With the role of the center changing in modern basketball an interesting player for teams to keep an eye on is Florida State's Mfiondu Kabengele who combines old school physicality and toughness with a shooting stroke pure enough to stretch defences.
Nephew of NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo there may be some superstar genes in Canadian-born Kabengele's bloodlines and the flashes he showed playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference in college against teams like Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina took him from an unknown entity to potential first round pick.
Despite coming off the bench for Florida State Kabengele lead the Seminoles in scoring with 13.2 points in less than 22 minutes per game. His nose for the basketball made him an unmistakable force on both sides of the basketball and his constant motor became his calling card. Always playing in the trenches and never giving up on a play, Kabengele was a fan favourite and his tireless effort could be what keeps him on an NBA roster for years to come.
At 6'10" and 255 pounds with a 7'3" wingspan he's got a body ready for the rigours of the NBA game and his performance at the NBA Combine showed he's certainly not a plodding big despite his heavy build. His 35.5" maximum vertical leap was second among centres and his lane agility rivalled that of many of the wing prospects, showing that his agility is better than you'd expect for a man of his size.
In Kabengele, teams may not see a future All-NBA player or someone who could single-handedly turn around a franchise, but he has projectable abilities and is someone who could be a tremendous complimentary player and he could bring tremendous value near the late stages of the first round or early in the second.
Kabengele's physicality when finishing around the hoop was nearly unstoppable at times in college and while he'll obviously be mixing it up with players his own size in the NBA, he should continue to be a menace on the inside. At 64.6% around the basket last season Kabengele showed excellent finishing ability and if he ever missed his first attempt, he'd often beat defenders with a quicker second jump that allowed him to get tip-ins. Completely unrelenting when he got the ball near the hoop, he would put loads of pressure on interior defenders which allowed him to force a lot of contact and draw tons of fouls.
Most of the shots I'm describing from Kabengele near the hoop came off of cuts, a valuable skill for centers in the modern NBA. Quality spacing requires a center like Kabengele who can score off of cuts patrolling the baseline and if he gets to play with some talented slashers he could feast off drop off passes.
Another way he gets the ball near the hoop is by playing the pick and roll, using his mammoth frame to set devastating picks before exploding towards the hoop. His great sense of timing and big target for passing gets him a lot of opportunities on the roll, and in the pick and roll heavy offences of the NBA, he could bring a lot of value.
When he's not involved screening the basketball or laying in wait at the dunker spot on the baseline, Kabengele can be a catch and shoot threat on the perimeter, a skill you don't often see from a player of his physique. At 37% from deep last season, he kept defences honest and forced opposing shot blockers to vacate the paint to come guard him, which really helped the flow of Florida State's offence. If Kabengele can keep up that shooting he'll be a valuable role player as NBA teams constantly search for true five-men that can shoot the three.
Kabengele always puts his fingerprints on a game with his tireless rebounding. Combining his intimidating physicality with a grand wingspan and surprising leaping ability, he's probably the best rebounder in the draft this year which adds to his potential as a superb role player. He'll win the battle on the glass more times than not and he'll do it on both sides of the floor, putting an end to defensive possessions and keeping alive offensive ones. Rebounding might not be the trendiest skillset right now, but it's one that's important to fundamental basketball.
Defensively Kabengele is a force on the inside, turning away countless numbers of layups with his shot blocking ability. The sense of timing he shows as a help defender is immaculate and if he's ever a step late, he's got the athleticism and length to recover anyways and get a fingertip on the ball. Even if he can't get a hand on the ball, he can wall off the hoop and take contact from a driver making for a tough finish and more often than not, a pass out before they have to meet him at the rim.
Kabengele can finish plays whether it's at the rim or behind the arc, but he's not a player with above average offensive instincts and he isn't someone who is going to be a playmaker at the NBA level. He lacks the foresight to anticipate plays before they happen and he isn't someone you can rely on to make reads and execute the proper pass. While he's someone you're comfortable with finishing plays, he's not someone you want initiating them.
As someone who finishes so well on the inside, you might think Kabengele is a post up threat, but he's actually extremely unpolished with his back to the basket and his post-up opportunities ended in a lot more bad shots and turnovers than they did buckets or kick outs to shooters. Only shooting 35.6% on post-ups this season he wasn't efficient and you'd have to think that number would dip even more against NBA competition. While it's not like the post-up is an important part of the NBA game, you still need your big man to be able to punish switches by being able to post up smaller players and Kabengele doesn't yet have that skill set.
Defensively Kabengele has trouble staying in his stance on the perimeter and got hurt in pick and roll defence at times as well as struggling when switched onto smaller players. His success in the lane agility testing at the NBA combine might suggest he has the lateral quickness to be a defender in space, but he may lack the anticipation to beat players to the spot. Centres who aren't solid defenders get played off the floor in a lot of matchups and if a team isn't sold on Kabengele being able to guard his position, his stock could severely drop.
Projected NBA Draft Range: 25-40
Projected NBA Role: Shot blocking, rebounding pick and roll center.
NBA Comparison: Greg Monroe
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