The University of Arizona has consistently found ways to attract elite talents from around the nation. One of Sean Miller’s latest acquisitions was a former Minnesota Player of the Year and now reigning Pac-12 Rookie of the Year, Zeke Nnaji. Nnaji had the prestige of a top-40 talent in the nation; however, he played at Arizona with the tenacity of a walk-on. During his time with the Wildcats, he posted fourteen double doubles and had three games with twelve or more rebounds.
During his lone season at the University of Arizona, Nnaji posted very impressive numbers. In 32 games, he averaged 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 1.5 combined steals and blocks. Nnaji was also second in Pac-12 offensive rebounding at 3.1,per game, behind future lottery pick, Onyeka Okongwu. Nnaji’s motor shows in his rebounding percentages — he posted an 11.5 offensive rebound percentage and 20.3 defensive rebound percentage. For perspective, Okongwu’s respective numbers were 12.4% and 18.4%, Washington big Isaiah Stewart posted 10.7% and 18.4%, and Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu came in at 12% and 26.1%. There is no doubt that Nnaji has the physical tools and toughness to be an above-average rebounder at the next level.
|Wingspan:||7’2”||Vertical:||33’’ standing, 38’’ max|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click Here|
As a defender, Nnaji has some work to do. He ball watches quite often, which allows offensive rebounders to maneuver around him. He has the motor to be very good on the defensive boards, but he needs better discipline and awareness. Another important question is how well he can protect the rim; he is often a step slow on help defense or just is not bulky enough to move the opposition. Of 2020 big men entered into the draft, Nnaji ranks dead last in block percentage at 3.3. The next player is Obi Toppin at 4.1%, while the highest among bigs with at least 15 games played is Onyeka Okongwu at 9.8%. Nnaji does not lack vertical pop and has an average wingspan, but it does not translate to the court. This should be an area of focus for the youngster because the potential to block shots is there.
Nnaji’s shooting upside is his largest swing skill. This past season, he shot 76 percent from the free-throw line on just over six attempts a game. He made just five of 17 (29%) from beyond the arc, but he was very good inside the 3-point line, making 42 percent of his jumpers. He gets great elevation on the jumper, the motion is quick for a big, and the release point is high above his head. This element of his game is absolutely essential as it would create other elements of his offense that we have yet to see, such as attacking closeouts.
The ability to score in the post is one of Nnaji’s most efficient skills, but I worry about the transition to the NBA. At Arizona against other centers at his size, he had trouble creating space due to a couple reasons. For starters, his fadeaways and post moves lack elite separation. Against mismatches, I’m sure he will remain effective, but I don’t think he is a self creator in the post. The other flaw is his frame; he’s not skinny, but he’s not overpowering either, so finding the right physical matchups will help him tremendously.
One area that Nnaji absolutely excelled was in transition, where he ranked in the 96th percentile, averaging 1.444 points per possession. He is an excellent rim runner, capable of getting up and down the court in no time. Playing alongside a creator who pushes the pace will make a larger impact on his numbers than we expect at face value.
Zeke Nnaji is an energetic big, with the potential to stretch the floor in due time. He will be an effective offensive rebounder, and has the physical ability to become a great defensive rebounder, but needs to work on his awareness. Maximizing his transition offense is essential for whichever team drafts him; if they play with good pace, and he will get easy buckets on the break.
- High motor and an excellent offensive rebounder (3.1 per game)
- Free-throw shooting (76%)
- Solid physical profile as a defensive 5
- Elite athlete, featuring outstanding speed and vertical pop for a big
- Could stretch out shooting to the three-point line; has a quick release and good elevation on jumpers that should allow him to be a consistent spot-up shooter in the NBA
- Offensive ability off the pick and roll as a rim roller or pick-and-pop option
- Potential as a rim protector with improved timing
- Runs the floor well (96th percentile in transition, 1.444 PPP)
- 3-point shooting — has yet to prove that he can be effective from deep (29% this season)
- Post play — lacks any consistent hook, fade, or off-hand moves near the rim
- Playmaking — averaged just 0.8 assists per game, with an A/T ratio of only 0.39
- Rim protection — fails to adjust position to stop opposing drives; has the physical tools but does not make quick reads
- Defensive rebounding — while his defensive rebound rate is not awful, there are a lot of times when he ball watches and/or is overpowered by those crashing the glass
- Defending in space — vs. the pick & roll, he’ll need to be a drop defender due to a lack of elite lateral quickness
Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.