It's been a long journey for 24-year-old forward Trevor Mbakwe, formerly of the University of Minnesota. Now he's finally in position to take that next career step.
Mbakwe has hit some rough patches along the road, including a couple of run-ins with the law and a torn ACL in 2011.
He returned in 2012-13 in a reduced role, playing 24.9 minutes per game compared to the 28.7 minutes he played the year before and 30.9 the year before that. But it was just good to see him back out there competing, as Mbakwe was once considered a potential lottery pick.
Despite his limited minutes, Mbakwe still led the Big Ten in rebounding at 8.7 per game, providing Minnesota with a physical presence on both ends of the court.
At the NBA combine, Mbakwe measured in at just under 6'7'', a slightly disappointing number for a one-dimensional power forward. However, his incredible 7'4'' wingspan and monstrous hands are both mesmerizing features. Though not the highest leaper or quickest mover, Mbawke has the ability to haul in rebounds, a skill that can be attributed to his length and instincts.
But he's also very strong. Mbakwe plays a physical brand of ball that should help his transition from college to the pros.
The one thing to keep an eye on will be his explosiveness. Mbakwe got up to a 36.5'' vertical leap at the combine, a good sign that some of his spring has returned after surgery.
Mbakwe's core offensive strength is his low-post game. He has a diverse arsenal, where he's capable of beating his defender with a number of moves and countermoves. His ability to play with his back to the basket or facing the rim makes him an awfully tough cover when he has room to operate
Like most big men, Mbawke is comfortable swooping into the lane for the over-the-shoulder flip, which he knocks down consistently with either hand:
He's also slippery with his back to the rim. Mbakwe likes to lean one way and spin the other, preferably baseline where there usually isn't a help defender:
Mbakwe's sweet spot is that mid-range area from the baseline to the elbow. He has a deceptively quick first step that allows to take his defender off the bounce when facing him up. He's capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers (though it's something he must improve on), so defenders must challenge him outside the paint, allowing Mbakwe to beat his man and get to the basket:
Teams at the NBA level will use Mbakwe in pick-and-roll sets for sure. He's a solid screener and a big threat rolling off the pick.
Here's a simple screen-and-roll that shows Mbakwe slip to the rim for an easy lob:
Developing a reliable mid-range jumper will be key for Mbakwe moving forward. A jumper will give him an extra weapon and increase his versatility as an offensive player.
Foul-shooting has never been a strength. Mbakwe finished his senior year at just 61.4 percent.
Mbakwe could also use work on his handle. He's capable of using a dribble or two out of the triple-threat position to get to the rack—but not if he's more than 15 feet from the rim.
Defensively, he might struggle given his height disadvantage, though his willingness to battle might make up for some of that.