Ochai Agbaji's Off-Ball Scoring | The Friday Screener
Ochai Agbaji has transformed into one of the most NBA ready two-way wings in the 2022 NBA Draft, and his prolific off-ball scoring is a significant reason why.
Ochai Agbaji has experienced one of the most astounding player transformations in some time. As a freshman, Agbaji was a chaotic ball of energy who outworked everyone, dove for every loose ball, and exuded energy on every play. Over the years, though, that chaos has been harnessed into widespread production and two-way versatility. While Agbaji is a strong defender and has developed significantly as an on-ball threat, it is his off-ball scoring that is the most fascinating aspect of his game.
The term 3-and-D wing gets thrown around far too often, as most players aren’t good enough shooters to fall into this category and others aren’t impactful enough defenders. Agbaji meets the requisite thresholds for both categories, but to call him simply a 3-and-D wing undersells much of what he does. Even though we’re focusing on his off-ball scoring, please do not lose sight of that.
When we talk about off-ball scoring, shooting is often the first thing that gets looked at. Over his years at Kansas, Agbaji’s outside shooting has improved in efficiency, volume, and variety. This season, Agbaji is shooting 41.1% from three on seven attempts while also scoring 1.085 points per possession (PPP) while spotting up (82nd percentile), 1.15 PPP on three-point jumpers (80th percentile), and 1.241 PPP shooting off the catch (87th percentile), per Synergy. Over the years, Agbaji has done a tremendous job of condensing his shooting mechanics, speeding up his release, and eliminating wasteful movements.
Agbaji’s shooting is at its best when he is spotting up or relocating, but he is proving to be a promising shooter running off screens as well. This season, Agbaji scored 0.864 PPP when running off screens (43rd percentile). This isn’t an elite ranking, but how Agbaji creates space off screens is encouraging. Agbaji’s ability to pressure the rim keeps defenders warry while his unselfish screening and change of pace movements keep them off-balance.
Here, Agbaji sets a ball screen to force the switch before running off a screen set for him. As he approaches the screen Agbaji turns his body as if he is going to curl off it for a backdoor lob. This movement sends his defender under the screen. Instead of curling to the rim, Agbaji back peddles to the wing, organizes his feet, and quickly knocks down the three.
Again, we see Kansas run the same play. This time, Agbaji uses a violent jab step that sends his defender in the opposite direction. Agbaji uses his quality footwork to relocate to the wing, prepare for the shot, and knock down the three.
On the surface, it seems silly for defenders to be fooled this egregiously by Agbaji’s movements. However, their concerns are warranted as Agbaji’s athleticism makes him a legitimate vertical spacer. Here, we see Kansas run the exact same play we saw before. As Agbaji approaches the screen, he sees that the screener’s defender is tight on him, vacating the rim, and that his defender is trailing him over the screen. Instead of relocating for a three, Agbaji curls off the screen towards the rim for the uncontested lob.
While Agbaji’s shooting, awareness, and athleticism make him difficult to defend running off screens, his ability to attack off the bounce elevates him over other off-ball scorers. This season, Agbaji has perfectly paired his improved ball-handling with his at-rim finishing and athleticism to be one of the best at-rim finishers in the country. Scoring 1.549 PPP, Agbaji ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring around the basket in non-post-up situations. A lot of these scores come in transition and off cuts (we’ll get to that in a second), but he also does an excellent job of getting downhill after curling off a screen.
Here, Agbaji runs tightly off a pin-down screen to create separation from his initial defender. Agbaji’s route off the screen is a bit too rounded, but once he receives the pass, his angle becomes more direct. Agbaji’s speed allows him to attack the inside of the opposite block, to ensure a better finishing angle, while also negating the help defender’s ability to fully rotate. As he gets to the rim, Agbaji uses his size to shield the ball from the defender, extends his outside hand, and finishes with a soft touch.
Agbaji’s athleticism and improved ball-handling allow him to attack the rim not only while running off of screens but also attacking close-outs. This skill is what helps separate Agbaji from most 3-and-D wings. Outside shooting is a necessity for most players now, but what is quickly becoming as vital a skill is whether they can do anything after getting run off the line. Those who can’t typically end up as spot-minute players, while those who can improve their odds of earning more prominent roles. This season, Agbaji scored 1.292 PPP when he attacked the basket after spotting up (85th percentile).
Here, Agbaji’s defender has to momentarily check the cutter, putting him a step behind on a closeout. As his teammate cuts, Agbaji lifts out of the corner a few steps to create a better driving angle. Once the pass arrives, Agbaji immediately drives baseline, and the defender can’t stop his momentum quick enough. As Agbaji attacks, he is met by a timely help rotation. Instead of crashing into the defender, Agbaji expertly decelerates, fades away from contact, and drops in a floater.
Again, we see Agbaji capitalize on his defender being only a step out of position. As the play develops, Agbaji exchanges positions in the corner while his teammate drives. Agbaji’s defender mistakenly helps off the strongside corner for a split second before hastily recovering to the kick-out pass. Agbaji uses a subtle shot fake which gets the defender to bite and Agbaji flies past him. Agbaji explodes to the rim and yet again shows his ability to contort his body and avoid contact as he double clutches to finish around the rotating defender.
Much of Agbaji’s off-ball scoring is predicated on his improved shooting. While the shooting improvement is vital, Agbaji’s excellent off-ball movement is also a necessity. We’ve seen how he runs off screens and attacks the rim, but Agbaji also maximizes his at-rim finishing ability with well-timed cuts. This season, Agbaji scored 1.724 PPP (98th percentile) on cuts.
As the ball enters the post, Oklahoma State sends the double. Instead of standing still in the opposite corner and allowing one defender to guard two men, Agbaji takes advantage of the mismatch and the weak side defender not knowing where Agbaji is by cutting to the rim for an easy layup.
Earlier, we saw Agbaji act as a vertical spacer by using a screen, but he is just as effective when cutting. Agbaji again notices his defender is ball watching and giving him the freedom of the entire baseline. Agbaji sees that the rim is unoccupied, cuts hard, and finishes the lob with his eyes at the rim.
Finally, Agbaji’s willingness to play any role required creates a lot of opportunities. Agbaji regularly sets screens for teammates, which in turn can be used as a crowbar that pries open scoring opportunities for himself.
Here, Agbaji sets a down screen and then immediately resets for a ball screen. As the ball swings, Agbaji slips the screen and cuts to the rim. Agbaji perfectly sells his role as the decoy screener, which allows him to finish the uncontested lob.
Ochai Agbaji is far more than just a 3-and-D wing. He is a markedly improved shooter across the board, is one of the best at-rim finishers in the country, and is constantly moving away from the ball. Even when he’s run off the line, Agbaji has the skill and athleticism to attack downhill. In the 2022 NBA Draft, there aren’t many players who are as polished, effective, and versatile as off-ball scorers as Ochai Agbaji.