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PULLMAN, WA - MARCH 5: Washington State Cougars Men’s Basketball versus the University of Oregon Ducks at Beasley Coliseum - Washington State forward Efe Abogidi (0)

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How good has Efe Abogidi been? Even better than you think

WSU’s big man became an elite Pac-12 player in his second season on the Palouse. What does that mean for his future and his NBA Draft prospects?

Efe Abogidi has made plenty of posters at WSU so far.
| Jack Ellis/CougCenter

From the moment Efe Abogidi stepped onto the floor at Washington State, it was apparent he is a different athlete than typically plays home games in Pullman. He turned heads during his freshman season with highlight-reel dunks, a surprisingly great free throw stroke, tenacious rebounding, and intimidating rim protection.

Abogidi seemed poised to explode in his sophomore season. He was selected preseason all-Pac-12 and has the tools of a future pro. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury while trying out with the Nigerian basketball Olympic team that kept him out of practice the entire summer — July through September. After that, Abogidi was on a load management plan; his minutes were kept around 20 or less early in the year, and he missed about one-third of practices throughout the season, according to a source close to the program.

That missed court time cut down on Abogidi’s developmental opportunities. On top of that, WSU head coach Kyle Smith was quoted frequently as saying Abogidi was only at about 80% for much of the year as he worked his way back to full strength.

Despite those setbacks, Abogidi improved in many ways in his sophomore season, and significantly so in some areas. He was essential to what WSU wanted to do, and the Cougs were a lot better when he was on the floor. In fact, by some advanced measures, he wasn’t just one of WSU’s most important contributors — he was one of the best players in the Pac-12.

Efe’s Sophomore Jump

There certainly has been some debate around if Abogidi got better in his sophomore season. By the eye test, he seemed to offer more in the post, particularly when facing up. He was also increasingly impactful on defense, with teams clearly planning to avoid him around the basket.

When looking at the numbers, Abogidi improved in many statistical categories. He was more efficient on offense and he was more disruptive on defense.

Efe vs. Efe

Year PER WS/40 ORtg Usage eFG% OR% DR% AssistRate TORate Block% Steal% FT Rate FT% 2P% 3P%
Year PER WS/40 ORtg Usage eFG% OR% DR% AssistRate TORate Block% Steal% FT Rate FT% 2P% 3P%
Freshman 19.7 0.167 106.4 19.3 53.5 10.6 23.0 3.8 21.2 5.8 1.8 43.8 81.10% 59.60% 27.30%
Sophomore 25.2 0.212 117.6 19.6 53.1 12.0 19.1 6.1 14.9 9.5 2.5 45.2 78.90% 57.30% 23.10%

Abogidi’s improvement is apparent when looking at the catch-all statistics that attempt to measure a player’s total value — Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Win Shares per 40 minutes (WS/40). His 25.2 PER as a sophomore was good for 3rd in the Pac-12, behind only Arizona’s Christian Koloko (28.0) and Washington’s Terrell Brown (25.9). His 0.212 WS/40 was even better—ranking second behind Koloko.

As a freshman, Abogidi finished 16th in PER and 11th in WS/40. According to those metrics, the sophomore went from a very good Pac-12 player to one of the best in the conference.

How did he do that? He cut down on turnovers significantly, for one, and that made him a much more efficient offensive player. Abogidi’s shooting percentages dipped a little, but that can be attributed to him taking more difficult shots. He was actually more effective around the rim, hitting 74% of shots in close versus 65% as a freshman. Overall, his 2-point percentage dropped because he was taking more difficult shots — 36% of his shots were 2-point jumpers, a massive increase over 12% last year.

Abogidi also improved his offensive rebounding percentage and his assist rate, but his leap as a defender was even more impressive than his offensive improvement. He nearly doubled his block rate and added more steals. His ability to tally stocks (steals + blocks) was unlike any player in the conference: Abogidi was the only player to finish in the top 10 for both block percentage and steal percentage.

Again, this was done while Abogidi was limited by a knee injury that kept him from practice and limited his minutes. When he was at his best, he was among the best in the conference. When he was at his worst, it often came when WSU was playing multiple games in a short period of time because of rescheduling. With a full offseason of conditioning and a chance to participate in every practice, it is likely he would have had fewer off games, making his overall numbers better.

The highs were quite literally high for Abogidi. He made a couple of appearances on SportsCenter, including taking the No. 1 spot in the Top 10 with a posterizing dunk against SMU. Only a few more of these and they might figure out how to pronounce his name.

He also made a habit of embarrassing opposing defenders who thought it wise to try and dunk in his vicinity.

Abogidi posted 21 and 10 in a home win over Washington. He logged 17 and 11 in a road win over Cal. He’d have more nights like that, but his minutes were often limited. With an entire offseason to train, who knows what he would have done.

For fun, let’s compare Abogidi’s sophomore season to the sophomore seasons of two notable big men. One is from WSU’s past and one is from the Pac-12’s present—Aron Baynes and the aforementioned Koloko, who was a sophomore in 2020-2021.

Sophomore Year Comparisons

Player ORtg Usage eFG% OR% DR% AssistRate TORate Block% Steal% FT Rate FT% 2P% 3P%
Player ORtg Usage eFG% OR% DR% AssistRate TORate Block% Steal% FT Rate FT% 2P% 3P%
Aron Baynes 108.3 18.7 49.5 10.3 13.7 1.5 10.5 3.1 0.6 69.9 64.6% 49.5% 0.0%
Efe Abogidi 117.6 19.6 53.1 12 19.1 6.1 14.9 9.5 2.5 45.2 78.9% 57.3% 23.1%
Christian Koloko 112.6 16.8 52 15.1 17.1 3.4 14.7 8.8 1.6 57.1 62.5% 52.6% 0.0%

Aron Baynes is WSU’s most successful big man of the last two decades. He was a monster on the block by the time he left, and he made a nice place for himself in the NBA. His sophomore season was also slowed by injury; he missed the start of the season after ankle surgery and it took him until the end of the year to assert himself.

What Baynes struggled with offensively as a sophomore was finishing around the basket, often looking timid. Abogidi has no such issue and the numbers show it. He’s also a better rebounder and defensive player.

So, sophomore Abogidi was much better than sophomore Baynes. How about Koloko, who as a junior took over the conference? Abogidi’s sophomore season looks better—more efficient offense and better defense.

If Abogidi can improve like Baynes and Koloko, he’d be a consistently dominant force on both ends of the floor.

With that in mind, what’s next for Abogidi?

Efe’s NBA Prospects

Likely very soon, Abogidi will test the NBA waters. It’s important to remember that college players are now able to declare for the draft while still maintaining eligibility. Many use this opportunity to find out their draft stock, and even if it isn’t what they were hoping, they can still come home with feedback on what they need to do to make it to the next level.

Abogidi’s athleticism is what immediately makes him an NBA prospect and he already plays defense at an NBA level. He has a three-point stroke that looks like it could easily be turned into something serviceable, and in an NBA offense he’ll find more open opportunities to finish around the rim.

He’s not currently on the radar of many draft prognosticators, so he’d have to impress in workouts with NBA teams. However, when looking at other recent sophomore centers drafted, his production is not that far off — I went back and found the seven sophomore centers around Abodigi’s size that were picked in the top 40 of the past five drafts. Here’s how their sophomore stats compare:

Efe’s NBA Draft Comps

Year Player Draft Pick PER WS/40 ORtg Usage eFG% OR% DR% AssistRate TORate Block% Steal% FT Rate FT% 2P% 3P%
Year Player Draft Pick PER WS/40 ORtg Usage eFG% OR% DR% AssistRate TORate Block% Steal% FT Rate FT% 2P% 3P%
2022 Efe Abogidi N/A 25.2 0.212 117.6 19.6 53.1 12.0 19.1 6.1 14.9 9.5 2.5 45.2 78.9% 57.3% 23.1%
2021 Kai Jones 19 20.7 0.183 116.6 18.2 62.6 10.0 13.4 5.4 19.1 4.2 2.1 51.8 68.9% 64.2% 38.2%
2020 Jalen Smith 10 29.3 0.249 120.1 22.6 59.0 11.4 25.4 6.0 14.3 8.2 1.3 47.4 75.0% 60.4% 36.8%
2020 Daniel Oturu 33 30.7 0.226 112.0 28.4 58.5 12.0 23.4 7.9 17.5 7.1 1.0 42.8 70.7% 59.0% 36.5%
2019 Bruno Fernando 34 27.2 0.214 114.7 23.8 61.2 12.0 27.4 14.4 23.6 7.0 1.3 50.9 77.9% 68.1% 30.0%
2019 Mfiondu Kabengele 27 28.9 0.242 116.5 27.5 53.8 11.5 19.9 3.2 12.6 8.3 1.5 55.0 76.0% 53.4% 36.9%
2019 Daniel Gafford 38 28.7 0.199 112.2 25.4 66.0 11.2 22.6 6.0 15.3 8.7 1.8 59.6 59.1% 66.0% 0.0%
2018 Robert Williams 27 25.5 0.184 111.4 19.5 63.2 10.2 26.8 10.8 19.6 10.1 1.8 31.8 47.1% 66.8% 0.0%

Looking at these comparisons shows just how difficult it is to get drafted into the NBA. There are some dominant college basketball players in there that were drafted in the late first round or early second round.

When looking at Abogidi’s production against some of these drafted players, he’s not far off. His PER and WS/40 fit right in, as do his block rate and steal rate. Some of these centers were much more proficient 3-point shooters, and many NBA teams will look for that from basically every player on the floor at this point.

Of course, NBA teams aren’t just looking for stats. They are looking for skillsets. Take Kai Jones for example—he’s an athletic big man, but he’s nowhere near the athleticism of Abogidi and he couldn’t match Abogidi’s production as a sophomore. What NBA teams liked is his perimeter game to pair with his length—he could knock down a jumper and was not afraid to put the ball on the deck and drive.

So, there’s a balance. Abogidi has his own skills and tools to work with, and considering how much he’s had to sit out over the last four years because of injury, he plays at a remarkably high level. He has potential on offense to pair with immediate NBA quality on defense.

Those injuries are probably his biggest roadblock when it comes to draftability. NBA teams will pause at a player that has had major knee surgery, even if it looks like he has recovered fully.

There won’t be many questions about his draft stock soon — he’ll meet with teams and find his answers. If NBA teams love him and he leaves WSU as a draft pick in the offseason, that’s fantastic for him and great for WSU’s program. If he does decide to come back for at least one more season in Pullman, he could be part of something special.

If Efe Comes Back to WSU

The Cougs finished the 2021-2022 season ranked No. 44 on KenPom, their highest finish since 2007-2008. Bart Torvik’s Rostercast projects WSU at No. 30 next season with current rosters — with the caveat that rosters will change. WSU has at least three more spots to fill with the departures of Michael Flowers, Ryan Rapp, and Jefferson Koulibaly.

If the team can stay relatively intact, the Cougs are very likely to be a tournament team with legitimate second-weekend aspirations. Abogidi is a major part of that: While the advanced stats show him as one of the most productive players in the conference, lineup numbers from Pivot Analysis show just how important he was to WSU’s success.

When Abogidi was on the floor, WSU was better in nearly every statistical category, and only inconsequentially worse in others. Most notably, WSU grabbed offensive rebounds at a higher rate with Abogidi and shot free throws better. Overall, the Cougs scored 1.87 more points per 100 possessions with him playing.

He had the same impact on defense, but to even greater extremes. WSU held opponents to 44.6% effective field goal percentage when Abogidi was on the floor and 49.4% when he was on the bench. Opponents also shot significantly fewer free throws with Abogidi on the floor. They did grab more offensive rebounds, but nobody’s perfect and there’s always room for improvement. On the balance, though, The Cougs were markedly better defensively with Abogidi—they allowed 4.16 fewer points per 100 possessions with him patrolling the paint.

Now, consider Abogidi with a healthy offseason to train — to work on his 3-point jumper and his post moves — to practice with his teammates, master the pick-and-roll, and give Smith and WSU’s coaching staff a better opportunity to identify the best lineups. Also, consider Abogidi without a minutes limit and at peak conditioning. That’s likely an even better player that can log even more minutes.

If Abogidi comes back, that puts WSU in a very good place. He would be a foundational piece to a team with major aspirations. Keeping the band intact and combining him with Mouhamed Gueye and Dishon Jackson — who have had remarkable starts to their WSU careers themselves — offers the strong possibility of two of them on the same court at all times. With all three and another year of development, that could give WSU the size, skill, and athleticism up front to contend with elite teams.

No matter what happens, Abogidi has already made his mark in Pullman with a breakthrough freshman year followed by an even better sophomore campaign.

Statistics in this piece via Sports Reference, KenPom.com, hoop-math.com, and Pivot Analysis.

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