Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji has tantalizing scoring skills that would make him a terrific addition to the Knicks, who could bring him in with their first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Ochai Agbaji was college basketball’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player and a major part of Kansas’ 2022 national championship, but he did not get there overnight. The Jayhawk senior got significantly better each of his four years in Lawrence, Kansas, and became one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the 2022 draft class.
When looking at his linear progression, Agbaji improved in every aspect and you can see that in his scoring average increasing year over year as well as his field goal and three-point percentages. Those improvements were never more clear than in his senior year, after testing the waters last year and coming back, making a significant leap, allowing Kansas to have the success that resulted in their national title.
The 6’5″ guard improved noticeably in his shooting ability in his senior year, which has taken him to the next level as a prospect and a likely lottery pick come June. However, what made him an intriguing prospect even before shooting 40% from three was the defensive prowess he showed as a role player at Kansas. With a wingspan over five inches greater than his height, as well as a stout frame and great strength, Agbaji shows great defensive versatility with the ability to switch and guard multiple positions and battle down low against the bigs.
That combination of shooting and scoring ability he has shown in various roles throughout his impressive collegiate career, plus Agbaji’s defensive effort and measurables, make him a very intriguing prospect. The 22-year-old born in Wisconsin and raised in Kansas City will be one of the older players in the draft, but with nearly 4,000 minutes played in Bill Self’s historic program, nobody will have more experience. This is what makes Agbaji a fascinating case study as far as prospects go; it is unlikely for him to make any significant leaps at this point in his developmental arc, but he has made linear growth throughout his college career. That gives him a nice blend of NBA readiness and potential growth as well, in his four years at Kansas, Agbaji played in multiple different roles which gives him nice contextual experiences.
The transition from college to the NBA is never easy and it is impossible to judge exactly what a player will look like in the Association. With that being said, it is hard to imagine a player being better prepared for the next level than Ochai Agbaji has been. For a player with his accolades and experiences, you would assume he was a ball-dominant scorer, but that was not the case at Kansas. Let’s break down what makes Agbaji so ready to contribute as a rookie.
The role he played at Kansas was unique compared to other scorers, especially the other ones in this draft class such as Bennedict Mathurin and Johnny Davis. What makes Agbaji’s contextual situation different is that he did not need the ball in his hands to be the scorer that he was in college. While that does have its downside, it makes it easier to imagine what his role will be in the NBA. Agbaji is going to be called a three-level scorer throughout the draft process, but unlike most typical three-level scorers, it is not designed around self-creation or dribbling the ball into the ground.
The Kansas guard is an elite shooter with an impressive 40.7% from deep on 6.5 attempts per game. What makes that even more impressive, however, is the way that he can get to his shots with a diverse shot profile. With an extremely quick release, Agbaji gets his shot off and can fill it up quickly and from any angle. No game was a better example of this than the Final Four tilt with Villanova where he shot 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. That did not come as a surprise to anyone that had been watching Kansas throughout the year as it was the 10th game of the season with four or more threes made.
Projected lottery pick Ochai Agbaji starts the Final Four scorching hot, hitting four 3-pointers in his first 8 minutes of action showing his picture perfect stroke both off the dribble and with his feet. Kansas up 30-16 on Villanova early. pic.twitter.com/inAlpfnw7m
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 2, 2022
It is not just shooting from deep that makes Agbaji a potent offensive threat, but his 47.5% shooting from the floor is especially impressive for an 18.8 points-per-game scorer as a senior. What makes him such a proficient off-ball scorer is how he moves without the ball. Agbaji is one of the better cutters in this class and creates a lot of easy baskets for himself. As a truly elite athlete and an above-the-rim finisher, Agbaji’s cutting allowed him to get buckets created by others. That finishing ability parlayed with his shooting and off-ball movement makes him a dangerous scorer without the ball and a potential plug-and-play rookie.
Whichever team drafts the 22-year-old guard should expect to be filled with plenty of highlight lobs. Agbaji’s cutting without the ball and his timing and ability to see the defense allowed him to slip backdoor or make a smart cut for easy lobs. By easy lobs, I mean incredibly difficult finishes over defenders that he makes look routine due to his insane vertical ability. It is not hard to find a bunch of alley-oops from Agbaji that very few players in this draft would be able to finish. That ability is entertaining to watch, if not an important tool to unlock offenses.
Ochai Agbaji showcasing his athleticism. He has such an amazing vertical jump; gets above the rim at 6'5" for a ferocious alley-oop finish!
I wouldn't be shocked if he gets picked in the late lottery. pic.twitter.com/0dLMOZ5y0d
— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) March 26, 2022
The downside of the off-ball prowess that Agbaji showed at Kansas is the lack of on-ball creation you would hope for from a scoring wing prospect. While Bill Self did a great job of drawing up actions to get Ochai, there is a lack of ability to create for himself without those actions. His off-ball skills make him a dangerous catch-and-shoot player, but the Big 12 Player of the Year has shown very little ability to create for himself. His dribble creation ability leaves something to be desired beyond simple dribble moves for off the dribble shooting. Agbaji has an impressive crossover used to create space for jumpers or attack a closeout but should not be expected to be dribbling the basketball much early into his NBA career and may not ever be a player that is given the ball in halfcourt opportunities.
Transition is the other ready-made skill for the NBA that Agbaji showed regularly throughout his college career. It may not come as a surprise that a player with his athleticism has a propensity for getting in transition, but it is an impressive skill that Agbaji consistently demonstrated. Not only does he have great speed and athleticism to get ahead in transition, but he is also a heady basketball player that fills the lanes in smart ways and makes himself accessible for his teammates to find on fast breaks. Of course, he is also likely to finish a break with a lob or a dunk ahead of traffic.
The transition opportunities from Agbaji, come in large part from his defensive playmaking. Agbaji will likely not be an All-NBA defender, but his athleticism and physical tools give him a high defensive floor along with a dog-like effort. One defensive skill that is hard to quantify for prospects is just “giving a s–t” and that is something that the Kansas guard shows in bunches. Ochai is an extremely active defender with a high motor that could always be expected to give high effort. This helps lead to steals and effort plays that create those transition opportunities and some truly vicious dunk attempts.
Ochai Agbaji with the tag, steal on the recovery, and…a thing on the subsequent runout pic.twitter.com/jjJzYS81lX
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) April 26, 2021
Anytime you have a guard with his size and length, that unlocks some defensive versatility you will not find with smaller guards. Agbaji’s length helps him to switch and guard multiple positions, but his strength is really what makes him a plus defensive prospect. At the very least, Ochai will likely be able to guard 2-to-4 at the next level, and that is a really positive skill for a defender in the modern NBA.
It is clear to say that Agbaji does not have the highest ceiling in this class and it is understandable why younger prospects might go ahead of him, but that does not mean the Final Four MOP does not translate to the NBA. The opposite is true, with Agbaji being arguably the most NBA-ready player in this class. As an older prospect, that is what you would hope for from the senior guard. It is not only his age and experience but the contextual role he had at Kansas that make him so ready for the Association.
3-and-D wings are all the trend in the NBA and no time shows that more than draft season. Every wing prospect is thrown into the 3-and-D box, whether they can really shoot or defend. Agbaji, however, can truly do both at a high level. His off-ball scoring, cutting, and movement make him not only ready to play as a rookie but make him a legitimate threat to contribute as a catch-and-shoot player. That, along with the plethora of lobs that he will be catching in the NBA, should have any fanbase excited to hear Ochai Agbaji’s name called on draft night.