IU basketball freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako is knee deep in the learning curve early in the season.
To the surprise of many, the 6-foot-8 McDonald’s All-American is averaging just 17 minutes and 3.0 points per game through the first two contests.
Some miscues, especially on the defensive end, have led to Mgbako not having a significant role in the second halves of Indiana’s games thus far.
Below we take a look and what’s working and what isn’t for the New Jersey product.
RUNNING ACTIONS FOR MGBAKO
Let’s start with something positive.
Mgbako appears most comfortable on the basketball court shooting jump shots, and he gives IU something they haven’t had in a while — a player who is competent shooting the ball coming off screens.
In the first game against Florida Gulf Coast, you can see Mgbako take his man through a pair of baseline pin down screens and emerge on the wing for the jumper. At 6-foot-8 with a high release, this is a difficult shot to defend, and Mgbako looks like a natural.
Indiana ran the exact same play against Army, and they got the exact same result.
So here’s the question — why isn’t the coaching staff running a lot more actions that get Mgbako shots coming off screens?
Mgbako looks equally confident in catch and shoot situations. And IU should be able to get him plenty of these looks either via kick-outs from the post or off of dribble drives by the guards.
Mgbako does a good job of finding open space here, although you’d like to see him spot up behind the arc.
Because Mgbako looks so comfortable shooting jumpers, the scout on him is likely to quickly become forcing him to put the ball on the floor and drive.
So far he’s appeared far less comfortable on the bounce. Mgbako hasn’t shown much ability to finish with his off hand, and he doesn’t have elite burst when attacking. That has led to some difficult shots at the rim like this one.
If he were matched up with fours rather than threes he might have more of an advantage when driving the ball.
Here’s an example of what Mgbako will likely see more and more of. This is a difficult shot against an aggressive close-out. Until he shows more as a difficult shot-maker, the proper read here was likely to attack with the dribble.
One more look at the offensive end — this is a typical freshman mistake, and something easily correctible.
Rather than using a pass fake, Mgbako attempts to throw the ball inbounds over the arms of a defender. It gets tipped and results in a turnover. He’ll need to recognize there are things like this he can’t get away with at this level.
If there’s a headline issue that Mgbako is struggling with right now, it’s defensive awareness.
Here you can watch him completely lose track of his man and end up guarding no one. This possession might be the most egregious example, but we’ve seen this on multiple occasions.
In this example Mgbako doesn’t appear to know whether he should rotate to a shooter, and IU ends up with two players closing out.
At the end of the play, Mgbako doesn’t aggressively block out his man, who ends up getting a hand on the ball.
The overarching themes are Mgbako appears unsure, is thinking rather than reacting instinctively, and he isn’t playing with his head on a swivel. All of that makes it appear he lacks of focus and intensity.
CASUAL CLOSE OUT
Here’s something else we’ve seen on more than one occasion — Mgbako doesn’t aggressively close-out on an open 3-point shooter.
On both examples below, this just appears to be a freshman who doesn’t understand the requisite amount of intensity he needs to be playing with. Although again, some of this is just thinking rather than playing instinctively.
In this next instance Mgbako helps on Malik Reneau’s man when Reneau really wasn’t beat, and in so doing leaves one of FGCU’s best shooters open. The scouting report on 55 was almost certainly “don’t leave.”
In this example Mgbako is the last line of defense at the rim and needs to either make an aggressive play on the ball or take a charge. Instead, he ends up with the matador approach.
ON BALL DEFENSE
Most of Mgbako’s problems on the defensive end have come when he’s not guarding the ball. He has has shown more promise as an on ball defender.
In this first video Mgbako gets turned around and loses his assignment for a moment, but he shows good ability to both close out under control and recover and block a jump shot. It takes a high degree of athleticism to pull this off, and Mgbako can probably be a pretty impactful defender on opposing power forwards.
Here Mgbako needs to fight through a screen more aggressively, but his athleticism flashes again as he recovers, leads his man down the slot, and straight into the shot blocker.
This was one of Mgbako’s better defensive possessions.
He’s up tight on his man, in a good defensive stance, takes away the 3-point shot, stays in front of the dribble drive, and blocks the shot.
Here he’s guarding 6-foot-7 forward Zach Anderson. Mgbako will likely be much more effective in these scenarios on the ball, rather than we he gets switched onto shifty guards.
Video credits – Big Ten Network
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