It’s no secret that one of the reasons why the Sixers weren’t able to defeat the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs is because they didn’t have a dependable backup center. Getting Joel Embiid a few minutes to rest in every game is a must, and the team had no options to do that without hemorrhaging points in the biggest series of the year. This years draft class has a few potential options to become the new backup to Embiid, with one of the more interesting being Florida State center Mfiondu Kabengele.
Purely a bench player in his two seasons as a Seminole, Mfiondu Kabengele found ways to impact a game without being a traditional starter. Brought along slowly as a freshman, he averaged 14 minutes per game, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds in that span. The upside that Kabengele possessed had many assuming he would join the starting lineup in his sophomore year, but once again coach Leonard Hamilton decided to keep him in the same bench role while increasing his minutes.
This year Kabengele became a real prospect due to his top tier athleticism, that showed in some of his improved stats. Along with the additional seven minutes he played per game this year, Kabengele almost doubled his scoring output, going from 7.2 points to 13.2 points per game. He is known for his play down low, using his big lower half to move defenders and gain position around the basket, but he has been able to develop slight touch from the outside. Shooting 37 percent from three point range on two attempts per game isn’t the most impressive, but when you think about the type of player Kabengele is going to be at the next level, having that small wrinkle to his game could be something to explore down the road.
While there are some deficiencies in his game, there are also several things he does extremely well. Kabengele’s motor is second to none, he is constantly running and doesn’t run out of gas often; this allows him to become a stronger force as his counterpart tires out. That energy can be seen in his pick and roll skills. He doesn’t have a consistent jumper yet, so he can’t reliably pick-and-pop, but he sets a strong screen almost always and is able to explode off of it and run to the rim where he finishes with his pure strength.
Mfiondu Kabengele has the body type and pure ability to become something at the professional level, but it is going to take some time. Often times when watching him play on the offensive side of the ball, he looks too anxious to make a move towards the basket, resulting in turnovers and double teams. He’ll require patience and development, but with the right coaching and situation, Kabengele could become a threat on both ends of the court.
There may be questions about Mfiondu Kabengele’s offensive game, but defensively he is exactly what the Sixers need. His big frame allows him to bang down low with other centers, but he is much more than a stationary player on the defensive end. Standing at 6-foot 10-inches and 250 pounds, Kabengele runs a lot smoother than you would think a person of that stature could, whether that be in transition or moving around the half court.
Mfiondu Kabengele is most dominant down low on the block and swatting shots around the rim, which is partly how he was able to accumulate 1.8 defensive win shares. The Sixers missed that type of presence throughout the playoffs when Joel Embiid wasn’t on the court and they need to make sure they don’t leave the draft and free agency without addressing the issue.
In the clip above Kabengele is matched up against a player that many believe should be drafted within the top ten picks in Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke. Known for his explosiveness, Clarke tries to drive past Kabengele and spins away to try and create separation, but he is quickly swallowed up by the Florida State big man. This is one of the many instances in which Kabengele shows his defensive chops, quick footwork and ability to adjust on the fly.
The 5.9 rebounds that Kabengele averaged may seem a bit low, but when you look at the impact he has just around the rim with his improved 1.5 blocks per game you can look past the low rebounding numbers. Mfiondu Kabengele is a first round prospect in large part because of the difference he can make on defense, with more coaching he can become something special on that side of the court.
Mfiondu Kabengele is going to be drafted as a true center. His big frame will allow him to fight on the inside and his sneaky quickness will allow him to come out and help defend on the perimeter and even shoot a bit from there as well. Whether or not the Sixers decide to acquire a backup center in the draft, they will need other options besides guys like Greg Monroe and Boban Marjanovic. If the Sixers want to really fix the mistakes that hurt them throughout the playoffs, drafting a playable backup center should be the plan.
There are several centers in this years draft class slated to go towards the end of the first round, very similar to Mfiondu Kabengele. Because of the amount of these players, there are going to be a few that could fall into the second round. While I believe Kabengele is a better prospect than some of these other centers, he could be one to slip a tad. The Sixers have the 24th pick, as of now I don’t see them taking a player that might not be ready to be placed in an important role from the beginning. If Kabengele falls past the Sixers’ pick, I could see him being drafted either 29th overall to the San Antonio Spurs or 30th overall to the Milwaukee Bucks.