RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Festus EzeliPosted by EJacoby on May 23rd, 2012
The 2012 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 28, in New York City. As we have done for the last several years, RTC’s team of writers (including Andrew Murawa, Kevin Doyle, Evan Jacoby, Matt Patton, and Danny Spewak) will provide comprehensive breakdowns of each of the 35 collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll work backwards, starting with players who are projected near the end of the first round before getting into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation.
Note: Click here for all published 2012 NBA Draft profiles.
Player Name: Festus Ezeli
Height/Weight: 6’11” / 255 lbs.
NBA Position: Center
Projected Draft Range: Late First Round/Early Second Round
Overview: Festus Ezeli brings a lot to the table besides having the best name of any available prospect. At 6’11” and 255 pounds, Ezeli is a physical specimen who stands out immediately as usually the strongest player on the floor. His wide body allows him to carve out space on the low blocks to make simple moves in the post. But most impressive is his ability to defend the rim with his prototypical size and wingspan (7’4”) for a center. Unfortunately, Ezeli suffered a knee sprain at the start of his senior year that forced him to miss 10 games and seemed to hamper him throughout the entire season. His lack of elite athleticism was already a concern and remains an issue after he struggled to recover from injury. As a result, he averaged just 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior, a far cry from the numbers that we expected after a breakout junior year. He also has poor floor awareness in the post, leading to an atrocious 0.14 assist-to-turnover ratio. His 2.0 blocks per game in 23.2 minutes, though, shows that he maintained his strongest asset as a shot-blocking force. Because of the overall unproductive senior campaign, Ezeli may be dropping on the center totem pole behind guys like Fab Melo and Andrew Nicholson, both players he was arguably ahead of prior to injury. This could make him a strong value at the end of the first round or in the early second round for a team in need of some size and strength defensively.
Will Translate to the NBA: Given the lack of true centers in the NBA at this time, Ezeli’s tools are coveted by numerous GMs. His prototypical size and strength is something alone that will get him drafted, and his high block percentage throughout his career in the SEC should translate well to the next level. He’s also been a consistently good offensive rebounder and finisher at the rim, something necessary against NBA competition. His willingness to work hard, run the floor, and make hustle plays is also something that will be an asset to any team. His physical tools and hard-nosed attitude will give him a chance to succeed in the NBA.
Needs Work: Despite playing four years at Vandy and being 22 years old, Ezeli still has much room to grow as a player. To reach his potential, he needs to see improvement in several areas, most noticeably in his offensive awareness. He’s shown an ability to score in the post against smaller defenders by using his strong frame, but NBA defenders are much bigger and stronger. He must develop some new moves on offense to enable space to get to the rim. And he’s sure to draw some fouls, where he shot just 60% from the free throw line as a senior. Additionally, he needs to essentially shake the reputation of becoming a ‘stiff’ by showing he can move in and out of space to play at the fast pace of the NBA game. He’s a very strong one-on-one post defender and shot blocker, but the NBA requires big men to constantly defend high pick-and-rolls and make extensive defensive rotations to be a true team defender. If he can pick these things up, Ezeli can be an elite defensive center in the NBA.
Comparison Players: A good comparison for Ezeli is someone like Samuel Dalembert, a player who possesses similar physical specs (6’11”, 250 lbs) and was drafted at the end of the first round. Ezeli has a similar skill set as a defense-first center with ideal size who can protect the rim. Dalembert, though, transitioned from a raw prospect to a 10-year NBA veteran who has averaged 8.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in a strong career thanks to the ability to adapt to the speed of the NBA game. Ezeli needs to prove he’s agile and smart enough as a player to react to the pro game. If he can do these things and stay healthy, Ezeli has the physical tools to succeed for a long career like Dalembert.
Best Case Scenario: Ezeli’s ceiling can only be reached if he stays healthy and uses his imposing body on a nightly basis. If so, then he can become a starting center in the NBA. All teams need someone with Ezeli’s size, and his potential to still improve as an offensive player gives him a chance to stick around for a while. Consider that Brendan Haywood, Timofey Mozgov, and Aaron Gray were some of the starting centers in the NBA this past season, and you can see why Ezeli has the potential to be a starter in the league.
Best NBA Fit: Most teams could stand to bolster their front lines, so Ezeli could be a fit in plenty of places. But because he is still figuring out how to play and use his body, he would be best suited to be a reserve behind an experienced center. Looking at the end of the first round, teams like the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder would be logical fits. He could step in right away and play behind Roy Hibbert for Indiana or replace Nazr Mohammed for the Thunder as the backup to Kendrick Perkins. Anywhere he lands, expect Ezeli to work hard as a reserve.
Scout’s Take (from NBADraft.net): “A bright kid with four years of experience at the SEC’s top academic school. Ezeli has a huge wingspan and is willing to mix it up down low.”
*This post was contributed by RTC’s Evan Jacoby. He can be found on Twitter @evanJacoby.