Utah Jazz NBA Draft Prospects: Zeke Nnaji
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The NBA Draft is one week away and the Utah Jazz will soon find themselves on the board with the 23rd pick in the draft. While question marks remain about who will be available when the Jazz are selecting, a trio of talented freshman from Arizona are expected to be drafted between the end of the lottery and the early second round. Today, we look at Arizona’s freshman big man Zeke Nnaji and how he would fit with the Jazz in the draft.
The Jazz own just one pick in the November 18 draft after sending out their second-round pick in a trade to acquire Kyle Korver in 2018.
Zeke Nnaji: 6’11 240 lbs Center – Fr – Arizona
16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds 0.8 assists, 57% FG/29% 3p/76% FT
It’s not difficult to see why Zene Nnaji was a top 40 recruit in the country heading into Arizona with good height at 6’11 and a very fluid athletic game. Nnaji runs the floor well for a player his size and looks comfortable with his frame despite being just 19 years old.
When the big man was on the floor, he was producing, averaging 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Nnaji scored in double-digits in all but three games for the Wildcats as a freshman, posting remarkable consistency for a young player in the post.
New on YouTube: ESPN Film Session with Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and potential 1st rounder, Zeke Nnaji. The high motor Arizona big man was one of the most productive freshmen in the country: 16.1 PTS and 8.6 REBS in 30 MIN with a 64.1 true shooting %. https://t.co/PYq81HWGqu pic.twitter.com/PbfUAhNdTe
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) October 7, 2020
The former high-level prep prospect is very effective around the rim, gathering the ball quickly and exploding to the basket for easy finishes above smaller college defenders. His tremendous footwork helps both as a back to the basket player and in the pick and roll. Nnaji doesn’t waste steps.
With his height and a good frame, Nnaji should be able to continue to fill out his body to continue that efficiency at the NBA level.
Nnaji only attempted 17 three-point shots at the college level, making just five, but does seem to have some sense of touch that could develop into long-distance shooting with some patience from an NBA team.
Even if his three-point shooting doesn’t evolve, his ability to space the floor with a reliable mid-range game should allow him to function in a variety of different offensive schemes. Nnaji’s faceup game will benefit from his evolving ball-handling skills.
While Nnaji was unquestionably effective, he rarely dominated games despite scoring consistently. At his best, the freshman simply beat up on small less athletic big men in the PAC-12. Unlike Washington freshman Isaiah Stewart or USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu, Nnaji lacks one clear elite strength that will project to the next level.
It’s very possible that if the Arizona product succeeds in the NBA, it’s because he develops a new skillset as a floor spacer that was less obvious at the college level. That’s not unheard of for NBA players, especially for athletes as fluid as Nnaji, but it’s a hard what-if to bank on with a first-round draft pick.
Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat.
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) March 31, 2020
Additionally, Nnaji doesn’t show the other strengths that have lent themselves to success from modern NBA bigs. Averaging just 0.8 assists despite having two fellow NBA prospects draped on the wing, it’s clear opposing defenses weren’t entirely concerned about Nnaji’s playmaking with the ball in his hands.
Most of his scoring came opportunistically rather than through a show of domination. That didn’t cause opposing defenses to pay enormous attention to the freshman and didn’t open opportunities for his teammates.
Furthermore, despite his size and athleticism, Nnaji averaged less than a block per game in college. That included 14 games when the freshman failed to record a block, while never blocking more than two shots in any appearance at the college level.
Blocking shots is not proof of a great defender (see Hassan Whiteside), but it supports the appearance of Nnaji being a less than willing rim protector at the next level. When asked to defend in space, the freshman was slow to move his feet despite his above-average fluidity.
Ultimately, Nnaji will get drafted and could hear his name at the end of the first round, but without a clearly identifiable strength at this point in his career, he may require an overhaul to his game before he can make an impact in the NBA.
How Would Nnaji Fit with the Jazz in the Draft?
While the Jazz have a deep and young frontcourt, they don’t have a reserve big man with the athletic fluidity and upside of a player like Nnaji.
The Arizona freshman would offer versatility to the team’s second unit and could potentially play between Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic in supersized lineups if he can prove that he can affect the game away from the hoop.
6-11 240 PF/C Arizona
USC @ Arizona (2/6/20)
18 PTS 11 REB 2 AST
— Matt Babcock (@MattBabcock11) February 11, 2020
The Jazz could use a big man that runs the floor as well as Nnaji and if he developed into a reliable three-point shooter, Quin Snyder could feature a lineup that truly plays five out for the first time since he took command of the team.
However, if he fails to develop those skills away from the basket, Nnaji becomes another big man project that the Jazz used a first-round draft pick on while other more pressing needs were on the table.
Additional Prospect Breakdowns:
Utah Jazz Scoreboard
Utah Jazz Team Leaders
Utah Jazz Standings