Former Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Forward Isaac Fotu Making NBA Case

Jeff Cheshire@@jeff_cheshireAnalyst IIMay 30, 2015

New Zealand's Isaac Fotu shoots the ball against Lithuania during Basketball World Cup Round of 16 match between New Zealand and Lithuania at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. The 2014 Basketball World Cup competition will take place in various cities in Spain from Aug. 30 through to Sept. 14. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

There has been a proliferation of Oceania players emerging at the top level in recent years, but the name Isaac Fotu still remains under the radar.

A 6'8" forward from New Zealand, Fotu brings an intensity and toughness typical of players from the South Pacific, but he combines this with an ever-improving skill set.

After being ruled ineligible at the end of his sophomore at Hawaii by the NCAA, Fotu signed a three-year deal with Spanish club CAI Zaragoza. He was subsequently loaned to La Bruixa d'Or Manresa, where he has impressed in his rookie year in Europe.

Across 26 games, he averaged 10.7 points and four rebounds while also shooting a handy 48.5 percent from the field. This was not unexpected, as his rebounding and offensive efficiency were key components of his game at Hawaii.

Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

What really jumps out, though, is that he has added a three-point game to his makeup. It was something we saw the beginnings of at last year's FIBA Basketball World Cup, where he was an outside option for New Zealand, making five of his 12 attempts from deep. He has kept it up this season, though, making 36 three-pointers, shooting at 37.9 percent.

Adding that component to his game will be huge for Fotu, as it makes him a legitimate outside presence as he continues to work on becoming a 3 or 4, as opposed to a straight inside player.

The first thing you notice about Fotu, though, is the energy he brings to the game. He goes hard after the ball, whether it be in rebounding or tidying up loose balls. That has made him so valuable thus far in his career. He will find ways to get rebounds against bigger opponents or to save loose balls that seem destined to be turnovers.

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Then, of course, is his strong offensive game in which he has an array of solid moves inside to allow him to finish at a high percentage while possessing the three-point game to threaten from the outside.

He impressed with both during his two years at Hawaii, but perhaps even more encouraging was his form at last year's World Cup, where he showed he was capable of doing it against grown men.

Indeed he got better as the tournament went on, having standout games against Ukraine and Finland, where he had 10 points and 10 rebounds and 18 points and eight rebounds, respectively. The rebounds came as a result of his hustle, grabbing seven offensive boards between the games, while his offensive efficiency saw him miss only five of his 17 shots.

Against a star-studded USA team full of NBA All-Stars players, he ruffled some feathers too, managing eight points. It was after this performance that he saw an increase in his minutes for the remainder of the tournament.

His college career, although all too brief, was one marked with success. In his freshman year he was named Big West Co-Freshman of the Year, before being named in the All-Big West first team as a sophomore. 

During that sophomore year, he shot at an impressive 58.5 percent from the field, utilizing his footwork in the post as well as strength and touch around the hoop to finish at such a high rate. His 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game are impressive too, making you wonder what he would have done had he been able to stay for his final two years. 

It is not uncommon for a big-time player in a mid-major to find their way into the NBA draft, and Fotu certainly could have fallen into that category.

Unfortunately it was not to be, although that does not mean his draft prospects are shot.

He is impressing as a rookie in arguably the world's top league outside of the NBA, which has to be catching the eye of scouts. Draft Express rates him No. 2 on their rankings of automatically eligible NBA draft players, with only Emmanuel Mudiay coming ahead of him. 

In Mansera's final game of the season, Fotu notched up 17 points to help guide his team to a win over Euroleague Champion Real Madrid. In this he buried three three-pointers and remained perfect from inside the arc and from the foul line.

Whether he has done enough to be drafted or not is another thing. But it is worthwhile to remember that he would still be in college this upcoming season had he not been forced to leave.

He is only going to get better as he continues to develop his outside game, and he could be a good player for a team to stash in Europe until the conclusion of his contract. 

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