Syracuse guard Michael Gbinije has had one of the more interesting careers of any player in college basketball. Though things started to click for the former consensus top-30 recruit as a redshirt junior last season, the Orange stumbled to an 18-13 finish missing the postseason due to a self-imposed ban. A few months later, Gbinije helped the Nigerian National Team to a gold medal and a berth into the 2016 Olympics at the FIBA Africa Championship. Returning to Syracuse amid sanctions temporarily deposing Jim Boeheim, and asked to lead a roster missing a number of key contributors from the previous season including draftees Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough, Gbinije figured to play a significant role as a senior on a team missing a number of key pieces.
Taking on a much bigger scoring and shot creating load in his fifth and final year of eligibility, Gbinije saw extensive action as Syracuse's primary ball-handler after Jim Boeheim penciled him in as the team's starting point guard prior to the start of the year. Almost never leaving the floor and ranking among the top-8 players in the ACC in points, assists, and steals per game, Gbinije responded nicely to his new role, averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game, emerging as one of the more productive players in the conference on his way to All-ACC Second Team honors. In helping the Orange keep it together through a number of difficult stretches in a trying year, that culminated in an improbable run to the Final Four, the Benedictine (VA) product solidified himself as one of the top guard prospects in the senior class.
Standing 6'7, Gbinije has elite size for a player who spent most of his minutes at the point guard position. Likely to play off the ball more frequently at the next level, he has solid, but not spectacular tools for a wing at the next level, as he has a short wingspan for his height and doesn't play with great explosiveness outside of the occasional outburst. He's made a number of highlight reel plays over his five collegiate seasons, but tends to be far more fluid than quick in general. Even if he isn't an elite athlete, his size is certainly one of his more appealing aspects as a prospect to go along with his shooting ability and the versatility he displayed as a ball handler and passer.
The soon-to-be 24 year old guard has made noticeable strides in each of the first four years of his career, and his 2015-2016 campaign was no different. He took a significant step forward as a shooter during his junior season, making 39.2% of his attempts from beyond the arc on 4.2 attempts per game. Making 39% of his 3-point attempts over 6.3 shots per game, Gbinije reinforced his ability to shoot the ball from distance as a senior, despite his still suspect shooting from the line where he made an improved 66% this season.
Digging deeper, Gbinije's mechanics still aren't overwhelmingly fluid and look rigid at times, leading to some bad misses, but there's not as much variety in his release point as there was a year ago, particularly off the dribble where he showed marked improvement. Making 37% of his catch and shoot jump shots in the half court this season, down from 47% last year, Gbinije made 42% of his pull-up jumpers, a massive improvement on the 32% he shot a year ago.
Shooting right around 40% away from the rim on the whole over the last two seasons, Gbinije is a capable shooter both off the catch and off the dribble who may benefit from playing alongside a prolific shot creating point guard at the next level absolving him of the pressure that lead to some of his more errant attempts this season. A bit of a gunner at times, it will be interesting to see how quickly Gbinije can acclimate to not being relied upon so heavily at the next level to run an offense and how that impacts his efficiency from the perimeter, particularly when you consider his proclivity for shots from the top of the key relative to the wings and poor shooting from the corners.
Another area where Gbinije showed some improvement this season was as a finisher. He isn't overwhelmingly quick or aggressive probing the lane off the dribble, but likes to take the ball to the basket in transition, attack mismatches, and has a solid first step allowing him to attack closeouts and turn the corner when his defender gets too aggressive. Shooting 59% inside, up from 54% a year ago, Gbinije doesn't always explode to the rim or finish through contact effectively, but he does a nice job taking what the defense gives him and shows the ability to make athletic plays inside sporadically, finishing more emphatically than you'd expect on a handful of notable occasions.
The other key aspect of Gbinije's value proposition at the next level is his ability to function as a secondary ball handler. Creating as much or more offense passing out of the pick and roll as pure point guards Melo Trimble and Nic Moore last season according to Synergy Sports Technology, Gbinije isn't the most dynamic ball handler, but he knows how to get to spots on the floor changing speeds off the bounce, has his moments making the simple play in screen and rolls, and has experience handling pressure.
As a passer, Gbinije combines good vision with a strong feel for the game and an unselfish approach. Despite his status as the Orange's point guard, he ranked only sixth among shooting guard prospects in our top-100 in assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season, as the inconsistent shooting of the players around him worked against him a bit, and he just isn't an overwhelmingly dynamic shot creator of the bounce. Regardless, he does a nice job making the extra pass on the perimeter, feeding the post, and throwing up lobs or dropping the ball off on the occasions he ventures inside. He still leaves his feet without a plan and kills his dribble problematically at times, but has improved his decision making by leaps and bounds from the early portion of his career when he was plagued by strings of mistakes.
Defensively, Gbinije, like many of the Syracuse players that have gone before him, is a bit of a tough read given that he plays almost exclusively at the top of the program's traditional 2-3 zone. Fortunately, Gbinije's time with the Nigerian National Team, which played primarily man under Will Voigt, provides some insight into how he may handle the transition to playing man at the next level. Looking comfortable defending one-on-one on the ball and making an impact with his anticipation in the passing lanes, Gbinije had some nice moments, but also struggled with his positioning at times, particularly when helping off the ball.
His size is a plus, but Gbinije's middling combination of strength and length limits his potential to become an impact player on this end. Possessing good lateral quickness, the Hartford native could grow into a very capable defender at the next level, just like he emerged as one of the better defenders on the Syracuse roster in their system over the last few seasons, but it will likely take him some time to adjust to the demands and gain an ideal command of the nuances of playing man-to-man full time.
Turning 24 in June, Gbinije's age is another consideration teams will take into account when evaluating him. The track record of older players in the draft isn't great, but it also doesn't preclude Gbinije from getting selected or ultimately cracking a roster and carving out a role. Younger than Sean Kilpatrick was when he was coming out of Cincinnati, there are plenty of examples of older players making things work in the NBA, though the road isn't quite as smooth at is it tends to be for younger prospects. That appears to hold especially true for players who blossom later than others at the college level, which certainly seems to apply to Gbinije, who just two years ago was coming off a season where he averaged 3.4 points per game.
A player who has, to his credit, come an awfully long way from his freshman year when he couldn't get off the bench many nights at Duke, Michael Gbinije is in position to parlay his size, shooting ability, and versatility into a potential spot in the second round of the NBA Draft, assuming he performs well in his workouts. He may not have a clear calling card as a prospect, but his roleplayer potential and development in recent seasons despite his age leaves some room for optimism.
His status as a Nigerian national puts him in a fascinating spot, as he'll also be an attractive option for teams in Spain and Italy. Should Gbinije indeed hear his name called on draft night, it will be interesting to see where the team selecting him looks to place him this coming year. Depending on their financial situation and the player market in Europe, a team could opt to keep him off their books and seek a favorable development spot for him in one of the top leagues outside of the NBA, where he wouldn't count as an American import.