Prospect of the Week: Ekpe Udoh

Prospect of the Week: Ekpe Udoh
Dec 02, 2009, 01:55 am
Ekpe Udoh, 6-10, Junior, Power Forward, Baylor
15.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 2.4. assists, 2 turnovers, 66% FG, 42% FT

Jonathan Givony

Transferring schools might become all the rage pretty soon, if the success that Wesley Johnson at Syracuse and Ekpe Udoh at Baylor are having thus far is any indication.

Udoh took one look at then-incoming head coach John Beilein’s methodical, perimeter oriented Princeton-type offense and decided it wasn’t for him, eventually leaving Michigan for the greener pastures of Baylor. Based off what we’ve seen thus far, he seems to have made a very good decision for himself. Not only is he being heavily featured in Baylor’s offense, but he appears to have improved his skill-set significantly in the red-shirt year he was forced to sit out.

Udoh is still the same long, broad-shouldered and athletic big man he was at Michigan, but he now is looking more and more like a true power forward. He sees plenty of touches both facing and with his back to the basket, looking fairly comfortable either way creating shots for himself.

In the post, Udoh has a very nice jump-hook he likes to turn to, even if he doesn’t always have enough girth to establish great position down low. He’s an excellent finisher as well, shooting 66% from the field on the season so far.

The place that he shows even more intrigue is on the perimeter, as he appears to have improved his footwork and shooting touch quite a bit, and has become much more effective attacking defenses off the dribble.

Baylor likes to isolate him about 15-17 feet away from the basket and let him go to work, asking him to create his own shot in pure one on one situations. This is something you don’t see all that much at the college level, particularly not with big men. Udoh shows a solid first step and intriguing footwork here, usually pivoting or spinning his way into the paint, and often converting impressively. This is obviously a part of his game that has potential.

He’s not immune to turning the ball over in these situations—either by picking up his pivot foot too quickly on his initial attack or by trying to execute too complicated a move once he’s inside the paint. His balance doesn’t seem to be all that great and he has trouble finishing through contact at times, but it’s nonetheless intriguing to see a 6-10 player flash these kinds of skills.

Udoh has also knocked down three of his six 3-point attempts on the season thus far in seven games, showing solid form and nice touch. He also made a number of mid-range jumpers in the film we took in, indicating that this isn’t a fluke and he’s indeed improved this part of his game. On the downside, he’s only made 42% of his free throws on the season, which is obviously something that needs serious work. Nonetheless, if he can continue to establish himself as a legit floor-spacer as the season moves on, his stock will certainly rise with all the other things he brings to the table.

With his outstanding length, good size and solid athleticism, Udoh has all the tools necessary to be a very valuable contributor on the NBA level as both a defender and rebounder. So far this season he’s putting them to good use, averaging 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. His timing appears to be solid, and he does a terrific job using his long wingspan to contest shots.

Baylor plays quite a bit of zone, and with Udoh manning the 4-spot we get a decent amount of opportunities to see him step out onto the perimeter, where he shows pretty good feet. He seems to have good potential as a pick and roll defender, although at the moment it appears that his fundamentals aren’t always the best. He gives up post position too easily at times and tends to get backed down in the post, not always having the bulk to fight back against stronger opponents.

Udoh also seems to lose some focus and intensity defending off the ball, although part of this may be attributed to his conditioning, which appears to be a work in progress coming off an 18-month absence from competitive play. Adding strength and gaining experience will only make Udoh more effective on this end of the floor, as there is no question that he can develop into a very solid defender and rebounder in the NBA in time, which even without his budding offensive skills would already make him a solid rotation candidate.

Right now Udoh doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar screen, as he’s receiving virtually no attention from the national media or the other NBA draft outlets. Expect that to change pretty soon, as it’s only a matter of time until people take notice of how much Udoh has improved.

Comparing his last season at Michigan with what he’s done so far at Baylor, on a per-minute basis, Udoh has more than doubled his scoring rate, improved his field goal percentage from 44% to 62%, upped his rebounding, assists and free throw attempts considerably, maintained his shot-blocking production, and reduced his fouls dramatically.

Its possible that we've yet to see the best of him just yet as well, as most players tend to take some time to shake off the rust after sitting out an entire season the way Udoh was forced to last year.

Watching him play, it’s tough not to think about the way Jordan Hill rocketed up draft boards right around the same time last year. Udoh might not be quite as explosive as Hill, but he’s got excellent physical attributes in his own right and is much more polished on both ends of the floor.

He’s getting strong reviews off the court as well from people close to the Baylor program. Head coach Scott Drew told us he’s “a class act and a winner,” via email and raved about how he “does so many little things on and off the court that go unnoticed.”

Only 7 games into the season, it may still a bit early to be jumping to too many conclusions, but there are surely plenty of reasons for Baylor fans and NBA scouts alike to be excited about what Udoh is showing thus far.

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