Better Know a Prospect: Ekpe Udoh - PF, Baylor

Ekpe Udoh entered the draft after a breakout season playing for Baylor. He had a year off from basketball where he developed his body and skills, and he became a force offensively and defensively for the Bears. Ekpe Udoh (Wikipedia helpfully points out that his name is pronounced epp-AY YOU-doe) is long and broad-shouldered, coming in at 6'10" and 240 lbs. He is an overpowering shot blocker, is a good passer and rebounder, and can even create off the dribble. However, he's 23 years old and has limited potential.

Bio: Born and raised in Edmond, OK, a suburb of Oklahoma City, Ekpedeme Friday Udoh is the son of Nigerian immigrants. Remarkably, his father is a slight five feet and nine inches tall, but Ekpe gets his height from his grandfather, who reaches a full seven feet. Out of high school, he wasn't heavily recruited, but got a scholarship offer from Michigan. He decided to attend and be coached by Tommy Amaker, but Amaker was fired after Udoh's senior season. John Beilein was hired to coach the Wolverines, but Udoh wasn't a good fit in Beilein's methodical and slow-paced offense. He decided to transfer after his sophomore season to Baylor, sitting out a year due to NCAA requirements. The transfer did wonders for him - in the year off, he dedicated himself to getting better physically and fundamentally, and when he came back for his third season, he emerged as an offensive and defensive force, averaging a double-double for the Bears while also blocking 4.3 shots per game and snagging over four offensive rebounds every game. He even set the single-season Big 12 record for blocked shots. At Baylor, his major was "General Studies." I sure hope this NBA gig works out for him.

Stats: Ekpe Udoh has the statistical profile of a quality defensive big man that tends to take shots away from the basket. He is an elite shot-blocker (4.3 per 40p) and a solid if not spectacular rebounder (11 per 40p). He's reasonably good at getting to the line (0.42 FTA/FGA) and is an excellent foul shooter (68.5 FT%). Udoh is a very efficient scorer (110 ORtg) that can maintain that efficiency at a high usage rate - he used 22.9% of his team's possessions. And he's durable, playing 87.2% of minutes last season. But there are some problems - Udoh has a relatively low 2 point field goal percentage (50.5%), which indicates that he's having some trouble creating easy shots for himself near the basket. Part of the reason Udoh didn't have a high 2 point field goal percentage might stem from the size of the players around him - three players at least 6'10" played over 40% of Baylor's minutes last year. That helped make them the tallest team in the country. The size down low may have forced Udoh to play a little bit further from the block, decreasing his field goal percentage and deflating his rebounding numbers. In particular, Udoh gets a lot of offensive rebounds compared with his defensive rebounds. His true defensive rebounding rate may be far higher when there aren't other towering frontcourt players taking away easy defensive rebounds.

Skills: Udoh has a lot of skills that are coveted in a big man - he can face the basket and drive, shoot, or pass. He has range up to 20 feet and has reasonable post moves. He can get good looks near the basket due to his fluidity of motion and good coordination, finishing with either hand. On defense, he's a great shot blocker that has a proven ability to stop traditional power forwards. On perimeter defense, he's less tested, and he might have problems against stretch power forwards in the NBA. His biggest problems are physicality and age. He doesn't have the strength down low to fight through defenders or to muscle up on defense, and he doesn't relish contact in the post. And he's 23 years old, which is an obvious minus - he has a significantly lower ceiling than a lot of the players in the draft.

Overall: Ekpe would be a rather milquetoast pick for the Hornets. He would fill a need (PF) but wouldn't do it spectacularly. I don't think he'll fit well with the team as it stands right now - he's too much like David West, a guy that shies away from contact and plays away from the basket. However, it would be great to have him on the defensive side of the ball, where he could join Emeka to form a shot-blocking duo of doom. Another problem - Udoh is unproven as a pick and roll player, something Chris Paul badly needs. And the final strike against him - Draft Express considers his worst case production to be "Hilton Armstrong." I don't think we want to see that again. Although I like Udoh's game and think he'd be a decent pick at the 11th spot in the draft, I don't think that his skill set is a good fit for the Hornets.

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