NC State forward Abdul-Malik Abu had a decision to make last spring on his future. He could declare for the NBA draft, where he would likely go undrafted, or continue to develop his game over the summer and return for his junior year in Raleigh.
After working out for scouts and receiving plenty of feedback, he chose the latter, hoping improvements made could help his chances this spring.
"The NBA is changing," Abu said last May. "In the NBA I see myself as a power forward who can be able to stretch the floor and make plays. They want to see me be able to put the ball on the floor more and have a consistent jumpshot.
"I was that close, and I'm still that close. I feel with another year of maturity and another year to get my game where I need it to be, I'll be able to more comfortably enter the draft and take care of my family."
It is obvious that Abu has made major improvements in his game, even if his overall numbers, mainly due to usage, doesn't show it. Last season he averaged 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds as essentially the second option behind star guard Anthony Barber. However, he shot less than 50% from the field and was up-and-down at the free throw line. This season he's taking nearly two shots less per game, but is shooting 55.6% from the field and much better from the free throw line.
As you can see from the chart below, Abu has continued to improve in most areas throughout his college career.
|Year||Minutes||Field Goal %||Free Throw %||Points||Rebounds||Assists||Blocks||Steals|
|Freshman||19.1||46.80%||56.30%||6.4 ppg||4.8 rpg||0.6 apg||0.5 bpg||0.2 spg|
|Sophomore||28.3||49.00%||63.00%||12.9 ppg||8.8 rpg||1.3 apg||0.7 bpg||0.4 spg|
|Junior||27.8||55.60%||75.40%||11.8 ppg||7.3 rpg||1.0 apg||1.0 bpg||0.4 spg|
Now, that doesn't mean he's improved in every area. His rebounding is down, which could be due to more capable rebounders now around him, and his turnovers are up. However, overall he's becoming a more efficient player, which you like to see.
"I think he's done pretty well," said head coach Mark Gottfried. "I think every player feels like they can play better and I feel like he can, but for the most part he's been pretty consistent for us. He's been our best rebounder throughout the year and most consistent guy. He scored for us around the basket at times, so I think he's had a really nice season."
A major reason for his increased efficiency is the work he's put in with his mid-range jumper. First of all, he's increased his free throw percentage by more than 12%, which is outstanding. However, he's now become a much better mid-range shooter, and that is certainly where he wanted to improve the most because he struggled shooting away from the rim early in his career.
Hoop-math does a great job at breaking down specific shooting metrics, and they define layups, tips, or dunks as "shots at the rim." Anything else between the three-point line is considered a "two-point jumpers." Here is a look at Abu's numbers this year compared to last.
|Year||True Shooting %||eFG%||% shots at rim||FG % at rim||% shots 2pt Jumpers||FG% 2pt Jumpers|
Abu is now making nearly 70% of his shots at the rim, a big improvement from last year, and while it may seem like more, he's only taking 1.1% more 2-point jumpers on average compared to last season. But that is really where you see his hard work paying off. Last year he hit just 28.1% of those shots, only Caleb Martin and Lennard Freeman shot a worse percentage. This year he's making 40.5% which trails just Torin Dorn (45.5%) and Terry Henderson (41.5%). In fact, his current percentage would have led all Wolfpack players last season, including Barber.
Some of those shots are hooks in the paint, but the majority of them have been 12-17 foot jumpers that Abu's now knocking down with relative regularity.
"It's a confidence level," Abu said of his mid-range jumper. "I put in a lot of time with it, and you have to go out there and just believe in yourself. Lately, I just been believing it's all good every time I shoot it, and I guess it's a shooter's mindset."
"I think he's gotten better every year," added Gottfried. "He's made gradual improvement, which you want to see your players do. I think he's developed. He's making that fifteen foot mid-range shot now, probably better than he ever has for us. So, I've been really proud of his development."
Abu has really picked up his play lately. After a four-game stretch, starting at North Carolina, where he failed to reach double-figures in any of the games, he's averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds over his last three contests while shooting 63.8% from the field.
"I just got to stay in rhythm and stay confident," he stated. "My team believes in me, the coaching staff believes in me. Just got to go out there and just perform every night."