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2020 NBA Draft Profiles: Udoka Azubuike

Udoka Azubuike looks the part of the modern big, but

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NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Udoka Azubuike, Big, University of Kansas

  • 2019-2020 Season Stats: 31 games played, 27.7 minutes per game, 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 0.9 assists, 74.8% shooting, 44.1% free throw shooting
  • ADVANCED STATS STRENGTHS (per Tanktahon): Effective Field Goal Percentage (74.8%), Defensive Win Shares (.121), Defensive Rating (82.9)
  • ADVANCED STATS WEAKNESSES: Free Throw Percentage (44.1%), 3PA Rate (0.00), Projected NBA 3pt Percentage (28.1)
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD RANKINGS: ESPN (31st), CBS Sports (63rd), The Athletic (50th), The Ringer (50th), Tankathon (48th)
  • ACCOLADES: All-Big 12 (1st team, 2019-20; 3rd team, 2017-18), 2019-20 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, 2019-20 Big 12 Player of the Year, 2019-20 NABC Defensive Player of the Year, 2019-20 Wooden Award Finalist, 2019-20 All-American (2nd team)

This draft would be way more popular if it was 15-20 years ago, as it’s full of big men with a questionable fit for the modern NBA - James Wiseman, Precious Achuiwa, Isaiah Stewart, Vernon Carey Jr., just to name a few. Despite the murky outlook, they have intriguing skillsets, whether it’s sheer size, rebounding, post play, or defense.

Insert Udoka Azibuike — someone who embodies all of them.

The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is a devastating presence that finishes just about anything around the rim and has excellent shot-blocking instincts. There’s just a huge caveat: shooting. Azibuike has the tools to be a really good backup center at the next level, but how will his biggest flaw alter that possibility?


NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What he does well

Udoka Azibuike is a beast.

He’s a big-bodied center — 7-foot and 270 pounds — with a freakish 7’7” wingspan, and he has the mobility to be a force on both ends of the floor. His footwork in the post and timing in the pick-and-roll is a huge factor in his remarkable efficiency around the rim, as he scored 1.75 points per possessions around the rim in the half-court (100th percentile!!). He also scores 1.37 PPP as a roll man, which falls in the 93rd percentile. That bodes well for his NBA outlook, since he’ll be someone who generates a ton of their looks around the rim and out of the pick and roll.

Defense is where his money can be made. This past season, he had more blocks (80) than fouls (75), a positive indicator of his maturity and timing on that end of the floor. In addition, he averaged 2.6 blocks per game — 2nd in the Big 12 and 16th in the NCAA. Obviously with his size, he’s going to be a force around the rim. The biggest question with him will be if he can defend NBA perimeter players in space off switches.


Where he needs to improve

Azibuike can’t shoot, and there’s literally no indication he can score outside the paint.

LITERALLY:

Udoka Azubuike 2019-20 shot chart
https://stats.nba.com/articles/2020-nba-draft-profile-udoka-azubuike/

He doesn’t shoot outside the paint at all, and his poor free throw shooting shows that he doesn’t have a soft shooting touch either. There was little improvement from the stripe too, as he shot 37.9, 41.3, 34.4, and 44.1. Sure, he can improve in this area, but it’ll be hard to keep him on the floor. He’ll either destroy a team’s spacing, or he’ll be subject to getting hacked.

If he does improve in this area though, his ceiling will raise, and he can be a fringe center at the next level.


NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The fit and verdict

I’m not too fond of this fit for the Memphis Grizzlies. I don’t see him being better than Gorgui Dieng over the next two seasons, and his long-term outlook is less favorable than a healthy Jontay Porter. Like I mentioned with Nick Richards, I’m not a fan of adding another prospect at center, when 3 of their 4 best players can play that position — and 2 of them are the Grizzlies’ projected cornerstones.

There is a shot that Azukuike outplays his draft position and becomes a nice journeyman big. If he can even hit a mid-range jumper and shoot 60% from the free throw line, he can warrant starter minutes, given his fantastic offensive efficiency and defensive prowess as a rim protector.

Verdict: Udoka Azubuike is available at 40, but the Memphis Grizzlies pass on him for a perimeter player.

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