A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The curious case of Kenny Kadji

with 2 comments

I didn’t find it a huge surprise when Kenny Kadji wasn’t drafted last night. Unlike Scott Machado last year, Kadji was not mocked often in the top 60.

So Julien, how can you justify putting an undrafted player 2nd on your big board?

Why Kadji didn’t get drafted is relatively straight forward. He’s 25 and last year he put up 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game, for a 21.8 PER, comparatively meek for college prospects. I assume most teams figured a 25 year old college player must be dominant at that age to warrant consideration.

The Kadji scenario is interesting because it gets to the heart of talent vs production in the NCAA. Kadji is nearly a man without weaknesses as a talent, even by more traditional methods than mine of evaluating it. Size and length is typically obsessed over by teams and the fans/media and Kadji checks out fine there, as a 6’10 PF with a long 7’3 wingspan, with a strong frame weighing at 242. Kadji is also a good athlete, showing burst attacking the rim off the dribble finishing strong above the rim with multiple highlight reel dunks. For physical tools, Kadji clearly looks the NBA part. His skill game is even better for a big. Taking 3.7 3pters a game at 35.1%, his range gives him a clear rare skill talent for a 6’10+ PF/C. His skill also didn’t end there, also showing ability creating in the post once establishing position with his body vs younger opponents. Along with that, he had ballhandling helping him get to the basket in the halfcourt and even running a few coast to coast fastbreaks as well. Finally, Kadji also has a good IQ, with smooth instincts and defensive rotations and seemingly a high character.

With physical tools up to the part, skill and IQ, the talent is quite clear for me. Other stretch bigs like Grant Jerrett, Ryan Kelly, Erik Murphy and Deshaun Thomas were drafted last night with subpar physical tools, just because of their shooting skill. So a PF who also had physical tools, should’ve looked pretty good. If removing the age and statistics, there’s little in terms of physical talents, skills or instincts to pick at with Kadji.

Compare Kadji to 4th overall pick Cody Zeller in tool by tool. Cody is two inches taller as a true 7 footer in shoes, but his 6’10 wingspan is a full 5 inches shorter than Kadji’s. Kadji’s body is also more physically developed. Kadji to me showed more athletic burst attacking the basket and playing above it. Zeller had an outstanding combine athletically, but most understand that is inferior to measuring in-game athleticism, where Zeller is just decent. Kadji has a more developed skill game than Zeller, with 3 point range to Zeller’s mostly just finishing around the rim. Kadji has no worse of instincts than Zeller. As a whole I can’t see much of an argument for more pure talent in Zeller than Kadji. I’d give the edge to Kadji as the wider, longer, more athletic and more skilled big.

What it really comes down to is production. Zeller came into the NCAA as a 19 year old freshman already breaking 30 PER, superstar production. Kadji is a worse player as a 25 year old than Zeller was at a 19 year old, so the logic is Kadji must be worse.

To me, college is a different game. Aside from rule changes like the longer shotclock and no 3 in the key, the systems and strategies are vastly different. Skillsets are used differently in college than the NBA. The distribution of who has a high usage is unrecognizable. It’s clear that translating production from the NCAA to the NBA is a haphazard game at best. The biggest reason why is the game is just too different and requires too different areas of aptitude.

I don’t know why Kadji didn’t dominate college as a 25 year old. But I’m not going to hold it against him, or judge him as a lesser talent for it. Consider this theory: Because he barely played his first two seasons and then sat out a year to transfer, before his last two breakout ones at Miami, Kadji has only played 2395 minutes in college total. How does that compare to other 1st round bigs? Zeller has 2087 in his 2 years at Indiana, Jeff Withey played 2319 over 4 years at Kansas, Kelly Olynyk played 1735 at Gonzaga, Gorgui Dieng played 2789 over 3 years at Louisville, Alex Len played 1470. Some older prospects like Brandon Davies and Richard Howell have played over 3000 minutes in college. I’d also assume that with the potential exception of Dieng, Kadji played less valuable developmental minutes before his college career than any of these players, considering he didn’t come to the US from Cameroon until 20. Kadji has also shown that his age doesn’t limit his development. He’s made great strides a shooter in his later years, both at the 3pt line and from FT. Is it possible that age is a red herring and what really matters for development is minutes and reps?

Perhaps the NBA will get this right. Maybe he won’t be the capable shooter I expect, or he won’t have the ability to attack the basket off the dribble, or make other physical-orientated plays, instead settling as a pure stretch big. Perhaps his instincts are more flawed than I believe. Maybe there’s something wrong Kadji’s motor or confidence that leads to his lack of production.

But for the most part, I believe in talent – and that a big, strong PF who can shoot from the rim, handle and play in the post, has the athleticism to drive and play above the rim – and who has good instincts and feel, has to the tools to not only stick in the NBA, but start and stand out. I believe success in the NBA is relatively simple, you need physical tools, skills and instincts in some combination. Usually it’s difficult for most to evaluate which strengths in those areas cover up weaknesses, but for a player where everything looks like a strength and nothing looks like a clear weakness, it’s not hard to see success. The Cavaliers picked up Kadji early this morning and combined with Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev, I believe they may have found 3 more important prospects than either Dion Waiters or Tristan Thompson going forward, presuming they don’t pull a Danny Green on Kadji by cutting him too early.

Written by jr.

June 28, 2013 at 5:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Good article, I was sad when I woke up and saw he went undrafted. I wish Indiana would’ve picked him up to eventually play next to Hibbert.

    Also,what do you think about the Solomon Hill pick? He looks like a definite upgrade over Sam Young to me.


    June 29, 2013 at 8:23 am

    • Love the Hill pick. He has some Harden in his athleticism to me, where the fact that he’s not some high flying dunker has people underrating that part of his game, but if the guy can get to the rim that fast with that much bulk on his body, that’s great athleticism. If he hits 3s in the NBA I see him as a starter.


      July 6, 2013 at 11:43 am

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