When Udoka Azubuike was drafted 27th overall by the Utah Jazz in the 2020 NBA Draft, many Jazz fans were unhappy. Utah was expected to sign Derrick Favors as their backup center in the coming days. Why draft a center?
Azubuike didn’t get much of a chance to prove his doubters wrong in his rookie season. An injury in G-League play had him out for much of the year. He did manage some great highlights in his few minutes though.
Udoka Azubuike's first NBA basket is a poster dunk on Enes Kanter. pic.twitter.com/JAGrvywZcy— Adam (@prodigyJF) December 24, 2020
- 1.1 points per game (10.1 per/36)
- 0.9 rebounds per game (8.2 per/36)
- 0.3 blocks per game (2.5 per/36)
- 57 total minutes
Due to the injury, Dok was limited to only 57 NBA minutes, all in “garbage time”, and 28 G-League minutes. It’s hard to take much from those stats. So let’s take a look at his performance in this year’s two summer leagues.
2021 Summer League Stats
- 13.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game in the Las Vegas Summer League
- 13.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks per game in the Salt Lake City Summer League
- Total 42-49 from the field, 85.7%
This was where the big man dominated. In summer league, you can almost always pinpoint who the NBA-level players are by watching a single quarter of basketball. NBA talent just stands high above college talent. Udoka Azubuike was one of those guys. He was physically dominant. There were other guys with NBA size there, but they couldn’t handle him. As a reminder, Azubuike is 6’10”, 280 lbs. He tries to dunk the ball every time he has a chance to, and when you’ve got that kind of size combined with aggression, it’s almost impossible to stop.
What to expect in the coming season
Dok is still young and raw. He will likely not be in the regular rotation, as Hassan Whiteside was brought in to be Rudy Gobert’s backup. However, if either Gobert or Whiteside misses any time, expect Azubuike to fill in.
The best-case scenario for Azubuike is that he performs so well in practices, G-League, and his spot NBA minutes, that he begins challenging Whiteside for the primary backup role. I don’t see this as likely, but I also don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility.
Goals and improvement areas
When he does get playing time, expect Azubuike to do what he’s always done. He’ll block shots, grab rebounds, and get dunks. He’ll probably also foul too much, look a little bit out of control at times, and miss a lot of free throws. Those are the things he should be working on.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine watching Azubuike playing 15 minutes in an important NBA game and feeling comfortable with his defense. He has the physical tools to be an even bigger Rudy Gobert. He has such a tantalizing combination of size, length, athleticism, and pure power.
One thing about Dok that's kinda unique unicornish:— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) August 10, 2021
Defensively, he is super thick and eats space in the middle, both with his body structure and wingspan. Guys who eat space defensively with body structure (Think Nurk or Baynes) are usually not elite athletes. But Dok is
Very few people his size can move as he can. He just needs to learn to control his movements and stay positionally sound. Even Gobert himself had to learn not to chase every block. Learning from Gobert can be invaluable to Dok.
The other big thing Azubuike needs to improve on is his free-throw shooting. In college, Dok shot 41% from the line. So far in his NBA career, we haven’t seen much improvement in the small amount of time he’s played. While he’s 8-10 from the line in the NBA, he went 12-29 between the two summer leagues. If he’s unable to get his free throw percentage up over 60%, “hack-a-Dok” would be a viable strategy for any opponents. When you’re fighting for NBA minutes, having an exploitable weakness of that magnitude can be a major roadblock.
All that said, Dok will have a positive impact every time he steps on the court. His potential is through the roof. If he can make significant improvements to the weak areas of his game, it will be nearly impossible to keep him off the court.