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- 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
- 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.
“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.
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?
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.
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