Marquette center Davante Gardner seemed to be in the midst of a breakout sophomore season before going down with a right knee injury and missing eight straight games. While he returned to help Marquette to a second-place finish in the Big East tournament and their second straight Sweet Sixteen run in the NCAA, he failed to regain his early season form. As a junior, Gardner will be expected to take the next step, becoming more than merely a role-player, picking up the slack for a Marquette team that lost its top two scorers and leading rebounder.
Gardner's biggest obstacle seems to be, in part, his most significant advantage at this level. Standing 6'8 with a long wingspan and a 290-pound frame, Gardner is a massive presence at the center position. He would be well served to improve his physique, however, as it seems as though he could play more minutes and maximize his explosiveness and quickness with better conditioning. As it stands, he lacks stamina and plays below the rim, despite his better-than-average mobility and impressive girth. Given the fact that he is a 6'8 center, extremely undersized for the NBA, he must maximize his physical tools if he hopes to someday earn a roster spot at the next level.
Improving his conditioning is particularly important given the fact that he played just 19.1 minutes per game and is one of the more productive NCAA centers
. Gardner posted a very productive 9.5 points in 19.1 minutes per game and 18.6 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted.
On tape, Gardner shows solid hands, quick feet, and a developing post game featuring a solid arsenal of spin moves, jump hooks, and drop steps. He is very good at carving out space in the paint and aggressively attacking the basket. His ability to find scoring opportunities and aggressive style of play also results in an outstanding 7.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted
. He makes 56.8% of his attempts from inside of the arc and shows solid shooting touch overall, including 75.5% from the free throw line. Scouts will be watching to see if he can continue to improve while remaining one of more efficient centers in college basketball
It is worth noting, too, that Gardner is one of the best offensive rebounders in our database
, at 5.2 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted and he finds a lot of points by tipping in his teammates missed shots.
Two areas in which he showed brief flashes of potential, but hardly anything substantial were as a finisher in the pick-and-roll and as a spot-up shooter. With his size and relatively quick feet, Gardner set good screens and rolled hard to the basket on the few opportunities in which he was featured. Similarly, despite only taking a handful of jumpers and missing his only two attempts from beyond the arc, Gardner showed decent mechanics in the mid-range if he chooses to expand this aspect of his game. Improving in these areas, both of which are coveted in today's NBA, could help improve his standing in scouts' eyes.
On defense, his conditioning and propensity for committing fouls (5 per-40 minutes pace adjusted)limit him despite the fact that he is actually a decent defender overall and extremely hard to move off the block. That being said, his lateral quickness is not great and he has trouble closing out on shooters or stepping out to guard perimeter oriented big men or the pick-and-roll. He is not much of a shot blocker either. Becoming a more aggressive and focused defender, therefore, should be a priority moving forward, especially considering he's already severely undersized for a center at 6-8.
Furthermore, and perhaps most concerning is his mediocre defensive rebounding rate,
as he pulls in just 5.2 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted while not showing the greatest fundamentals or effort.
As Gardner looks toward his junior season, he has quite a few things to work on before solidifying his standing as a NBA prospect. Most immediately, his lack of conditioning has prevented him from maximizing his athletic potential, staying on the floor, and becoming a consistent contributor for a Marquette team that will badly needs his inside presence this season. Scouts will be watching to see whether he can make some substantial improvements over the next two years.