Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Up-In-Coming Mid Major Prospects Part 1

In this segment, I explore the strides that Akron big man Zeke Marshall has made this season.

Zeke Marshall began his career at Akron as the program's most decorated recruit in school history. Given the lofty expectations that come with such a designation, Marshall did not have the illustrious freshman season that most were expecting. Instead, he played a fairly limited role in the Akron lineup, serving primarily as a shot blocking presence off the bench. In spite of the fact that he played only 17 minutes per game, Marshall was able to tally an efficient 1.7 blocks per contest, which made him the 13th best nationally in terms of % blocks according to the Ken Pomeroy statistical database. Despite his strength on this end of the floor, Marshall struggled to score against the strength of post players at the college level.

This season, however, Marshall has made some noticeable strides, which should go a long way towards improving his long run potential. What jumps out immediately when watching Marshall on film is his improved offensive repertoire around the basket. When he does establish position on the block, Marshall is quick and nimble enough to spin past his defender. Moreover, he has demonstrated an ability to deceptively maneuver around the basket, employing superior length to finesse the ball into the basket. If he can improve his handle dramatically in the coming years, Marshall may begin to develop a face up game down the road. Further, Marshall does a nice job of calling for the ball on the block whenever he has position. In general, Marshall has improved his post footwork since last season and is receiving more touches because of it.

Despite the intriguing improvements that Zeke Marshall has demonstrated this season, his play against power post players (in this case, Buffalo's freshman forward Javon McCrea)highlights his notable limitations. While he can stand to add more weight, his narrow frame will only enable him to add so much. Additionally, Marshall has very long legs, and this physical trait will continue to hinder his ability to seal his man and establish deep post position. On a similar note, Marshall has difficulty boxing out in the post because of his underdeveloped body. As a result, he only averages 5 rebounds per contest in a fairly weak mid major conference, despite being a legitimate 7'0. On the offensive glass, his length, quickness, and anticipatory box outs allow him to somewhat compensate and collect a decent amount of rebounds. However, Marshall struggles as a defensive rebounder mostly because of his willingness to challenge and alter shots in the paint, which inhibits his ability to position himself. Even discounting his tendency to block shots, Marshall struggles to effectively box out his man, as evinced by his pedestrian 13.7 defensive rebounding % (Kenpom rankings)- which ranks 34th in the MAC conference. So even by collegiate standards, Marshall is one of the worst defensive rebounders for his size.

Nonetheless, Zeke Marshall's potential primarily rests on the defensive end of the floor. Marshall has a tremendous combination of length and shot blocking instincts, which has enabled him to establish himself as one of the premier paint presences in all of college basketball. After increasing his playing time from a year ago, Marshall currently ranks as the 18th best player in % blocks in the country. Watching film highlights this strength even more. While he is able to physically tip many shots, Marshall's presence is felt even when he does not tally a block. It is safe to say that Zeke Marshall is one of the best in the country at altering shots, making guards think twice before they slash to the basket. Moreover, Zeke is willing to get down in a defensive stance, particularly on wing close outs. And, Marshall is fairly quick laterally for his size. Despite these strengths, Marshall still possesses several flaws that have hindered his play on the defensive end. Most notably, he is sometimes forced to concede deep post position due to his lack of strength. Still, Marshall works hard on the defensive end to prevent this from occurring. But, his physical profile will always hurt him in this area. Once he develops the necessary strength inside, Marshall must front the post more often. Moreover, Marshall does not have great fundamentals as a positional defender, often failing to put his hands straight up in the air. This weakness has forced him into foul trouble many times this season. For reference, Marshall ranks 76th in the MAC with 6.03 fouls committed per 40 minutes according to Kenpom.

All in all, Marshall has made some obvious improvements in his game this season, particularly on the offensive end. He is a now a more skilled post player. With that said, he still maintains a fairly weak physical profile, which negates many of his greatest assets as a player. If he can add weight and continue to improve his fundamentals on the defensive end, Marshall should receive looks from NBA scouts. As it currently stands though, Zeke is a project big man at the college level.

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