Today we are joined by Bram Kincheloe and Nate Parham of Golden State of Mind to talk a little about the Portland Trail Blazers' newest center Festus Ezeli. These two closely cover the Warriors and now offer their insight on what we can hope to expect and what we should be wary of from Ezeli moving forward.
What do you like most about Festus Ezeli's game?
Kincheloe: His athleticism is truly unparalleled. He can eat up space in the lane, and he can finish at the rim. He is a super smart dude, having graduated high school at the age of 14, which, you know, whatever. But it sounds nice. It's like being a recipient of a prestigious yet unknown award that you'd put on your resume but perhaps not bring up in casual conversation. But, yeah, Festus is dope. If he gets his hands together (not holding my breath) he could be a truly dominant center in this league.
Parham: When healthy, what I liked most about Ezeli's game was his ability to both protect the rim at an elite level and defend relatively well for a man his size in space. We very much live in a "What have you done for me lately?" world so it's easy to focus on his ineffectiveness in the 2016 Finals, but his ability to step in for Bogut was key in the 2015 Finals.
Losing his agility due to a lingering injury would be a huge blow for him, but I think it's fair to say he'll still have that rim protection ability and hopefully be able to get more of those alley oops that he and Draymond Green connected on so often.
How do you see him fitting or not fitting in Portland?
Kincheloe: I think he'll start, right? I still have high hopes for [Noah] Vonleh, and could see that pairing becoming a productive thing. I think that Portland fans have a very high level of basketball IQ, and to that end, might turn on Festus after a season or two, purely out of frustration. I hope he realizes his physical potential, but I don't know how likely that is to happen. Either way, he's a fun, smart, interesting human being and I feel that'll resonate in Portland.
Parham: I believe I told you all this in Vegas: I spent most of the Warriors-Blazers series thinking Harrison Barnes was the ideal fit for Portland, but Ezeli gives them a rim protector they didn't necessarily have and will be somewhat helpful in the P&R. While Ezeli is an athletic specimen, he doesn't have great hands so while I think he'll be great for freeing up guys like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, I wouldn't expect much as a scoring "pick and roll threat."
What is something about Festus Ezeli that may not be widely known?
Kincheloe: Um... He hadn't really played organized basketball until 2007. He learned a lot about the game by serving as a video coordinator at Yuba Community College (outside of Sacramento).
Parham: The guys at Anchor of Gold told us in a Q&A after the draft that Ezeli's nickname in college was "SkyNet"...as in The Terminator. That never stuck in Golden State, but I pass that to you.
Are you personally concerned about his knees?
Kincheloe: I'm not personally overly concerned about his health. He's young enough, and he's athletic enough to overcome his previous injury concerns. Of course, you never know how a player will progress, but I hope and believe that Festus' health will not be an issue moving forward. But, again, if teams weren't overly concerned about his health, he would have gotten a MUCH larger contract.
Parham: Well, this is now a long-term lingering thing, really since college (as I was reminded when looking back at that Q&A from the Vandy guys). And obviously, lower extremity issues are always a concern with bigs simply due to the amount of weight they're carrying on a human frame. And I think after watching him in the Finals, it's easy for me to say he didn't look right. I definitely think it's something to be nervous about because the reality is he was just a much worse interior player after his injury this season.
How do you feel about the contract he got with the Blazers?
Kincheloe: Honestly, that contract is f'ing ridiculous. He was playing his way into max until he, 1.) played his way out of the finals, and, 2.) his knees. Maybe he never fully recovers and then this deal is fair...But...If he finds his ceiling, and if he beasts dudes with his athleticism and work ethic, then... Pay Festus all of the dollars. I'm very curious to see how this next season unfolds for the former Warriors' big man.
Parham: He's not old, but he's also going to be 27 when this season opens...so it's hard to imagine seeing much improvement if these injury problems continue. So a short-term deal with a team option for the second year is a reasonable gamble, especially in a market in which guys were getting A LOT more: if he simply doesn't produce, he doesn't affect you long term; if he really does reach some of the potential he's shown flashes of on both ends, you get a bargain and an opportunity to impress him enough to stay.
To follow these guys on Twitter, visit their profiles below:
Bram Kincheloe: @BramKincheloe
Nate Parham: @NateP_SBN