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9/9: Ekpe Udoh

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Up next in the 9 players, 9 days series is Ekpe Udoh. Higher on my board than probably just about every other board, but I have my reasons. Allow me to explain after the jump.
Age: 23 (later this month)
Height: 6'11" (DraftExpress), 6'10" (ESPN)
Weight: 240 lbs

There are six players I feel relatively comfortable with at the top of this draft right now. That may change after measurements and the pre-draft workouts, but as of May 12th, my top six are set. The problem I keep running into is what if the Sixers drop to 7th? If you go by the big boards, or conventional wisdom, the 7th and 8th players are most likely either Cole Aldrich or Ed Davis. I don't really want either of them. In Aldrich I see a guy with limited upside and other problems. In Davis, I see a guy highly unlikely to live up to his potential, and I'm not even sure what his best-case scenario is.

Since I didn't like either of the guys most people think will go in this spot, and I don't see a clear talent advantage in the next 5 or 6 players on the board at this point in their development, it became a debate about what they could become, how likely it is that they'll reach their ceiling, and what kind of difference that best case could make for this franchise. The guys I took a close look at were Hassan Whiteside, Greg Monroe and Udoh.

Monroe is very skilled, but he's just way too soft for me. It's tempting to have a big who plays like a wing in that he can handle the ball and maybe shoot a little, but I can't live with a big who plays like a guard on the defensive end. Monroe is too soft. I wish there was a more kind way to say that, but it's just a fact. He's not a factor on the defensive end at all and I think the Sixers have plenty of players who fit that mold already on their roster.

Whiteside is tempting. Very, very tempting. This is a kid who notched three triple doubles (points, rebounds and blocks) and just missed a fourth. He's a super athlete, runs like a deer, jumps out of the gym. He's got game-changing defender written all over him. He's pretty raw offensively, but I could live with that for the type of defender he projects to be. The problem is the behavioral red flags. I can't get Sean Williams out of my mind. When you see a guy with this kind of athletic skills and defensive production, you have to wonder why he wound up at Marshall. When you start hearing about attitude and work ethic issues, the picture becomes a little more clear. The upside tempts me, but red flags like that just scream bust to me and the only thing worse than getting a role player with this pick would be to a guy who's out of the league in a couple seasons.

Which brings me to Udoh. I went through the other two guys because in Udoh I see a guy who has the potential to combine their skills. A two-way contributor at the four or five (positional versatility is a big plus in my book), who can do some things on the offensive side of the ball to make the whole team better, and score points. On the defensive end, he's a very good shot blocker and the type of guy who can not only ignite the break, but get out and run with Jrue and Iguodala as well.

In the short term, I see Udoh joining the big man rotation right away, probably as the first big off the bench if no trades are made. He can spot Sammy at the five to keep the paint protected, or work at the four to provide more shot blocking, a bigger body, and maybe even work a high-low post game with Speights or Brand underneath. It's been quite a while since the Sixers have had a legitimate two-way contributor in their front court and I believe that Udoh could become that, and do it pretty quickly considering his age.

Udoh isn't without warts. He'll be 23 on opening night. His defensive rebounding numbers were pretty mundane in college, which worries me. His offensive game isn't exactly polished, but there are flashes there and I do believe he could be a nice pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll partner for Jrue. He needs to add strength. All things considered, though, I see more realistic upside in Udoh than I do in Whiteside, Monroe, Davis or Aldrich and I'd be more than willing to take him 3-6 spots earlier than he's projected if the Sixers somehow slip to #7 and my top 6 are off the board.

Thoughts in the comments, as usual. Here's a quick recap of the top 9 as they stand right now for me.

9. Ed Davis
8. Cole Aldrich
7. Ekpe Udoh
6. coming tomorrow
by Brian on May 12 2010
Tags: 9 players 9 days | Basketball | Draft | Ekpe Udoh | Offseason | Sixers |