Discover more from No Ceilings
No Stone Unturned 2023: The Big Men
No Stone Unturned is back! Today, Maxwell examines five under-the-radar big men with NBA potential. Plus: insights from Drexel Head Coach Zach Spiker on Amari Williams!
Welcome to the first of the 2023 installments of No Stone Unturned! In this series of articles, I will be digging into five players at different positions who are flying under the radar but warrant attention. For my methodology, I started by seeking out players with interesting statistical profiles or players who had popped on film for me this past season. From there, I compiled a list, worked my way through the film and date, then chose my favorites. I avoided prospects who have received rankings on mainstream Top 100 lists and early mock drafts. I’m looking for deeper cuts who aren’t receiving much love yet but still have a real crack at making a mark in the draft space this coming season. Today, we are starting out by looking at the unheralded big men who could sneak into the NBA Draft conversation by the end of this draft cycle.
I began this series last year, and the ever-evolving college basketball landscape has made things a bit different this time around. The biggest thing I ran into was that many players who played well at smaller programs have transferred up to bigger schools. For that reason, there will be more high-major programs represented. Fear not, though. The majority of the 25 players covered will still be coming from mid-and-low major programs, and most of them at least played for one prior to this season.
Now, let’s dig in!
Amari Williams, 6’10”, Drexel, Senior
2022-2023 Season Stats: 13.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.9 TOV, 2.2 BPG, 1.4 SPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 52.3/26.7/60.6
Signature Performance: vs. Florida Gulf Coast. 20 points, nine rebounds, one assist, three blocks, two steals, two turnovers. 6-11 FG, 8-12 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
Amari Williams played at Myerscough College in Preston, England. The Drexel staff came across him while watching his teammate, Mate Okros. Okros enrolled at Drexel in 2019 and has played over 20 MPG every season for them. Williams would land at Drexel during the 2020-2021 season. I spoke with Drexel Head Coach Zach Spiker, who noted that when Amari first got to campus, “he was instinctually a very good passer and had great length. He was a natural shot blocker.” Williams didn’t see the floor much as a freshman, appearing in 15 of Drexel’s 20 games for an average of four minutes. As a sophomore, his breakout began. “[It was] just like a pilot having to log airline miles. His minutes played weren’t that high, and they didn’t get that high until James Butler got hurt. He didn’t start until January. The more he played, the more comfortable he got,” Coach Spiker noted. Williams was named the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year and made the All-CAA Third Team. As a junior, his emergence continued, winning another CAA DPOY Award and earning an All-CAA First Team distinction.
There’s an obscene blend of skills that make up Amari Williams’s game. He’s a top-of-the-line defender and crafty playmaker. In the last decade, he’s the only Division I player to post a block percentage over 8%, a steal percentage over 3%, and an assist percentage over 20%. He’s 6’10”, 250 pounds, strong as hell, and astonishingly light on his feet. Williams sits at the intersection of feel, reactivity, and physical prowess.
Let’s start with the defense. Williams is as big as a house, so no one is able to take advantage of him on the interior. He’s an excellent shot blocker thanks to his awareness and leaping ability. Williams blocked 2.2 shots per game last season, and over the past two years, he has a BLK% of 9. Coach Spiker commented, “I think his shot-blocking numbers are kind of low actually, but it’s the shots altered. The players who attack and then have to dribble out the other side. Those are unseen stats. Guys enter the lane and turn around and have to take a contested jump shot instead of something at the basket.” To say Williams is a deterrent to drivers is a massive understatement. Drexel was in the top third of the country when it came to limiting halfcourt shots at the rim. Per Synergy, opponents only took 18 total shots at the rim in the halfcourt against Williams this season. They didn’t go too well, either—they shot 38.9% on those attempts. “His defense presence can really change how the other team attacks,” said Coach Spiker. Williams does a great job of limiting second chances, too, with a preposterous 29.8 DREB%.
So, what’s the solution? Typically, you want to pull that type of rim protector out of the paint. The issue is that Williams is great out there, too. A steal percentage over 3% is unusually high for a center. He’s extraordinary in passing lanes and understands perimeter rotations the way a good wing defender does. His timing, ability to read opposing offenses, and punish lazy passes are uncanny. Men his size aren’t supposed to move like he does, but it’s an ordinary occurrence for him to see a bad skip pass, jump the passing lane, and take it coast-to-coast for a dunk. Williams isn’t a riverboat gambler who gets burned, either—the dude posted a defensive rating of 84.0, which was the best in the nation. He also rarely fouls, averaging 1.7 fouls per game. Given his impact and playmaking, that number is astonishing. When he guards smaller players on an island, his feet are frighteningly fast. Players who get him isolated rarely try to test him. He can switch, show and recover, or deter like few others while playing in a drop. It’s all here.
Offensively, Williams thrives as play finisher and passer. The big lefty has a little bit of touch, he’s powerful on the block, and he’s obscenely difficult to move. If he gets a mismatch on the block, it’s an automatic two points. His screens are never lacking in terms of contact and execution. He runs the floor hard to get easy ones. His passing is what separates him from other big men, though. “You find that sometimes with international guys [who] played soccer…I think he has really good vision and he’s a really good athlete. When you can see the game and find guys and throw them open…His vision and timing are things you can’t coach. He’s an elite passer,” Coach Spiker said of Williams. Right now, much of his damage is done in the post. “Because of his size and ability on the score, double teams have to be considered. That opens up wide-open shots for his teammates. Any time he has a guy on the low block one on one, he can consistently create things for himself one on one and also pass it if there’s a double. He’s a willing passer,” Spiker commented. While that may not be his NBA role, Williams’ faceup skills as a ball handler, attacker, and downhill passer open up real shot-roll possibilities for him in the future. Williams is already fantastic when operating from the top of the key and running handoffs. He’s also great at spraying the ball out to the perimeter for open threes after offensive rebounds. Williams showed flashes as a passer last year, but now, he’s a far more actualized playmaker and reliable facilitator. If a team simply needs him to do the dirty work, grab offensive rebounds, and clean up around the basket, he can do those basic things. But he’s also one of the savvier big man passers out there, and his playmaking will bring a new wrinkle to any offense.
One last thing I want to touch on here is that while Drexel didn’t face any Quad-1 teams last year, Williams was great against “bigger school” opponents. He had 18 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and a block against Temple. Against Seton Hall, he had 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks. He looks and moves like an NBA player. I’m not concerned about him playing in a smaller league, and his outings against stronger opposition should quell those concerns.
What Needs Improvement
There are no major overhauls needed in Williams’s game, but I’d like to see him “turn the dial” in a few areas. It’d be nice if he had more of a jumper, as his shot has a bit of elbow movement on it. I’d like to see him continue to develop his right hand further. My biggest concern is his free-throw shooting. He gets to the line consistently, but he only made 60.6% of his 5.2 free throws attempts per game last year. Coach Spiker did note, though, that, “He’s up early every day working on free throws and doing the things you’d like to see.” I’d love to see him clean up his general efficiency from the floor, too, as his eFG% of 53.0 is low for a big man. I’m not panicking over that mark, as his role and shot difficulty as an offensive focal point contribute to that issue. Lastly, while his passing was vastly improved last season, he still needs to reign in his impulses at times. His 2.9 turnovers per game and 18.8 TOV% are still a bit too high for my liking. Another passing big man, Trayce Jackson-Davis, averaged 2.5 turnovers and had a 12.8 TOV%, for example.
Friend of the site Chuck often uses a phrase along the lines of “when a player tells you they’re great, listen to them.” Both the numbers and film affirm that Amari Williams is a great player and a genuine prospect. He has an NBA-ready body, he’s one of the most disruptive and impactful defenders we’ve seen at his size, and his feel for the game is off the charts. Coach Spiker commended his work ethic, too, remarking that, “If you’re willing to listen and learn every day, you’ll get better. He has the right attitude about things.” He attributed that approach to Amari’s consistent, year-over-year growth.
Amari Williams was great last year. If he’d entered the 2023 NBA Draft, I would have easily had a Top 100 grade on him. Instead, he didn’t test the waters or enter the transfer portal. He stayed at Drexel, which I believe was the right call for him. He’ll get another year of development under his belt playing at a school that has shown they know how to make him better each and every season. The portal is enticing right now, and I’m not going to fault anyone for getting a bag. But from a pure development standpoint, sometimes, it’s best to stay where you’re at. I’m intrigued to see what Amari Williams adds this offseason. His physical tools, intelligent play on both ends of the floor, and over-the-top production have him in my pre-season Top 60.
Aziz Bandaogo, 7’0”, Cincinnati, Senior
2022-2023 Season Stats: 11.5 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.6 TOV, 2.9 BPG, 0.5 SPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 60.0/33.3/63.6
Signature Performance: vs. Seattle. 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks. 9-10 FG, 5-6 FT
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Utah State. 17 points, six rebounds, two assists, three blocks, one turnover. 7-9 FG, 2-2 3FG, 1-1 FT.
-vs. Boise State. Four points, three rebounds, two steals, one block, two turnovers. 1-4 FG, 1-5 FT.
-vs. Oregon. Two points, five rebounds, four blocks, one turnover. 0-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 2-4 FT.
-vs. New Mexico. Eight points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one block, two turnovers. 4-7 FG.
-vs. Colorado. 12 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two blocks, one steal, two turnovers. 6-9 FG.
Hailing from Dakar, Senegal, Aziz Bandaogo played at NBA Academy Africa starting in October 2018. He played on Senegal’s team during the FIBA U19 World Cup, but saw limited playing time, averaging 2.5 MPG while averaging 0.4 PPG and 0.8 RPG. He spent two college seasons at Akron. During his first year, he appeared in seven games, posting 1.0 PPG, 0.7 RPG, and 0.3 BPG in 2.1 MPG. As a sophomore, he saw an uptick in minutes, playing 12.1 MPG. Still, his production was fairly pedestrian, scoring 3.2 PPG and grabbing 3.3 RPG. His skills as a rim protector became evident, though, as he finished with an 11.3 BLK%. Then, he transferred to Utah Valley for his junior season, where he emerged as a legitimate prospect.
Aziz Bandaogo is a legitimate defensive anchor right now, and he’s still brimming with upside. He won the WAC Defensive Player of the Year Award this past year. At 7’0”, he’s long and mobile, capable of playing in a variety of schemes. Utah Valley ranked 19th in the nation in defensive rating last season, and Bandaogo’s presence was a massive part of that. He blocked an eye-popping 2.9 shots per game and had 9.1 BLK%. Per Synergy, opponents shot only 43.8% against the rim at him in the halfcourt, as his sheer size, ability to spring into position, and massive vertical leap make him difficult to score against. Bandaogo gets off the floor with ease and minimal load time, reaching some shots that other centers could only dream of getting their hand on. If the ball is in his orbit, he’s going to swat it. His impact goes beyond the stat sheet, too. He’s a deterrent. Players second-guess themselves when they drive against him, and he forces a lot of bad, non-restricted area shots because players are afraid of getting too close to him. Other times, they’ll pull the ball out and reset the offense entirely.
Rim protection is a great thing to have, but Aziz Bandaogo brings more to the table on defense than just that. He’s nimble laterally and moves his feet well. When smaller players get him on an island, they can’t cook him. Opponents went 4-for-25 from the field against him on isolation possessions. On the rare occasions that players do get by him, he still works to recover, and he can use his tools to block a shot from behind. He’s everywhere. His presence is escapable. Whether he’s switched out, patrolling the paint, or reacting as a helper, Bandaogo constantly makes defenses deal with the fact that he is on the court. An enticing physical profile is nice, but Bandaogo’s instincts and motor are what put him over the top. He’s quick to react, and he’s always working. That motor carries over nicely to his offensive game.
On offense, Bandaogo is relatively limited, but he does important things well. Namely, he rim-runs hard in transition, has a great catch radius when soaring for a lob, and he doesn’t stop moving. Right now, he’s best as a play finisher. Synergy lists as having successfully dunked 105 times last year. Again, the combination of size, leaping ability, and length goes a long way. He’s able to grab and finish passes that are a little off the mark, giving his set-up men room for error. When he goes up, he goes up with intent to finish, and he finishes as hard as he can. Per Synergy, he made a tremendous 74.8% of his halfcourt shots at the basket. Bandaogo is active, too, moving around, screening, and constantly commanding defensive attention rather than just standing in the dunker spot. When he slips a screen, he’s lightning-quick and gets to the basket in a hurry. In the post, he’ll occasionally use misdirection and fakes to get himself cleaner looks. He’s demonstrated a little bit of short-roll passing, and his general understanding of how defenses move enables him to make some nice passes from time to time. Utah Valley let him orchestrate a fair number of handoffs, and he did well in those settings. When he’s left wide open, he’ll take a three, and he went 5-for-15 from distance. It looks a little wonky, and I’m not sure he’s ever going to be a reliable floor spacer, but it’s a positive trait.
What Needs Improvement
Many of the issues that Aziz Bandaogo faces circle back to his lack of strength. He’s listed at 225 pounds, but he can look and play lighter than that. There are branches of consequences stemming from this. The biggest comes on offense, where he can struggle on non-dunk attempts. His post-game is budding and encouraging, but he can’t bully smaller players all that well, and attempts against fellow big men often see his shot altered by contact. When he sets a screen, he doesn’t always hold sturdy enough, limiting what he can create for his ball handler. His fouling issues got better, but players who drive into his chest can get a whistle by causing his arms to come forward. On the glass, he doesn’t always grab the ball with authority, leading to the ball staying live and the occasional lost opportunity. Still, his size and strength issues are common ones for young big men, and this was his first year getting significant minutes. He might be a single off-season away from patching up many of these problems.
Aziz Bandaogo had a spectacular year at Utah Valley but was largely tucked away from the mainstream spotlight until a semi-final run in the NIT. Even still, given the defensive versatility and high-level play finishing that Bandaogo brings to the table, he remains overlooked. In the first season that he received significant playing time, he anchored a high-level defense, blocked shots at a high rate, and showed a fantastic level of comfort when forced to cover smaller opponents. He runs and jumps like an NBA center, and there’s a clear-cut role for him as a high-motor, defense-first, play-finishing big who can make the occasional decision.
Here’s where we run into some trouble. After the season, Utah Valley’s coach, Mark Madsen, left to take the California job. Bandaogo then announced he would transfer to Cincinnati. The NCAA, which had recently become far more laid-back when it came to transfer rules, has now decided to go back to utilizing stricter policies. Because Bandaogo had previously transferred from Akron to Utah Valley, transferring from Utah Valley to Cincinnati may require him to sit out for a year. He could become immediately eligible if he receives a waiver, but it looks like those are going to be tough to get. I feel for Bandaogo. He saw limited opportunities at Akron, he left to get a better one, he made the most of it, and then, the coach he went to play for left. That’s not his fault, and I firmly believe that a change in head coach should automatically result in a free transfer waiver every single time. Even if Bandaogo is eligible, Cincinnati will return their starting big man from last season, but we’ll get to him later.
This makes projecting Bandaogo’s draft stock difficult. If he plays this season, and they can make the two bigs thing work or if he wins the starting role, I think he’s going to make a genuine Top 60 push. There aren’t many big men who move like him, can play in any defensive scheme well, and finish plays at a high level, all while having above-average athleticism. If teams don’t get to see him at all, though, it will significantly hurt his momentum, and he’d likely have to play out his delayed senior campaign to get back on the map.
Micah Handlogten, 7’1”, Florida, Sophomore
2022-2023 Season Stats: 7.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.3 TOV, 2.3 BPG, 1.3 SPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 66.2/8.3/54.3
Signature Performance: vs. Coastal Carolina. 19 points, 19 rebounds, one assist, five blocks, two steals. 7-13 FG, 1-3 3FG, 4-9 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
Micah Handlogten comes from a basketball bloodline. His father, Ben Handlogten, was a standout player at Western Michigan. He then went on to have a lengthy professional career which included two seasons with the Utah Jazz. Micah earned two All-State nods while playing at Southlake Christian Academy in South Carolina. He played grassroots ball on the Adidas circuit for Upward Stars alongside recent second round pick Julian Phillips. On that team, he was much more of a role player than a focal point of the offense. As a result, he was a bit under the radar as a recruit coming out of high school. Verbal Commits listed him as a three-star prospect. His Division I scholarship offers came from Marshall, American, Presbyterian, Youngstown State, and Jacksonville. Handlogten committed to Marhsall. He blew the doors off the competition in the Sun Belt and won the league’s Freshman of the Year award. He then transferred to Florida for the upcoming season.
Micah Handlogten is an absolutely enormous human being, and he moves well for someone his size. He’s fluid, everything looks natural and normal, and he rarely appears clunky. His balance is solid, and he covers ground well. If he finds himself off his feet, he recovers in a timely manner and has a good second jump. Add in that he has a strong understanding of defensive principles, and now we’re cooking.
Handlogten’s length allows him to get into a lot as a shot blocker. He posted 2.3 BPG and 9.1 BLK% this past season. He knows when his help is needed around the basket and he tracks the ball well. When he has to turn and chase guards attacking downhill, his long strides keep him alive and allow him to swat layup attempts off the backboard. Handlogten is always aware of what’s happening on the floor, and the fact that he never quits on a play makes him a persistent thorn in the side of opposing offenses. Even if a stronger player pins him deep in the paint, he’s so long that oftentimes, he’ll still get a hand on the ball. His ball-tracking skills also allow him to nab steals at a much better clip than most big men. He posted 1.3 SPG and a 2.8 STL% last season. It’s tough to lob passes over him, he’s able to get his fingers on passes that aren’t sharp enough, and he’s clever with his hands when it comes to poking the ball loose from a guard’s handle. His skill and timing on the glass limited second-chance opportunities for his opponents. Per Synergy, Marshall ranked in the 95th percentile defensively last season. While Dan D’Antoni has a stellar reputation and the team had multiple plus-defenders, having a giant like Handlogten who really knows how to play certainly helped a great deal.
Right now, Handlogten is a low-maintenance offensive player and not someone who will take over a game, but there’s still a lot to like. His offensive rebounding is top-of-the-line. He grabbed 3.4 boards a night on that side of the court, and his OREB% of 14.3 is outstanding for a big man prospect. If he’s not accounted for, he’ll either secure the ball or use his fingertips to tap the ball up and keep it alive. Heck, even if you throw your body on him, he’s still so big that it might not matter. Handlogten’s inside touch is outrageous, too. He made 72.9% of his non-dunks at the basket, which is one of the best marks you can find in college hoops. That’s why he ended up with a preposterous 66.2 FG% while shooting 71.1% on twos. The ball comes out soft and easy every time. While his assist totals didn’t pop, Handlogten is a steady decision-maker. I trust him with the ball at the top of the key, he’s comfortable making reads beyond the basic ones at times, and he sees the floor well after collecting a rebound. Marshall had a lot of talented playmakers last season, so he didn’t get to cook much, but I’m betting that there is more to him than we saw. If nothing else, Handlogten isn’t erratic and doesn’t make many mistakes.
What Needs Improvement
The biggest thing that hampered Handlogten at times last season was that he’s skinny and easy to move. This isn’t an end-of-the-world, Doomsday-level crisis, because it’s true of many young big men and it’s a relatively easy fix, but it needs to be addressed. He gets bumped around a lot on both ends of the floor. It causes him to pick up the ball at inopportune times on offense, take worse angles at the rim, and occasionally takes him out of plays on defense after getting sent to the floor. This issue gets him into foul trouble, too, as he can’t stay sturdy through his chest. He had four or more fouls in 16 of Marshall’s 32 games. If foul trouble keeps him off the floor, it’s a detriment to him and his team. Heading into the SEC, he’ll need to play stronger with the ball. I’m not totally concerned about the size with him, as Verbal Commits listed him at 190 pounds in high school, and Marshall listed him at 227 pounds last season. He’s trending in the right direction, but he still needs to be stronger and handle physicality better. Handlogten was a really poor free-throw shooter this year, going 54.3% from the stripe. He’s got to turn that around to avoid being a “Hack-A-Shaq” target. I’d like to see him be a little bit better at guarding in space, staying in front more often, and turning/chasing less.
I believe Micah Handlogten is going to play in the NBA, point blank. Guys who have his size and defensive skill set are always bound to get a chance. That’s especially true of someone like Handlogten, who isn’t a klutz, but rather, a coordinated, fluid mover. The question then becomes the timeline. Personally, I think it’s going to take Handlogten a bit more time. He needs to continue to fill out his frame, and Florida is going to be particularly deep next season. As a result, he may get even fewer offensive opportunities than he received at Marshall. That’s fine, though. There’s no reason to rush to the NBA, especially in the NIL era. Handlogten is a rapidly improving, intelligent, 7’1” prospect who can protect the rim, survive in space, has baby soft touch around the basket, and makes good decisions with the ball. It’s best to put him on your radar now for those reasons. He seems like he’ll eventually be a second-round pick or a priority undrafted target. There is a path for him to work his way into the first round mix if his body and athleticism come along in short order.
Joel Soriano, 6’11”, St. John’s, Graduate
2022-2023 Season Stats: 15.2 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.8 TOV, 1.4 BPG, 0.3 SPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 56.3/0/73.0
Signature Performance: vs. Florida State. 23 points, 12 rebounds, one assist, two blocks. 6-11 FG, 11-14 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Iowa State. Seven points, 12 rebounds, two turnovers. 2-6 FG, 3-4 FT
-vs. Villanova. 17 points, 13 rebounds, one steal, four blocks, three turnovers. 7-12 FG, 3-3 FT.
-vs. Xavier. 14 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, two turnovers. 4-10 FG, 6-6 FT.
-vs. Marquette. 22 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, one steal, two turnovers. 10-17 FG, 2-2 FT.
-vs. Providence. 16 points, 10 rebounds, one assist. 8-9 FG.
-vs. Connecticut. 19 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, one turnover. 7-10 FG, 5-8 FT.
-vs. Creighton. 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two turnovers. 7-11 FG, 4-5 FT.
-vs. Xavier. Six points, eight rebounds, four assists, two turnovers. 3-7 FG, 0-2 FT.
-vs. Creighton. 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals, one block, two turnovers. 7-13 FG, 1-1 FT.
-vs. Connecticut. 12 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, one steal, two blocks. 3-7 FG, 6-8 FT.
-vs. Marquette. 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, one turnover. 5-8 FG, 4-4 FT.
-vs. Marquette. 12 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, four blocks, two turnovers. 2-8 FG, 8-10 FT.
Joel Soriano played high school ball for Archbishop Stepinac. As a senior, they won the CHSAA AA City Championship and the New York State Federation AA Title. That same year (2018), he represented the Dominican Republic in the FIBA U18 Americas tournament, averaging 8.7 PPG and 5.3 RPG. He went on to play a post-graduate season at St. Thomas More School. Soriano had offers from Florida International, Manhattan, La Salle, Old Dominion, Iona, Stony Brook, and Fordham.
Ultimately, he decided to attend Fordham. His output as a freshman was modest, but he got hot down the stretch, posting five double-doubles in his last six games before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the year short. He entered his sophomore season as the team’s starting big man and nearly averaged a double-double. Soriano then transferred to St. John’s. Just like at Fordham, he was more solid than remarkable in his first year. As a senior, he popped in a big way, averaging a double-double and earning an All-Big East Second Team nod. This leap in production also led to him winning the Big East Most Improved Player Award. Despite these accolades, Soriano still hasn’t popped up on most mock drafts and big boards. He’ll be returning to St. John’s for his graduate campaign.
If you like double-doubles, Joel Soriano is your guy. He recorded 25 of them last season, second in the nation behind Zach Edey. Soriano is one of the most consistent and reliable producers in college basketball. A big reason for this is his work on the offensive glass. He’s a great rebounder in general, but his OREB% of 15.1 is out of this world. Because he is so active and competitive on the glass, defenders have to account for him every single time. What’s so fascinating about Soriano is his unusual put-back technique. He’ll almost swat at the ball like it’s a pesky mosquito, and he still manages to convert at a high percentage despite the unorthodox methodology. I’ve never seen someone so consistent with their touch while using such a strange tactic. It looks bizarre, but my goodness is it effective.
The rest of Soriano’s offensive game ranges from rock solid to interesting. He’s a good screener, and guards never have to worry about him being too wimpy on that front. He’ll use his 260-pound frame to get space for his guys. His non-put back attempts around the basket are good. Soriano goes up strong and finishes with a fury. Many of his dunks are loud, as he goes full force on the rim to make sure contact doesn’t disrupt his opportunity. He’s comfortable with physicality and gets to the line at a solid clip as a result. Soriano is a good free throw shooter, too, having converted 73% of his free throws over the past two seasons. This is where I get to the interesting part—I think there’s a real chance Joel Soriano starts shooting threes and making them this season. At face value, that may seem nutty. He’s a career 0-for-0 from long range. But, per BartTorvik, Soriano took 145 “far twos” last year, and he made an outstanding 44.1% of them. Synergy has him at 44.7% on catch-and-shoot jumpers (all twos). It looks good, too! He shoots a soft ball with a high release. All he needs to do is just step back a few feet. Head Coach Rick Pitino sees the vision here, too, and has noted that he wants to see Soriano shoot it from deep this year.
There are some real positives on the defensive end. Soriano’s power and strength do him wonders around the basket. Per Synergy, opponents shot a meager 32.4% at the rim against him. His length impedes fellow bigs and smaller guards simply bounce off his sturdy body. Plus, the fact that he gobbles up 7.5 defensive rebounders per contest limits second chances. He does pretty well in space at the college level and did a much better job in pick-and-roll coverage than fellow mega-producers like Drew Timme and Oscar Tshiebwe. Soriano has size on those two, he’s more fluid, he’s more competitive, and he’s a better communicator. He won’t hang his guard out to dry, he moves his feet, and he loves to show that he can prevent a guard from getting into the paint. When he has to rotate out to the perimeter, he makes big movements, and he knows how to take up space.
What Needs Improvement
While I like Soriano’s defense in college, I do have concerns about how scalable it is to the NBA level. He’s fluid and strong, but he’s not quick and he’s not a big-time leaper. When he does switch out onto smaller players, he’s able to use his size and feet to contain them, but his lack of quick-twitch movements, particularly with regard to his hands, stands out. He can be slower to contest and get a hand up. Soriano doesn’t allow easy shots at the basket, but he doesn’t block a lot of shots, which is concerning. He posted a 5.1 BLK%, which is firmly on the lower side for a big man prospect. He’ll need to show that he can be more of a traditional, scalable rim protector while maintaining his offensive workload.
Joel Soriano is interesting. Offensively, he can thrive in a “clean-up” role at the NBA level. He’s not going to be needy or shut his motor off if he isn’t getting post touches. Instead, he’ll thrive on doing the dirty work, which is exactly what teams looking for value on the margins will want to see. With positive free-throw and long-two indicators, there’s a real chance he starts to show three-point range this season. At the college level, he’s been able to stifle opponents at the rim and avoid getting torched on the perimeter.
Real hang-ups exist, though. He’ll be behind the curve from a run-and-jump perspective, even if he’s big, fluid, and strong. Soriano will also be a much older prospect, as he’ll turn 24 in January. Still, older prospects have found ways to get a foot in the door, and Jalen Pickett was taken despite being a graduate in the most recent draft. That said, Pickett posted what were essentially video game numbers last season. Despite Soriano’s age and limitations, I do think he’ll generate real Exhibit-10 and two-way consideration. As I stated previously, I think Soriano stacks up quite favorably to bigs like Timme and Tshiebwe in terms of NBA translation because of his defense. He probably needs the jumper to stick at the NBA level, and he’ll have to maximize his athleticism. But I think Soriano is going to sneak up on people during Portsmouth and the pre-draft process before landing some sort of NBA deal.
Viktor Lakhin, 6’11”, Cincinnati, Redshirt Junior
2022-2023 Season Stats: 11.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.3 TOV, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 SPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 61.9/50.0/56.0
Signature Performance: vs. UCF. 20 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, 1 block. 7-12 FG, 6-6 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Arizona. 17 points, five rebounds, one block. 6-10 FG, 5-8 FT.
-vs. Xavier. 16 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, three turnovers. 7-9 FG, 1-1 3FG, 1-2 FT.
-vs. Houston. 16 points, six rebounds, one assist, two steals, two turnovers. 4-7 FG, 8-10 FT.
-vs. Memphis. 22 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, three steals. 11-14 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-4 FT.
-vs. Houston. 15 points, five rebounds, one steal, three blocks, one turnover. 7-14 FG, 0-1 3FG, 1-2 FT.
-vs. Memphis. Eight points, nine rebounds, one steal, two blocks, four turnovers. 3-3 FG, 1-1 3FG, 1-2 FT.
-vs. Houston. Three points, five rebounds, one steal, one block, three turnovers. 1-4 FG, 1-3 FT.
-vs. Utah Valley. 10 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two turnovers.
Viktor Lakhin came to Cincinnati with a strong resume. He competed in the FIBA Euro Championships on Russia’s U16 squad in 2017 and their U18 squad in 2019. Lakhin also played for CSKA Moscow’s U18 team, putting up solid stats as a role player. He joined Cincinnati during the 2020-2021 season but had to redshirt due to a knee injury. The following year, he played 10.9 MPG, bringing energy, rebounding, and defense off the bench for the Bearcats. After being inserted into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Lakhin took off, matching much of the prior year’s per-minute productivity marks despite more than doubling his playing time.
Viktor Lakhin is a pest on the defensive end. There’s a beautiful marriage between his awareness and assertiveness. He’s like a shark smelling blood in the water when players get stuck in bad spots on the court. Pick up your dribble in traffic? Lakhin is going to swarm you. Are you going to force a bad shot at the rim after taking a bad driving angle that didn’t give you a clean view of the floor? You better believe Lakhin is rotating over to swat it. He’s an expert ball-tracker, resulting in high steal and block totals. His STL% of 2.9 and BLK% of 5.8 this past season are a tremendous combination—and one that is hard to come by at the high-major level. Lakhin isn’t the quickest, but he has fluidity. He’s not a violently explosive leaper, but he gets off the floor easily without much load time. Lakhin knows how to protect the rim and he can slide his feet well enough to make an impact outside of the restricted area on defense. He avoids crossing his feet and can contain smaller players. When he needs to close out, he makes long strides and gets his feet underneath him if someone drives at him. Those traits, paired with a nose for the ball like few others at 6’11”, make him one of the nastiest defenders in the country. He should be able to play in a few different schemes at the NBA level.
Offensively, there’s a strong carryover in terms of Lakhin’s understanding of timing and space. He knows where to go when he rolls to the rim, he knows when to cut, and he cleans up on the offensive glass by being mindful of his positioning. If a teammate needs space with the ball, he makes sure to clear out appropriately to avoid court cramping. One thing that stood out about Lakhin was his hands—he rarely bobbles the ball or has a hard time reeling it in. He’s fantastic inside, with stellar touch on his baby-hook shot. He converted 64.7% of his non-dunk attempts at the basket in the halfcourt, per Synergy. While Lakhin is best with his right hand and prefers to go over his left shoulder, he can still use his left hand when needed. He’s a patient operator on the block with a handful of counter moves to get to his spots. He’ll occasionally mix a fake pass in there to get the defense off balance and he can put it on the floor a little bit. Even an experienced big man like Jack Nunge had a hard time against him on the interior. In that same game against Xavier, Lakhin also took and made a three, which looked quite good coming out of his hands! He’s only taken 11 threes in college, and he’s only made three of them, but his levels of touch give some optimism about him adding a jumper down the road. Generally speaking, Lakhin performed well against good competition.
What Needs Improvement
As modern as Lakhin’s defensive profile is, his offensive game feels a bit dated. He doesn’t even look at the rim from the elbow or nail. Per Synergy, Lakhin only took six shots beyond 17 feet last season. There are players who can get away with having limited range, but typically, they’re more athletic than Lakhin or have more skill as a passer. Right now, Lakhin tends to be a bit of a black hole with the ball. He can get too locked into getting his own shot, leading to forced looks and missed passes. His 1.3 assists per 100 possessions won’t cut it—that trails GG Jackson’s mark from last season, and he was constantly getting knocked for his struggles moving the ball. Lakhin has struggled as a free throw shooter (55.8% over two college seasons), which is why despite the occasional made three, I’m not comfortable proclaiming he’s going to shoot it. There needs to be some level of offensive dimensionality added to Lakhin’s game to warrant more NBA attention.
Watching Viktor Lakhin, it’s obvious that he is going to be a professional basketball player. He’s a smart, aggressive, versatile defender with great size, and he’s scored the ball at an efficient clip in a good conference. The conversation then shifts to “but is he an NBA player?” I’m not quite there yet with Lakhin. As of now, he needs to add more complexity and variety to his offensive game. He could also find himself in a tricky spot if Aziz Bandaogo is eligible to play this season, as they are both non-shooting big men, and something would likely have to give for one of them. Ultimately, Lakhin has a puncher’s chance. His feel on defense is top of the line, and perhaps in a different offensive role, he may show off more than we’ve gotten to see so far. Players with Lakhin’s physical dimensions, ability to move, defensive prowess, and touch are always worth a look and can’t be counted out.