Years in the NBA: Rookie
Position: Power Forward/Center
Weight: 250 lbs.
Key Stats: Scored 13.2 points per game as a 21-year-old sophomore at Florida State University in 2018-19 to go along with 5.9 rebounds, and 50.2 percent shooting, including 36.9 percent from 3-point range.
Contract Status: Kabengele was selected by Brooklyn with the No. 27 pick in the first round and subsequently dealt to the Clippers for a future first round pick and Jaylen Hands. He signed a rookie scale contract on July 9 and will earn $1.977 million this season and $2.075 guaranteed next season. The Clippers possess team options in 2021-22 and 2022-23.
The Clippers traded into the first round in June in order to acquire the draft rights to Kabengele, a sinewy, stretchy big man from Florida State. While only a sophomore, he’s entering the NBA at 22 years old, due to redshirting a year in Tallahassee and playing prep school ball following his senior year of high school. While tremendously under-recruited, Kabengele made a name for himself, not just for being a relative of Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, but because his growth as a player skyrocketed after his 20th birthday.
As a reserve with the Seminoles, Kabengele became a key cog in a team that played into the NCAA’s Sweet 16 or beyond in back-to-back years. He showed an ability to stretch defenses, block shots, run the floor, and play between the 4 and 5. As an NBA prospect, he remains somewhat unrefined, and for a team with championship aspirations isn’t likely to see the floor a lot in 2019-20. However, he’s also in a wonderful position with the Clippers. He has guys like Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Patterson, and JaMychal Green playing in front of him in the rotation. In many ways, Kabengele’s game projects to include pieces of all three players. He, in fact, could very well be a rich man’s Green some day.
So far, he’s shown a lot to like in limited court time. He played sparingly in the preseason, appearing in five games and going scoreless in three. His only outing with double-digit minutes came against Shanghai when he went 4-for-5 from the floor, canned his only 3-point attempt, and scored nine points. That’s likely the extent in which we will see him during the regular season. During the Las Vegas Summer League, Kabengele was a focal point of the Clippers plans. He played 26 minutes per game, averaged 17 points and grabbed nearly 8 boards per game in four appearances. It would bode well to see that kind of production in the G-League over the next several months.
As for what to expect, beyond a lot of DNPs: Kabengele’s development should be a clear focus for the Clippers. He’s the type of player who should see minutes in year 2, and the type of contract that championship teams with multiple max contract players must develop and earn production from while they are on favorable rookie-scale deals. He could very well be someone to fit that role, but his development is up to an organization with a relatively poor track record, even in recent years, of developing first rounders. Reggie Bullock (the initial first rounder of the Doc Rivers era) is suiting up for his fifth team this year, while C.J. Wilcox was recently cut by Indiana, his fourth NBA team since 2015. Brice Johnson is out of the league, and the jury is still out on second-year man Jerome Robinson. Of course, the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander acquisition was a win, but that’s more out of his sheer awesomeness, not necessarily developmental genius. Kabengele’s future cannot fall into the Bullock-Wilcox-Johnson pattern. This year will be key in making sure that doesn’t happen.