Aside from watching SportsCenter highlights and reading draft projection articles and blogs, I knew very little about UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, before last night's game against Louisville. The Big Monday matchup was not a close one, and the goliath center for the dark blue team had a lot to do with that.
As the past three games have shown, the Wolves have a size problem. While our best front line of Love-Jefferson is considerably smaller than the best in the West, it gets so, so much worse when either player is taken out. The times when Ryan Gomes or Craig Smith is manning the 4-spot next to Love or Jefferson at center, well... those are smaller than a good percentage of Division I big men combos. It's a problem that needs to be addressed if we're going to defend the better teams in the league, which (by no coincidence) all have a lot of size up front.
Thabeet was a defensive monster, last night. His man-to-man defense was dominant. He was not scored on, in the few times a Louisville player was foolish enough to try. In my count, he blocked the shot every time except once--a jumper that the player rushed and missed badly. His weakside help defense was a little bit slow, but his daunting size still had an effect. Louisville's freshman big man, Samardo Samuels, came into last night's contest averaging 13.1 ppg. He was held to 0 points and 4 turnovers. Earl Clark, the lottery-projected forward who likes to get points in the paint, was 2-16 from the floor. By the midway point of the 2nd Half, HT had a swagger about him, like he knew he owned the paint and nothing was going to change that. It's good to see that out of a big man, since their demeanors seem to often reflect their value (see Mourning & O'Neal vs Bradley).
If the Wolves win the lottery, I assume they'll take Blake Griffin and probably end up dealing him, Love, or Jefferson. From a total value standpoint, I think that would make sense. But if they don't win the lottery (much more likely) and have an opportunity to draft Thabeet, it might be a wise decision. He won't dominate NBA games on defense, the way he does in college. But, it is a clear-cut strength of his and at 7'3" (probaby more like 7'1" after he takes off his shoes--something we learned in the pre-draft stuff, last year) he immediately gives the Wolves a legitimacy that they currently don't have. Also, his offense isn't too bad. He knocked down an open jumper in the 2nd Half. Vitale noted the NBA scouts drooling in the crowd. He also has a good feel for having his hands up, ready to dunk everything around the rim. He is not a great offensive player--but he can be a serviceable one, while impacting games on defense. I think it's a very safe pick for Minnesota that would certainly improve their roster by a large degree.
Anyway, that's all off of one game. I'm sure he has poor games as well--especially when he's in foul trouble. But his 14 point, 11 rebound, 4 block performance against the previously undefeated (in the Big East) Louisville Cardinals was really impressive, and he looked like a guy that would immediately make the Wolves a more credible opponent to the better teams in the NBA.