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Alex Olah plays himself into the spotlights

January 25th, 2014 · No Comments

We rarely talk about current NCAA players in this blog but we make an exception today as the following post discusses the Romanian big man Alex Olah. The 2m13 tall inside player moved to the United State in 2010 and is currently in his Sophomore year with Northwestern in the relevant Big 10 Conference.

Olah is an highly important piece of the Northwestern system on both ends of the court. On offense, he mainly operates in the low post and as a Pick-and-Roll screener. Therefore, his touches remain limited and have even dropped from last season as his USG% went down from 21.3% to 18.2%. However, in the same time, the Romanian center has drastically improved his efficiency on the court with his True Shooting percentage going from 42.3% to 55.5% and Offensive Rating moving up to 106.3 from 90.6. These are all interesting factors for a player who has still two years left to grow as a player in one of the most challenging conferences in the College Basketball system.

In the low post, Olah has a clear preference for using the jump hook as his currently only effective move. He likes to use either hand for the finish but lacks a little bit of shooting touch when using his weaker left hand. When being pushed hard, he loses balance as he needs still to get stronger in the lower body. But he has a jump hook range to about 2 meters away from the hoop which is a good starting point. Additionally, the Romanian has learned to become more patient in the low post and first waits for his team mates to cut through and then play the one-on-one with help defenders around. He can also make good passes out of the post and rarely panics when being double teamed. His ball handling is certainly not guard-like but he can dribble out of pressure situations in the low post when needed.

He has a nice arsenal of fakes though in order to get to a good position for the jump hook and his foot work looks interesting even though there is still some progress to be made in order to become quicker. On the other hand, Olah uses a good basketball IQ to recognize situations well. Not only that he is a capable passer, even if his assist ratio dropped from last season which might be explained by a coaching and system change during the summer, the seven footer rarely over reacts and improved in his decision making. Two particular plays that I want to mention that I saw during the scouting underline this perfectly: out of an offensive rebounding situation, he went for a immediate touch pass with two hands to create a good look; the second play was the capacity to recognize a foul call against him and change his mind to go for the shot attempts instead of a pass.

The 1993 born big guy is also doing some work outside the three point line. He has a shot that looks interesting even if he is not using it much in college (2/13 3FGA so far), it is an interesting weapon in his offensive game as he showed during the U20 European Championship last summer where he scored 10 out of 26 three pointers in 8 games. Additionally, Olah can put the ball on the floor to initiate hand-off plays for example or to create a better passing angle for the high low. He will certainly not blow by his defender as overall, his speed remains his main issue on the offensive end. As a Pick-and-Roll screener, he rolls effectively and always rushes down to the hoop in order to create good angles and defensive rotations. He can also catch the ball on the pass further away from the basket so that he has to put it on the floor and he is not afraid to go for the strong finish.

On the defensive end, the progress made by Olah is also interesting to follow. Not only that his defensive rating has dropped (increased in fact) from 102.1 to 95.7 (most of the Conference games are still ahead and will certainly change this number), he has become a really good presence in the low post on the defensive end with his 120kg body. He is very present in the defensive rotations where he shows once again his good understanding of the game. Limited athletically, he is the kind of “floor player” who grabs his rebounds because of good timing, positioning and boxing out. His long arms help him in this area as well and his timing is a nice asset when it comes to shot blocking where he is a surprising presence. He is not playing above the rim but  he is doing a great job rotating over to the ball and being present with his arms straight up and rejecting shots like that or on soft attempts of attacking players.

His defensive presence is underlined by the fact that he makes it tough for his opponents to score against him. In the game versus Indiana, he reduced the projected lottery pick Noah Vonleh to a 3/11 shooting from the two point territory where Vonleh normally is a 54% shooter (check the video below to see some of Olah’s defense against Vonleh). His shortcomings in lateral speed against athletes of this caliber are the main point that he has to work on on defense as he struggles to stay in front of players that attack him from outside. However, he is not beaten regularly this way as he is improving and especially reading the trajectories well that the offensive players wants to use so that he can recover and give the opponent at least a tough shot.

Olah has probably some very interesting years in front of him. The NBA might look out of reach because of his athletic limits but his overall basketball understanding, size and passing skills make him a very versatile big man who should be able to translate his game very well to Europe. I personally see some similarities to a player like Ioannis Bourousis who might be an interesting comparison in the next years.

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