Australia to show people his skill level is ahead of expectations as well. He was very aggressive unleashing jumpers from the elbows on post-ups and from three-point range out of the pick-and-pop, showed to have some feel for the game in terms of helping facilitate offense and looked to bring the ball up himself whenever he could after collecting a defensive rebound.

These long bombs don’t go in the basket a whole lot yet and he isn’t really one of these new age big men who can initiate offense from the perimeter but Bamba did quite a bit in that four-game trip to suggest his ceiling now goes beyond the easy comparison to DeAndre Jordan that most people like to make.

Defensively, he is a very impactful player close to the basket due to his physical prowess and hinted he might offer his coach flexibility in terms of how to defend the pick-and-roll, given his level of comfort shuffling his feet out in space but hasn’t yet developed into the sort of player who can lift his unit above its means, as Texas got lit up by two of the three Australian NBL teams it faced during the trip.

SKILL LEVEL

What Bamba did the most during preseason was catch the ball on the elbow area on either side of the floor, as Texas entered it to him on post-ups a fair amount. Unable to set deep position as of now, he showed a strong preference for turning and facing his defender. Most opponents sagged off him, unaware or unafraid of his potential to hurt them from range, and Bamba responded by being quite an aggressive shot taker when given the space.

His release is a bit methodical and a bit mechanical but Bamba elevates with decent balance and has enticing touch on his shot.

When his defender played up on him, Bamba often tried to drive around him. His handle is very decent for someone his size and he’s well coordinated but lacks the strength to maintain his balance and his momentum forward through contact.

The few times here and there that Bamba tried to back down his man, he worked to set up a turnaround right-handed hook over the defender’s left shoulder. His footwork was not particularly impressive but Bamba at least showed he doesn’t have cement feet. His touch is only OK, though.

But in the game against Melbourne, when a defender forced him to turn to his off hand, Mamba attempted a right-handed push shot in awkward balance, instead of opting for a left-handed hook or a turnaround, fadeaway jumper, suggesting he doesn’t yet have these assets in his arsenal at this point of his development.

His passing is a lot more advanced than expected, though. Texas played through him a little bit in the high post, on plays designed for him to catch, turn, face his man and then enter the ball to a perimeter player cutting to the area near the basket made vacant by Bamba drawing his man out. He also flashed some ability to hit cutters out of doubles with his back to the basket and kick-out to spot-up shooters out of the short roll.

He’s projected as a pick-and-dive threat out of the pick-and-roll but whenever Bamba set ball-screens in Australia, he mostly popped out the three-point line and wasn’t shy of letting it fly. He needs to speed up his release but proved he can take open shots rather comfortably. He also made a habit of hanging back changing ends, so he could get an open three up as the trailer in the transition.

Much like his no-dribble jumper out of triple threat position, his catch-and-shoot release looked a bit mechanical and methodical, though his touch seemed very decent. He gets off the ground a decent amount for a seven-footer, it’s not a set shot, but lets the ball go from the side, instead of out in front.

Though the threes he made and how confident he was at taking them were a bit stunning, the most surprising skill Bamba showed was the ability to grab and go off a defensive rebound. His handle is OK and he looked well coordinated bringing the ball up. He even flashed a light hesitation dribble to get by his man in transition and tried to take it end-to-end a couple of times but his touch on non-dunk finishes is only so-so at this point of his development.

ATHLETIC ABILITY

Bamba didn’t roll to the basket a whole lot and when he did, a weak-side defender rotated in to take away the lob but he had chances to finish a couple of alley-oops sneaking behind the defense. Bamba can explode off the ground with some space to take flight and has a massive nine-foot-six standing reach to play above the rim.

But from an athletic-standpoint, Bamba struggles in plays that require strength and physicality of him due to his lean frame. He can’t set deep post position in the post, has no power moves and lacks force to go up strong through contact off a standstill after collecting offensive rebounds.

Defensively, Bamba struggles to hold his ground in the post and though he is attentive to his boxout responsibilities, it was rare to see him completely erase an opponent out of a battle under the glass.

But while he doesn’t grow into his body, Bamba can rely on that massive standing reach to contest shots effectively defending the post, even when the opponent knocks him back some, and he’s proved to have quick instincts chasing the ball off the rim, aside the fact he has that remarkable seven-foot-nine wingspan to rebound outside his position.

That said, what’s enticing about Bamba’s agility is his potential defending the pick-and-roll extending above the foul line and covering a lot of ground in help-defense. When these pro teams ran pick-and-roll with the center as the screener, Texas didn’t ask Bamba to go meet the ball-handler at the point of attack but had him step up to prevent the opponent from turning the corner right away, which he proved very comfortable doing out in space.

Texas didn’t have him picking up smaller players on switches at any moment but Bamba seems to be the exact sort of big who has a shot of keeping pace with such types out on an island, though it’s unclear if that’s truly the case yet.

What it’s clear is that Bamba will be a constant shot blocking threat near the basket, elevating out of two feet stepping up to protect the front of the rim and out of one foot coming the weak-side in help-defense. The expectation is he should average about three blocks per 40 minutes at the college level.

[1] Who turns 20 only in March

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

Mohamed Bamba Scouting Report

  • Bamba scored 14 points on 14 minutes on Texas’ 96-84 win against the Dandenong Rangers — a team from Australia’s second division, on Tuesday.
  • His first score was on a catch-and-shoot three-pointer off a pick-and-pop on Texas’ second offensive possession of the game. His release looked a bit mechanical and methodical, though with very decent touch. He gets off the ground a decent amount for a seven-footer, it’s not a set shot, but lets the ball go from the side, instead of out in front.
  • Bamba was very aggressive pulling the trigger from the outside.
    • He took another three-pointer after making sure to space beyond the arc against Dandenong’s zone that missed;
    • Then he missed an uncontested turnaround right elbow jumper off the catch in the middle of Dandenong’s zone;
    • Then he made a no-dribble jumper from the left elbow turning and facing his defender on a post-up;
    • Then he missed a one-dribble pull-up fading to his left on the right side of the mid-post area after also turning and facing his defender.
  • Bamba got most of his touches in the post and showed a strong preference for turning, facing his defender and launching a jumper[1], with the exception of one possession at the start of the second quarter when he set decent position in the mid-post, took a dribble to set himself up and launched a right-handed turnaround hook over the defender’s left shoulder that went in. His footwork was not particularly impressive but Bamba at least showed he doesn’t have cement feet.
    • There was also a play where Bamba caught in the elbow area, turned and faced his defender, spot a cutter working baseline and delivered a nice pass that his teammate bobbled and lost out of bounds.
  • Texas did not put him in the pick-and-roll but Bamba proved himself able to play above the rim as a target for lobs with his massive nine-foot-six standing reach on a play where he sneaked behind the defense and finished an alley-oop.
  • Bamba’s most impressive plays from a skill-standpoint were when he drove from the top of the key to the rim and earned two free throws attacking out of triple threat position after trailing behind a play in transition and when he collected the ball after a deflection and took it end-to-end for a short jumper from just outside the restricted area. The exciting part of that grab-and-go is that it wasn’t on a straight-line; Bamba had to escape a steal attempt at half-court and then contain his momentum not to commit an offensive foul when an opponent challenged his shot. His coordination on both plays were equally as impressive as his ball-handling.
  • Bamba was only stressed in pick-and-roll defense once, showcasing decent agility for someone his size showing-and-recover to his man in a timely manner.
  • He proved himself a proactive help defender coming off the weak-side to act as a shot blocking threat, able to come off the ground with ease, aside from having such a giant reach.
  • Bamba also put his length[2] to use rebounding outside of his area, which will be key for him on the defensive glass as much as on the other end because while he seemed attentive to his boxout responsibilities, Bamba only plays with so-so physicality and sometimes doesn’t completely erase the opponent off the play or gets pushed out of his position.

[1] Bamba has a lean 216-pound frame in the context of his seven-foot height, so it’s understandable why he doesn’t look to play a physicality-oriented style

[2] Seven-foot-nine wingspan

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

Zhou Qi Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Zhou Qi is said to have agreed joining the Houston Rockets for next season. The terms of the deal haven’t been reported yet but it’s rumored to be a four-year pact.

The seven-foot-two center arrives from China after helping Xinjiang win the CBA title last season — averaging 32.8 minutes per game, posting a 20.3 PER and often finishing games.

The 21-year-old wasn’t given much opportunity to show substantial improvement to his skill-set, though. Zhou had no shot creation responsibility, wasn’t fully utilized as a floor-spacer or vertical threat and generally didn’t have a meaningful role on offense – logging a 19.9% usage rate in his 1,443 minutes, according to RealGM.

He also hasn’t improved his physique much. In fact, sina.com lists him at 209 pounds, down from the 218 pounds he measured at the 2016 NBA Combine. As was the case, Xinjiang continued to hide him on the lighter opposing big man and he remained a liability in post defense and in the defensive glass.

Nonetheless, Zhou’s combination of length and agility continued to help him create many events, which led to the team defending better with him on the floor rather than on the bench, despite the limitations caused by his lack of strength.

DEFENSE

He has the resources to develop into a very good defender down the line.

Zhou is very agile and bouncy for someone his size, able to rotate off the weak-side in help-defense quickly and get off the ground off two feet in a pinch to protect the basket — averaging 2.8 blocks per 40 minutes last season.

He wasn’t stressed to extend pick-and-roll coverage way above the foul line but doesn’t seem uncomfortable hanging out way high on the perimeter and showed some flashes of terrific pick-and-pop defense.

Zhou also proved to have enough foot speed to keep pace with smaller players attacking downhill so he is within reach to use his massive standing reach to block shots or deflect passes chasing them down at the CBA level, which is full of guards with recent NBA experience.

But, overall, his defense was quite disappointing.

Zhou blocked a lot of shots when he found himself well positioned or had simple rotations to make but hasn’t yet developed into the type of center who can anticipate rotations and prevent the opponent from getting to the rim in the first place. He also consistently sells out for blocks.

Zhou is almost always flat-footed, which makes him slow reacting to what’s going on around him. When he was put in the pick-and-roll and the ball-handler played with pace, Zhou often seemed lost, just standing there, which could be an effective strategy, except for the fact he doesn’t position himself well enough and isn’t active enough to take away the pull-up or the pass away from the opponent.

As he pretty much never bends his knees to get down in a stance, he is not an option to pick up smaller players on switches either, since he’s vulnerable to getting shook side-to-side.

The biggest issue is below the foul line, though.

Zhou’s massive nine-foot-four standing reach is an asset for him to contest turnaround jump-shots effectively in the post but he lacks to strength to hold his ground, consistently getting knocked back and giving up an easy short look.

That problem also manifested itself in the defensive glass. Zhou collected 23.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor but that’s not being a particularly impressive mark for a seven-foot-two player who can get off the ground with ease. And those were mostly of the uncontested variety, given he didn’t always seek a body to box out and was consistently pushed out of the way when matched up against opposing behemoths.

OFFENSE

Zhou just existed out there on offense, without much of a purpose other than crashing the offensive glass.

Xinjiang let Andray Blatche do pretty much whatever he wanted. Zhou set some ball screens for him on the side of the floor from time to time but Blatche either slowly moved into an isolation after them or kicked out to the perimeter. Despite his willingness to pass, hitting the roll man isn’t a part of his game.

When Blatche was off the floor, usually in the beginnings and ends of games, Zhou set quite a few ball screens as well but his teammates never really looked for him as a vertical threat. He is a so-so screener whose thin frame isn’t a chore for on-ball defenders to navigate around but should be able to play above the rim as a target for lobs, given how easy he gets off the ground for blocks or rebounds and his massive standing reach, if not necessarily in traffic, at least sneaking behind the defense.

Zhou still doesn’t post up much either, even against smaller players on switches, as he’s unable to set deep position. When he manages to get the ball down low, he still relies on his rip-through move to draw contact, which remains effective, as he averaged 7.1 foul shots per 40 minutes based for the most part on that and his involvement in scrums on the offensive glass. Zhou also flashes a reasonably well coordinated face-up drive here and there.

He has gone farther away from the basket over time, which helps explain why his effective field goal percentage has declined season over season in his three years of pro experience — down to 58.1% last season. That said, Zhou didn’t get many looks out of pick-and-pop or played a role as a pure floor-spacer either — as he averaged just 1.5 three-point shots per 40 minutes.

His unorthodox release, with the guide hand coming down very quickly, is a bit quicker but he still takes a while to load up his near standstill shot, featuring a very pronounced dip. Nonetheless, he’s proven himself capable to hit open shots, nailing 36% of his 55 three-point shots last season.

The passing skills he’s flashed in the past remained underutilized, as he assisted on just 5.2% of Xinjiang’s scores when he was on the floor last season, not given much chance to show his ability to pass out of the short roll and used very little as a hub to facilitate offense from the high post.

Overall, Zhou’s most substantial contribution on offense was crashing the offensive glass, where he’s shown a knack for chasing the ball off the rim and can use his seven-foot-seven wingspan to rebound outside of his area — collecting 11.2% of Xinjiang’s misses when he was on the floor last 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

Ante Zizic Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Ante Zizic hasn’t yet signed with Boston but his transfer to the United States is considered a near-certainty at this point. Given the new CBA now assigns first round draft picks a cap charge of 120% of the rookie scale, there is no longer an incentive for teams to hold on signing these players until the last possible minute, so an announcement should be coming soon enough.

After starting last season with Cibona Zagreb in the Adriatic League, the 23rd pick in the 2016 Draft transferred to Darussafaka mid-year, which afforded him the opportunity to earn 811 minutes of EuroLeague and Turkish BSL experience under the tutelage of David Blatt.

The 20-year-old, who only turns 21 in January, not only held up well against the higher level of competition but even established himself as a reliable contributor on a team that made it to the EuroLeague quarterfinals and took a game out of Real Madrid in Spain, before eventually losing in four. According to OverBasket, Darussafaka was +7 with him on the floor and -22 with him on the bench.

Zizic got a steady diet of post touches with Cibona, logging a 25% usage-rate in his 655 minutes with the Croatian club last season – according to RealGM. Though he wasn’t the focal point of the offense with Darussafaka, which featured ball dominant guards Scottie Wilbekin and Brad Wanamaker running the show, he still got the ball down low a fair amount against lighter centers.

But the athletic seven-footer projects more as a catch-and-finish energy big in the NBA, at least for the immediate future. Zizic should have the strength in his 254-pound frame to set decent position at that level as well but hasn’t yet developed the sort of versatility in his post moves that suggests a team will search opportunities to dump the ball down to him frequently.

On the other end, he has potential to develop into an impact defender, possessing the sort of agility needed to guard pick-and-rolls two-on-two. That said, with more and more lead ball handlers rapidly developing pull-up three-pointers out of the pick-and-roll, there might not be a place for big men who can’t switch onto guards pretty soon and Zizic will be one of the behemoths forced to adapt, as he hasn’t yet developed dexterity in one-on-one defense out on an island.

DEFENSE

Zizic is well coordinated for someone his size and leverages his athleticism to cover a lot of space. He has fluid footwork to extend pick-and-roll coverage way above the foul line and slide laterally or backwards to prevent the ball handler from taking it straight to the basket as he turns the corner.

Zizic has also impressed with his burst, proving himself able to keep pace with smaller players when they did challenge him to a race to the basket and stop-and-step up to contest mid-range jumpers reasonably well, doing so against the highest level of European basketball.

But the flashes of intelligent split-second decision making is what’s probably the most encouraging sign regarding his transition to the next level. He’s shown the ability to recognize the best use of his effort, at times letting go of low percentage shots someone his age is often seen selling out to try contesting hastily and prioritizing boxing out his man instead.

Zizic is a big hope Boston has for solving its defensive rebounding problems but it’s unclear if that will be the case. He is attentive to his boxout responsibilities and getting off the ground to rebound in traffic is not a chore for him but Zizic collected just 22.1% of opponents’ misses in his 437 EuroLeague minutes last season, which is not a particularly impressive mark for an athletic seven-footer with a nine-foot-three standing reach.

It’s fair to point out Darussafaka rebounded better with him in the lineup rather than on the bench, according to OverBasket, but maybe that says more about Furkan Aldemir and Marcus Slaughter.

Zizic is also yet to develop into a player who can make a tangible impact in help-defense. His block rate declined with the jump to the higher level of competition and his individual defensive ratings were higher than Darussafaka’s overall defensive ratings in both the EuroLeague and the Turkish BSL, meaning the team defended better without him on the floor.

Though his short area quickness and lateral movement draw attention, the perimeter still seems like a foreign habitat to him for the most part. Zizic can keep pace with smaller players on straight line drives but isn’t a very good option to switch onto these types out on an island regularly because he doesn’t bend his knees to get down on a stance, which makes him vulnerable to getting shook side-to-side.

Zizic also hasn’t shown an inclination for closing out to pick-and-pop big men at the three-point line and to shooters who can take pull-up three-pointers out of the pick-and-roll or sprint to the ball for shots off dribble hand-offs.

OFFENSE

Given the fact he is a white European player, many will presume Zizic is a ‘skills’ big man but that is necessarily the case.

He’s a decent post scorer who relies on running and dribble-in hooks with either hand, going from one side of the block to the middle of the lane against overmatched defenders one-on-one, but hasn’t yet shown power moves, a turnaround jumper or shot fakes.

Zizic has flashed some passing facilitating offense from the elbows and the high post or out of the short roll but nothing substantial yet, assisting on just 7% of his teams’ scores when he was on the floor last season.

He took a catch-and-shoot long two now and again but nothing that is a true asset at this point of development because of his methodical release, though his decent mechanics and 73% foul shooting suggests there’s something to be worked on there.

Some glimpses of ball skills as he took it from the top of the key to the rim on a straight line drive also appeared here and there but those are probably only for emergency situations in the immediate future.

Where Zizic truly excels on offense is near the basket. He is a so-so screener who at times makes his screening area smaller rather than bigger but can dive down the lane fluidly, has soft hands to catch the ball on the move and sweet touch around the basket on non-dunk finishes.

His coordination shows in his ability to catch, dribble and go up to finish in balance and he’s even proven himself flexible enough for some reverses and up-and-unders to score around rim protectors.

It’s unclear to which extent Zizic can act as vertical threat playing above the rim a target for lobs in middle pick-and-roll, given he mostly preferred operating as a basket-level finisher in traffic. But he is certainly able to do so sneaking behind the defense and can go up strong off two feet in a crowd, so that should be there if his guards look to get him the ball there.

Aside from finishing dump-offs, Zizic also translated his athleticism into production in the offensive glass. He is a constant tip dunk threat and has a seven-foot-two wingspan to rebound outside his area, collecting 13.8% of his teams’ misses when he was on the floor last 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

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

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[1], 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[2], 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[3], 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.

SHOOTING

Markkanen took 43.4% of his shots from beyond the arc last season, at a pace of 5.7 attempts per 40 minutes, which is an impressive figure when you consider he is a true seven-footer. Luke Kornet is the only true big man[4] in Draft Express’ top 100 to average more three-point shots per 40 minutes.

Markkanen nailed 42.3% of his 163 three-point attempts, showcasing pure mechanics without wasted motion and a quick release, though perhaps more impressive than his percentages and the way he looks shooting the ball is the type of shots he takes, as he’s not just a mere spot-up threat.

He’s proven himself able to take long bombs out of the pick-and-pop, averaging 1.22 points per possession in these instances[5] and stressing the defense at the point of attack. The opponent faces a decision between containing the ball handler and giving a sick shooter a look he can make or sticking to Markkanen and allowing the dribble driver a path to the lane or bringing a third defender in and being forced to scramble. Regardless of the option, he can disrupt the integrity of a scheme that is resistant to switching (more on his play against switching later).

And even when the opponent successfully runs him off his shot, Markkanen has shown the ability to pump fake, take a couple of escape dribbles and set himself up for a pull-up that most defenders struggle to contest because of the high point in his release, as he nailed 42.4% of his 118 two-point jumpers last season.

Aside from that, Markkanen has impressed with his ability to come off screens, forcing opposing defenders to chase in a way they are not accustomed to, and even flashed some ability to take pull-ups in side pick-and-roll, though it’s questionable how effective that play would be if it were used more often and opponents started pressuring his handle.

OTHER AREAS OF OFFENSE

Part of the problem is Markkanen doesn’t have a good enough handle and the shiftiness to go side-to-side, which was made evident in the few instances he needed to create a shot for himself in isolation. He also doesn’t have the speed to just blow by his defender, a similarly-sized big man.

Markkanen did manage to put some pressure at the rim attacking closeouts, as he’s proven himself coordinated enough to pump fake and take it from the top of the key all the way to the goal on straight line drives, as he’s taken a quarter of his shots at the basket and averaged 5.8 foul shots per 40 minutes[6] – marks that aren’t remarkable but are quite decent when you consider the role he played as a floor spacer.

Markkanen hasn’t shown any explosiveness elevating off one foot to go up strong in traffic or the ability to hang in the air and adjust his body to finish around rim protectors but he has showcased an arsenal of flip shots and underhanded tosses to score over defenders in the front of the basket – converting his 95 attempts at the rim at a 69.5% clip, with half of his makes unassisted.

He did not dive to the basket a whole lot in pick-and-roll but has never shown the sort of hops that suggests he can play above the rim as a target for lobs elevating in a crowd, though he’s shown he can get up for some alley oops sneaking behind the defense. But that doesn’t happen often because Markkanen has also not shown to be a particularly instinctive cutter.

In addition, he hasn’t flashed any instincts as a passer and isn’t an asset to help facilitate offense from the elbows or kicking out to shooters out of the short roll at this point of his development – assisting on just 5.6% of Arizona’s scores when he was on the floor.

A pleasant surprise is the fact he collected 10% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, considering he played away from the basket for the most part and the fact he doesn’t have the length to rebound outside his area when he does crash the offensive glass. That’s not expected to translate to the next level, though, because Markkanen just doesn’t play with a lot of energy.

But the biggest concern on offense about his pro prospects regards his ability to burn switches. He hasn’t yet developed a robust enough post game to punish opponents when they exchange a smaller player onto him and that’s a big problem. The striking part is how much he struggles to establish good enough position. Despite his 225-pound frame, Markkanen is not very physical.

If the opponent can guard him with a six-foot-six player without any consequence, then it can limit the impact of his outside shooting; closing out to him faster, navigating screens better and getting into his air space more easily.

DEFENSE

Hidden within a well-structured system, surrounded by plus defenders, Markkanen can be OK on the other end. He can move his feet and has some lateral mobility to stay in front of bigger types defending one-on-one. His closeouts are only so-so, as he doesn’t have the speed to run shooters off their spot often, but he at least consistently puts in the effort to contest jumpers.

But when something more is required off him, Markkanen has disappointed.

He is an iffy help defender at this point of his development, rarely putting himself in position to challenge shots at the basket and lacking the length or the helps to act as a shot blocking threat when he did manage to rotate to the rim in time – collecting just 19 blocks in his 37 appearances in college.

In other areas of interior defense, Markkanen hasn’t shown a lot of toughness. 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.

He 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 17.5% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor – which is a disappointing mark for someone his size.

But how the pros will attack him the most in the immediate future is in the pick-and-roll. While he is nimble enough to guard big men who face-up against him, Markkanen is not agile enough to pick up smaller players on switches out on an island and hasn’t looked particularly comfortable guarding above the foul line.

[1] According to hoop-math

[2] According to our stats’ database

[3] According to Ken Pomeroy

[4] Ignoring combo-forward types like Semi Ojeleye, Alec Peters and Cameron Oliver

[5] According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz

[6] According to sports-reference

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