The Prospect Overview: Oso Ighodaro's Beautiful Game
Marquette's Oso Ighodaro plays an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball and offers exceptional passing for his size. Will it be enough for teams to overlook his shortcomings?
“Listening is a skill.”
It’s a sentence my dad would tell my sisters and me all the time growing up. I took it to heart, especially in more recent years. It’s one thing to hear what someone is saying, and it’s another to actually listen. There have been times in my life when I’ve been in an argument, and I’m preparing to respond more than actually processing, sympathizing, and empathizing with the other party. It’s not a good way to live, and it’s a horrible way to go about solving problems. When I take time to consider the information I’m presented with, it puts me in a better position to remedy situations and make better decisions. Still, I’m not perfect.
During the off-season, I was working on my No Stone Unturned series, covering under-the-radar prospects across college basketball. One of the best basketball minds I know texted me, pointing me in the direction of Marquette’s 6’9” big man Oso Ighodaro. I’d already covered big men for the series, so I put Ighodaro on the back burner. Besides, I’d watched a bunch of Marquette last season for Justin Lewis, and Oso didn’t pop in a major way. He was a well-rounded college big man. He was efficient in his role, but it was limited, as he played under 20 minutes a game. If anything, he seemed like a “four-year” guy. Rather than diving into the film, I decided I’d wait and see. I could have looked a whole lot smarter if I’d listened.
Oso Ighodaro’s game can simply be described as “beautiful.” I mean, take a look at these passes:
Ighodaro is a magician with the ball in his hands, and he’s one of the best handoff distributors in college hoops. Lots of players have good passing vision, but what separates Ighodaro is his ability to thread needles and his decision-making when it comes to what type of pass to throw in a given situation. If the defender of his target is denying high, he’ll slip the ball under their arm with a bounce pass. He’s also a master of placing his body well in front of the recipient’s defender. By quickly getting into a screen, he impedes opponents and helps get his teammates better looks, whether they are going to launch an uncontested three or get downhill.
His passing acumen is truly rare for a player with his size. His 3.3 assists per game is a colossal number for a player his size, and it’s even more impressive given that he only turns the ball over 1.6 times per game. He’s the only high-major college basketball player listed at 6’9” or above with an Assist Percentage over 18% with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. In fact, only two other players have matched those figures in the last decade—Dean Wade and Kyle Anderson. The assistant percentage alone is gargantuan. I keep a running database of players who have entered the league since 2016 that have earned or are on pace to earn a second contract, with numbers from their last college season before going pro. Among those players classified as a big, none have posted a higher assist rate than Ighodaro’s 18.5%. The closest is Xavier Tillman at 18.1%.
Ighodaro has real gravity as a roll man, too, ranking in Synergy’s 91st percentile on those possessions. This is where he scores the bulk of his 11.9 PPG on 65.6% shooting. He’s pretty fleet of foot for someone his size, which helps him get an inside track on the defense. On top of that, Ighodaro knows how to position himself away from the defender without taking himself out of the play. This creates a lane for him as a lob threat while giving the ball handler space and forcing the opposing big man to make a difficult decision. Instinctually, he does the right things, but he’s also physically capable of converting. His hands are soft, enabling him to real in off-target passes. His body control is even better. Ighodaro is capable of contorting his body in mid-air to finish even when the pass wasn’t perfect. It’s a small nuance to his game, but an important one. By finishing in the air rather than landing with the ball and going back up with it, the defense doesn’t have time to recover. Every millisecond counts, that will be the case even more so when he’s facing better athletes at the next level. With his combined intellect and finishing prowess, Ighodaro currently ranks ninth in Division I for total dunks on the season.
He has touch if the dunk isn’t there, too. Per Synergy, Ighodaro makes 66.2% of his lay-ups in the halfcourt. He also has a real floater game, which is yet another oddity for a dude as big as he is. According to Synergy, Ighodaro has taken 36 runners on the year, and he’s made an excellent 20 of them. Between his floater, push-shot, and baby hook shot, it’s evident that Ighodaro has real touch within 12 feet of the basket. Sure, he can finish with power, but he can beat opponents with finesse, too.
The other reason to get excited about Ighodaro is his ability to switch down the positional spectrum on defense. He can play low in his stance and does a good job of keeping his arms stretched out. Some bigs will play too upright and narrow on the perimeter, but he doesn’t. Another pet peeve of mine is when bigs do that, but then reach in too often for steals against smaller, quicker players. It not only causes them to lose their balance, but it shrinks their width, allowing the ball handler to blow past them and exploit the speed mismatch. Instead of falling into those traps, Ighodaro carries himself with poise. He moves his feet well laterally, keeps a healthy difference without ceding too much space, and recovers well in instances where he gets shaken. Many guards don’t even bother testing him on drives, instead settling for a long, contested jumper. The ones that do drive on him often don’t find clean angles to the basket. Per Synergy, he limits opponents to 0.633 points per possession when he’s isolated. His technique and knack for isolation defense will do him favors in NBA front offices, especially those on the lookout for big men who can play in switching schemes. In a league that has become focused on mismatch hunting, having one less potential target on the floor can only help.
Where it gets trickier on the defensive end is with Ighodaro’s rim protection. Per Synergy, opponents shoot 64.7% at the basket against Ighodaro, ranking him in the 8th percentile of Division I hoops. His 1.6 blocks per game seem respectable and using the database of recent pros that I noted earlier, his 5.8 BLK% grades out alright. However, when you dig deeper, there are some issues. The largest problem is that he doesn’t do a great job of covering opposing big men on the interior. Simply put, Ighodaro gets moved around too easily. The, “well, Jokic and Embiid light up everybody, so it’s not a big deal if a guy can’t cover them” type argument gets thrown around quite often, it’s more concerning when a player can’t maintain position against the likes of Jack Nunge, Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Eric Dixon. Too often, he’ll allow them to get an inside angle on them, and he doesn’t have the power to get back in the play.
Currently, Marquette’s website lists Ighodaro at 215 pounds. That puts his weight closest to that of the NBA’s average for a small forward than any other position. It’s not a death sentence by any means—I’m a firm believer that anyone can put on size and become stronger. Still, given that he’s already giving up positional size as a 6’9” interior player, it doesn’t help his cause. His weight isn’t just glaring against bigs, either. Smaller players are able to rise through contact and finish over him, too.
An easy solution to that problem would be to play him at the four rather than the five, given his ability to guard down. That gets complicated on offense, though. Per Synergy, Ighodaro has only taken three jump shots the entire season, and you can watch them all in the video above. It’s not exactly inspiring. His range is extremely limited at the moment. Over the past two seasons, he’s 1-of-5 on jumpers, per Synergy. He’s also a 59.8% free throw shooter throughout his college career. While his touch around the basket is limited, when he has to actually use a traditional shooting motion, the results can be interpreted as either incomplete or discouraging.
I point out these flaws not to be a big jerk or to dump on a college kid, but to present the reality at hand. Currently, Ighodaro is projected as more of a second round pick or undrafted free agent, should he enter the 2023 NBA Draft. He didn’t make the February edition of our staff’s Consensus Big Board, nor was he ranked in the most recent Top 50 NBA $DRFT Stock Market assembled by our own Corey Tulaba. Here’s the reality, though—players in that range tend to have flaws as daunting as the ones Ighodaro has. Heck, generally, we only see 20-25 guys from a given draft stick around long-term. It isn’t just the guys in his range who have problem areas that may limit their NBA outcomes. Teams draft players knowing that a serious downside exists—it’s just as much about projecting their upside.
Oso Ighodaro does have serious upside. His passing profile is superb for a player his size. While he’s a junior, this is his first season starting, and he only saw 38 total minutes of game time as a freshman due to injury. This is what Ighodaro can do in his first season with a real opportunity. So on one hand, it wouldn’t shock me if Ighodaro decided to go back to school, continue to work on his body, and try to add more range to his shooting profile. On the other hand, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if a front office saw an explosive production leap from one of the best passing, highest-feel 6’9” guys in a while and thought: “We’ve got to get that guy in our system.” I’d imagine Ighodaro will test the waters, and his performance in team workouts and combine events will create a clearer picture of where he stands. There are multiple avenues on the table for him, and even though the college season is nearing its end, it’s still difficult to decipher what will come next. But wherever he ends up next season, his game will continue to be beautiful, and I’m excited to watch him play.
The Expanding Big Board
Welcome to The Expanding Big Board! Every week, one new player is added to the board. Once a player is added, they cannot be removed. The current ranking is listed first, with last week’s ranking in parenthesis.
As a heads up, I didn’t do any tinkering this week, but expect a lot of movement next week as we submit our latest round of Big Boards.
1. Victor Wembanyama (1)
2. Scoot Henderson (2)
3. Brandon Miller (3)
4. Jarace Walker (4)
5. Cam Whitmore (5)
6. Ausar Thompson (6)
7. Amen Thompson (7)
8. Jett Howard (8)
9. Keyonte George (9)
10. Nick Smith Jr. (10)
11. Gradey Dick (11)
12. Cason Wallace (12)
13. Taylor Hendricks (13)
14. Jalen Hood-Schifino (14)
15. Brice Sensabaugh (15)
16. Anthony Black (16)
17. Rayan Rupert (17)
18. Max Lewis (unranked)
Max Lewis, welcome to The Expanding Big Board.
My favorite TV show is the Netflix comedy sketch show I Think You Should Leave. In one sketch, a character portrayed by Tim Robinson goes absolutely berserk asking someone to hold a door open for him on two separate occasions.
The kicker is that whenever the person holds the door open for him, he slowly saunters down the long hallway with no sense of urgency.
With Max Lewis right now, it feels like a lot of people are doing the going berserk part of that skit, but I’m the version of Tim Robinson that’s slowly walking down the hallway with an unshakeable calm.
Look, I get it: Pepperdine stunk. They have a lot of talent on paper, and they didn’t meet expectations. That hurt Lewis’s stock, but so did his cold shooting down the stretch. His defense was put under a microscope and highlighted as a flaw. Many scouts, evaluators, and pundits are hopping off the bandwagon. I’m not moving.
I feel the defensive issues became a bigger talking point in part because Pepperdine as a whole was so bad defensively. They finished 359th in Division I in points allowed per game. Opponents shot 58.8% at the rim against them. The Waves constantly surrendered open looks and gave up pathways to the basket. It was rough. I wonder if Lewis’s mistakes would have been given the same amount of attention if he’d had more help surrounding him. He still has the tools—he’s a good lateral mover, he’s long, and he gets off the floor well. As I noted in my feature piece on him, he hasn’t had much traditional basketball experience over the past several years. Teams coached by Lorenzo Romar have struggled defensively over the last decade. I’m not defending him here—he missed a lot of rotations and gets beat too easily at the point of attack. But as a lead scoring option playing at Pepperdine, I’m not sure how much attention was devoted to this particular side of the floor for him. In a better situation, there is a path for him to be a viable player on defense.
The other big concern has been that Lewis’s shooting went cold, but consider his shot difficulty. Per Synergy, of his 134 three-point attempts, only 59 of them came off the catch. He made 44.1% of them. However, functioning as a primary option, Lewis took 75 threes off the dribble and only converted 28.0% of them. Honestly, that’s not a horrible mark, and Lewis’s 42.3% on twos off the dribble is an encouraging indicator for his pull-up game in the long run.
Offensively, he needs to trim the fat. Lewis takes a lot of bad shots, and he can bite off more than he can chew as a passer, leading to turnovers. He plays too sped up at times. Still, I’m enamored with the skills he’s shown. He’s a long wing with a good first step who’s capable of making the extra pass, shooting threes, and finishing at the basket (57.3% at the rim in the halfcourt, per Synergy). Given his age, he hasn’t had a lot of time to work out his flaws in a traditional, 5-on-5 basketball environment. Plus, when I interviewed him, I was blown away by how humble and self-aware he was. I’m comfortable betting on him as a person.
It’s going to take some time with Max Lewis. There are a lot of little things that need to be workshopped. But I’m betting that he’s the kind of person who will take that challenge and succeed. If you’re selling his stock, I’m here to buy it. He’s a real-deal shooter and an NBA-level athlete. Given the right environment and developmental attention, he could become a fantastic contributor at the next level.
19. GG Jackson (18)
-Bilal Coulibaly has been turning heads. The 18-year-old teammate of Victor Wembanyama has started to earn minutes for Metropolitans 92 after spending much of his time with their 21-and-under club. Over the last five games, he’s averaged 7.6 PPG on 61.5% from the field and nabbed six steals. The 6’6” wing was a livewire, chaos-inducing defender while playing lower-level competition. Now playing in France’s top league, he’s transitioned well, playing with poise and avoiding the trouble that can come with gambling. His shot looks great, demonstrating a balanced base and clean mechanics. His timing on baseline and 45 cuts has scaled well, too, and his ability to fire sharp, accurate passes bodes well for his in-between game. Prior to this run, Coulibaly was already my favorite non-Victor international prospect, and I loved the idea of a team draft-and-stashing him in the second round. Should he keep this up, a first round grade is on the table.
-While Alabama didn’t get the result they wanted against Texas A&M, Noah Clowney had one of his best performances in a while. His stock seems to have cooled, but that game served as a reminder as to how much upside the 6’10” young freshman brings to the table. He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, zero turnovers, two blocks, and a steal. His motor is off the charts, and he once again displayed his transition shot-blocking ability. He had some great moments as a passer and showed more composure guarding quicker players on defense. The, “he might go back” talk has grown stronger with Clowney, but given his youth, motor, and production on an excellent college team, I could see a team giving him a promise.
-There was a lot of pre-season buzz around Jacob Toppin, and it seemed to dissipate after a slow start. Since the turn of the new year, though, he’s quietly been great. During that 17-game stretch, he’s averaged 13.4 PPG on 50/50/66.1 splits along with 7.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, and only 1.5 TOV. His sheer athleticism, size, and savvy as a decision-maker give him an NBA path. Toppin filled the role of de facto point guard for the Wildcats in a win over Arkansas this weekend, bringing the ball up the floor and showing how much trust the Kentucky coaching staff has in him. He passes the, “will he do anything to embarrass himself?” test and plays with a high motor. Given that his volume from deep is still low, he’ll likely need a good roster situation to really stick at a higher level. Still, a bouncy 6’9” guy who can guard multiple positions, make the right play, and has a basketball bloodline is an appealing bet. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to generate more attention as a potential second-round pick or priority undrafted free agent.
-I truly appreciate Mark Mitchell. I don’t know that there is a freshman in college basketball who “fills the gaps” better on both ends of the floor. He’s a tremendous off-ball mover who knows where to be at all times. His good first step, runner, one-and-two-dribble pull-ups, his 56.1% at the rim, and passing ability give him some juice on the go. Mitchell is hitting 39.1% of his threes, but he’s taken under 50 of them on the year, so it’s hard to know how much stock to put into that. Defensively, he uses his long arms, footwork, and screen navigation techniques to create headaches. He covers ground well and can maintain his balance even when closing out hard. Few players stood out to me more in a low-maintenance role this year. He hasn’t been a buzzy name in mock drafts, so I’d imagine he’s going to return to school. With that being the case, there are not many multi-year prospects I like more. A smart, composed, and selfless 6’8” guy with plus athleticism? Sign me up for that every single time.
-Drew Pember remains a favorite sleeper of mine. The 6’10” senior out of UNC Asheville is averaging 20.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 2.3 BPG. His 3.3 TOV can be scary, but much of that is the result of his role and the overwhelming defensive attention that comes with it. As a passer, he sees the floor exceptionally well from the top of the key and can send the ball to cutters on a string. He’s a killer in handoffs, as he shoots 38.8% from three and defenders can’t sag on the action. Play him too tight, though, and he’ll turn the corner and attack. Pember is an 82.2% free throw shooter, and he’s taking 8.2 FTA per game. He lives at the line and converts there. I have serious concerns about his weight, as he’s only 215 pounds and has struggled mightily against true centers. Still, I think he has the fluidity and mobility to play at the 4, which should do a little bit to alleviate those concerns. Given that UNC Asheville has clinched an NCAA tournament spot, he’ll have a big chance to prove himself against high-level competition. Size and skill are in, and Pember has both.
-CB Granada’s Michael Caicedo has been surging lately. The 6’6” 19-year-old wing is playing for them on loan from Barcelona. With Barcelona, Caicedo was barely seeing the floor, averaging 4 MPG in five appearances. With a, how do I say this politely, less talented CB Granada squad, he’s getting some run. He’s looking good, too! In five appearances, Caicedo is playing almost 17 MPG and averaging 6.2 PPG with shooting splits of 52.9/75.0/100. Obviously, the sample is small, and I don’t sincerely believe him to be a 75% three-point shooter or 100% free-throw shooter. But with a wide-open second round, Caicedo is inserting himself into the mix as an intriguing stash option. He’s long and fluid, has some craft as a driver, gets up well off one foot, and is ready to launch off the catch. Defensively, he’s raw, playing too narrow and struggling to contain at the point of attack. If he can show more in that department, a second-round selection could end up being a steal.
-Jalen Slawson has been a perpetual, “if he shoots” prospect, and this year, he’s been hitting 38.2% of his threes. The 6’8” graduate from Furman offers a lot else, too. He’s been a perpetual standout on the defensive end with a career STL% of 3.1 and a career BLK% of 5.5. Slawson covers ground well and he can jump, allowing him to play passing lanes and meet opponents at the rim. It looks as if he’s improved his body and he’s moving even better than he was a year ago. Offensively, he’s capable of slinging cross-court passes and has been a hub of offense the past two seasons. Still, I have my reservations. While his percentage is up from deep, he’s still gun-shy and passes up a lot of open looks. He went from taking 7.7 threes per 100 possessions last season to only 5.3 this season. He plays with his back to the basket a lot and often relies on bullying tactics in a smaller conference. Sometimes he gets too adventurous as a passer. The skills are all there, but he’ll have to drastically change his offensive playstyle. I love the way he let the long ball fly early against Chattanooga— hopefully we see some of that from him in the NCAA Tournament.
-An under-the-radar player that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit is Dalton Knecht. If you haven’t heard of him, there’s good reason—he plays for a Northern Colorado squad in the Big West conference that went 11-19 on the season. Still, the 6’6” wing has a lot to offer, and I don’t feel he’s at fault for their record. Along with the previously mention Drew Pember, Taylor Hendricks, and Kobe Brown, Knecht is one of the four players in Division I who hit over 36% of his threes on over six attempts per 100 possessions while also registering over 25 dunks on the season. To put it simply, he’s bouncy and has a great stroke. Knecht is also a respectable passer who plays with his head up and sees the floor. He’s scoring an efficient 20.1 PPG despite heaps of defensive attention and is a genuinely great shot-maker. Given that he turns 22 in April, I wouldn’t be stunned to see him play a graduate year. If so, I’d be all over him in the portal if I was a high-major program or a better WCC program. Should he test the waters, I’d hope he gets a Portsmouth invite.