Many players perform better in the unstructured, informal travel season setting than they do with their actual high school teams. The reason for that is simple: Talent tends to shine brightest in the absence of barriers, and far fewer talent barriers exist at camps and AAU tournaments.
That’s what makes Ivan Rabb something of an anomaly. The senior big man from Oakland took a starring turn last winter for Bishop O’Dowd, entered the spring as our No. 1 prospect, then played well but not to expectations during the ensuing months.
Still, when evaluating his full body of work, Rabb clearly stands among the best prospects in the class. He possesses the size, skill and athleticism to shine in college and advance to the NBA, and his willingness to sacrifice personal accomplishments in the name of team always has impressed as well.
His recruitment blew up early and remains a major storyline heading into winter. Arizona, which has dominated with Rabb’s Oakland Soldiers travel team program, offered back in 2012. Sean Miller’s Wildcats were joined over time by California, UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgetown, Duke and many others, so obviously Rabb never has lacked for attention.
Back on the court for his senior season, he has jumped out to a fantastic start and appears on track toward another dominant campaign with Bishop O’Dowd. His five finalists include Cal, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA.
Rabb has sprouted to a full 6-10, 220 pounds, yet he remains a true power forward. That reality means he possesses the desired size for a professional four-man, and his skillset and body type should translate very well even as he consistently begins playing against equally tall (and taller) big men in college and beyond.
Perhaps his best athletic trait is footwork. Rabb nimbly moves from one spot to another, shifting from block to block gracefully and gliding from the rim to the high post. With his back to the basket, he utilizes spin moves, drop steps, up-and-unders and other moves that make his actual finishes painfully simple for him and frustrating for his opponents.
|Now 6-10, 220 pounds, Rabb is beginning to reach his mature size|
He’s also nearly ambidextrous at close range. Rabb is right-handed but I wouldn’t blame you, upon watching him for the first time, if that were not immediately clear. He excels scoring around the hoop with his left hand, including one-handed dunks and impressive banked hook shots that would make a veteran proud.
He’s also a fine turnaround jump shooter with range to 15 feet, and from that range he also can put the ball on the floor and attack the bucket. Rabb loves to take a big initial step and then work his way into his shot from there. It’s another veteran, polished play that few of his contemporaries can match.
Though not extremely explosive, Rabb possesses ample hops to rebound and block shots. He averaged double figure rebounds each of the past two years on the EYBL circuit with the Soldiers, and he’s also a consistent shotblocking presence due to his reach and timing.
While still slender, he has gained muscle over the past 12 months and should progress into a big-time frame over the next couple years. Strength may be an issue initially in college, but it’s also possible he’ll gain all the muscle he needs prior to the start of next season.
Based the above description, a person very reasonably could walk away with the impression of a No. 1 prospect. And, in fact, that’s exactly how the scenario may play out. Rabb is a big-time talent and warrants his innumerable accolades.
Nevertheless, his production didn’t equal his promise during the spring and summer. He averaged a solid, but unspectacular 15 points per game for the Soldiers and saw his rebounding and shotblocking drop notably from the 2013 travel season. He also struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 69 percent with the Solders. And he’s a very agile athlete, not necessarily an elite in terms of explosion.
In fairness, however, the Soldiers fielded some incongruous pieces. Fellow blue-chip big men Stephen Zimmerman and Chimezie Metu also inhabited the frontcourt, and the trio cannibalized each other’s efforts. The team managed to advance to the Peach Jam despite the imperfect fit, but all three suffered through moments of spotty production.
Thus, while Rabb could disappear for long stretches and generally not impact a game the way one would expect, a significant caveat does apply. Consider that assertion along with his 60 percent shooting from the floor, and there’s your indicator.
Rabb is nearly a sure thing for success. He’s not a sure thing for superstardom — basically no one is — and doesn’t light up scoreboards all the time or jump out of the gym, but he enjoys very friendly odds of making a high impact in college and advancing to the NBA.
My primary question is whether he’ll develop into a great second option or if he can vault himself into a true alpha scoring role, a scenario that won’t play out until later. Given the programs on his college list, he may combine with players his equal in terms of natural talent.
Still, expect him to be productive out of the gate and to spend no more than two seasons in college before he exits for the NBA draft.