By: Abe Chong
With the sixth overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft, I got kind of mad that we passed over a polished Greg Monroe and drafted a long, athletic forward/center type. Did we not learn our lesson about these types with Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, or even Biedrins? Now that I’ve watched him play throughout the season, I’m starting to wonder what will become of our lottery pick.
One of his knocks coming into the draft was that he was already 23 years old. He has Greg Oden-itis, looking twice his age, but 23 is still young, you guys. At 6’10” and 240 pounds, Udoh has a frame that looks like he’ll probably fill out a bit more as he matures. And to quote more scouting clichés, the kid has got excellent athleticism and a good motor.
“Motor” seems to be a scouting buzzword that’s caught on in the past two years — it basically means that a player tries really, really hard all the time. They’re the most annoying players to play against because all the frenzied running around is pretty freaking anxiety-inducing. Joakim Noah, Tyler Hansborough and Anderson Varejao are all players defined by a “non-stop motor.”
Udoh’s got that motor, and that’s something that I like — the dude is always trying hard. That’s something you want to see from your rookies because it shows passion for the game. When you combine his motor with his size and athleticism, you could have something special. Operative word being “could.”
Because although he’s got some promise, there’s still a very alarming characteristic about Udoh: his inability to grab boards. If you draft a big man sixth overall, you want to see flashes of rebounding dominance in the rookie season. Want to know how many double-digit rebound games Ekpe’s got? Zero. On Sunday against Dallas, Biedrins sat out with a sprained ankle, Udoh started and promptly grabbed ONE rebound in 30 minutes. One. rebound.
Ok, so he’s not gonna be Dwight Howard. But wouldn’t another Joakim Noah be nice? In Noah’s rookie season, he snagged himself a 20-rebound game a helped himself to a couple sides of 15 and 13-rebound games. That’s some sweet per-minute productivity to start baking in your rookie season. Yet Udoh’s played 25-30 minutes a good amount of times, and has failed to register more than seven rebounds. He doesn’t score much either — his hook shot looks like an arm violently vomiting a basketball.
So what can this guy do? He blocks shots like Casey Heynes bodyslams bullies yo. The dude could challenge for the league lead in blocks if he played 35 minutes a game for an entire season. That’s a premium skill.
Shotblocking requires exceptional timing — there are plenty of tall athletic players that get this down. It also electrifies crowds, ignites teams and can single-handedly change a game defensively. But when that’s everything you’ve got, your ceiling is Theo Ratliff, who averaged nearly four blocks a game but just eight rebounds during his peak.
I guess having a Ratliff would be kind of cool, but even in his prime you wouldn’t expect Ratliff to be a premium center on a contending team. There’s been plenty of offensively challenged centers that anchored great teams. Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo even Tyson Chandler has made a huge impact for the Mavericks this season. But all those guys were good rebounders from their rookie seasons, which makes me worry about Udoh.
As much as it sucks to say it, I think the most likely scenario is Ekpe becomes another Chris Andersen — a guy that you bring in for 15 minutes a game to bring the energy and swat shots for the highlight reel. A necessary player, but not the guy that’s going to give you 35 solid minutes night in and night out. Bummer.