While the NBA has certainly transitioned into more of a ‘small-ball’ phase, the league hasn’t necessarily gotten smaller. The key transition phase that the NBA has gone through is one of removing one-dimensional players.
Bigs, who simply operate as rim runners, are no longer a necessity. Multi-dimensional, versatile bigs are the more valued commodities for NBA front offices. Sandro Mamukelashvili fits that mold to a T.
Sandro Mamukelashvili, Mamu for short, is a 6’11 (more realistically going to measure in at 6’10 I presume) big who certainly does not represent the prototypical definition of a big. He’s ambidextrous, comfortable on the perimeter, and more than capable of taking the ball up the court. Kevin Willard, the head coach for Seton Hall, starts him alongside Ike Obiagu, a towering prototypical big, allowing for Mamu to operate out of the 4 spot. How he’s been used at Seton Hall is reminiscent of how an NBA team would like to use him and where they can maximize his versatility.
The aspects of Sandro Mamukelashvili’s Offensive Versatility
While he’s around 6’10/6’11, Mamu, as I mentioned, is more than capable of taking up the ball. He’s not the primary or secondary ball-handler, but having the ability to grab the board and go gives the offense a new threat. I’d quantify his ball-handling as good enough for his size. While he averages above three turnovers per game, most of the ones that I have seen have been from errant passes rather than a loose handle.
In limited time, he has shown the capability of being an above-average P&R ball handler. He and Obiagu have run some P&R and it, more often than not, ends up in points. Keeping in mind the small sample size, according to Synergy, Mamu ranks in the 99th percentile in the NCAA as a P&R ball handler when shooting (he is 9 for 11) and in the 97th percentile as a P&R ball handler including passes.
Smaller forwards are tasked with covering him because his crossovers get him too much space from bigger defenders willing to come out and guard him. Even with Mamu’s size, he has enough burst to reject screens and get by his initial defender. Once he does that, he feels comfortable using a wide variety of moves around the rim and even prefers to finish with his off-hand it seems.
Sandro Mamukelashvili with 32 points on 12/18 shooting from the field and 3/5 from deep. Add 3 assists and 8 boards in Seton Hall’s win.
Are we getting to the point where it’s not too crazy to suggest him as a top 3 senior prospect?
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) December 11, 2020
To be successful in the P&R, as the roll-man or ball handler, you must have great vision and a high passing acumen. Sandro exhibits both. He doesn’t have too much experience getting the ball as a roll-man this season since he primarily fades off of high screens, but the high passing IQ we see from him when he gets doubled in the post or has the ball in the high post can translate.
Not only does he make quick reads, but his passes are hard and direct, usually right in the shooter’s pocket. Sometimes, he’ll rush it a bit and throw an errant pass, but more often than not it’s getting to his teammate at the appropriate time.
Being the first option for a team, with the departure of Myles Powell, will bring on the burden of double teams throughout a game as Sandro Mamukelashvili. He rarely forces the issue. Even if he gets the ball in the post and has a mismatch, he’ll attack until the situation will present itself to find a more open teammate.
While Sandro is perfectly comfortable on the perimeter, he still has no issue attacking in the post.
Unless he gets a switch, Mamu rarely tries to overpower his opponent to get to the rim and put up a shot. There are a few moves he likes to go to in the post including a really nice post-fade over his right shoulder. He’s a very disciplined player and the prolific footwork he showcases on a nightly basis allow for him to get a high quality shots.
Mamukelashvili’s shot is the main point of emphasis that needs to be discussed. For Mamu, the improvements at the line since his early years at Seton Hall are certainly notable. Last season, he had finished at a mark of 66% from the line, but he is now up to 75% on the year.
From beyond the 3-point line, the two main indicators for improvement have been his increased confidence and range. In his first two seasons at Seton Hall, Sandro would often hesitate when given the ball on the perimeter. There is no such hesitation now and the depth by which he can hit his shots extends well beyond the college 3-point arc.
His willingness to shoot these shots from NBA range at this stage, I imagine, is going to be very important for teams. While I don’t believe the age to be too important for prospects who are still steadily improving, a concern from teams may be that it might take a few years for Mamu to get used to the NBA 3-point line. The regression in percentage that we’ve seen from his junior season to this year (43% on 2.7 3PA/game to 33% on 4.4 3PA/game) can be attributed to higher volume as well as the extended range. So, that concern that teams may have of Mamu struggling to transition his shooting given that he’s already 22, shouldn’t be as big of a fear.
The Defense is not THAT bad
No matter the stature of a prospect, players need to be able to switch in the NBA. While Mamu does lack elite lateral quickness, he is not afraid to get out on the perimeter defensively and hedge, switch, or blitz.
Mamu moves his hips well for a player of his size and does a good job of keeping most defenders in front of him. Kevin Willard runs a ton of different defensive schemes and will flip them up quite often during a game. One possession you’ll see them in the zone, then the next in a match-up zone, and then into a straight man. When Obiagu is not in the game, Mamu provides the ability to switch on everything, which has at times left him on islands with smaller guards.
The one thing about him is that he will put in the effort regardless. He’ll move his feet, use his body, and always contest. On closeouts, he usually does a good job of planting his feet first as to not get blown by after a pump-fake. He still occasionally will get into a bad habit of lifting his feet to contest, but you see it happen less and less the more reps he gets in.
Mamu’s willingness to defend all five positions points towards his versatility that NBA teams may fall in love with. He doesn’t play drop coverage on screens and seems to only struggle against players with elite bursts. He’ll mostly be tasked with guarding 3’s and 4’s at the next level where he can use his body to stay in front and verticality to contest them.
Sandro will always keep his head on a swivel on the defensive end. He is never hunting for blocks and rarely is too far removed from his man. That goes for cutting off passing lanes as well as grabbing rebounds. Many prospects will start ball watching once a shot goes up instead of finding their man to box out. Mamu is not one of those players. Almost every single time a shot goes up, you will see Mamu’s head swivel really quickly so that he can position himself in front of any man that may be crashing.
It is not uncharacteristic for Mamu to get a few steals each game because of his length and anticipation. The eyes are the most important part when it comes to cutting off passing lanes. Without keeping your eyes on your man, that can turn you from someone great at cutting off those lanes, to someone susceptible to back-door cuts. Mamu always has the awareness to pick the right time to jump those lanes.
Where does he rank in the 2021 NBA Draft Class?
The 2020 NBA Draft Class was filled with solid to elite role players. The 2021 Class, on the other hand, has some elite star talents up top while lacking a huge crop of role players. I picture Sandro Mamukelashvili as one of the top tier role players who can find themselves being taken by a playoff team in the late 1st Round.
Mamu brings the versatility that you won’t find in many bigs in this year’s draft. He isn’t the elite rim protector or rim runner that some teams may be looking for, but the unique talent that he brings is truly multi-dimensional. The high IQ, passing acumen, defensive awareness, and improved shot mechanics and range that he brings to the table may be too attractive for a team to let him slip to the 2nd Round of this year’s NBA Draft.