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 edition breaks down UCF center Tacko Fall.
Tacko Fall, if nothing else, is a massive human being. Measuring in at 7’7 and 289 pounds with an 8’2 wingspan and 10’2 standing reach, the Senegalese big man has terrorized opponents in the paint at UCF for four years and now will make the leap to the NBA. We’ve seen a handful of players his size figure it out at the NBA level, most recently Philadelphia reserve Boban Marjanovic, though Fall’s game doesn’t really resemble Marjanovic’s, other than the fact that they’re two of the tallest humans to ever play the game of basketball.
A team taking Fall has to know what they’re going to get from him, in a big-picture sense. At his size, he can’t handle playing more than 15-20 minutes of NBA basketball consistently; even that might prove to be too much for his endurance and conditioning level. It’s not a situation in which that conditioning is likely to get better – players of his size almost never have the ability to do much more than that anyway.
He’ll have to play in drop coverage in pick-and-roll; there’s no way he’s getting out on the perimeter consistently. His coach will want him around the basket anyway, much like UCF did in their zone defense. He parked himself right under the rim on nearly every defensive possession, something he won’t quite be able to do in the NBA due to the defensive three seconds rule, but he’ll do his best to drop back as far as possible defensively.
Fall absolutely swallows opposing players at the rim. His 11.5 percent block rate in his senior year was right up there with the very best shot blockers in the country and was only the second-best rate of his collegiate career after an astronomical 12.8 percent block rate in his freshman year. He doesn’t always react quickly to drivers or other threats at the rim, but his length will consistently allow him to get back into plays.
A taste of how much opponents can struggle against Fall — even Zion Williamson had trouble with him in their second-round matchup in the Tournament this March.
Fall does a really good job of using his immense length at the rim, reaching his hands all the way above the rim to make things very difficult on offensive players. He picks up his fair share of fouls, as you’d expect, but his positive plays far outweigh his negative plays at the rim.
For a man as large as Fall is, he’s surprisingly deft with his movements, though he often doesn’t have it in him to make a second movement after the first — he gets beat to defensive rebounds after contesting a shot at the rim. He’s more agile than a lot of players his size and can usually make a single slide with a guard, though don’t ask him to slide twice or change direction after doing so. His long strides cover a ton of ground, but he’s not going to be quick enough to defend very often outside the paint.
His rebounding prowess comes and goes, frustratingly. There are moments where he carves out space and goes out of his area for a monster rebound, then others where the ball bounces near him and he’s not engaged enough to get to it before his smaller opponents. When he’s locked in on the ball, he’ll go get it and there’s not a whole lot anybody can do about it, but it’s not something that happens as often as will be needed in the NBA. Particularly after contesting at the rim, he doesn’t have the second jump in him to go get the defensive rebound. He’ll be a massive problem for opposing teams on the offensive glass, though.
Fall’s not quite as strong in his lower body as you’d expect and can get bumped off his spot in the post relatively easily by players who have no business being able to move him. He has absolutely no touch or skill with the ball in his hands, so it’s not as if he opts not to fight for position and is just as comfortable at ten feet as he is at five. 187 of his 208 field goal attempts logged by Synergy were right at the basket and the remainder were just outside the restricted area. There’s no 15-foot jumper and certainly no stretch element to his game to the corners, nor is there any reasonable expectation that he’ll get there after shooting a ghastly 36% from the free throw line on 163 attempts his senior year, by far a career low.
Offensively, he’ll be relegated to a rim-runner in pick-and-roll and offensive rebounder, with a few post-ups here and there when he gets position and doesn’t get dislodged. In a continuation of his ability to slide once with guards on the perimeter, he’s not necessarily as lumbering as you would expect for a player his size; he can set a high ball screen and get to the front of the rim pretty quickly. Whether he can catch and finish when he gets there may be a bit of an adventure, especially if the pass is slightly off or he’s stopped short of the restricted area. He’ll be a massive problem on the offensive glass, where he routinely goes out of his area for rebounds and can dunk the ball back through without leaving the ground.
There’s absolutely a place for Fall on an NBA roster, though he has little upside to be a team’s starting center in an increasingly small-ball league. As a reserve in limited minutes, his size will be problematic for opposing teams, though a team who can throw out five shooters on a second unit will have a field day against his inability to defend consistently outside of the painted area.
It would be very interesting for his NBA team to experiment with a zone with Fall in the middle and four perimeter players funneling the ball toward him, much like he did at UCF, though he’ll have to show that he has the agility and focus to avoid a parade of technical free throws. The fact that he has trouble contesting and rebounding on the same possession would make things somewhat difficult in a zone, but with his teammates crashing for rebounds, they should be able to mitigate that specific weakness in his game. There would be quite a few rebounds to be had, as well, given his rim protection prowess.