On July 7th, 2016, Festus Ezeli agreed to a 2 year and 16 million dollar contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Ezeli is coming off back-to-back NBA finals appearances with the Golden State Warriors and brings a wealth of playoff experience to the Blazers. Let us examine Festus Ezeli’s game further to see why the Blazers spent wisely.
Offensive Skills and Production
Festus Ezeli is entering his 4th NBA season at age 26, but has never gotten big minutes on the court. Last season he averaged a career-high 16.7 minutes a game. In those minutes, he produced 2.0 offensive rebounds, 0.7 assists, and 7.0 points on 54.8% from the field and 53.0% from the line.
Take a look at the shot chart below for a further examination of Ezeli’s offensive game.
As you can see, Ezeli knows his limitations and is willing to put himself in the best spots for success. He shoots an outstanding 66.5% in the restricted area and took only 14 shots outside the paint all season.
The problem with Ezeli’s offensive game is he offers no shooting outside of the restricted area, and is not much of a passer. To his credit, Ezeli can be an effective screener and roll man on the pick and roll. He has to have a lane all the way to rim because of his lack of jump shot, so that makes it slightly easier on the defense, but check out this nice Draymond Green and Ezeli pick and roll from last season.
Festus Ezeli’s offensive game has a gigantic hole with his lack of shooting ability, but he can be effective roll man and clean up in the restricted area. Most of all, he is aware of his strengths and weaknesses and is smart about playing to his strengths.
Defensive Skills and Production
Festus Ezeli averaged 3.6 defensive rebounds, 0.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game in the 2015-2016 NBA season. Those are solid numbers given the limited minutes Ezeli played last season. Let us take a look at his defensive shot chart to examine further.
As you can see, Ezeli held his opponent to below league average from every spot on the floor except left corner 3 pointers which only 2 shots were taken against him. The most impressive stat lies with him holding opponents to 55.7% from inside the restricted area, an almost 5% better than league average. Ezeli has shown some impressive defense for a 6’11 man who weighs 265 pounds.
Ezeli’s defensive numbers look strong and he has the ability to sustain those numbers if given more playing time. He is an effective rim protector and can even step away from the basket and guard his man, a very valuable skill for a center in today’s NBA.
Festus Ezeli’s offensive box score plus/minus last season was negative 1.5, on defense, it was positive 1.4, and his value over replacement player (VORP) was 0.4. He rated poorly on offense, but his defense made up for it enough that he had more value than a replacement player.
If you prefer to look at win shares, Ezeli earned 1.4 offensive, 1.3 on defense, and his win shares per 48 were .171 (.100 is league average). All advanced metrics courtesy of Basketball-Reference. In win shares per 48, Ezeli rated well above league average.
The last 2 seasons combined Festus Ezeli played 92 games. He has had his share of injuries and none are more worrying that his knees. According to Blazers Edge, Portland is concerned about his knees. He missed the entire 2013-2014 season with a right knee surgery and had a surgery on his left knee in February 2016. This is a situation to monitor going forward, but he is expected to be healthy for training camp this season.
Is Festus Ezeli worth 2 years and $16 million?
The answer is most certainly, yes.
The Blazers got an extreme bargain on this player. He has a flawed offensive game, but he more than makes it up for it on the defensive end. The advanced metrics rate him as a well-above average player in the NBA.
The knee injuries are a concern and maybe they affect him moving forward, but to pay $8 million a season to a center of his skill is still a massive bargain. Even if the worst-case scenario plays out and knees keep Ezeli from the court in both seasons, I would argue the gamble was well worth it for what Ezeli can produce on the floor. I am hopeful Ezeli stays healthy and shows Blazers fan how skilled he is and how much of a bargain they got on this contract.