Several hat tips on this story (Sheridan Hoops, Red’s Army and Draft Express), but according to reports, Danny Ainge has been taking a look in person at a relatively unknown prospect: 18-year-old Giannis Atenkunbo from Nigeria, currently playing for a Greek team.
Atenkunbo has a fascinating amount of potential. According to Draft Express, Atenkunbo is 6’9 with a 7’3 wingspan and enormous hands (seriously, look at these things):
For those of you who don’t have 12:46 to watch an international prospect throw down blurry dunks on hapless opponents, here’s Draft Express’ breakdown of Atenkunbo’s game.
- Physical tools: We covered this a bit already, but he’s enormous, he’s young and he might be still growing, as he’s added three inches in the past 10 months.
- Defensive potential: The video emphasizes Atenkunbo’s (quote) “HUGE potential on D due to physical tools.” He can defend both shots at the rim and jumpers, he’s instinctively good at defense (since he hasn’t been doing this for that long) and his length can close up passing lanes.
- Offensive versatility: This is where things get interesting. According Draft Express’s website, Atenkunbo’s potential position is small forward, all around. But according to the video, he can play any position from point guard to power forward. That kind of versatility is obviously uncommon. The video also emphasizes his passing instincts and his smooth ball-handling, both of which would indicate Atenkunbo’s point guard (or at least point forward) potential. He can go both directions and get to the rim. Also worth noting from the Celtics’ perspective: Atenkunbo is described as a “solid rebounder who can go coast to coast.” That sound you hear is me drooling.
- Upside and potential: Well, duh.
- Capable shooter: Apparently, he can hit 3′s, but he needs to improve. Fortunately, shooting is one of the things that can often see massive strides throughout a player’s career. See Rondo, Rajon.
- Strength and explosiveness: Despite his fluid, smooth game, he doesn’t have much of a first step. Like most 18-year-old athletes, he will need to fill out his frame and improve his lower body strength in particular (something that, incidentally, might add to his explosiveness).
- Perimeter shooting: Addressed above. Most of his problems sound mechanical, such as low-release and lack of follow-through.
- Defensive consistency: Once again, most of his problems are mechanical and could probably be fixed by solid coaching. For example: he is often too upright when defending an opponent, and he often takes poor close-out angles. If I might add something without making excuses for him: He’s 18.
- Lack of experience: See: “He’s 18″ directly above. He doesn’t have a truly defined position.
Obviously, with (hopefully) tons of season left, it’s too early to be really thinking about draft prospects, but the fact that Danny went to Greece to see this kid in person seems significant. Several draft experts project Atenkunbo in the mid-to-late 20s at the moment, but several also see him moving up the draft boards as people become more and more aware of him. He certainly is the kind of player that, in a weak draft, seems worth a shot, especially in the mid-teens range where Boston will be drafting (if the draft started tomorrow, Boston would have the 16th pick). Assuming Atenkunbo doesn’t shoot up into the lottery, which honestly isn’t out of the question this year, he would be an interesting gamble.
The concern, of course, would be that Boston has been experimenting with quasi-point guards for quite some time, and they just signed Terrence Williams to a multi-year deal. On the other hand, Atenkunbo’s potential is beyond intriguing, and if the Celtics wanted to take a shot, I would be all for it.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.