Utah Jazz Best Case/Worst Case Scenario Series: Ekpe Udoh

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 21: Ekpe Udoh, #8 of Fenerbahce Istanbul and MVP of the Final pose during Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Basketball Final Four istanbul 2017 Champion Photo Session at Sinan Erdem Dome on May 21, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Rodolfo Molina/EB via Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 21: Ekpe Udoh, #8 of Fenerbahce Istanbul and MVP of the Final pose during Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Basketball Final Four istanbul 2017 Champion Photo Session at Sinan Erdem Dome on May 21, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Rodolfo Molina/EB via Getty Images) /

The big question facing Utah Jazz free agent signing Ekpe Udoh is whether or not his solid play from the last two seasons overseas can translate into the NBA.

In the previous edition of the Best Case/Worst Case Scenario Series, I took a look at recent Utah Jazz draftee Tony Bradley who certainly has the build and tools to become an NBA player, but may find himself hard-pressed for minutes in his first season. If that ends up being the case, it will likely be partially because Jazz free agent signing Ekpe Udoh has a solid year as backup center and takes the majority of Bradley’s potential minutes.

Udoh was certainly a surprising signing for the Jazz, but he was also an underrated one that could end up paying high dividends. In Udoh’s lone season at Baylor University in 2009-10, he put up respectable numbers of 13.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and showed enough upside to eventually go on to be selected sixth overall by the Golden State Warriors ahead of the likes of Gordon Hayward and Paul George.

That of course didn’t exactly end up being a wise choice for the Warriors (if only they’d made a habit of drafting that way) as they traded Udoh just a year and a half later to the Milwaukee Bucks. It did net the Warriors Andrew Bogut who ended up being a contributor on their 2015 championship team, though, so I suppose you could say it turned out alright for them.

Udoh’s career on the other hand, didn’t exactly follow suit. After having a limited impact in Milwaukee for two and a half seasons and for the Los Angeles Clippers one season after that, Udoh soon found himself out of the league.

However, he appeared to gain a significant amount of confidence while playing overseas with the Turkish Fenerbahce team which he helped lead to the Euroleague Championship. Udoh was an excellent rim protector, a superb passer and even became a reliable scorer during his time with the Turkish squad. He averaged 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in Euroleague play last season.

Of course, he wasn’t playing at the NBA level at that time and therein lies the mystery between his best and worst case scenarios.

Best Case Scenario

If Udoh put up 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game as one of the main guys on his Fenerbahce team, it’s unrealistic to expect anything near that kind of production as a reserve for the Utah Jazz. Nevertheless, if he lives up to his best case scenario and can still play with the finesse and confidence that he displayed in Turkey, then he could still be an extremely solid bench player.

In a best case scenario, Udoh will be able to be reliable enough of a backup center that Favors will have to play less time at that position and can even be utilized alongside Udoh at the power forward spot, ideally creating a solid three-big rotation between Gobert, Favors and Udoh.

If that ends up being the case and Udoh is entrusted to take on a role larger than the one Jeff Withey had last season, expecting him to log about 12-16 minutes per game (as compared to Withey’s 8.5 in 16-17 and 12.9 in 15-16) wouldn’t be all that unrealistic. From there, if Udoh can even muster about 6.5 points, four rebounds and a block while playing serviceable defense, that will be a huge win for the Jazz.

That is in fact the biggest thing that the Jazz need out of Udoh for him to reach his best case scenario – rim protection. When Rudy Gobert was off the court last season, Utah’s defensive rating shot all the way up from 100.6 to 107.5. In case you’re wondering – when speaking about defensive rating, the higher the number the worse.

It should come as little surprise, but no player’s absence adversely affected the Jazz defense as much as that of Rudy Gobert. In other words, when he went to the bench, opposing teams would typically take advantage. That’s precisely where Udoh needs to step in.

Any scoring or assisting he adds will be a nice perk, but more than anything, if Udoh can be a stopgap defensively as a solid rim protector that keeps Utah’s defense in tact, then he will perfectly fit what the Jazz need and reach his best case scenario.


Worst Case Scenario

In short, Udoh’s worst case scenario would be that his play with Fenerbahce doesn’t translate over to the NBA and he ends up being essentially the same player he was in Milwaukee and LA. Udoh wasn’t able to make enough of an impact to truly be deserving of minutes during that stretch of his career as he struggled with his shot and wasn’t nearly as impactful on defense as his teams needed him to be.

If Udoh experiences a decrease in confidence or simply isn’t able to perform as he did overseas at the NBA level, the Jazz will likely have to lean heavily on Derrick Favors to play backup center for extended minutes or hope that Tony Bradley can blossom quickly. Obviously, both of those are far from ideal. As promising as Bradley’s future could be, if he’s getting time over Udoh in his first season, that will likely indicate that Udoh has hit his worst case scenario.

The good news, though, is that if such ends up being the case, fortunately Udoh is on a very affordable, two-year, $6.5 million contract, with the second year non-guaranteed, so he won’t be breaking the bank for the Utah Jazz in any way whatsoever. In other words, at this point Udoh has a great opportunity to prove he belongs in the league, but if he doesn’t pan out, he’s still a very low-risk, high-reward kind of guy.

Next: Utah Jazz Best Case/Worst Case Scenario Series: Tony Bradley

While Udoh is 30 years old and likely won’t be able to elevate his game all that much above what he did in the Euroleague, especially in a smaller role, I’m still excited to see what he can do. He looked like a revolutionized player overseas and he now has a great opportunity to prove himself with the Jazz and if he’s able to take advantage, it could help the Utah bench and overall defense become all the more formidable.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com.