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Clippers Player Profile: Ekpe Udoh

Continuing our pre-season player profiles, let's take a look at Ekpe Udoh, the 6'10 free agent power forward the Clippers signed this summer. Udoh is long on length, but it's unclear what else he does.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Ekpe Udoh key stats

PPG P/36 RPG R/36 BPG B/36 FG% FT%
2013-2014 3.4 6.4 3.5 6.6 1.0 2.0 .399 .638
Career 4.4 8.5 3.5 6.8 1.3 2.6 .428 .718

My parents used to be fairly regular bridge players, though they've broken that particular habit later in life. At any rate, in my youth I used to partner with my dad in bridge games against my mom and my brother (my lucky sister somehow got out of bridge duty). I love card games and I love strategy games, but bridge always struck me as too much work for something that was supposed to be fun. At any rate, there are lots of little sayings in bridge to help you remember all the rules and strategies, one of the more simplistic being "length over strength": that is to say, if you have two pretty good suits in your hand and you're trying to decide which one to bid, you pick the one you have more of, even if the cards are bigger in the other suit. So for instance, six diamonds with a king high is better than five clubs with an ace and a king. Length over strength.

Scouts and General Manager's fall in love with certain traits in NBA prospects at different times -- and they always tend to have very cutesy names for these traits. One year all you hear about is a everyone's "motor". Another year the scouts like guys who are "bouncy".

Many of these buzzwords come and go. I mean, "motor" is a good thing every year, but for some reason its relative importance compared to other attributes seems to wax and wane. There's one attribute that has been at the top of everyone's list for years and years now: and that is length.

It's axiomatic that height is important in the game of basketball. In retrospect, it's actually kind of surprising that we didn't figure out a little sooner that the entire equation of size is what really matters. It's much more important to know a player's standing reach than to know how high his head is off the floor -- players handle the basketball and play defense with their hands after all, not with their heads.

Ekpe Udoh is LONG. Crazy long. Larry Sanders long. Wingspan of 7'4.5 at almost 6'9 long. And after a season with a motley crew of backup bigs that included relatively squat bigs like Glen Davis and Antawn Jamison and Hedo Turkoglu, Doc Rivers was craving some length. Heck, Blake Griffin isn't even long (though DeAndre Jordan is).

(It's worth noting that John Hammond in Milwaukee is really drinking the length kool aid. Larry Sanders; John Henson; Giannis Antetokounmpo; and they took a shot with Udoh. That's the all-long team.)

I watched a little bit of Udoh in college, I've seen him in the NBA and I've seen his numbers of course, and as far as I can tell, his length is the biggest single reason that he was a lottery pick in the 2010 pick, sixth overall. In fact, Udoh's college-to-pro experience is kind of the converse of his new teammate, Chris Douglas-Roberts. CDR was the leading scorer on a team that included future first overall pick NBA MVP Derrick Rose, but CDR fell to the second round and has just barely held on in the league so far. Udoh was the team's third leading scorer during his single season at Baylor, but he was the one who had the scouts drooling. He jumped up to the sixth pick in the lottery (in ad admittedly mediocre draft) but all that potential the scouts saw has yet to materialize.

How long is he? Well, I'm going to go ahead and quote myself from a post I wrote just after the Clippers signed him:

The dude is long. And as the say, you can't teach length. Nor is length something the Clippers have in abundance. Beyond Jordan, they're not long on length. On the measurements database at Draft Express there are few players who have the sort of wingspan to height ratio that Udoh possesses -- He's 6'8.75 without shoes, but his wingspan is 7'4.5. That's ridiculous.

You just need to watch the havoc that Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis can cause, especially on the defensive end, to see why everyone in the NBA loves length. Height doesn't help you move in the horizontal plane, but length works in all three dimensions. Whether your blocking shots or disrupting passing lanes, length is a trump card (returning to the bridge analogy).

But Leonard and Davis have a very distinct advantage over Udoh -- they're both incredibly skilled basketball players for their sizes. Udoh is a very good athlete and he has that magical length, but can he really play?

Clippers fans have seen him at his very best on two occasions, so it's possible our impression is a bit skewed. He scored his career high of 19, on 9-14 shooting, in February 2012, and then he went for 14 on 7-10 a month later. During that stretch with the Warriors, it appeared that he might be figuring it out, that he might have an offensive game to go with that length. But his career 43% shooting from the field tells a different story. (Power forwards simply can't shoot 43% from the field and stay in the league.)

Udoh was injured most of the season in Milwaukee last year. He played 42 games, but he was less than 100% for many of those. The Clippers got him on the cheap, and are hoping that a return to full health will have him back closer to his spring 2012 form, when he was torching his current team, at least for a month. (It's worth noting that other than Gary Sacks, none of the current Clippers brain trust was around for those Udoh games, so this is probably not a case of sample bias. Doc Rivers wasn't in any way associated with the Clippers when Udoh played so well against them, so he has based this signing on other factors.)

He's a decent gamble at a minimum salary. He's relatively young (though not as young as you might think -- he played two seasons at Michigan before transferring to Baylor where he redshirted a year, so he was an "old" rookie and is now 27, older than DeAndre Jordan.) He's athletic. He was very highly regarded at one point. And he is long -- you can't deny that.

If only as a hedge on injuries or foul trouble for Jordan, to bring Udoh as a rim protector, he's not a bad piece to have at the end of the bench. He's been a very good shot blocker per minute in his NBA time, as you might expect. Sadly, he has not been a good per minute rebounder, which definitely raises a red flag for me. But if he can be a disruptive force on defense, finish some lob passes around the rim, and regain some of the confidence he had in 2012, he could wind up being a very good pick up. We saw what Doc's influence did for DeAndre last year: can he have a similar impact on Udoh?