During the lead-up to the NBA draft, most of the attention will be on the lottery picks, and deservedly so. However, there is talent to be found later in the draft, and even after it ends. Several successful NBA players have started as undrafted free agents or late picks, including the Suns’ own Raja Bell and Goran Dragic. As draft season heats up, I will try to uncover and analyze some overlooked and underrated players who could make an impact late in the draft, or even those who won’t hear their name called on June 26.
Height (with/without shoes): 6’ 5.25", 6’7"
Weight: 218.5 lbs
Wingspan: 6’ 11.25"
Standing Reach: 8’ 7.5"
Max Vertical: 35 inches
Lane Agility Drill: 11.55 seconds
Three-Quarter Court Sprint: 3.14 seconds
Senior Year Stats:
MPG- 32.1, PPG- 17.8, FG%- 50.5, FG3%- 34.6 RPG- 8.4, APG- 1.8, SPG- 1.2, FT%- 76.1
Motor and Attitude:
Much like the last prospect I profiled, Cameron Bairstow, a lot of Ejim’s appeal stems from his hard-nose style of play. Ejim is an extremely physical player despite his lack of ideal size for the forward position, which shows up in his rebounding numbers. In 2013, CBS writer Jon Rothstein placed Ejim in his list of top ten "glue guys" in the NCAA. Although Ejim proved to be more than that label might suggest, his inclusion on the list speaks to his leadership and ability to make the team better while he’s on the floor.
A large part of what drew me to Ejim was the resemblance I saw in him to current Suns favorite, PJ Tucker. Both are undersized scrappy forwards who do what it takes to get their team the W. To me, Ejim’s ceiling is a bigger, more athletic Tucker with a more polished and extensive offensive game.
The reason Ejim isn’t higher on a lot of people’s draft boards is the lack of a LaVine vertical or a Vonleh wingspan, as well as the fact that he is a senior with less room to grow. True, he lacks the ideal size to play power forward in the NBA, and doesn’t have the blow-by quickness you’d like to see in a wing, but much like PJ Tucker, I think Ejim could find a home in Phoenix as an SF. His agility and vertical aren’t anything special, but he did register the second fastest three-quarter sprint at the combine, regardless of position. He would be able to get out on the breaks in the Suns’ uptempo offense and score some easy points, as well as get back down the floor to prevent the opposition from scoring.
As far as his age, I don’t think being a senior should necessarily be a negative from the Suns’ perspective. Assuming they keep all their draft picks, this team is going to be extremely young. There is only so much room on an NBA roster for projects, and Ejim’s experience and maturity would help him to have an immediate impact.
In college, Ejim had a very effective inside-out offensive game. However, in the NBA, the bigger, more athletic interior defenders will likely relegate him to the wing. He shot fairly from the three-point line in college, pouring in 44 3’s at a 34.6% clip. When he gets to the NBA, however, I think the coaching of Jeff Hornacek should allow him to become an even better shooter, as his senior year was the first year he was really a three-point threat. He should develop into a kind of 3-and-D player, much like the one PJ Tucker turned himself into (I really like this comparison in case you can’t tell). His ball handling skills are average at best, which makes him a fairly one-dimensional player with the ball in his hands. However, his strength and speed make his straight-line drives a useful weapon.
Another facet of Ejim’s offensive game that will almost certainly translate to the NBA are his off-ball cuts. He moves very well without the ball in his hands, which allows him to get a lot of easy baskets around the rim.
Ejim’s versatility and strength, on top of his decent wingspan should make a fairly effective NBA defender. He could very well develop into the lockdown defender you love to have around when you come across the LeBrons and Durants of the league, if he puts enough time and energy into his defensive game.
Ejim set a Big 12 scoring record this year against TCU when he put up 48 points, while adding an impressive 18 rebounds. It is silly to put too much stock into one game, but a game like that lets you know the he can get hot and fill it up from all over the court. Even if it was against TCU, not exactly a basketball powerhouse, 48 points is nothing to sneeze at.
Admittedly, the Suns will never win a title if they only pursue future PJ Tuckers. You need a star in this league to win, and that is probably not Melvin Ejim. But his hustle, strength, and experience would make him a valuable asset to a Suns team looking to take the next step.