2022 NBA Draft profile: Why Ohio State's E.J. Liddell can follow Grant Williams as 'undersized' steal

E.J. Liddell was informed he was too heavy, too sluggish, small and most likely not all set for the NBA. The Ohio State star was likewise informed this was his minute to take full advantage of. It would be best if he left college, some stated. 

Thanks to the representatives and stars who make the NBA device intimidating (by style) to browse, the messages to Liddell were as blended as his sensations about going through the pre-draft procedure to start with.

His college coach, Chris Holtmann, flew out to see him in Santa Barbara, California, in the spring of 2021 when Liddell was going through exercises and attempting to identify if he was ended up betting Ohio State. Holtmann didn’t push his finest gamer, didn’t attempt to sway his believing one method or the other. A year earlier, at twenty years old, Liddell heard that leaving due to the fact that of his age would be a huge factor — a favorable aspect — and one that would assist him get prepared. The more youthful you are, the much better you can be. Ageism has actually ended up being a dominant component in draft examinations.

“He also was a first team all-league guy [that] year, and there was a thought: What more can you do?” Holtmann informed CBS Sports. “People told him, ‘Hey, you’re going to hurt your draft stock by coming back.’ He heard that from some people. But he was able to parse what was true, what was reality and what was just  … talk.”

Realistically, Liddell was a fringe NBA select one year earlier. He was coming off a great sophomore season, one that ended in spectacular dissatisfaction with a loss in the preliminary to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. The whispers about Liddell’s then-teammate, Duane Washington, leaving OSU early to chase after the NBA ended up holding true. With Washington gone, Liddell’s stay-or-go choice suggested as much to Ohio State’s 2021-22 potential customers as almost any other gamer who was disputing leaving school. 

For Liddell, it ended up being barely a difficult choice at all. After an irregular proving at G League camp, he seemed like he was a year far from being who he wished to be as a college gamer and a professional possibility. 

“If I stayed in I would have made a team and might have been drafted, might have been picked in the second round,” Liddell informed CBS Sports. “But I was told my shot wasn’t the best, I needed to continue play better defense and be in a lot better shape. What made me decide to go back to school? I felt like I was settling if I left.”

There’s a twist on standard idea. “Settling” suggested leaving school. Most gamers would see it the opposite method. But Liddell isn’t wired like many others. 

“He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever coached, so you begin with the fact he’s smart, he’s perceptive, he’s an unbelievable, hell of a kid,” Holtmann stated. “It sets you up to be able to have real conversations. You can have real conversations with kids like E.J. What’s best for you? And real conversations with his mom and his dad and you don’t have to feel like you’re dancing around or walking on eggshells. We all know kids want to be NBA players as soon as they can. But for me, every single conversation centered around what was ultimately best for E.J., and that was fluid this time last year. Pretty fluid.”

Going back to school for additional year has actually ended up being underestimated  

Liddell played himself into first-round worth this previous season. That additional year, which totaled up to playing 3 seasons of college basketball, ended up being a great choice. He went from 6.7 points per video game to 16.2 to 19.4 in his 3 years at OSU. Liddell’s rebounds climbed up from 3.8 to 6.7 to 7.9 per video game. His efficient basket portion enhanced from 47.7% to 51.5% to 54.6%. His performance throughout the board enhanced. Free-toss rate, 2-point portion, 3-point portion, nasty shooting, block rate, help rate — whatever increased from freshman to sophomore to junior season. 

He is certainly better now and more ready to play in the NBA than 12 months earlier, even 5 months earlier. Liddell is riding a wave of momentum into the NBA Draft, and rather silently, he’s located himself to be among just 2 power-conference upperclassmen who will likely be picked in the preliminary. The other: Kansas All-American Ochai Agbaji, who like Liddell, handed down NBA temptations a year earlier and made his life much better due to the fact that of it. There are lessons to be found out here. 

There’s even some speculation, due to the fact that of his excellent credibility off the flooring and how strong he is as a colleague, that Liddell might be sneaking closer to top-20 status. Holtmann stated he’s getting feedback from NBA individuals, basic supervisors consisted of, that shows to him Liddell will not last past the mid-20s. One source stated that a couple of groups who hold track records for how well they search, just how much time, cash and resource they dispose into examinations, those franchises have actually been inquiring about Liddell for weeks. Word’s gone out. With the NBA Draft less than 3 weeks away, Liddell has actually silently been among the steadiest risers in the previous 6 weeks. 

Why? Scouts got to see Liddell with the ball in his hands once again since late. At the integrate and professional days, the proof is there for everybody to see. Sometimes it can be as basic as that. The tape matters, however what you have actually made with your skillset given that the season ended can likewise interact work principles and severity to the craft. It’s not whatever, however it’s something. The procedure includes clearness, or a minimum of the impression of it. There are going to be a great deal of not successful guesses made on June 23, however practically nobody will recognize it that night. 

A year after Liddell lacked preferable in his exercises and screening, he blasted through expectations in May. At 6-7 and with an appealing 6-11 wingspan, Liddell just recently weighed in at the NBA Combine at 244 pounds, a weight he stated will drop to 235 as he burns more off throughout the season. While training at P3 in Santa Barbara, Liddell took 29,000 tape-recorded shots over a 6.5-week duration, up till the integrate, and ranked enormously well in athleticism tracking. That substantiated at the integrate, where his standing vertical dive of 35.5 inches ranked No. 1 amongst all power forwards. His screening in 2022 was significantly exceptional to a year prior.

“Yeah, I’m not that explosive — I just averaged 2.6 blocks,” Liddell stated with a chuckle.

This isn’t a rags-to-riches story (Liddell was a top-50 high school possibility out of Belleville, Illinois, and the very first significant dedicate to OSU under Holtmann), however rather a prospective vintage case of a super-solid ultimate professional hiding in plain sight. He was among the very best college gamers last season. Of course, being terrific in college does not right away connect with being a preferable NBA possibility; simply ask Drew Timme, Oscar Tshiebwe and Armando Bacot. 

Liddell’s not as huge as those bigs. He’s likewise improved touch and a much better propensity for obstructing shots. It’s the obstructed shots that are most likely going to get him into the preliminary. He balanced 2.6 last season and did so at an 8.5% rate when he was on the flooring. This assisted Liddell rank as the fifth-most important gamer in the sport, according to KenPom.com. The performance numbers are indisputable. He took more 3-pointers and made a greater rate of them than ever previously. Sustained performance is an essential part to making a gamer a preferable draftee. Liddell has this in spades. 

Is he going to be an All-Star? Probably not. But what are groups choosing because 16-30 variety searching for? Stability simply as much as worth. Liddell might grow to be able to secure 4 positions and make it as a star function gamer. In truth, there’s one gamer in specific who keeps getting connected to Liddell: Grant Williams. Even KenPom’s player-comparison algorithm carefully lines up Williams’ 2018-19 season with Liddell’s sophomore project. Size-smart, it fits. A number of 6-7 men spending time 240 pounds who aren’t elite-level professional athletes and made their track records by doing a great deal of little things in a range of methods. It’s a reasonable compensation. But if you ask scouts, they’ll inform you Liddell is more athletic than Williams. He’s longer and a bit larger. Just do not call him undersized. He dislikes it. It’s a psychological note that is sticking around in his head at all times. 

There may be 40 gamers more interesting than Liddell in this draft, however there may not be 15 of them who will show much better in the long run.
Getty Images

Every draft class is a world unto itself, however Williams went 22nd in 2019. Now he’s been an essential cog in getting the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals. That’s definitely not injuring Liddell’s top-25 case. Neither are 2 other men who have actually played deep into the NBA Playoffs, both of whom were called small and were undersold for how they looked, how their playing designs weren’t thought about to be something that would naturally equate to the NBA. As an outcome, they waited up until the 2nd round to be prepared.

“I hear I’m undersized every day. That’s annoying,” Liddell stated. “I guess I’m undersized, but you see guys who are in the conference finals. P.J. Tucker, Grant Williams, Draymond Green, and I’m pretty sure they don’t consider themselves undersized in their heads. Truthfully, when it comes to me, I’m a basketball player. I don’t think I’m undersized, I go on the court and do what I’m asked to do. … I’m stronger than most people and you can’t teach heart, truthfully.”

Tucker went 35th in 2006 NBA Draft, took a five-year basketball journey in leagues all over the world, then made it back to the NBA in 2012, where he’s been an aspect on winning groups for the much better part of a years. Green, who is on his method to the Hall of Fame, was likewise picked 35th general 6 years after Tucker. 

Inside Liddell’s video game, why groups are so intrigued  

The knocks on Liddell, aside from the dispute on his physique and how it fits at power forward, primarily focus on his dive shot. That is still a work-in-progress. Some scouts think he might have problem leaving the shot versus NBA protectors, that getting used to the video game’s speed in individually circumstances for shot development might keep him from ever ending up being a top-three offensive alternative on a group. His shot may require a bit more arc to offer him the very best possibility to be successful. Liddell comprehend this, and had no issue self-evaluating his defects. When asked what characteristic he can go from good-to-great at in the coming years, he stated: “My lateral quickness on the defensive end. I feel like I’m at a 7 right now, but knowing me and how hard I work, I’ve always been on an upward trajectory.”

His design can in some cases belie his athleticism. Liddell is a classic case of a gamer who can reveal you what he can do in package rating simply as much as beyond it. His video game has actually been a constant advancement, one with more space to grow, which is what is interesting the groups that have actually moved him greater on their boards. As a hire he was a 15-feet-and-in type of gamer. Had some ability on the low block, utilized his body and had some increase to him. His mommy played volley ball at Illinois State, which bounciness and hereditary makeup is evidenced in his specialist timing in obstructing shots. He gain from a system and structure. There are some franchises that will understand what to do with him and others that will not. At Ohio State, he stood out when paired beside develop guards who might play through or off him. 

“Clear leader and consistently the hardest worker on the team,” Holtmann stated. “Never sitting on the sideline, never sitting out a drill. I never got the sense he was worried about getting injured and what that might mean for him. It was just: let me continue to prove myself over and over again, and that’s because that’s who E.J. is.”

When Liddell played five-on-five a year ago in G League camp, he was bad. He didn’t understand the gamers, the ball didn’t stick, and he was asked by a coach who he didn’t understand to do things he didn’t do. 

“My coach told me to stand in the corner and take spot-up 3s and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve never done that in my life. I’ve never shot corner 3s,'” Liddell stated. “When it came to 5-on-5s, that didn’t showcase me or help show how I can help to contribute to winning basketball. My tape, my game, how many minutes I played this past year showed that.”

To judge some gamers in foreign circumstances can backfire. Backfire for the gamer, backfire for the critics. Because of his experience, basketball intelligence, athleticism and protective ability, some NBA experts think Liddell will be more game-ready as a novice than a great deal of gamers taken ahead of him. Liddell is a “kinetic mover,” significance that the method he relocates area, responds on defense and positions himself among colleagues, there is a dependable fluidity to it. It’s not a lot burst as it is a consistent breach versus the individual he’s safeguarding. He’ll surprise you with just how much ground he can cover. In brief: Liddell’s lateral ability grades out more like a lean wing than a conventional 4. Beyond this, and his most important characteristic being the elite shot-blocking for his size, Holtmann stated Liddell’s finest ability is his touch, be it on shots or going to work around the rim.

“I am a big, massive, 1,000% believer in him being a very productive player,” Holtmann stated. “I really can’t say enough good things about him.”

He’s the kind of gamer who can assist your group win simply a couple of more video games this season, be that unique component in a playoff series, the man type of man any group that makes the Finals requires on its lineup to arrive. He’s not a pouter. He does not get singing or inflamed about his touches.   

Liddell has actually currently consulted with Chicago, Milwaukee and Denver. Another exercise is set up for this weekend, then 7 more in the next near-three weeks.

“I did most of my research with all of the teams, the roster, what they need, what they’re looking for,” he stated. “When it comes to deciding to stay or leave, it’s all believing in yourself. I went back to school because I believed I could improve my game, believe I could be a better player and believed I could show more than what people thought I could do. It was about trusting. Trusting putting the work in. I wanted to hear my name called. I wanted to be in New York and I’m still working toward that right now. The job is not over.”

More than 60 of 2022’s underclassmen who are remaining in the NBA Draft swimming pool are newbie early entrants who have actually ended their eligibility and will not go back to college. They are not taking the course Liddell took. Many of them aren’t as great now as Liddell was a year earlier. There’s a lot to be stated for a gamer having belief in himself, relying on the college experience and not permitting pressure from outsiders to press him to chase after the NBA earlier than he may genuinely feel comfy with. Liddell understood he wasn’t all set. There were gamers in 2015 who weren’t all set either. They went undrafted, aren’t on NBA lineups, their college eligibility has actually ended and who understands what expert track waits for those gamers in the years to come. 

Not the fancy choice. The reputable one. Had Liddell taken the leap a year earlier, he may be in basketball Siberia today. Amazing what another year of effort and faith in college basketball can do to alter whatever. That’s a story we need to attempt to inform a little bit more frequently. 



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