The Nigerian-born Azubuike didn’t begin playing basketball until he was 13 and was discovered in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program. He then went on to play high school basketball in Florida, where he became a five-star recruit. He chose to go to Kansas, much like another African-born big man that picked up the game of basketball as a teenager.
While Azubuike’s career with the Jayhawks was mired by injuries, he still made a big impact. He steadily improved over all four years, averaging 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while shooting 74.8 percent from the field during his senior year. In his final season with Kansas, he was named Big 12 Player of the Year.
Simply put: Azubuike is a large human. At the college level, he looked like a man amongst boys on most nights. He should have no problem handling the strength and physicality of the NBA from the start. While he’s as strong as an ox, he still shows soft hands. He finished at the rim with strength and authority. His 74.6 percent career field goal percentage is the highest in NCAA history.
While Azubuike picked up the game a bit later in life, there are a few things he does at an advanced level. Beyond just his sheer size and strength, he seems to have a solid grasp on how to get post position. So many of Kansas’ scoring possessions were just a result of Azubuike getting so deep in the post that a quality entry pass got him an easy bucket.
At 270 pounds(?), he actually moves fairly well. He’s not going to be the type of center that allows you to be super switchable, but he’s not a stiff either. His rebounding and shot blocking numbers improved every season as he got better timing and adjusted to college competition.
Azubuike’s lack of basketball experience really sticks out at times. He doesn’t have great feel when he’s in the post, which has led to an ugly assist-to-turnover ratio. During his senior season, he averaged 2.5 turnovers and less than an assist per game.
The free throw shooting numbers are hideous. Azubuike hit just 41.6 percent from the line in college. If you watch his form, it doesn’t leave you with much hope. As the NBA has geared more and more toward big men that can shoot, Azubuike is unlikely to ever fit in that category.
Azubuike supposedly dropped serious weight this past offseason, and that did appear to help him move better, especially defensively. Now can he keep it off at the next level? He also did miss a bunch of time with numerous injuries but did play all 31 games his senior year.
The game didn’t come as naturally to Azubuike as it did to Joel Embiid. Still, the 20-year-old showed serious improvement throughout his time at Kansas. With that said, any team taking him will still be taking on a project. That’s why he’s likely to be a second-round pick.
While the Sixers may be the biggest team in NBA history, they don’t a have true young, developmental big. Keep in my mind that Norvel Pelle is actually almost a full year older than Embiid. With four second-round picks, Azubuike could be a project worth taking on. He has a chance to stick as a solid bench big at the next level. Not a bad thing to have with Embiid’s injury history.
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