One of the more surprising themes from early mock drafts is Ekpe Udoh at selection number eight to the Clippers. After giving it some thought however, the logic behind that mock selection makes sense. Although the Clippers have three big men on contract (Griffin, Kaman, Jordan), the fact remains that one has never played a minute in the NBA, the other is incredibly injury prone, and the third is still very, very raw. The Clippers can safely head into this draft with a best-player-available strategy as opposed to drafting for need, because really, when you only have five players on contract, you technically need everything.
Before Marcus Camby was shipped out to Portland, the Clippers were regularly hovering around the 13th or 14th spot league-wide in defensive efficiency rating. However once Camby left, the Clippers devolved into the worst defensive team in the league statistically, even worse than the Toronto Raptors, who basically place a giant welcome mat in front of their hoop. Obviously there were special circumstances in addition to just Camby leaving (new coach, new personnel, dead season) but the fact remains that the Clippers were absolutely terrible on the defensive end without a true force to protect the rim. Addressing that issue will likely be a priority this offseason, perhaps even through the draft. With the possible exception of Jarvis Varnado out of Mississippi State, there may not be a better shot blocker in the draft than Ekpe Udoh.
Udoh’s post game is very dependent on his personal comfort zones. When Udoh posts on the left block his back to the basket game looks incredibly polished. Udoh’s right hand jump hook is a bona fide, NBA-ready weapon right now. Honestly, it’s one of the softest, prettiest jump hooks I’ve seen from a college kid in quite some time. One of my favorite things about Udoh’s post game is his counter for defenders that sit on his left shoulder and try to take away the hook. Udoh’s counter is a slick up-and-under move and a finish with his left hand that’s a beautiful thing to watch on tape. Even with just those two moves, Udoh is deadly from the left block, and it shows up in the stats. Udoh scores 1.07 points per possession in post up situations on the left side of the floor, a number which ranks him near the tops of all of college basketball.
As deadly as Udoh is on the left side of the floor, he’s an absolute disaster on the right. Even with smaller defenders like point guards switched on to him, Udoh shows poor footwork on his drop step move and usually ends up looking like Bambi on ice. His only real weapon on the right side of the floor is a turnaround jumper, but Udoh doesn’t seem to fully grasp the angles of the backboard well enough to have that be an effective shot yet. The most troubling thing about Udoh’s post game is that he’s incapable of putting much smaller defenders on his hip, turning and powering up for two points. A lot of this is due to Udoh’s lack of strength — let’s just say he’s a t-shirt under the jersey guy for a reason.
From the right block Udoh scores .75 points per possession, a significantly lower amount than on the left. After considering this, you begin to see why big guys so rarely come in and dominate the league right away. A double down on the left block and no help at all on the right block and all of the sudden Udoh is a pretty ineffective back to the basket player.
To be fair, Udoh’s never pretended to be a traditional post scorer. He’s really a finesse player through and through, despite being 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. When Udoh raises up for his jumper, you can see why. He looks comfortable shooting the ball, showing pretty decent form and a nice touch from 15 feet and in. Unfortunately, Udoh may or may not realize his limitations as a shooter. Although it’s not the end of the world, Udoh shot almost one three-point attempt per game (.8 attempts) and connected on only 26.9 percent of those looks. Since he almost always had a size or athleticism advantage on the college level, and usually both, you’d like to see him put his head down and go to the rim a little more often instead of settling for outside jumpers.
Udoh is your classic pick and pop guy, looking very comfortable squaring up and shooting or putting the ball on the deck in face up situations and going to the rim. It’s hard to tell whether Udoh fully understands his offensive limitations, but his aggressiveness offensively is something you like to see.
Udoh is a very good rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass (3.6 offensive rebounds per game). He does a good job of situating himself in front of the rim and then rising up and either tipping out rebounds or collecting them himself on both ends of the floor. Despite being a little on the soft side, Udoh keeps a wide base when blocking out and is constantly positioned near the rim. Even though he’s a jump shooter offensively, once the a teammate’s shot goes up he morphs back into a traditional big. Udoh’s length and motor should serve him well on the next level, provided he bulks up a bit.
By far the strongest aspect of his game, Udoh is an absolute monster blocking shots and protecting the rim. The most underrated thing about Udoh’s shot-blocking ability is that he’s equally comfortable using either hand to swat away shots, something not all shot blockers do. Although most of his blocks come from solid weak-side help, Udoh is extremely difficult to score in the post against unless you go right into his chest. Even then, Udoh is so lanky and good with his body that he’ll sink in his chest and shoulders, avoid the contact, and roof you up top. The best part about Udoh defensively? 3.7 blocks per game against only 2.4 fouls. That’s an incredible statistic, especially on the college level. Shot blocking isn’t all about athleticism, it’s a lot about timing and body control, and Udoh has definitely proven he has both those things.
Best Case Scenario: Jermaine O’Neal
If there’s a blueprint for Udoh to follow, it’s Jermaine O’Neal. For a long time O’Neal was a solid 20-10-2 guy, a finesse player offensively but a very strong shot blocker and a pretty good rebounder despite a lanky frame. O’Neal’s turnaround jumper was a very difficult shot to stop, and his mid-range game was top notch. Udoh has a long ways to go with his footwork and he’s not going to overpower anyone, but the athletic ability and touch on his jumper are the foundations that could eventually turn him into a pretty good scorer.
Worst Case Scenario: Tony Battie
This may indicate that I don’t think highly of Udoh, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. Tony Battie has been a serviceable big guy in the NBA for a long time, and there’s a reason for that. He blocks shots, and he consistently knocks down 15-18 foot jumpers, and that’s it. There’s value to that. Even if Udoh’s footwork and lack of strength betray him, he’ll always have the ability to block shots and he should always have a pretty nice face-up game. Even with minimal growth, which seems unlikely, Udoh should be able to fill the role of a bench big man in the league for quite some time.
How he fits
At 23 years of age, Udoh is one of the older prospects, but because of this he seems to be one of the more polished offensively. Udoh looks comfortable operating at the high post, and is a surprisingly good passer as long as he’s not in the middle of one of his post sequences. Simply put, Udoh’s game translates very well to the league. A lot of college big men come in raw, oozing with athleticism and nothing else, but Udoh is already a pretty skilled guy with room for improvement. With some time on the sand dunes and in the gym with Blake Griffin and the boys, Udoh could end up becoming a nice player on both ends of the floor.