Standing 7-foot-1 with a strong 240-pound frame, a 7-foot-8 wingspan, a 9-foot-10 standing reach, Ibou Dianko Badji has the physical tools that make him a valuable prospect. Badji, who was 7-foot-0 at the age of 15, was very thin and frail in his first year at the NBA Academy, as Academy’s coach, Jou Toumou told me. However, thanks to his emphasis on fitness and weight training at the Academy, Badji has become an elite prospect physically, gaining both weight and muscle.
His physical tools are enough to enable him to comfortably make money in the NBA as a dunker spot man, lob target, and catch-and-finish scorer.
Badji has really good width and strength in his arms, and shoulders. He has filled the width of his shoulders at the ideal level. He has great muscle mass from his shoulders to his fingers. His forearms are both agile and strong, which gives him great momentum when he blocks shots.
His torso is not flexible but powerful and strong enough to absorb contact and be as a shield and push opponents in any offensive or defensive possession. Interestingly, however, the abs does not look very strong, which can be understood from the loss of balance in some post-up games.
Badji has problems with his body positioning IQ despite having a great upper body. Sometimes in post situations where he should easily score, he cannot shift his weight on his opponent, he forces the game and leaves with nothing. Another issue is that Badji does not have softness or touch on the fingertips and palms, which is one of the things that limit his NBA ceiling in my opinion.
Ibou Badji has agility, quickness, good leaping, and strength in the lower body. He cannot move perfectly laterally and linearly but he has good speed, momentum, and down power compared to his physical tools. He lacks mobility in his hips and there is almost no alignment in his knees.
Badji does a great job jumping off one foot or two feet. He is an explosive athlete; he can enter the SportsCenter highlights as a lob-target, free dunker, or excellent rim-protector.
Overall, there is still a need for physical and strong centers where the NBA is in modern-age basketball, and Badji is a name that fits this even though he is only 18 years old. However, I don’t think he has any value as long as he cannot learn to use the unique physical tools he has.
Showing his major impact on the offensive end as a dunker spot man, catch-and-finish scorer, or lob target, Ibou Badji is a limited offensive player in my opinion. Although his physical tools show at first glance that he can be an effective post scorer, Badji has huge issues with even the simplest post-up techniques. He needs to be much more patient in post-up situations and he definitely has to improve his technical knowledge.
In the pick-and-roll, he will likely be a roll threat thanks to his athleticism which makes it really hard to tag him. However, I cannot see much deep value here because he is unable to consistently dribble the ball to the basket after a short roll. His lack of a degree of decision-making mechanism can be the reason why he gets scrambled sometimes. However, with his vertical pop and strong frame, there is a reason to think he can be a good lob threat in pick-and-roll situations as a roller but finding that angle every time can be hard. Badji loads quickly into his leaping and has great length. He is not effective in wing pick-and-roll games, usually makes his money from the top of the key with right-rolling. As just a screener, Badji knows how to sets up his footwork to close all angles of the defense. Of course, his outstanding frame helps him here.
There is one main reason why Badji is not an effective scorer in general. He does not have good touch around the basket, which limits him as an NBA player right now. The right-handed center has actually shown that he can be a smart finisher occasionally. For example, last year against Khalifa Diop and Reggy Perry in some positions he used his body as a shield to protect the ball, and then finished the shot quickly. So he can finish in the paint but is currently reliant on his athleticism to finish with dunks and lobs and not actually touch. Badji tries dunking when he gets a chance with good pop. He also has a good second jump and effective offensive rebounder with timing, and length. All of these tools make him a good lob target.
He can be get scrambled in traffic sometimes but he has shown flashes of powerful dunks and shown some skills to finish through light contact. It’s impossible the block his shot but easy to contest because of his last touch around the basket. Although Badji knows where and when to go on off the ball motions, it should not be forgotten that he does not have a natural touch. So, he can have plenty of easy misses, which can make him a Shaqtin’ A Fool candidate. Why do I think this problem limits his NBA projection? Because Badji cannot shoot the ball. Despite this, he has shown some flashes of passing out of the post (likes kicking it to the opposite corner, decent court vision, and awareness) but he is not an elite passer. He is not an effective scorer in PnRs and post situations. So he has to be a good finisher around the rim. However, he is not. Nevertheless, he is just an 18-year-old big man. He has time to put in the work.
About his shooting ability, well, he is not good at it. He actually likes to try mid-range (there was a sequence where he combined dream-shake + turn-around jumper from the mid-post against Lithuania, from 2019 U19 World Cup) around the nail but the percentages and volumes of those shots are not high. His shooting pocket starts very low; it’s good that he holds the ball close to his torso. He has average loading time, unorthodox footwork and knee alignment, and a two-motion shooting form on the upper body. Despite showing consistent elbow points and high release, bad touch, bad degree of bending, and weird lower body mechanics hurt his shooting a lot. Overall, I think buying his offense is a huge gamble right now because he has a lot of room to improve fundamentally. But you can see the upside regardless. One thing to remember is that Badji has not established a clear scorer dominance in the low-caliber pro league and against his peers, despite physically having the most eye-catching tools of his generation.
Despite not having enough weapons on the offensive end, the most important reason why Ibou Badji is currently seen as an NBA prospect is based on his physical tools. Another important asset revolves around his defensive performance. Badji is an elite shot blocker and a very good rim protector in my opinion. The Senegalese big man has good timing when contesting shots in the paint or around the nail. He has impressive quickness off the floor, and knows how to use his wingspan to close all angles of the offense. He can sometimes be too block-focused as a defender, which is bad because if the offense understands that Badji will jump to make a block, they can change the direction of the ball and go for an easy layup. However, to do this the offense needs to be a great finisher because it’s hard to dislodge a rim protector who has a strong 240-pound frame. He has every type of block with great athleticism and, especially, explosiveness.
For a player who does not have excellent fundamentals, Badji can be a good post defender at the NBA level. He uses his lower body as leverage to contest the post offense. While his opponent is in the back-to-the-basket position, Badji bends his knees well and does not give his opponent a possible face-up chance, disrupting his opponent’s attacking rhythm with the well-timed moves and harmony of hand-eye coordination, surprising because he cannot show this too much on the offense. However, if there is a face-up situation in the post, Badji sometimes becomes unnecessarily aggressive and completely disrupts his stance, giving his opponent free space. In general, he does a great job using his length to contest shots in the post situations.
His ability to make the block is the first reason why I think he is an elite defender. However, his defensive effort in pick-and-roll situations is also a very good asset. In today’s basketball, big men, whose length and strength are at perfect levels, can be heavy in the pick-and-roll defense and are very ineffective in defense styles such as aggressive drop, deep drop, ICE, blitz, tag, sink-and-fill, recovery, etc. Actually, this is quite natural, because the quickness level of these players is often not good enough to make these defenses efficient. However, Badji does an unexpectedly good job in the pick-and-roll defense compared to his physical tools. He does excellent jobs on drop coverage, getting high on the blitz, displacing the ballhandler’s driving space, forcing him higher than he wants to go, and gets back to his man quickly in the paint. While he gets back to his man, he uses his wingspan to close the ballhandler’s passing angle to center. I should add that he can get a bit lazy sometimes when getting to his man. About off the ball pick-and-roll defense, Badji does good jobs on tagging and recovery to his man again. It’s pretty important that he is able to show his body while tagging. Because by doing it, Badji also closes possible cut ways.
He is also surprisingly good at closing out. It’s hard to make him bite on a pump fake but easy to pass him with the burst, zero-step trick, etc. However, Badji has made significant progress in this issue. While last year, he had a hard time defending against players who have advanced footwork such as bursts and zero-steps, this year, while using his stance more actively and using his hands more actively, he created his own blocking / contesting area by staying closer to the painted area rather than sticking to his opponent too much. It’s clear that he plays gamble in this issue but not easy to hit mid-range and 3-points shot over him. Nevertheless, it’s should not be forgotten that he is still inconsistent on closing-out.
Is Ibou Dianko Badji an NBA prospect? I think yes. Because Badji is one of the players who have physically unique tools of all 2000s generation in terms of both length and strength. Also, on the defense, not just with blocks, he does well in many defense categories, adding a plus to his team’s stats-sheet. He can be effective when he plays as a lob target and a catch-and-finish scorer. But drafting him means a big gamble for me right now. I cannot see any upside in Badji’s shooting ability. Even if he can shoot from mid-range at near-average levels a few years later, I don’t think that’s enough. On the other hand, it is quite possible for him to be an effective player in pick-and-roll and post-up offenses. This could make him a good fit for a team that filled their first four spots fit spacing. Just like the example of James Wiseman with the Golden State Warriors. But one of the major problems for Badji is that he started playing basketball regularly only three years ago. Although his work ethic is at ideal levels and is defined as fun on off the court life, it should be remembered that he does not show good things mentally and his awareness is not high.
Again, if I have a good basketball culture, have time to wait for his development, and believe that I can prepare the right path for Badji’s development; I would definitely draft him from the second round. However, otherwise drafting him is a gamble that would be a huge disappointment, in my opinion.