Lottery picks in the NBA usually come with lofty expectations for successful professional careers. When Golden State selected Ekpe Udoh sixth overall in the 2010 NBA draft, many expected him to be the Dubs' long-term solution at center.
Udoh has been but an impasse so far in his infant NBA career, struggling to develop into the team’s first option in the post, largely due to his inconsistent defensive play, scoring inefficiency and uninspiring work on the glass.
The 6'10" big man has shown glimpses of his potential down low. In a January 31st bout with the team’s Northern California rival Sacramento Kings at Oracle, Udoh keyed a late 93-90 comeback win with four blocks in the fourth quarter in what was perhaps his best game defensively of the season.
While Udoh’s blocks numbers are impressive at 1.5 per game (sixth in the NBA per 48 minutes), his production usually comes in bunches. He is a defensive roller-coaster; when he is playing full tilt, Udoh is a floor general in the paint and regarded as one of the most formidable shot blockers in the league.
However, he tends to disappear at times and looks discerned on the court, which Udoh himself attributed to his "lack of focus."
On the contrary, Udoh’s struggles cannot solely be credited to his lack of effort or focus, but rather his ability. At 245 pounds, Udoh can get bullied at times by some of the more burly post players in the league. So far this season, he has contributed to career nights for the likes of Serge Ibaka (20 points, 12 rebounds), DeMarcus Cousins (21, 20) and Dwight Howard (45, 23).
Udoh needs to become a more physical player in the post to fill the Warriors' defensive void. He has the size, explosiveness and aggression to be that guy, but would need to put on a bit more muscle to handle some of heavier fives in the league.
Head coach Mark Jackson has been highly critical of Udoh’s sophomore campaign, limiting his role with the Warriors. Though Udoh has seen a slight spike in his minutes due to Kwame Brown’s three-month trip to the sandbox with a torn pectoral, Jackson has been weary to feature Udoh more in the Golden State rotation.
Rebounding is an altruistic concern when dividing minutes between the two, as Udoh is a liability when it comes time for board work—his poor box out skills lead to just 3.6 rebounds per contest.
And although Golden State never expected Udoh to be a prolific scoring option, his offensive production thus far has been execrable. He lacks a go-to post move and his shooting, especially his mid-range jumper, has been subpar at 38 percent. If Udoh wants to boost the Warriors’ chance of contending, he’ll have to put up more than 4.0 points per game off the pine.
Udoh is still a work in progress for Golden State, and has noticeably progressed through the season. Should he continue to improve the mental aspects of his game, iron out his offensive fundamentals and become more assertive on the boards, Udoh could squeeze into the starting center spot and help the Warriors snag a coveted Western Conference playoff spot.
For now, basketball fans by the Bay can only hope that their long sought-out big man comes along sooner than later and doesn’t turn into the next Adonal Foyle.