Isaiah Austin, 7-foot-1 power forward, Baylor
2013-14 stats: 11.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.1 BPG, .683 FT%
Austin was a highly-touted prep recruit, who, while he didn’t necessarily live up to the billing in college, could perhaps thrive as a role player on the next level, due to his unique skill set. A shot-blocking presence with length, he isn’t a natural back-to-the-basket player and has a slender frame, but also possesses uncanny ball skills and shooting range for his size. Although concerns about his lack of toughness have subsided to a degree after the revelation that he’s blind in his right eye, Austin’s lack of a physical approach to the game is concerning, though there might be a specific niche for him as a professional that has been previously unexplored.
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Career highlights: A starter from the beginning of his Baylor career, Austin averaged 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, while shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range as a freshman, notching 10 double-doubles en route to making second team all-Big 12 and the league’s all-rookie team, while helping lead the Bears to the NIT title. As a sophomore, Austin averaged 11.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, making the conference’s all-defensive and all-tournament teams. Though he was inconsistent throughout his two-year college stint, some of his stat lines reflect his talent: 19 points and 20 rebounds against Oklahoma as a freshman; an 18-point, seven-rebound, nine-block game against Kansas State as a sophomore; four three-pointers in a game against Kansas.
Strengths: Austin’s shot-blocking ability is his one skill that definitively translates to the next level, as the 7-footer has excellent length and timing, to go along with tremendous agility for his size, which makes him capable of defending on the perimeter in pick-and-roll scenarios. He also possesses a good shooting touch and range, making him a viable pick-and-pop option offensively. Being quicker than most players his size allows him to run the floor well in transition and while he clearly needs to add strength, Austin has decent rebounding ability, when he sets his mind to it.
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Weaknesses: Obviously adding bulk is a major priority, as Austin doesn’t possess the strength to hold his position in the low post, whether offensively or defensively, struggles to finish at times and can be pushed around when battling for rebounds. His ability to shoot the ball is both a gift and a curse, given that he tends to settle for deep jumpers, rather than use his size to his advantage. Austin isn’t a natural back-to-the-basket player either and while he’ll never be the type to consistently back down his defender for buckets, developing a go-to post move or two is a necessity.
Draft projection: If a team that has a system conducive to Austin’s skill set is sufficiently impressed by him in the pre-draft process, he’s a candidate to be a second-round pick, but whether or not he’s drafted, there’s clearly a need for further seasoning. Austin should probably spend some time in the D-League to define his game and continue gaining strength to start his professional career, and it’s possible that even with his height, he’s more of a power forward than center, on both ends of the floor. With his agility and touch, working on his shooting consistency, while continuing to be a defensive presence might not be a bad way to go and given the current trend of the NBA, emerging as a role-playing stretch power forward isn’t out of the realm of possibility down the line.