Abdul-Malik Abu: Evaluation

Getting a 6-10 dominator is every coach's dream, but players such as Abu have become integral to the college landscape.

Introduction

Boston native Abu didn't scintillate early in high school, but he progressed steadily and saved his best basketball for the latter portion of his prep career. He blossomed into a mobile, hybrid forward who has been effective versus national competition both with his back to the basket and facing the rim.

Abu's big 2013 began on the EYBL circuit for Xpressions Elite and extended into the summer camp season. His abilities became more visible and valued at the NBPA Top 100 Camp, where we showcased surprising versatility and confidence versus the most loaded field of any camp in the nation.

By mid-June, the word was out. Abu claimed scholarship offers from Florida, Tennessee, Texas, N.C. State and Kansas, and many more had begun pursuit as well. He had established himself a high-major, national recruit, and from the beginning he appeared to have his eyes on opportunity over any overwhelming need to play close to home.

Abu maintained a high level of play through the summer — he performed impressively at the Live in A.C. event despite fasting during Ramadan — and in August cut his list to four: N.C. State, Florida, Connecticut and Providence.

He announced for the Wolfpack in early September, citing the program's effective utilization of its combo forwards and no doubt eyeballing an opportunity to play early.

Assets

Abu slots as a skilled utility forward. When I describe a player as "utility," that's intended connote that the prospect performs a great number of unsung tasks. Whether that's racing to secure a loose ball, offensive rebound or hustle play in defensive recovery, he typically succeeds out of structure and covers for his teammates' mistakes.

And Abu certainly meets those requirements. He's a lively athlete and moves very well for a 6-8, 235-pound physical specimen, and his aggression pays off on both ends. He retrieves caroms for putbacks, muscles his way up as a finisher to score and draw trips to the foul line, and he's also a scrapper on the backboard.

Those qualities alone would make him worthy of high-major offers, given his size and frame, but he adds appreciable skill as well. He's very effective as a high post shooter, smoothly knocking down 15-footers from the elbow and serving as a very capable outlet on drive-and-kick. He's also a great release option for centers who get double-teamed, as his man frequently gets called to help down and thus he's open for those quick jumpers.

Though not his forte, he handles well enough with his right hand to put the ball on the floor and attack in a straight line. The more accurately he shoots from the perimeter, the more opportunities he'll have to drive past over-aggressive big guys who challenge his shot and become off-balance.

In the post, his right-handed jump hook is a thing of beauty and, frankly, is something he should feature even more than he does. No doubt Mark Gottfried will find a way to maximize that advantage.

His competitive drive also won our admiration, and his statistical production backed up the various components I've detailed here.

Deficits

Abu is a good overall athlete but not a uniquely explosive finisher from a standing position. He's fine in that regard, mind you, but he'll be tasked with scoring inside against players as athletic and two or three inches taller and longer. How he navigates shooting in traffic will determine how effective he can be as an inside-outside scorer.

He also can focus too heavily on his face-up game, at the expense of his utility functions. Abu is best when scrapping at the bucket and in the open court, and the more he handles the ball the more prone he is to mistakes. Limiting his face-up action to quick, medium-range jump shots will place him on a more efficient offensive track than lots of dribbling or shooting threes.

Defensively, he'll have to guard those same taller athletes in the post and simply find a way to make it work. He's not quick enough laterally to defend major conference wings, and thus his versatility mostly is confined to the offensive end. The good news is that he's already close to where he'll need get physically, and many taller big man lack his lower body strength.

Outlook

Abu's combination of size, strength and skill should enable him to play a key role early in Raleigh. Some of the truer finesse forwards might catch him later, and clearly there are some more dedicated post players than he, but the odds that he won't be able to help NCSU significantly — excluding injuries or any unrelated factors — effectively are nil.

For the NBA, he'll have to cultivate his perimeter abilities into something they presently are not. Even if doesn't ever achieve that level, however, he possesses enough natural prowess and skill to play somewhere and enjoy a lengthy, prosperous career.


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