As a Kansas University basketball fan, I've watched plenty of Jayhawks games in the last four years. Every time they've taken the court, one player has always stuck out for me: Udoka Azubuike. The 7-foot center was named Big 12 Player of the Year after an excellent -- and historically efficient -- season. In this article, I will provide some of Azubuike's strengths, weaknesses, and why he will surpass his projected position in this year's draft.
Azubuike started just six games in his freshman season before tearing ligaments in his wrist. He made a more significant impact as a sophomore, averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. As a junior, he played nine games before tearing another ligament, this time in his right hand. Azubuike truly broke out as a senior, averaging 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. He led the league in field goal percentage twice and holds the NCAA Division I record for the category at 74.6% for his collegiate career.
"Doke" is an absolute force on the court, imposing his will with his 7-foot, 260-pound frame. His extraordinary field goal percentage is thanks to his fantastic finishing, more specifically his love of slam dunks. As soon as he gets the ball, he immediately looks to put his opponent on a poster. His size allows him to bully any defender in the paint and get his way most times. Azubuike slowly but surely improved his conditioning during his time at Kansas, allowing him to average a career high 27.7 minutes per game as a senior. He seemed to get in even better shape between his last college game and the NBA Draft Combine, as he was listed at 274 pounds last year.
With a wingspan a hair over 7-foot-7, Azubuike is a threat to anyone that challenges the rim. When he first arrived at KU, he was fully capable of putting up consistent block numbers but was a bit raw in terms of clean defense. He was able to hold his own in his last two seasons when lured outside the paint and mostly kept himself out of foul trouble. Doke can meet anybody at the basket with the combination of his wingspan and his standing vertical of 37 inches (a Draft Combine record among centers).
Azubuike's rebounding skills are stellar on both offense and defense. Once again, his long arms and big body enable him to box out opponents and fight for the ball. Though he likely won't play a large role on an NBA offense to begin his career, his sheer physical ability and drive will buy him minutes off the bench.
Perhaps Azubuike's most glaring weakness is his shooting. The man cannot score outside the paint. Unfortunately, it likely won't get much better. In his four years as a Jayhawk, Azubuike shot a frightening 41.6% from the free throw line. Watching him go to the line in games was always scary in late-game moments, as he has shot his fair share of airballs. It would truly be miraculous to see a coaching staff milk a midrange shot out of him. Adding a bit of range would make his game a bit less one-dimensional.
The lack of a jumpshot isn't necessarily surprising, considering Azubuike only picked up a basketball at age 13. He was physically dominant all throughout high school, dunking all over shell-shocked defenders. Doke didn't need a jumpshot, so he never really took the time to develop some touch outside the paint. Of course, most NBA teams would like a big man who can stretch the floor. But Azubuike would bring a sort of shock to the league's perimeter system, as his presence demands attention in the paint.
Currently, Azubuike is projected to be selected in the second round of this year's draft. There's no doubt that his impressive combine measurements will pique some teams' interest, but a bruising, paint-centric center can only be selected so high in today's NBA. I believe that Azubuike will find valuable minutes in a bench role, providing tenacity on the boards like Clint Capela. The best-case scenario is that he follows a similar statistical path to Capela and earns himself starting minutes. Even if Azubuike can't develop his jumper, he will provide an undeniable jolt of energy to any team that drafts him in November.