They Smell Like the Future: Chinemelu Elonu

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 8, 2009 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Texas A&M Junior
6′10”, 235 lbs.
22 years old
Power forward/center
Projection: 2nd round/undrafted, may return to school

Chinemelu Elonu is among a handful of other Texas prospects the Mavs have worked out, and would appear to be a Ryan Hollins insurance policy.  Big men will always be at a premium in the NBA, because even at their most raw they can be capable of making an impact with rebounding and shot-blocking.  Going to work on the offensive block requres great coordination, tremendous balance, soft hands, and rehearsed footwork.  All blocking a shot requires is the right sense of timing and favorably a long arm to swat with.

So few teams have true post scorers at power forward or center that “interior defense” has come to be defined as the ability to limit and contest both deep penetration and second-chance opportunities.  Ideally, you want to be able to guard Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Shaq, or Yao Ming when they get within feet of the basket, but the current premiums are on help-side shot blocking and defensive rebounding.  Luckily for Chinemelu Elonu, those are two areas where he is relatively successful.  Elonu isn’t anything special on offense, with most of his points in college coming off of uncontested looks or layups/dunks against undersized competition.  He’s a low-attempt guy who isn’t going to use up a lot of possessions.  What Elonu does bring to the table is length and size in the paint; 6’10” isn’t ideal, but Elonu has more meat on his bones than the rail-thin Ryan Hollins, providing him a frame more conducive to the game down low.

With the right opportunity and training, I can see Elonu becoming an impact defensive player, akin to DeSagana Diop during his best years with the Mavs.  That’s not a cure-all, but it’s also not a bad find for a 2nd round pick or an undrafted free agent.  However, he will never be the type of interior scorer that Mavs fans have been craving since Day 1.  If the Mavs don’t feel like Brandon Bass’ status with the team is secure, plan on trading Erick Dampier, or aren’t pleased with Ryan Hollins’ chances as a potential rotation player, they could definitely take a look at Elonu.  I doubt he’ll stay in the draft if he doesn’t get some kind of guarantee (at least one other team, the Blazers, have worked him out), but if Chin is satisfied with a second round selection, that could work for both parties.

Pro-Level Projections:

I’ve asked Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Elonu.  The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc.  The projections are obviously based on Elonu’s three-year career at TAMU.  For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):

(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played.  For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)

Personally, I think the first two comparisons are a bit kind.  Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah are very good players, and each possesses unique skills that Elonu cannot match.  Chandler has the height, length, and athleticism to match up with the league’s best bigs and defend the basket, and Noah has both quick hands and feet that allow him to swipe at everything and keep up after being switched onto a faster player.  Chinemelu Elonu doesn’t have any of those traits.  He isn’t notably tall or quick for a pro, and his shot-blocking numbers were nothing notable.  But, like Chandler, I can see Elonu being a bit of a late bloomer.  Whether or not he can survive in the NBA despite a slow start is anyone’s guess, but as Elonu learns the nuances of defensive positioning he will become more and more valuable.  If a team is able to store him on their D-League affiliate (particularly a system D-League affiliate like the Spurs’ Toros or the Lakers’ D-Fenders), he could definitely be a long-term contributor.  He likely won’t be able to match Chandler’s defensive prowess at his peak nor Noah (or Amundson, for that matter)’s activity level, but he could definitely be an effective defender and rebounder.