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NBA Draft 2008: Alexis Ajinca

June 23rd, 2008 · No Comments

A few days before the NBA Draft, I will give you recaps of my former reports on the European Early Entrants so that you can see a bit their development. I will also add the current status.

To start with, here is a short report I had on Ajinca from the 2006 Albert Schweitzer Tournament.

Ajinca looked a lot better than one year ago, when I saw him playing for the last time. He has improved nearly in every part of the game which shows that he has very good potential. Even if his legs still look very thin, his upper body has gained some muscle over the last year. He can beat his opponent on the drive nearly every time, but he is not forcing it. His leaping ability is fabulous, he made two alley-oops really above the rim on the set play. His ball handling skills on the drive a very good for a seven-footer, but he showed some problems catching the ball on the passes from his teammates. Has still no back to the basket game, when he gets the ball in the post-up, he turns to face his opponent and tries to beat him like this. But what impressed me the most, was his improvement on shot blocking. One year ago, he nearly jumped on every fake to block a shot, committing a lot of fouls. Now he stands in front of his opponent with his arms raised, and he only jumps when his opponent goes up. All in all, his progression since last year was impressive.

During the 2006 U18 European Championship, I had the following report on the French seven-footer.

He has even been compared to Kevin Garnett by some people, which is an unfair comparison at the moment. He still has incredible mobility for a player of his size but he lacks of physical density. The problem I see with this is that if he bulks up, he will loose his excellent speed which makes him so special. If he concentrates on a role of a defensively minded shot blocker, he has NBA potential as he can be considered already now as a world-class shot blocking talent.

Ajinca moved to Pau-Orthez then where he wanted to earn Euroleague minutes. I had the opportunity to see his first minutes on the highest European level in December 2006.

This week, Alexis Ajinca had his Euroleague debut. He played one minute in the game against Fenerbahce, where he had the time to take two three point shots. Of course, this limited playing time did not show anything of his talent, but nevertheless it was a first experience on the highest level for this kid. He still looks extremely thin, and he still plays outside being 7 foot tall. His first shot was totally out of reach, but the second one already could have gone in with a little more luck. It will be interesting to see if he can crack the rotation in the upcoming weeks.

In March 2007, Ajinca had his longest Euroleague minutes with Pau in a game against TAU Vitoria and Tiago Splitter.

A problem that consist with Alexis Ajinca who had the most minutes of the season in this game. He remained scoreless with his two only shots being three pointers again. He started with a nice drive but ran into the defender getting an offensive foul. He had one good action on an offensive board where he tipped the ball to his teammate who could score at the buzzer. But he struggled a lot on defense, where he got totally overpowered by Splitter in the rebound. He had tremendous problems to block out his man after a free-throw. But he needs really to get stronger if he wants to have any chance to play in the Euroleague more often. But still being really young, he has some time; but he needs to avoid injuries if he does not want to get thrown back in his evolution all the time.

In April 2007, Ajinca participated at his first Nike Hoop Summit where he finished a disappointing season with Pau-Orthez.

Alexis Ajinca was for most writers a disappointment; I think he showed exactly what he is, a great prospect but far away from being a player that is ready. His problems to play against physical opponents was already known to anybody that has seen him play this year. I guess that his selection hurt his stock considerably, as he showed his game during practice but he can not translate it at the moment to the court.
Of course, he will not enter the Draft this year, and he needs to bulk up a lot during the next months or totally change his game to a more SF orientated position where physical tools are not as needed as when playing in the paint.

In June 2007, Ajinca played with the French U19 team during the World Championships in Serbia.

The long and still thin Alexis Ajinca is developing into a defensive role player at the moment who uses his incredible wingspan to block shots and disturb opponents. Offensively he is physically to weak to to go for any inside moves but he knows how to use his speed to face his opponents and beat them off the dribble.

In the summer 2007, Alexis Ajinca moved from Pau to Hyères-Toulon where he was expected to get more playing time. Which he did. And he developed more and more into a physical inside player.

You can see his impressive showing in the second quarter where he was everywhere. He came up with some really impressive shot blocking action on the defensive end.

In the offense, he showed some presence in the paint going up for some explosive dunks. He looked really powerful on his plays and even if the physical development is still not finished, he already showed some improved upper body shape.

Of course, his huge wingspan helps him a lot as you can see in the clip, but what is really interesting for me is the fact that he looks like really working hard to become an inside player. As pointed out already, he is not taking any three point shots this season, he works in the paint to get his scores.

In February 2008, Ajinca had probably his best game of the season in the French Semaine des As, in front of many NBA scouts.

The second game of the first night brought up an astonishing defensive performance by Alexis Ajinca. The long seven footer is apparently developing into what will be his future position: defensive center. With 14 rebounds and 7 block shots, he was playing like a goal keeper in soccer. And even these 7 blocks seem to be under the absolute value of his performance as he declared that he had 10 blocks in the game in the press conference. After the nice offensive effort two weeks ago, Ajinca showed how present he can be in the defense and what he is capable of doing when he becomes stable in his play.

After his more than correct presence at the Nike Hoop Summit 2008, Ajinca impressed a lot of NBA teams in his recent workout and is one the edge of the lottery right now according to Draftexpress.com. This position is of course unexpected for somebody that was really down 1 year ago.

For the best plays of Alexis Ajinca this season in France: watch here

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