Over the next 3 weeks, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2022 draft. We’ll primarily look at who they may pick with the 22th and 29th pick, or with a pick from a possible trade up in the draft.
Ochai Agbaji, Wing, University of Kansas
- 6’5”, 6’10” wingspan, 210 pounds, 22-years-old, from Kansas City, Missouri
- Last season at Kansas: In 39 games (35.1 minutes per game) — 18.8 points on 48% shooting (41% from three on 6.5 attempts and 74% from the foul line), 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks
- Four-year college career at Kansas: In 116 games (32.6 minutes per game) — 13.5 points on 45% shooting (37% from three and 71% from the FT line), 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
- 3 STATS OF STRENGTH (per Tankathon): Fouls (just 1.9 per game), eFG% (57), TS% (60)
- 3 STATS TO IMPROVE: AST%/Usage% (8.7%/25.3%), AST/TO (1.6/2.1), FT rate (.28)
- AWARDS AND ACCOLADES: Honorable Mention All-Big 12 (2020), First-Team All-Big 12 (2022), Big 12 Player of the Year (2022), Consensus First-Team All-American (2022), NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (2022), and NCAA champion (2022)
- CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENT: 17th (Tankathon), 15th (The Ringer), 15th (ESPN), 13th (CBS Sports), 16 (The Athletic), 22 (Bleacher Report)
In the early 2000s, filmmaker George Lucas gave us the Star Wars prequels, the greatest films that have ever been made. And he compared them to the greatness of the original trilogy: “It’s like poetry, they rhyme, and each stanza follows the next.”
Here is the poetry of the Memphis Grizzlies over the last few years: An older player thrives if not outright dominates at the college level, other teams pass on him because he’s too ‘old’, and then the Grizzlies reap the benefits of their common sense after they draft him (see: Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Xavier Tillman to a lesser extent).
As the 2022 NBA Draft fast approaches, it appears very possible that this pattern will repeat itself for the Grizzlies, this time with Ochai Agbaji, who has the most “Star Wars” name in the draft.
If the rest of the country didn’t know who Agbaji was before the NCAA tournament, they definitely do so now. After all, being the best player on the national champion has a way of making you a household name. He improved each of his four years in college, and his hard work finally paid off when he finished his college career as a 1st-team All-American and national champion.
Shooting, shot-creation, defense, athleticism and pedigree—these qualities are what the Memphis Grizzlies look for in prospects, and Agbaji has them in droves.
Areas of Strength
If there is any skill of Agbaji’s that will almost definitely translate to the NBA from day one, it will be his shooting. He ranked 23rd in the country in 3 PT% (41), and he took the third most attempts (252) out of those 23 players. He also shot 42% on catch-and-shoot jumpers, which placed in the 89th percentile.
However, his impressive stats don’t fully do his shooting and scoring ability justice. As can be seen from his highlights, he’s not just a catch-and-shoot guy. Whether it’s pin-downs, drag screens, or rhythm off-the-dribble jumpers, he’s a versatile scoring weapon that put can pressure on the defense at all three levels; you can’t just face-guard him from the three-point line. He projects to be at least a solid complementary scoring option at the next level, which I think potentially gives him greater upside than the Jae Crowder comparison that been a frequent point of discussion.
Something that Ochai Agbaji does well is use pump fakes and jab steps on the catch to set up his defender before attacking. Combining that with an above-average first step is what gives room for optimism that Agbaji could attack tilted defenses to go along with his shooting pic.twitter.com/o6ceQ8b7I4— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) May 31, 2022
But the Crowder comparison is not without its merits in other areas. Crowder is 6’6” with a 6’9” wingspan and has proven himself as a physical on-ball defender. Agbaji doesn’t quite have the same frame that Crowder does, but his lateral quickness and superb 6’10” wingspan should make him a steady, disruptive defender from day one, with the upside to be even more. He often guarded the opposing best player while at Kansas, and his capability to do that in the NBA is tantalizing.
His physical measurables, including his size and length, have always been there. He’s always been an explosive athlete that thrive in transition and can be an occasional lob threat above the rim. It just took awhile for the skill to catch up.
Areas of Weakness
However, there are deficiencies in Agbaji’s skill-set that’ll keep him from being even a tertiary star in the NBA. I will be fairly surprised if he becomes more than a potentially elite 3-and-D role player who can occasionally create off-the-bounce.
To be clear, it has nothing to do with his age. While I didn’t think it was necessarily the most likely outcome, I believed in Desmond Bane, an older prospect in his own right, as a potential complementary star because I thought he had a considerable amount of untapped potential as an on-ball creator. I turned out to be right on that.
Agbaji, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to possess a ton of upside as a creator and playmaker, mainly because he was undeniably bad in those areas as a 22-year-old college senior. He can effectively use his athleticism to attack closeouts and score off-the-dribble from the mid-range. But his ball-handling is rather poor, and he simply doesn’t have much of a bag to create separation from his defender. It often causes him to settle for difficult floaters when he drives, which is concerning since he ranked in the 6th percentile for floaters.
I do have my concerns about Ochai Agbaji’s lack of a handle. Struggles with pressure defensively & not someone who has been able to create space off the dribble easily. I haven’t seen much improvements from his handle during his four years at Kansas which is slightly concerning. pic.twitter.com/YDWxTaIJom— Global Scouting (@GlobalScouting_) May 31, 2022
Now it’s not the end of the world if a guy can’t be a quality isolation scorer in the NBA; players like that are a premium for a reason. But Agbaji’s issues as a playmaker run much deeper than just shot-creation. On a national championship team that will have at least three players on an NBA roster next season, his 0.76 AST/TO ratio ranked him outside of the top 500 players in the country. He somehow managed to post just an 8.7 AST% while maintaining a 25.3 USG%, which is difficult to fathom (to put that in perspective, Dillon Brooks — who’s not exactly know for his wise decisions and playmaking chops — posted a 15.4 AST% and while having a 26.8 USG%). It’s hard to have the ball in your hands that much and not tally more assists.
Ochai Agbaji has struggles with his passing. He often throws inaccurate passes, decision-making can be pretty questionable, & he finished his college career with a negative assist to turnover ratio. I’m not sure I can ever picture him being a secondary ball-handler or playmaker. pic.twitter.com/dgLCHUwGoj— Global Scouting (@GlobalScouting_) May 31, 2022
Again, he played for the best team in the country; it’s not like he was playing with bums who couldn’t make the shots that he was creating for them. So it’s a clear red flag that he struggled this badly as a playmaker when he was a 22-year-old senior playing on the best team in the country.
Fit with the Grizzlies
Yet I don’t think that Agbaji’s weaknesses should scare the Memphis Grizzlies off. To put it simply, I think the Grizzlies need his strengths more than they do his weaknesses. The two biggest issues that they need to address is perimeter shooter (alas, the sky is still blue) and point-of-attack defense. Abaji would bolster both of those weaknesses while also adding to the Grizzlies’ above-the-rim athleticism.
Some, of course, might argue that the Grizzlies need to prioritize shot-creation, but I disagree. While you can never have too many skilled shot-creators, it’s a bit of a misconception that it’s a huge area of need for Memphis. The Grizzlies have four players in their normal starting lineup who can (somewhat) reliably create their own shot. The bench could maybe some use more punch in that department, but the team was 6th in bench scoring, and that was with the league’s best backup point guard often playing in the starting lineup. You can’t have it all.
But what you can have is excellence, and Ochai Agbaji defines it. As a prospect, he checks most of the boxes that the Memphis Grizzlies are looking for. And while he probably won’t be available at 22, he is a realistic trade-up option that they should greatly consider.