With the NBA draft approaching, I invited my good friend Mat Issa, an NBA writer for Basketball News, SB Nation, OptaAnalayst, Rise Network and Forbes Sports, to join me for a different kind of article. I challenged him to watch Ismael Kamagate and evaluate his skillset coming into the NBA, with no prior experience. Also, a slight wrinkle: as movie enjoyers, we both had to write about specific skills from Kamagate as if we were writing a movie review. The result is as follows. So, turn off your phone, grab your popcorn and join us on this ride, where we combine basketball and cinema. Enjoy!
“Not your average human” – a review of “Kamagate’s Physical Tools” by António Dias – ⅘ Stars
Genre: Action, Superhero
Who wouldn’t pick a 6’11 guy with a 7’2 wingspan and a good ability to move in space? Does he have to put on some weight? Yeah, but which rookie doesn’t? Kamagate’s combination of size and mobility will be one of his calling cards going into the NBA and what makes him a great choice for this role.
Even if it has become more usual in the NBA, it doesn’t make it less incredible that Kamagate can slide his feet and stay in front of smaller players the way that he does. It’s almost like he’s a superhero with powers beyond an average human’s wildest imagination. That, with his wingspan and quick jump time, allow him to cover so much space, while also being able to go up for rebounds and lobs.
Sure, we will see him get pushed around a lot at the beginning, but that’s why humans invented gyms and weight rooms. Like any other hero in a Marvel/DC movie, villains don’t get to destroy entire cities without pushing the main guy around for a bit. It’s superhero movie script 101. But you just know the hero finds a way in the end. In Kamagate’s case, finding his “way” will include finding his way into a weight room.
“The Mechanical Passer” – a review of “Kamagate’s Passing” by Mat Issa – ⅖ stars
Genre: Crime Procedural
Kamagate will likely never blossom into a low post passing hub or a dribble handoff machine, but that’s okay because, in his role, he only needs to be able to receive passes in the short roll, put the ball on the floor, and make the right read based on the layout of the board.
To his credit, he can execute those procedures pretty competently, but the problem is much of his decision-making feels predetermined.
Take this play, for instance (slowed down for observational purposes):
Kamagate receives the pass on the short roll and immediately kicks it to the corner when the low man rotates over. This is typically the correct read, but in this specific situation, someone of his size would have been best served finishing over the top of the smaller defender.
That’s why I call his passing procedural. It feels very formulaic/mechanical, like an episode of Law & Order. We get our introduction (the ballscreen followed by the pass), the main issue (the low man rotating over), and the final resolution (a kickout to the open man).
This type of process leaves little room for improvisation or experimentation. And that would have been fine awhile back, but good/great big man passing today is more similar to television after the beginning of the Golden Age. It’s more dynamic, more complex, and there are way more layers to its characters and their decision-making.
I don’t see that level of creativity in Kamagate’s short roll reads yet, and that’s why I’m giving him a ⅖ rating for now.
“Let’s Get to Work” – a review of “Kamagate’s Shooting” by António Dias – ⅕ Stars
Genre: Dark Fantasy
“A dark fantasy is a story where elements of fantasy are introduced into a hostile and frightening world”. Frightening is probably a bit too harsh, but there’s certainly a lot of work to be done regarding Ismael Kamagate’s jumper. Although not a big part of his game, still 14.5% of his field goals this season were jumpers and he made only 37.5% of them. This means that we spend more than 60% of this movie just looking into a dark place.
There are some interesting moments, we’ll call that the fantasy part, where it looks like something could change. Our hero, the young Ismael, is looking confident, he just hit a jumper and seems like someone that can finally be on the rise.
But as easily as that came, it goes away. Another flat shot, with a low release point has arrived to remind us that this is a dark, melancholic movie and that even with the bright points throughout the experience, the movie is predictable and with a sad mood all-around.
Am I expecting a better sequel(s)? Somewhat. If we have enough time between movies, there’s a chance this at least turns into an adventure, a roller coaster where our main character is an unpredictable shooter that defenses have to at least think about before leaving him open. Not more than that, but it would be a huge shift to what we’re seeing now.
“Not a Playmakers Best Friend, but a Really Good One” – a review of “Kamagate’s Interior Scoring” by Mat Issa – 3/5 Stars
Genre: Buddy Comedy
Kamagate doesn’t earn this genre designation because there is anything inherently funny about his interior scoring (although seeing him attempt a hook shot can sometimes be a bit comical). Instead, he’s taxonomized this way because if you match him with the right partner, he can put the finishing touches on some pretty emphatic punchlines.
In a buddy comedy, the key is to find the right duo of entertainment. In basketball, that’s the equivalent of trying to find the right playmaker to compliment Kamagates’s rim running.
Kamagate doesn’t have the best touch (as evidenced by his 65.4% FT%), and while his hands are large enough to palm a basketball, no one will ever accuse him of playing with glue on his fingertips.
However, he is good at making himself available around the rim for lobs (first clip) and laydown passes (second clip) – similar to Jarred Vanderbilt. He also has solid rim gravity. And if you allow him to coalesce with a good passer, the corner skip pass becomes an available tool in the toolbox whenever he cuts/rolls into the paint and forces a weakside defender to tag the middle (third clip).
He can be clever at times, but he’s not compelling enough to carry his own skit. Kamagate struggles to create for himself in the post or in really any situation that requires him taking more than one dribble. And thanks to some questionable shot mechanics, he doesn’t have a reliable short mid-range jumper he can fall back on.
Basically, he can’t carry a movie on his lonesome (in spurts) like he’s Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, but he can create some smile-worthy moments when he’s one half of a rock-solid duo.
“The Modern Big” – a review of “Kamagate’s Defense” by António Dias – ⅘ Stars
Genre: Comedy, Romance
The perfect example of a coming of age movie, where you have the opportunity to watch the main character develop into the guy you were hoping he would become from the beginning. The perfect rainy Sunday afternoon movie to watch, “Kamagate’s Defense” gets you all warm and happy inside as you go through it. Ismael Kamagate does a great job, starting off as a tall, lanky kid from France in a place packed with fully grown men, trying to find his space in this world. Timid at first, he starts to come into his own every time he’s on the defensive end, matched up with a smaller guy on the perimeter. I won’t lie to you, there are times where you fear for him, times where he’ll get beaten off the dribble. But you are aware of his development and you know he can do it, he was made for those exact moments he is put in so many times.
Susceptible to strength, surrounded by experienced players who know how to get the best out of him, Kamagate struggles in some parts of this movie. He does not give us a linear, perfect performance and it’s when he gets to defend those guys, near the rim and backs turned to him, that he gets a bit shaky. Nothing worrying and clearly workable, but still noticeable.
He clearly compensates for those moments with the ability to cover ground, protect the paint and come off the ball to block. That’s where he shows he’s ready for the next level and that’s how he is able to make this movie a great watch and a heartwarming experience for everyone watching. A movie to put on repeat and continuously marvel at the subtle strokes of brilliance he treats you to throughout.
“Quantifying the Unquantifiable” – a review of Kamagate’s screening by Mat Issa – ⅗ Stars
This genre selection may be a bit of a copout from me since all screening could arguably fit in this category because of the difficulty that comes with trying to objectively analyze the art.
With that said, I do have a working theory that scheme versatility as a defender (more on that in his defense breakdown) does come with the drawback of less strength. This is important because a player’s strength plays a critical role in determining whether the screens they set will create any meaningful separation for their teammate.
A little hypothesis I’ve come up with this morning.— Mat Issa (@matissa15) May 18, 2022
So, these are the league leaders in screen assists this season.
Common features: all super strong guys. But more imp, I don’t think I trust most of them to hold their own in all the major types of ballscreen coverages. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/CGiDwdoL4v
This theory checks out with Kamagate too. When watching the tape (definitely an “I watch hoops film” flex), you’d be hard-pressed to find an instance where he completely stonewalls a defender with one of his picks.
Still, he’s a very willing screener (5th in screen assists in the LNB Pro A league) whose fluid hips unlock the ability to flip screens at the very last second (see Ziaire Williams against the Warriors in Round 2). He also has a great sense for knowing when to slip screens when his partner garners the attention of two defenders (another reason to pair him with a dynamic ballhandler!).
All in all, he’s got the motor and tools to be an impactful screener, but we’ll put him down as a ⅗ for now because of the precedent that exists in the NBA of good screeners possessing gargantuan statures.