The league trend is smaller lineups. The Heat’s small lineups defeated the Thunder’s small lineups in the finals–though it helps to have the best player in the world, a guy who can play all five positions.
But the small ball movement seems to be one of circumstance rather than innovation. Remember, Erik Spoelstra resisted it to the point that he tried starting Dexter Pittman in the playoffs.
Teams would use traditional lineups if there were more quality bigs.
“Sometimes the counter to that [small ball] is make teams match up to you,” Hawks assistant GM Dave Pendergraft said. “There are still several big centers in the league. I think there is always going to be a premium on big guys. Anytime you can get size and are convinced they can compete at this level, it’s hard to turn down.”
That brings us to the tonight’s draft, when the Hawks could have the chance to select one of two centers with the No. 23 pick: Syracuse’s Fab Melo and Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli.
Each prospect have good potential as basket defenders. Neither are polished offensively, and their rebounding numbers are weak for their size.
Both players have great size and length and have attributes that could allow them to play significant minutes as a rookie.
“I think Fab with his shot-blocking ability,” Larry Drew said. “He’s pretty mobile. He gets up and down the floor pretty well. Festus, with his size and strength down low.”
I remember watching Melo play as a freshman and not feeling so bad he jilted my Cards at the last minute for Syracuse. He was slow, flabby and looked lost. Once Melo got into legal trouble, I was glad he picked the ‘Cuse.
Then I saw Melo as a sophomore and was concerned about how long he might stick around in college. He was still raw, especially offensively, but he was in much better shape and suddenly sprinting the floor. He was a shot-blocking menace anchoring the ‘Cuze zone. There still was some knucklehead behavior but, basketball-wise, you could see the potential.
Melo moved from Brazil to the U.S. to play for a high school in South Florida. He’s also still young for a big man (22) so there’s room for growth.
“He does a good job moving from block to block,” Drew said. “He’s going to have to get stronger. At this level, playing against centers and power forwards, he doesn’t have that strength. I think he has a chance to get a good NBA career if he continues to work hard.”
Melo’s mobility suggests he eventually could stay on the floor even against small-ball opponents and still be an effective defender. Pendergraft said Melo already has
“We went to a workout in Santa Monica and his footwork was shocking,” Pendergraft said. “It was not like he got a lot of post play at Syracuse. They were more of a slashing, penetrating-and-kick team. He didn’t get a lot of touches on the block. What we saw his footwork and balance were really, really good. Also what we saw in that workout was he could make the 16-, 18-footer consistently.”
Teams will have to evaluate how Melo will fare defensively now that he won’t be able to play in a true zone defense and will be forced to defend lots of screen-rolls.
“You look at his motor skills,” Pendergraft said. “You look at can he move his feet. You look at all the lane agility tests that we put all of our prospects through. How does his time measure up to the other guys? I think his does.
“The hardest thing for him is learning the ‘2.9′ rule where you’ve got to cleanse yourself and guard your man and not camp out in the paint. I worry about does that come natural to him as opposed to if he is laterally quick enough.”
Ezeli measures out an inch shorter than Melo and only about 10 pounds heavier, but he’s much more physically imposing,
“He’s just a very, very powerful kid,” Drew said.
“He’s big as a house and very, very strong,” Pendergraft said.
Ezeli said he suffered a torn MCL during a practice last October.
“By the end of the year it was fine,” he said. “Even when the knee was 100 percent, I was not 100 percent mental. It was tough for me but I got over it.”
Pendergraft said Ezeli looked to be slowed by the injury during the season but not now.
“He’s got his bounce back, he’s got his quickness back, he’s got his power back,” he said.
Ezeli’s size and strength suggest he should have posted better rebounding numbers at Vandy.
“That’s an interesting question,” Pendergraft said. “Someone with that kind of explosiveness, you would think they would get more rebounds per-minute than what he got. You have to pay attention to that and address it by studying film. Could it be injury-related? Maybe. Could it be that they didn’t have, for a really good team, they didn’t have a deep bench and he was a little less aggressive going to the boards, fearful for foul trouble? I don’t know that. It’s something we will really have to look into.”
Ezeli said he’s a “traditional big man” whose strengths are defense.
“I block shots,” he said. “I guard ball screens. That’s all me on defense. The offensive part, that’s an added bonus I’ve been showing.”
Pendergraft: “He has an unbelievable right-handed half hook. That’s his go-to move. That’s NBA-like. He shoots that as well as any NBA 6-10 player. If he gets to his sweep spot on the court and he gets to that shoulder, it’s good. Now, outside of that, he is somewhat limited. I think maybe in time he might develop a 15-footer. Probably needs to get a counter to that right hand first. But he’s not as rough around the edges today through his college years.”
Ezeli (pronounced e-ZEE-li) was born in Nigeria and moved to the Sacramento to live with an uncle when he was 14. The plan was to become a doctor.
“He’s a pediatrician and I wanted to be a doctor,” he said. “So my parents thought it would be a good idea to go and kind of shadow him and live with him and kind of see what the life of a doctor is like.”
He started playing basketball at age 15 and his body filled out. He started off pre-med at Vandy but those plans changed.
“I graduated in economics,” he said. “I kind of changed my mind. Basketball was going well, so I decided to go a different route.”
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