Ojeleye, Swanigan, Wilson — Three More Dudes You Remember From College

Posted: 06/15/2017 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

The three players I’m writing about today all had huge performances in the NCAA Tournament last season. None of them are freshmen, they’re all probably power forwards or small-ball centers at the next level, and they’re all between 6’7″ and 6’10” and between 235 and 250 pounds. But the similarities end there. I’m going to start with the guy who clearly had the best season of the three but is probably the worst NBA prospect.

Everyone knows Caleb Swanigan’s story at this point. About how he was an obese teenager (over 350 pounds in eighth grade) who had to deal with the death of his father and loss of his home before he picked up basketball and got laughed off the court. About how he slowly transformed his game and his body, eventually earning a scholarship from Purdue. About how he put up 10 and 8 in his freshman year. And, of course, about how he exploded for 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, set a bajillion Purdue and Big 10 records, and was a consensus first team All-American. Not only was the 250-pounder a handful to deal with in the post, but he also shot 45% from three (on about two and a half threes per game) and 78% from the line. He was the biggest mismatch in college basketball, too big for almost anyone to deal with and too skilled for everyone else. His shot is what makes him an NBA prospect. It’s kind of flat and surprises me whenever it goes in, but he looks comfortable with it, he shot it super well at a relatively high volume, and he was also a good free throw shooter. If the shot is legit (obviously not 45% legit, but close to 40%), he’ll likely find his niche in the NBA. His rebounding is also obviously a strength (I mean, the guy did have 29 double-doubles last season). He has a super high basketball IQ, is a pretty good passer (3.1 assists per game), and can facilitate really well from the post. But there are a few problems. I’m unsure who Swanigan can guard. He’s 6’9″, and although his 7’3″ wingspan helps, I don’t know if he’s big enough to guard most centers. And it’s going to be a disaster when he gets switched onto guards, because his feet are pretty slow and because he’s relatively unathletic. He’s going to be a defensive liability, especially in the pick-and-roll. He’s also an abysmal rim protector, with just .8 blocks per game, a number that’s sure to go down at the next level. Overall, Swanigan just doesn’t add much defensively and doesn’t have much upside because of his lack of foot speed and athleticism. Offensively, Swanigan’s shot helps, but there are still some issues. He averaged 3.4 turnovers per game, looked unsure with the ball on the perimeter, and was a really bad shooter off the dribble. I could see him being a plus on offense and certainly on the boards when he’s on the court, but his defense is going to keep him from being any more than a role player and should keep him from going early in the draft.

I didn’t know much about D.J. Wilson until I watched him tear up Oklahoma State and then Louisville. Given that I had Michigan bowing out in the first round to the Cowboys in my brackets, Wilson wasn’t my favorite player this March. But with the benefit of three months of distance, I can appreciate that he’s a really skilled player. After barely playing in his first two years for the Wolverines, Wilson played 30 minutes per contest this season as a redshirt sophomore. The numbers he put up were just respectable (11 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 54/37/83), and it’s true that I didn’t pay attention to him for most of the season, but from what I did see it seemed obvious that this would be an NBA player with the potential to grow into a good one. First of all, he has the size to be an NBA player. He’s 6’10” and has a 7’3″ wingspan, and he’s very athletic and rangy. He has really quick feet and has super high defensive upside. He developed into a really good rim protector in his time at Michigan, blocking 1.5 shots per contest and swatting nine shots in three tournament games. He also has the speed and athleticism to guard out on the perimeter, and should have no problem switching on pick-and-rolls. The late bloomer is nowhere near a finished product defensively, as he often got lost in the shuffle or fell asleep off the ball. But the potential is there.

Offensively, Wilson is a big man with a perimeter player’s game, which is obviously very desirable in today’s NBA. He has a decent handle, can drive and finish at the rim (73% shooter at the rim), and, of course, shoot. He shot 37%, and there’s potential for even better shooting as he adds strength. He has a nice looking stroke and shot 83% from the line. Wilson has to improve as a passer (just 1.3 assists per game), but he also committed just 1.1 turnovers per game. He’s never going to be a primary or even secondary creator, but he’s not just a spot-up player. The biggest thing he needs to work on is his strength. He had a hard time finishing through contact, and in fact generally tended to shy from contact, instead pulling up for tough midrange jumpers. That won’t cut it in the NBA, so he’ll have to add a lot of strength, especially if he wants to slot in as a stretch-five. He was also a really poor rebounder, which is probably due to a combination of lackluster effort and lack of strength.

At 21-years-old, Wilson is far from a finished product. But I’m a big fan, and I think that he’ll be a really valuable role player if he can come close to reaching that potential. I’d like to see a little bit more polish or upside out of a lottery pick, but Wilson shouldn’t be drafted too far outside the lottery.

Although he’s just a junior, Semi Ojeleye is one of the oldest players likely to be drafted (he turns 23 in December). That’s because he transferred from Duke to SMU after two quiet years with the Blue Devils and had to sit out the 2015-16 season. Needless to say, Ojeleye’s decision to transfer paid off and then some, even though SMU coach Larry Brown unexpectedly stepped down before last season. Ojeleye broke out for a really good SMU team, averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game while playing 34 minutes per contest. He’s a chiseled 235 pounds, and he’s rising up draft boards thanks to the impressive splits he put up at the combine and because by all reports he’s been terrific in his workouts. If Wilson skirts contact, Ojeleye embraces it. He averaged 6.3 free throws per game, hitting on 79% of his shots from the charity stripe. He’s also a very good all-around offensive prospect, showing the ability to create off the dribble, finish through contact, and use his explosiveness to finish over defenders. He can also shoot, and did so at an elite clip last season, nailing 42% from beyond the arc on five threes per game. This is a guy who’s always wanted to shoot threes — in his two years at Duke, he took 32 shots, and 23 of them were threes. Now he can shoot threes, but he can also do enough off the dribble to keep defenders honest. He’s far from a great creator, and I think he’ll have to improve a lot to keep himself from being a black hole on offense. He’s also a much better fit as a power forward (where he played for SMU) than as a small forward, because he’s not a great ball-handler and because he benefits from having more playmakers around him. It may take a specific type of team to unlock his full offensive potential, but at his best he could be a deadeye shooter who can also create for himself off the dribble and serve as a true three level scorer (rim, midrange, three).

Defensively, I worry that Ojeleye is a tweener. He’s 6’7″ with a 6’10” wingspan, which makes it iffy that he’ll ever be able to guard most power forwards. And he doesn’t have much experience chasing wings around, but I can’t imagine that will end very well for him, because while he’s explosive in a straight line, he’s not laterally quick enough to stay with quick wings. If he’s a power forward, he’ll also have to improve his rebounding.

Ojeleye isn’t a super creative offensive player, but he knows how to put the ball in the bucket. He’s hopefully big enough to play passable defense against power forwards, and I expect him to improve his rebounding and passing. The fact that he’s already 22 isn’t great in regards to his potential, but he could be a good fit for a good team picking late in the first round that wants someone who can immediately provide scoring punch off the bench.

Here’s how I’d rank the three:
Wilson (he’s the rawest of the three but has the highest upside)
Ojeleye
Swanigan

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