Offense: Mbakwe is an undersized but explosive power forward that puts up good offensive numbers without disrupting the flow of the offense.
First and foremost, Mbakwe is a beast in the screen and roll game, perhaps his most valuable offensive skill as he attempts to make it at the next level. He has massive shoulders to go with a strong upper body, and squares his shoulders well during when involved in on-ball screening action.
Mbakwe keeps a wide base and rarely gets moved off his established position. Once the screen is set, he rolls well to the hoop, keeping his head up and giving his guards a big target.
Mbakwe also finishes well at the hoop; he is undersized, but makes up for it with quickness for his size and explosiveness. He is also one of the quicker jumpers for his size in college basketball. He has the strength to finish through contact
While Mbakwe sometimes struggles with bringing the ball down in traffic—exposing himself to the quick hands of smaller guards—he has the large hands and tremendous strength to make up for this. He always looks to finish with a dunk, and attacks the rim.
Mbakwe lacks a go-to move offensively, and gets lost whenever he is out on the perimeter. He has shown ability as a comfortable and willing passer out of the post, but does not really have a back to the basket game, aside from a right-handed jump hook, which often appears forced.
He has clearly put in work to improve his jumper, but his large shoulders and hands make it especially difficult for Mbakwe to get consistent fluidity and arc. He has improved his form while at Minnesota, but it is still nowhere near consistent
Despite this, Mbakwe understands his limitations and generally does a good job of staying within himself—he gets his 10 ppg on almost 60% percent shooting. He works hard to get position down low and often converts simple entry passes into dunks based on his work prior to receiving the ball.
As a result of staying within himself, Mbakwe is an effective offensive player without demanding the ball; it remains to be seen if he can keep his efficiency up as his career progresses, but it is undoubtedly a good strength to have.
He seems to show a good understanding of angles, and despite only putting up 1 assist per game has numerous hockey assists (2 passes away from a score) resulting from his ability to find cutters and weak side shooters off of post feeds.
Mbakwe does not do much off the ball besides screening—where he is again very effective—and fighting for post entry position. He occasionally gets stuck on one overloaded side of the floor during offensive sets, but he is usually smart enough to identify this, and will either set an off-ball screen or utilize a reverse pivot to re-establish proper spacing.
While Mbakwe is a bit of a tweener defensively, his physical nature and 7’4 wingspan peg him purely as a 4 at the next level on the offensive side of the ball. He will need to prove he can be effective and efficient against consistently taller defenders.
- Pick-n-roll game
- Explosive and strong finisher around the rim
- Knows his game and stays within himself
- Does dirty work; won’t demand the ball
- No consistent reliable offense game
- Back-to-basket offense is slow developing
- NBA level offensive game?
Defense: Mbakwe has considerable strengths and weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball as he moves to the next level. He is not as effective of a screen defender as he is a screen setter, but plays solid defense and rarely gets caught out of position when involved in on-ball screens.
Mbakwe is capable of defending on the perimeter, but only for short periods of time. He lacks the pure lateral quickness to guard smaller players—and will not be able to consistently guard 3’s at the next level—but moves his feet well for a big man. He is effective when hedging and has good recovery speed, using his considerable length to disrupt passing lanes, especially when guarding in the middle of the floor.
While he struggles when forces to guard consistently away from the hoop, Mbakwe is a skilled post defender. He rarely leaves his feet unnecessarily, and defends well with his body, keeping his base wide and never giving up ground. He is consistently able to shade the offensive player away from his comfort zone. Mbakwe is able to defend the post for long periods of time without fouling, and because of this Minnesota rarely has to double down, allowing them to maintain their defensive integrity. He also constantly fights for position, knocking down cutters and disrupting the opponent’s offensive flow with his length and strength. Mbakwe rarely loses position in the post, and as a result usually forces his opponent to initiate their post up further away from the hoop than they are used to.
It is possible that Mbakwe’s biggest NBA skill moving forward will be rebounding; he has good and quick elevation, and times his jumps well to secure 50-50 rebounds. His tremendous ability to secure and maintain position and constant energy help lead to his conference-leading 9.8 rebounds per game in Big Ten play (over 1 board per game more than anyone else), including almost 4 offensive boards per contest.
While he will not have overwhelming athleticism or elevation moving forward, Mbakwe’s wingspan, strength and activity level should allow him to be effective on the glass even at the NBA level.
His biggest issue moving forward defensively will center on who he can guard consistently; he has struggles when faced with NBA-sized centers during his college career, and will need to show he can consistently guard bigger offensive players. His wingspan will play a major role in this department, as it is the primary physical capability that may keep Mbakwe from falling victim to the “tweener” problem.
Additionally, while Mbakwe is an effective shot blocker at the college level, he lacks the potential to be a true rim protector moving forward. He is more likely to find success as a solid post defender who consistently stays between his man and the ball, and opens up shot-blocking opportunities for his teammates.
- Works hard; secures position consistently and maintains it
- Post defense; defend without fouling
- Length; 7’4 wingspan
- Lacks lateral quickness; exposed on the perimeter
- Tweener; who will he guard at the next level
- Struggles against considerable size
- Not a true rim protector
Overall: Mbakwe has considerable physical talent; he has an incredibly strong upper body combined with explosiveness and quickness on the inside. His 7’4 wingspan helps make up for his lack of height moving forward at the power forward position.
Mbakwe is not without his issues; he is a bit of a tweener, especially defensively, and lacks any kind of consistent offensive game. There is also an assault charge stemming from Junior College, which made headlines in the media last year and will certainly be the topic of questions from NBA teams.
He will need to show that these issues are in his past, and will also have to prove a more consistent ability to play efficiently against larger competition on the interior, but Mbakwe has a few key skills—pick-n-roll involvement, rebounding, dirty work/energy—which will allow him to impact the 2013 draft.
He won’t be a lottery pick, but with a strong end of the year and pre-draft performances, he may be a consideration in the 2nd round.