Mouhammadou Jaiteh has had a busy summer. The 19-year old center, born in the suburbs of Paris to parents of Senegalese and Gambian descent, played for the U20 French national team in July, where his team finished the competition in 8th after dropping its final three games.
During his 10 games in Turkey, Jaiteh — whose name is often shortened to Mam in Europe — averaged 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds playing 28.3 minutes per contest. It was something of a roller coaster tournament for the 6’11, 250 pounder. In his first three games he averaged 16 points on 51 percent shooting, followed by a four game stretch averaging 6.8 points on 29.7 percent shooting. Luckily he finished the tournament up strong, averaging a near double-double of 14 points and 9.7 rebounds on 60 percent shooting in his final three contests, leaving a good impression on those who saw him.
As with any prospect, there are strengths and weaknesses to Jaiteh’s game; with him, they just tend to be more accentuated due to the raw nature of his game. I watched four of his games in the U20 tournament, followed by three of his games for JSF Nanterre in the French league this season. Obviously, he was much more of a focal point offensively during his time with the French national team, and he operated in a different capacity this summer than he has professionally. Here, I’ll break down what he does well now, what he has potential to do well in the future, and where his weaknesses lie.
First and foremost, any discussion of Jaiteh must begin with his NBA-ready body. At 6’11, 250 lbs with a 7’4 wingspan, he would not look at all out of place in an NBA game right now physically. As with most players that size, Jaiteh’s potential mostly lies on the defensive end. And to figure out just what his potential is, we have to discuss his contradictory athleticism.
I define someone as “contradictorily athletic” when they have portions of their athleticism that does look good, but other parts that don’t. In Jaiteh’s case, it has to do with his middling athletic explosiveness juxtaposed with his solid lateral movement for a near seven-footer. Here’s an example of the way Jaiteh moves defensively in space (he is number 14 here):
First, Jaiteh does a solid job of dropping back into the lane and cutting off the penetrating guard, then recovering to his man. His man receives the ball, faces up on the baseline, then decides to post and try to get around him. Jaiteh does a great job moving his feet and using his good lower body strength for this level to never allow the man to get within about 12 feet of the hoop. After his man passes the ball, he goes up to set a screen. While there, Jaiteh gets a chance to show off his length. He plays soft coverage and drops back into the paint — allowing his length to play the pick-and-roll — and after his man receives the ball he recovers back to him. That man is forced to then make a cross court pass to a guard on the wing. The wing receives the ball, pump fakes, and gets to the baseline. Jaiteh flies over from the weak side to help and contests the shot.
So to recap, Jaiteh stopped penetration on two pick-and-rolls, recovered to two roll men, stoned a post possession, and contested a shot by flying over from the weak side. That was their entire offensive possession that Jaiteh stopped using his mobility, traveling about 75 feet throughout all parts of the defensive area. His potential at that aspect of the game is evident if he continues to get into better shape.
That’s the good part of Jaiteh’s game, and after some seasoning it could translate well to the NBA. But you don’t draft defensive seven-footers primarily to move well in the pick-and-roll. You draft them to protect the rim and block shots. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do a great job of affecting shots without blocking them quite yet, and that’s where his lack of upward athletic explosion comes into play. This is the primary reason why Nanterre’s defensive rating in the Euroleague of 109.5 was slightly worse with him on the floor than off it at 106.4. But there is hope in this regard, as there often is with players his size.
Here are some examples of his ability to block shots against professionals during his time with Nanterre.
In the first clip, Jaiteh moves his feet and stays with a smaller post player as he tries to spin and move towards the rim. In the next play off of the resulting out-of-bounds violation, a wing in the post tries to slide into the center of the lane for a shot. Jaiteh himself then slides over in help defense and swats the ball out of bounds with ease and authority. These are the good examples of him being able to protect the rim. Here’s an example of his potential in defending the post.
Jaiteh does a good job of cutting off the baseline spin of Guillermo Hernangomez (a 2nd round prospect in his own right). He uses his length force him too far behind the hoop, and Hernangomez throws up a contested off-balance eight-footer. The combination of strength and footwork he shows here is good, but that’s not always the way it happens for Jaiteh.
Far too often, his footwork in small spaces eluded him, resulting in cheap fouls that led to easy points for the opposition. This is one of the two areas I’m most concerned with Jaiteh. His nearly six fouls per 40 minutes are far too many. While he’ll obviously improve, I’m not positive he’ll ever improve enough to be a veritable rotation player in the NBA. It’s often difficult to improve short space quickness, especially for big men. That in conjunction with his lack of upward explosiveness could make it tough to defend in the paint against superior athletes.
Offensively, Jaiteh is an interesting prospect with one glaring, cataclysmic hole. But let’s start with the positive first. For France this offseason, he operated in an entirely different capacity than he did for Nanterre this season. While his responsibilities professionally are mostly to just to crash the boards and grab offensive rebounds, on the international level he is an integral part of their offense. The French offense revolved around pick-and-rolls with Jaiteh as the roll man when he was on the floor, and the big man showed solid instincts in that role.
Jaiteh hands the ball off to his guard, then goes to set a screen to allow the guard to get into the middle of the paint. This probably should have been defended better, but Jaiteh does an excellent job of diving into the open space on the right hand side of the floor, receiving the ball for the easy finish. Here’s another example.
While he doesn’t make contact on the screen, Jaiteh does a good job rolling into space again. This time, he realizes he has to stop at the elbow to receive the ball, and he then pump fakes and gets into a post up. He then shows an excellent spin move over his right shoulder to get an easy look at the rim for a layup.
Jaiteh also moves well in transition for a seven-footer.
No real analysis needed here: Jaiteh picks up the rebound and quickly outlets the ball to a guard, and follows him right up the floor to clean up the easy miss. However, it is startling just how fast he moved down the floor for a guy his size. This shows that you really don’t have to slow down the game when this seven-footer is in.
That’s probably a good thing, because Jaiteh tends to struggle in any role outside of the pick-and-roll in the half court. The reasons for that are twofold. First and foremost, he can’t shoot outside of about six feet. Secondly, and most problematic, his hands are quite below average.
This not only comes into play on offense when he’s trying to catch the ball, but more importantly on the glass when he tries to corral contested rebounds. All too often, the ball would slip out of his hands on an important rebound and trickle out-of-bounds, giving the opposing team another chance to score. It’s a big problem with his game, given how he’ll function on the floor as a role player in the NBA. It’s tough to improve catching ability. I’m not positive that this is something he can totally overcome, but it may be something he can work to minimize the effects of.
So what does that mean for his draft stock? I think there is certainly potential here for Jaiteh to be a rim protector that moves well in space and won’t be a problem in pick-and-roll coverage. And honestly, true centers that can do that are pretty rare. Plus, anyone with his frame and 7’4 wingspan has a real shot. But he needs to improve as a rebounder and with his small space footwork to get there. Oh, and being a total non-factor with his jump shot doesn’t help. Given the deficiencies that ail him in each of those regards, I don’t know that I’d put my money on it, because it’s awfully hard to improve your hands, agility, and upward explosiveness.
Right now, I’d put him as a top of the second round prospect in the 30-40 range, with the most likely outcome being that he turns into a Johan Petro-type. While that may sound like a death knell, remember that Petro played 15 minutes per game for nearly 500 career NBA games. That actually has value in the NBA, so if Jaiteh got to that point I would call his career a success. I’m just not sure that has first round value.