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Detroit Pistons #DraftDreams: Festus Ezeli

Discuss Draft Dreams on Twitter using the #DraftDreams hashtag


  • Measurables: 6-foot-11, 255 pounds, senior center from Vanderbilt
  • Key Stats: 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks per game, 53 percent shooting
  • Projected: Late first round to second round
  • Hickory High Similarity Score

Why I like this guy

A big, defensive-minded center who is athletic and runs the floor well? Yeah, that’ll do.

Ezeli is a rising name among draft prospects for those reasons, so he might be off the board by the time the Pistons pick in the second round. But if he’s not, there is a lot to like. Like, for instance, he just went right at consensus No. 1 pick Anthony Davis in the SEC title game yesterday. Via Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean:

He scored 17 points, dunked four times, made seven of 10 free throws and pulled down six rebounds before fouling out with 16 seconds left in Vanderbilt’s 71-64 win over the No. 1 Wildcats in the SEC Tournament championship.

“I wanted (Davis) bad. Bad,” Ezeli said. “Last game he demolished me. That’s not the way I play. I take pride in my defense, and he had a career-high (28 points) on me. I had to play him again.

“I wasn’t going to let any play he makes stop me today. I was going to keep coming.”

Like I said, yeah, that’ll work. Ezeli, originally from Nigeria, also has an interesting back story — a late-bloomer as a basketball player, he was planning to become a doctor before things started working out for him on the court.

Pros for the Pistons

It is no secret what the Pistons need up front. For all of the wonderful things Greg Monroe does offensively, his defense is still light years behind his offense.

He also has a couple other limitations — namely, average athleticism that makes him a longshot to ever develop into a rim-protecting presence on defense or an explosive finisher on offense — that are not easily correctable. Pairing him with a big man who is athletic, who is an instinctive defensive player and who is capable of catching and finishing Monroe’s precision passes around the basket will go a long way towards making the Pistons a more complete team.

Also, personality-wise, Ezeli fits the ‘character not characters’ thing Joe Dumars has been harping on since last season ended. He’s worked extremely hard just to have a college basketball career. Then, once he got there, he worked even harder to become a standout player. That type of work ethic would fit in seamlessly with young, hard-working Pistons like Monroe and Brandon Knight.

Cons for the Pistons

The Pistons could really use immediate help up front, and Ezeli might not be the guy to fill that need. They can certainly afford to take a chance on a high upside player who might need a year or two to develop into a rotation player — after all, the Pistons aren’t going back to the Finals any time soon, they can be patient — but drafting a player who is a bit of a project like Ezeli would mean they would also need to go find a stopgap rotation big to take the place of the retiring Ben Wallace in case Ezeli is to raw to contribute right away.

Ezeli is also a bit limited on offense. He probably won’t be much of a post-up option right away as he lacks post moves and he at times is a bit passive on offense. Still, playing next to Monroe, having a good offensive option at the other frontcourt spot is less vital. As long as Ezeli can catch and dunk, and he has shown he can do those things, he wouldn’t be asked to do too much else as a Piston.

What others are saying

Chad Ford:

  • Great size, long arms
  • Excellent shot blocker
  • Good offensive rebounder
  • Quick for a big man
  • Emerging offensive game
  • Runs the floor well for a big man


Utilizing his mobility and leaping ability effectively, Ezeli is a very good catch-and-finish option in the paint. Though he could still stand to improve his hands and forces some shots out of position with his back to the rim that he’d be better served not taking, the senior connects at a 67%-clip in finishing situations, showing the ability to effortlessly play above the rim, sometimes even finishing with dunks over defenders in traffic. Doing a fine job slipping the pick and roll and using block-to-block screens to find space underneath, Ezeli already does a nice job finding opportunities for easy baskets at the rim, something that could continue to improve as he develops his decision-making and gets a better feel for spacing.


The problem I have with Ezeli surrounds his inability to create shots. And if he’s not given the ball in prime position to score, he can disappear throughout stretches of a game. There’s no denying his physical tools and potential as a physical, interior presence.

Sporting News:

“He changes the nature of how we can do things on both ends when he’s healthy and when he’s right,” Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said Wednesday on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference.

NBC Sports:

Festus Ezeli is a first round pick and one of the best big man in the SEC, if not the country. He’s a force on both ends of the floor. There is no way that inserting that presence into your lineup won’t have an effect.

What is the best thing Festus Ezeli does for his team?

Chris Lee (follow him on Twitter) is the publisher of VandySports.com, part of the Rivals.com network:

Pros: Festus Ezeli has made an incredible journey to get to this point. He never played a single game of high school basketball, yet blossomed into one of the Southeastern Conference’s best post players by his junior season. Ezeli is Vanderbilt’s all-time leader in blocked shots, but even when he’s not swatting them, his presence in the post has a significant impact on games. Offensively, his size and strength make him tough to stop on the low block when he establishes position. Ezeli is highly-intelligent and has a terrific attitude, and has worked extraordinary hard to make himself an NBA prospect.

If you want to see what the upside looks like, look at his performance against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in the SEC Tournament title game. He got the best of Davis in that match-up, out-scoring him 17 to 12, and it took Davis nine shots to get those points. Ezeli used his physical advantage to limit Davis’s opportunities and keep him from dominating around the rim like few people have this season.

Cons: Ezeli’s inexperience still shows in big ways. Any team taking him is going to have to be patient, because he won’t be an impact player right away. He’s not a great foul shooter, though he’s gotten significantly better the last two years. He probably hasn’t scored outside of eight feet in his entire college career, has little instinct for passing (he’s never had more than one assist in any game), commits a lot of turnovers, and his rebound rate is lower than you’d hope to see for a man his size. He also disappeared at times as a junior on the offensive end, which had a lot to do with persistent knee and back issues. Still, there might be a little more hope for Ezeli in some of these areas; his relative inexperience means that he’s far from a finished product.



  • Mar 12, 20121:26 pm
    by vic


    I like Festus. immediately, he wouldn’t be that much of an improvement on Jason Maxiell. but considering that he just started playing basketball in college, and that missed a bunch of games this year with suspension and injury, I think he has a bit higher ceiling than it appears.

    If we don’t get Davis, Drummond or Fab Melo, I’d definitely take him with our first 2nd round pick.

  • Mar 12, 20121:28 pm
    by Reaction


    I like this guy.. but where is he projected to be in the draft? Personally my draft order for players in this draft is:
    1. Davis
    2. Drummond
    3 and 4. Either Sullinger or Gilchrist
    5. Barnes

    • Mar 12, 20123:04 pm
      by Patrick Hayes


      He’s been projected anywhere from late first to second. If the Pistons got him, they’d probably have to snag him with the first of their two second round picks. Not sure he’ll stay on the board that long though.

    • Mar 12, 20123:55 pm
      by tarsier


      Hmmm not many people would take Sullinger over Robinson. I’m not criticizing, but would you mind explaining that choice?

      • Mar 12, 20125:37 pm
        by Reaction


        Too be honest, I’m more of a fan of the way he plays and the leadership/skills he exemplifies on the court. For some reason I feel like Sullinger will make a bigger impact in the NBA.

  • Mar 12, 20121:43 pm
    by neutes


    Can’t say I’m a fan of his rebounding numbers, but he seems like a decent project. I’d rather take the first guy in this series, one Mr. Draymond Green, in the 2nd round, and Fab Melo or this dude later. Festus seems alright, but there have already been a couple players profiled here (green and taylor) that look capable of being legit NBA players, and if you can find one of those in the 2nd I’d rather do that than go for a project.

    • Mar 12, 20122:13 pm
      by Chris H


      I’d like his rebounding numbers to be better as well, but there may be other reasons for those low numbers.  Maybe Vandy has some excellent shooting numbers, maybe they shoot from outside frequently, or force long shots, which make rebounds bounce long instead of near the rim.  It’s hard to tell from a highlight video, but he could also be putting himself out of position for rebounds by challenging all of the shots.  That happens to overzealous bigs, note there are few excellent rebounds grabbed in traffic shown in highlight reels. Though from what I have read I don’t think Ezeli will  care about highlight reels, as opposed to win %.  

      Somehow I don’t think this guy is going to be around in the draft when Detroit picks in the second round, that being said I’d pick him over the other guys already profiled that would be in Detroits spot (note Zeller should be long gone by then, so I am not saying to pick this guy in the lottery). Fact is you can’t teach height and athleticism, you can find swingmen all over the place in the NBA.  Detroit has to take a gamble on guys like Ezeli, if nothing else he could be excellent trade bait because every team will take another athletic big.

    • Mar 12, 20123:59 pm
      by tarsier


      Poor rebounding factors in. But if you assume that Monroe and Knight will be pieces of Detroit’s core, they can cover that deficiency. Both are very good rebounders for their position. Ezeli’s role would be defense–which Monroe currently sucks at. Best case scenario, this guy looks like a Trevor Booker, which Detroit could really use but isn’t going to be any sort of game changer.

      • Mar 12, 20124:03 pm
        by frankie d


        i disagree.  
        a seven footer who can block shots can change games.
        ezeli can do that.
        booker is an undersized big.  he is basically a more athletic, more fit version of maxiell.  with a bit more offensive skill.  i love booker and i’ve been watching him since his days at clemson, but he is a totally different type player.  ezeli is a true center, a big man you can match up with any center or big guy.  booker is someone who is going to run into matchup problems at times simply because of his lack of size.

        • Mar 12, 20124:33 pm
          by tarsier


          Sorry, perhaps poor word choice. Yes, he could change some games potentially. But he will not be a significant factor in how good or bad the team is. Very much like a Jonas Jerebko–but at the PF/C spot. I probably should have compared him to Amir Johnson instead of Trevor Booker. Again, this is assuming he realizes his best case scenario. The man is intriguing and plays the right position, but most likely will never be even a role player on an NBA team.

          • Mar 12, 20125:52 pm
            by frankie d

            have you seen the guy play?

          • Mar 12, 20126:17 pm
            by tarsier

            Yeah, have you? He plays well, but he is hardly phenomenal on the college level. He is an above average starter. Rarely does that translate to role player on the NBA level, much less more than a role player.

          • Mar 12, 20129:01 pm
            by frankie d

            well, i’ve seen 6 of vanderbilt’s games this year. a couple of those games, he’s been ok or mediocre. other games he’s played well or very well. i don’t really think about what generally “translates” to the nba level or whether someone is an average or above average starter. i just look at the player and what he does or does not do well. imho, it’s pretty clear that ezeli has the physical profile and demonstrable skills that, absent injury, will pretty much guarantee that he’ll play at the nba level. if there is one kind of player who always gets a shot, its a seven footer. and if that seven footer has any sort of athleticism, a team will probably find some way to use him. imho, the only question about him is whether he’s going to be a 7th or 8th guy in a rotation or a solid starter. i think it’s much more likely that he’s going to be a solid starter. but then, that is just my opinion after watching him play.

  • Mar 12, 20122:55 pm
    by Tim


    Really like Uncle Festus.  I would also love to get Kentucky’s Jones.  Doesnt look like Davis (who looks like an ugly woman to me) or Drummond are realistic anymore, and I dont really care for the Baylor players or Sully.

  • Mar 12, 20123:10 pm
    by Alan


    Nice to read about Festus Ezeli after watchin him play this weekend.  Also, I think he exposed Anthony “BROWSer” Davis a bit.  That body needs some work.

  • Mar 12, 20123:50 pm
    by frankie d


    thanks for doing the ezeli profile.  i’ve watched him several times this season – just happened across a vanderbilt game early this season and wondered why i hadn’t heard of this guy before – and he’s been impressive most times i’ve seen him.  he’s going to be a real sleeper in this draft, imho.
    yesterday, you could tell that he was really focused and wanted to compete against davis.  and he actually got the best of davis.  davis did not dominate the game, as he often can.  and that was because of fezeli.  he helped keep kentucky and davis off the offensive boards, which is where they usually kill teams.  he prevented davis from doing one of his spectacular dunks a couple of times, including one spectacular block on an attempted davis dunk.   he’s not quite as quick or athletic as davis, but he’s not far behind.  and several times, he simply moved davis out of the way, as he is much stronger.  (he outweighs davis by about 35 pounds and it is all muscle.) on one play, davis had rebounding position, and ezeli came in, threw a hip check that would have made leo boivin proud, and just moved davis out of the way, like you’d move a kid out of the way.
    he’s not a reed-thin seven footer like henson or even davis.  he’s a big, solid, athletic guy who has good strength.
    one way you can tell that he is inexperienced, however, is his poor rebounding numbers.  he simply loses concentration on the defensive end and doesn’t focus on the ball.    he doesn’t explode to the ball the way that guys like rodman and laimbeer or kenneth faried or paul millsap do.  yesterday, however, because he was so intent on competing with davis, he did little stuff like boxing out, good fundamental basketball.  he also goes after lots of shots and takes himself out of position because of his aggressiveness.
    offensively, he is limited.  basically dunking is about all he does well.  he has a bricklayer’s touch, even in close, and he will blow lots of easy shots.  but he has a nose for the ball and will go get it on the offensive end.  
    he also looks like he could be an excellent dive man on the pick and roll.  he is a very active and good screener – when vanderbilt is on offense, he’s always hunting for guys to screen –  and he has excellent footwork and always presents a nice target for the pass as he rolls to the basket.   you see lots of guys, even pros, who don’t have that knack.  for instance,lamarcus aldridge is horrible at it – his footwork is atrocious – which is a big reason he always settles for a spot up jumper instead of rolling to the basket.
    he can catch the  ball also, and his hands appear to be good, though not great.
    defensively, he is very solid.  he is strong enough to not get pushed around.  he holds his position well.  he is a good shotblocker now, and aggressively goes after shooters.  he understands his role well.   his footwork is very good when he goes out to defend on the perimeter, and though i haven’t really seen him defend the pick and roll that much in games, he definitely has very good feet for a big guy and with his length, there is no reason he couldn’t defend that play well.  as i noted, his footwork when he dives to the basket on pick and rolls is excellent, and if he’s able to master that technique, offensively, he should be able to utilize that same athleticism defensively.
    bottom line is that he is a good shotblocker, a solid defender in the post, can get out and defend away from the basket, is physical and very competitive.
    offensively, he seems to have decent enough hands to be able to catch passes around the basket and he looks like he could develop into an excellent dive man on pick and rolls because of his nifty footwork.  he is, however, a rodman-level bricklayer and he may always be a bad shooter, even from in close.
    imho, he’ll probably be drafted somewhere from mid-first to early second.  no way he lasts beyond the first part of the second round.  i’ve hoped that the pistons would move a guy and get another first rounder somewhere in the mid-first, late first range.  if they got a pick in that range, ezeli would be a great pick.  i doubt he’ll be there when they make their first pick in the second round.
    and if vanderbilt makes a run in the tourney – which is possible, as they have a tough, veteran team, full of seniors and one junior – his stock will rise even more. 
    ezeli is one guy who the pistons could pick up who would fit very nicely with monroe.
    davis would be the best fit, no doubt.  most of the other guys touted as top ten/lottery picks would be nice additions to the team, and they would help,  but they really don’t address the issues presented when monroe is your other big guy.  ezeli is one of the few guys – other than davis – who might fit well next to monroe.
    btw, terrance jones is a nice player, but a bit of a flake.  he’s a portland kid, and while he is obviously very talented, i’m not sure i’d take him with a lottery pick.  imho, he has a very high potential for charlie vlillanueva/tim thomas territory.

    • Mar 12, 20124:01 pm
      by tarsier


      This whole kicking-it-to-another-gear-for-big-games mentality really bugs me. If a guy can’t go all out for the 30ish games of an NCAA season, how is he ever gonna be useful in the NBA?

      • Mar 12, 20124:17 pm
        by Patrick Hayes


        I agree with that. I wasn’t so much impressed that he got up to play Davis, just that he understood that Davis embarrassed him the first time they played and he learned from that and did things differently the second time.

      • Mar 12, 20124:18 pm
        by frankie d


        in any profession, you tend to have better motivation at times, depending on circumstances.  its just human nature.
        imho, the best athletes use that ability to “up” their motivation to their advantage.
        jordan was notorious for inventing reasons to get more hyped up about certain games.  kobe does it now.
        you can see that brandon knight does it.
        zeke did it, to a fault.  he played at another level for important games – and when he played john stockton – and often got bored and mediocre at other times.
        sure, it would be great if every person could maintain the same high level of competitiveness 24/7, every time out.  
        it aint gonna happen.
        ezeli is not one of those guys, however, who seems to have problems with his motivation.  i saw the earlier kentucky/vanderbilt game but don’t remember much other than that it was not as competive as i would have liked.   more than likely, kentucky was able to do little things to take ezeli out of his game, as his lack of experience makes him especially vulnerable to that.  yesterday, it looked like the entire vanderbilt team was a lot more prepared to play kentucky and deal with the unique problems they present.

        • Mar 12, 20124:38 pm
          by tarsier


          It’s true, and there always will be examples of great players like that. And there will also be examples of great players who are much more consistent and play the same way against everyone (Duncan, Wilt, Wade, etc). But if you are not incredibly talented, such inconsistency will usually make you lose your spot in the league. Role players are useless if you can’t count on them.

          I had not considered Patrick’s explanation. And if it really had to do with just learning more about how to deal with a particular player so he matches up better the second time around, good for Izeli and that does bode well for him. If he is looking to carve out an NBA career as a role player who needs “extra motivation,” probably not gonna happen.

          • Mar 12, 20126:12 pm
            by frankie d

            ezeli’s ceiling is that of a starting nba big.
            at his worst, imho, he will be a nazr mohammed-level role player.
            a big man with his athleticism, his length, his strength, he’s going to find a role in the league. heck, eric dampier is still playing. diop is still stealing money.
            ezeli will be at least as good as those guys. at least.
            at his best, imho, he can be a starting big man on a nba playoff team.
            in detroit, imho, he could provide an excellent partner for monroe. he will be able to do everything that maxiell does, but he will do it better. he is bigger, quicker, longer, just as strong and a better shotblocker. neither one is a great rebounder. max is a better shooter. but ezeli would be an upgrade for that position because of his superior defensive presence and size.

          • Mar 13, 201210:15 am
            by tarsier

            You seriously overestimate the “at worst.” Every year there are several guys like him drafted. Just like you said before, because they are big, somewhat athletic, and productive in college. And the chance of such a player turning out well is worth the chance someone takes to draft him. But most don’t last past the end of their rookie deal. Could Ezeli be better than Nazr Mohammed? Absolutely, if that were his ceiling, he wouldn’t be worth drafting. Because Nazr Mohammed caliber players are available for not much more than the contract of early picked rookies. But his floor is most assuredly in the range of playing 5 mpg for two seasons, then going to the D-league then finding another non-basketball occupation. Anyone who has a higher floor than that has no chance of making it to the second round.

          • Mar 13, 20123:33 pm
            by frankie d

            “ But his floor is most assuredly in the range of playing 5 mpg for two seasons, then going to the D-league then finding another non-basketball occupation. Anyone who has a higher floor than that has no chance of making it to the second round.”

            so…you know this for a fact?
            you have a crystal ball, i assume…

          • Mar 13, 20123:37 pm
            by frankie d

            btw, what games did you see ezeli play?

          • Mar 13, 20126:53 pm
            by tarsier

            That is the floor of every single player who is not a first round lock! Seriously, most guys not drafted in the top 10 don’t stick in the league. If someone is a sure thing to at least be a role player, the only way he makes it into the late 20s is if his ceiling is incredibly low. It’s called scouting. Sure things with at least decent ceilings get drafted early. Period.

          • Mar 13, 20126:56 pm
            by tarsier

            You don’t need a crystal ball to know a guy’s floor and ceiling–just to figure out how good he’ll actually be. That’s why they are called floor and ceiling. They are the end points of the range of how effective a player might end up being.

            I never said Ezeli would be in the league for just two years, contributing nothing, before moving on. Just that that (and not Nazr Mohammed) is the bottom of his potential.

  • Mar 12, 20123:59 pm
    by frankie d


    just looked at the highlight video on the post and noted that at about the 3 minute mark you see a couple of examples of nice, simple, effective footwork on pick and rolls.  he does it so smoothly, it looks easy. of course, it isn’t – just ask lamarcus aldridge – but he has such nice feet that he’s able to execute it extremely well.  the video also showed how he is like a magnet to the rim.  he understands his game and he knows that any offense he gets is going to come from right around the rim, so he always heads straight to the basket.

  • Mar 12, 20124:15 pm
    by Chris H


    Currently the Bleacher Report has the entire first round mocked:


    Their Next Five don’t include Ezeli either.  I suppose that would be a good sign, but if he keeps out deuling guys like Davis, I still don’t think he’ll be around when Detroit picks in the second.  For what it is worth Bleacher Report has Draymond Green going to the Bulls with the 30th pick.

    • Mar 12, 20126:01 pm
      by frankie d


      i will bet that ezeli is drafted ahead of fab melo.  he’s got a better motor and seems to be more competitive.  melo may have more natural talent, but i think ezeli will be a better pro.
      melo still is a bit “soft” after losing lots of weight.  ezeli doesn’t have any concerns of that sort.

  • Jun 6, 201212:49 am
    by jalen thompson


    This guy is a sleeper in the draft and would be long gone before the end of the first round

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