Ivan Rabb is arguably the most talented NBA prospect to return to college this season. The 2015 five-star big man (ranked eighth in ESPN’s top 100) was thought to be a one-and-done recruit but made the wise choice to return and try to boost his stock — despite being labelled a lottery-lock throughout last season.
Rabb averaged 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 28.7 minutes per game for Cal as a freshman, and the numbers don’t do his on-court presence justice. Rabb is a two-way player with the ability to move his feet and guard ball screens — a much-needed skill in today’s big men — as well as block shots.
Rabb was one of the best rebounding bigs in the country last season (11.9 rpg per 40 minutes per Sports-Reference.com), and also finishes well around the rim (80.2 percent per hoop-math.com) thanks to his excellent hands, athleticism and touch. At 6’9.75” with a 7’2” wingspan, Rabb has excellent physical characteristics for either frontcourt position at the next level. And he’s a plus athlete with a quick second leap and good lateral quickness.
Rabb is a bit of a forgotten man in this loaded 2017 draft class, but don’t be surprised to see him rise a la point guard Kris Dunn from a year ago. Rabb should have a big year with increased usage due to the departures of freshman swingman (and the Celtics’ 2016 third overall pick) Jaylen Brown and senior point guard Tyrone Wallace. Rabb has the right mentality for returning to school, and he should reap the benefits.
“At the end of the day, the NBA isn’t going anywhere,” Rabb told Brian Hamilton of SI.com in June. “If I’m the guy I’m supposed to be, I should be there next year as well. I should be even better, even more comfortable on the floor, have a better mentality. There are some improvements on the floor I want to make, and why not make them in college before I get to the next level? I want to have fewer weaknesses, so when I get there, I can just continue to get better.”
What are his weaknesses when projecting to the next level? Well, Rabb still needs to focus on gaining some weight to his 215-pound frame which should help him on both ends of the court. He has good touch, evidenced by a solid 66.9 percent on free throws and made 42.0 percent of two-point jump shots per hoop-math.com, but he still needs to improve his range.
Rabb made just seven of 23 mid-range jump shots per DraftExpress.com and needs to work on his mechanics to improve his ability to stretch the floor and his overall offensive consistency. He’s been putting in the work to extend his range this summer, making at least 200 shots every day to improve his stretch potential.
“That’s why I’m here in May, working out with the guys, so they can see me and they know I’m here to get better,” Rabb told SI.com. “Just being seen and being vocal, those are things that go a long way.”
With his natural talent, size and two-way potential, Rabb is squarely in the lottery conversation as of right now, and scouts expect to see an improvement in his overall game with an increased usage.
“I just think he’s a year smarter, a year more experienced and a year stronger,” one NBA scout told Bleacher Report earlier this week. “That’s so rare among guys who would’ve likely been a lottery pick had they left after one year. He doesn’t have the same talent around him as last year and will be the focal point of defensive game plans, so he really has an opportunity ahead of him. I think he should remain in talks of being a lottery pick due to his talent and upside.”
With some additional weight and an improved offensive repertoire, there’s no doubt Rabb is primed to boost his stock after an efficient freshman season. Perhaps he can even help California advance farther than the first round in the NCAA tournament and be a prominent figure in March.
Regardless, expect Rabb to be one of the best big men on the west coast and a potential top-ten pick next June.