Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sleeper Report - Darion Atkins

Euroleague's next undersized big man or D-league forevah?

Darion Atkins possibly went under the radar in this year's Portsmouth Invitational tournament as for me he was the most impressive player there and by all rights the MVP. He has the potential to become the next undersized big man for Euroleague teams, if he doesn't fall into the sandpit/black hole/talent vacuum or whatever else you want to call it, that is the D-league. A player of his skill and strength could have a solid career in Europe and in the right team setting, he might even win a title or 2.

Physical Analysis
Standing at 203 centimeters tall with shoes, Darion doesn't excite anyone in the NBA world for the power forward position, let alone the center position that seems more like his natural state. What he lacks in height he makes up for it in physical assets and sheer tenacity. He's got a 218 centimeters wingspan and a 273 centimeters standing reach. To put this in perspective this is the same standing reach as Stefan Nastic who sees the world from 211 centimeters high roughly. Furthermore he knows how to put the stopping power of his long arms into good use by shutting down taller and bigger players than him. At almost 109 kilos he doesn't lack the weight of a bigger center.

As a scorer he is not hugely versatile but he is very efficient and that is something he wasn't able to display in Virginia; sharing a fate similar to Akil Mitchell by having in front of him players of Draft calibre that needed more possessions. The beauty of Portsmouth is though that it allows you to see a player outside his NCAA environment and you can see what he can really do unlimited by his former team's state of play.

He uses a combination of middle range jumpers and low post spin moves to score. He doesn't extend to the European 3-point line yet but there is still room for improvement. He's got a high release point that is not the fastest trigger on the floor but his range can possibly be extended to the 3-point line (with a bit of work) in order to make him a credible threat on the perimeter. If he works on it he can possibly become a floor spacer sooner rather than later to add another weapon to his arsenal. Lately he seems more eager to use his midrange jumper possibly to establish himself as a pick and pop threat and possibly to be seen by NBA scouts more as a power forward than an undersized center. This could help him in his endeavour to earn an NBA roster spot. It's unlikely he'll become a pull-up sensation but a shift to spot-up 3-pointers is well within his reach. Having said that it should be worth mentioning that he has worked on his pull-up shot and he's able to make some decent shots from the midrange off the dribble.

He's very quick to cut to the basket after a successful screen. Moreover his wide frame and his strength make up for what he lacks in bulk for a good screen. He's got quick feet that allow him to get to the basket fast and finish with a powerful dunk or if contested he can absorb contact and finish through it. He also features an array of spin moves and a very efficient right hand hook that allow him to finish in the low post. His right hook is his trademark move and it's very difficult to contest once he gets in position.In many cases it almost seems mechanical and once he starts spinning it seems like it's going in whether you like it or not. It's a well practised move and possibly his main bread-earner going forward. He seems to focus almost exclusively on his right hand for his finishes and he'll favor it regardless of how he is positioned or how he is facing the basket. His footwork is very basic currently but that doesn't stop him from being an efficient scorer in the low post. Lack of fear and brute force are his trademarks when backing down his defender. Atkins is not afraid to go against much taller post defenders and he will draw contact, sporting a good touch for free throws.

He's a solid passer for a big man and although he is not a shot creator as such he can find the open man for a good look in the perimeter or find the slasher through the screens for an easy finish at the rim.

Defensively he will have very few issues guarding power forwards in Europe and he won't have issues with
other undersized big men like him. He'll struggle obviously with the 7-footer variety but he'll be able to out play his size and position on most occasions. Even when he is faced with a much bigger opponent he knows how to position his body defensively to take advantage of his lower centre of gravity and that gives him the ability to box out even much bigger players. He is a very active defender and when faced with bigger opponents he does a good job denying the pass to the big man in the low post. Relentless would be another good word to describe his defensive efforts.

He is not a great leaper but what he lacks in leaping ability he makes up for it with length and timing. His timing on blocks is impressive and he is very quick to place a firm hand on the ball and sometimes keep it down along with the player he is guarding. This makes some very interesting highlights that his opponents would like to forget. Although his athleticism is above average he's got a heavier body than the average player of his height and that's due to his muscle mass which allows him to duke it out in the low post without suffering too much. In fact he seems quite content.

His quick feet allow him to hedge out and recover quickly enough as most players he'll be guarding will be bigger and possibly slower than him so he's quick to return back to position. He is also very good on rotating on defense and very conscious of where his man is and where needs to cover. As per always with shorter centers, he'll have a problem when much taller big men shoot over his head but that doesn't seem to happen very often.

The positive
- wide frame that can fill even more to become a force to be reckoned with in the low post
- great timing for rebounds and blocks
- good wingspan (2.15m) for his position that he utilises very efficiently
- trademark right hook that seems to defy defenders' efforts/height/length
- midrange jumper to mix it up
- very quick at rolling to the basket after a successful screen, can finish with authority
- great rebounder with solid intangibles and features scrappy hustling as an offensive rebounder
- very active defender in the low post and good help defender
- quick feet that allow him to be a solid pick and roll defender
- can absorb contact easily

The 'could be better'
- more work on his pull-up jumper
- needs to extend range to 6.75m to become a credible threat
- footwork in the low post can be improved, he currently relies on strength and length to get his shot across
- left hand needs work on finishing
- ballhandling skills are decent can be improved

Darion Atkins' career as a professional has not started yet. He can become a solid forward/center in Europe in pretty much any league available and with hard work he can have a solid career at the highest level which is the Euroleague. As always this is the theoretical approach to gauging his upside. Why am I not making a prediction for the NBA? In the NBA he is outsized and outskilled for the positions he can possibly play and although he might be able to make the roster of a number of teams he'll be more of a role player and his career will be limted. In Europe he can actually win titles and make decent money as a pro.

Atkins is a prototypical undersized big man for Europe and he features a package that is highly coveted for. He's got the strength and length of a taller player, his athleticism is way above average for European levels, his defense and hustle are highly desirable and his ability to play the pick and roll and defend it at the same time sport a very interesting package.

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