Looking back at what we wrote about Alex Oriakhi
at the 2009 McDonald's All-American game, it is hard to say that the Connecticut native surprised in his first season at UConn in a limited offensive role. Blessed with tremendous physical tools, Oriakhi's skill level is very much a work in progress, and it showed. He flashed intriguing potential in some areas, averaging more than 10 rebounds per-40 minutes pace-adjusted and was productive in his touches around the rim, but still has a long way to go to become a complete package offensively. After a trip to the NIT last season, UConn needs Oriakhi to take a big step forward to help them return to the top of the Big East.
A highly touted prep player, Oriakhi's calling card has always been his mature frame. Standing 6'9 with long arms, a strong frame, and a lot of room for growth, Oriakhi looks the part of a NBA power forward. Couple that with his explosiveness off of two feet, ability to run the floor, and improving hands, and it is clear how a player as raw as Oriakhi could have been such a dominant high school player and why with a few years of seasoning he's capable of becoming a NBA player.
There are a handful of things Oriakhi already does well, namely, crash the glass and convert catch and finish opportunities at the rim. With offensive rebounds and cuts accounting for nearly half of his total offense, the New Hampshire native did a nice job looking to dunk the ball with two hands when given a chance around the basket, and could be more effective next season if he gets into the habit of keeping the ball high in traffic. Oriakhi's physical tools allow him to make his fair share of impressive plays around the rim, but that will only mean so much to his NBA future.
For now, NBA scouts will be in wait-and-see mode with Oriakhi, as his game is something of a blank slate at this point. He's most comfortable making hustle plays at this point, lacking a great feel for scoring away from the rim or with his back to the basket and not receiving enough opportunities to showcase his midrange game.
Oriakhi would be best served to spend his time developing his post-game. Comprising nearly a quarter of his offensive possessions last season according to Synergy Sports Technology, Oriakhi scored on just 20.6% of his 34 field goal attempts. On the limited touches Oriakhi received with his back to the basket, he showed a very basic back-to-the-basket arsenal, clearly took his time before making moves, didn't look comfortable working over his left shoulder despite being right handed, and failed to convert the easy shots he did create for himself. Primarily relying on a methodical drop step to create enough space for his developing lefty-hook, Oriakhi has a world of work to do to become a more capable back to the basket threat.
Even if Oriakhi simply adds polish to his drop step moves, becomes more adept at recognizing what his defender is giving him, and looks to be more aggressive with his body, it will afford him substantially more success next season. He'll see more post touches as he figures prominently into Connecticut's attack in coming season, making his progress in that area something worth keeping an eye on.
Away from the rim, Oriakhi knocked 5 of the 11 jump shots he attempted last season, flashing promising mechanics that proved inconsistent, even in such a small sample size. If his 53.8% free throw shooting is any indication, Oriakhi still has a lot of work to do to become a threat from the midrange. Improving his touch on the whole would go a long way towards expediting his development.
While he still has a lot of work to do on the offensive end to emerge as an NBA-caliber offensive player, Oriakhi already has some impressive defensive tools. His excellent wingspan allowed him to block shots at a high rate last season, both on and off the ball. Though he isn't easily backed down once his man has the ball, Oriakhi could stand to fight harder for position down the low and needs to learn not to reach over the top when he is beat. As Oriakhi matures physically, he'll have the chance to be a great defender, as he has the mobility to recover quickly from hedging the pick and roll, the strength to defend the paint, and the length to be a factor contesting shots and rebounding around the basket.
Looking back on his freshman year, Alex Oriakhi
wasn't productive in the least bit on the offensive end in substantial minutes, but rebounded the ball at a very good rate and finished effectively. While those two things alone won't guarantee him a spot in the NBA draft, they are a good start for a player with excellent physical potential who could explode next season with more polish. With three years of eligibility left, Oriakhi is a player we'll inevitably re-evaluate down the road to check in on his progress.