Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment focuses on Florida State big man Mfiondu Kabengele.
Mfiondu Kabengele was an underrated part of Leonard Hamilton’s group at Florida State this season. With the Seminoles being 10 or 11 deep, the sophomore only played around 22 minutes per game, but he really produced when he was on the floor. Kabengele averaged roughly 13 points and 6 rebounds across those ~22 minutes, to go along with 1.5 blocks. Combine that production with the fact that Kabengele was actually slightly more effective in ACC play, and you begin to see the intrigue NBA scouts have with the big man. His stock is only rising of late, with his 7’3 wingspan being among the longest of those measured at the 2019 NBA Draft combine last week.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic ranks Kabengele as his 41st overall prospect, while ESPN ranks the forward 30th. Come draft night, expect Kabengele’s name to be called somewhere in this range, as he represents a solid alternative for teams who miss out on the more highly regarded stretch bigs near the top of the board.
Kabengele is largely a defensive prospect, who projects to be able to guard multiple positions with his quickness on the perimeter, as well as protect the rim and rebound with his length. While the big man was mostly deployed as a forward on a Florida State roster that did not lack size, it will be interesting to see if Kabengele can hold his own when he needs to slide over to the center position. If he can’t play center, his career ~37% clip from three-point range should be enough to warrant playing a healthy chunk of minutes at forward given his versatility.
The biggest concern currently with Kabengele being able to anchor the center position for large stretches at the next level is that his height was measured at 6’8.75 without shoes, which is obviously small relative to the average NBA center. His length should help him, but most NBA big men are pretty long in their own right, so it remains to be seen how much he will actually help an NBA team when lined up against opposing centers.
Kabengele tested well athletically at the combine, with his max vertical of 35.5 being more than acceptable given his size, and his lane agility time of 11.21 seconds nearly pacing all of the big men who tested in Chicago last week. Only Grant Williams (Tennessee), Isaiah Roby (Nebraska), Luka Samanic (Croatia) and Darius Bazley (high school) put up faster times among power forwards and centers, with Kabengele beating out several wings in lane agility as well. These numbers aren’t necessarily all-telling, but Kabengele looks quick when he needs to be on film, especially on defense, so it’s good to see him back that up at the combine.
Kabengele actually feels like a great fit in Atlanta, despite being undersized for the center position, much like incumbent power forward John Collins. Whether general manager Travis Schlenk would select the Florida State product with one of his bevy of second round picks likely hinges on whether he’s able to snag DeAndre Hunter or Brandon Clarke with one (or both) of the first round picks, as Kabengele essentially represents a lower ceiling option for either of those more highly regarded prospects, with a similar floor, frankly. If Atlanta isn’t able to get one of Hunter or Clarke, they should absolutely look to bring Kabengele into the fold, as a defensive-minded player would be more than welcome in the head coach Lloyd Pierce’s locker room.
An NBA comparison for Kabenegele may resemble Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, who was selected 14th in the 2017 NBA Draft after one season at the University of Kentucky. Adebayo is a little more advanced on the offensive end when it comes to passing, but Kabengele probably has a little more touch with his shot from range, while both players offer similar effort and versatility on the defensive end. Here’s a look at what Adebayo and Kabengele did at the collegiate level, respectively.
On top of how similar the numbers are (shooting aside), the two players both list at 6’10, 255 pounds, and have similar movements on the floor.
The combination of shooting, length and defensive versatility should propel Kabengele to a role in an NBA rotation sooner than later, with defensive minded play seemingly becoming a lost art in today’s three-point fiend game. A reasonably optimistic projection for Kabengele may be similar to what Adebayo did for Miami in 2018-2019, while his home run ceiling could resemble that of what Pascal Siakam was able to accomplish in his third season, after being merely a rotation weapon in the first two seasons of his career. Kabengele is (probably) a little too bulky at this stage to do a lot of the things Siakam can do once he puts the ball on the floor, but then again no one saw this type of 2018-2019 season coming from Siakam, either.
Kabengele should be in play for Atlanta with the team’s second round picks (No. 35, 41 and 44), and the possibility of trade (into the late 20s or early 30s) exists for the Hawks. Whether it’s Kabengele or another prospect, it will not be surprising if Atlanta attempts to package their second-round picks for a higher selection, as a club that brought in four rookies in 2018-19 doesn’t appear likely to add five first-year players for the 2019-20 season.
While there are obviously a number of outcomes on the table with any prospect, it feels like Kabengele’s floor is as high as it reasonably could be for someone widely projected to land outside the first round. The lack of clarity to what his ceiling really is will most likely be what keeps him out of the top 25 or so, but his solid combine measurements may have vaulted him into that category for a number of teams.