What we learned from Ochai Agbaji's showing at the NBA combine
KU senior-to-be Ochai Agbaji has a tough decision to make, and the biggest factor in that decision became crystal clear at last week’s NBA combine in Chicago.
When it came to testing, drill work, measurements and looking the part, Agbaji showed that he is very much a draftable NBA player.
However, when it came time to run up and down and play five-on-five basketball, Agbaji’s weaknesses stood out a little more.
The question he has to answer is whether he wants to work on those weaknesses at Kansas or in the NBA’s G League.
One will pay him to do it and provide as much time as he needs day in and day out to work on his game.
The other will give him better national exposure and the opportunity to grow his game and build confidence against younger players.
Agbaji’s a smart kid and a smart basketball player. And he’ll make the best decision for himself. After all, only he truly knows what is most important to him at this point in his basketball journey.
Regardless of what he decides, Agbaji’s focus likely will be the same in the months ahead — improve his ball handling, get better at scoring off the dribble and become more assertive.
But therein lies the dilemma.
At the NBA level, the Kansas City, Mo., native appears to be a classic 3-and-D player in the making. If he returns to KU for one more run, he’ll be much more than that.
So, can the two styles co-exist?
As long as the Kansas roster looks this fall like it appears it will today, the answer is absolutely yes.
Remember, Agbaji was essentially that as a sophomore, when he played alongside All-Americans Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. While those two carried the load and got help from Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett, Agbaji filled a smaller role.
That role was to play defense, make open shots and be reliable. He did all three of those things at a high level and, quietly, was a big reason that team finished 28-3 and was projected by many to win it all before the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled.
Those three other guys are long gone by now, but there’s no reason to think that Arizona State transfer Remy Martin at point guard, senior big man David McCormack down low and even Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu as an attacking guard on the perimeter can’t fill their roles and open things up for Agbaji.
It might seem strange for a guy who was the program’s leading scorer one year to actively and purposefully take a step back the next. But that could wind up being the best thing for Agbaji’s pro future.
Although he has shown flashes of being able to assert himself offensively during his first three seasons at KU — and certainly did plenty of that in high school — he is not the kind of player who is going to be asked to get to the rim off the dribble and create shots for himself in the NBA.
If he can showcase his 3-and-D talents and improve his ball handling and ability to get to the rim when the moments present themselves — in transition would be the best place to do that — he will improve his draft stock and enter the pre-draft grind in 2022 in much better shape than he’s in today.
If he improves more than that, his stock soars and his path to being drafted becomes even easier.
The talented and charismatic guard has a tough call in front of him. And he has until July 7 to make it.