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2021 NBA Draft Watch: Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili vs. Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

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A new-wave four and an old-school four face off

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we went into the future to discuss a rivalry that is yet to happen. This week, we’ll move a little to the past to talk about two big man prospects, Sandro Mamukelashvili of Seton Hall and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of Villanova. Both guys are worth considering either with our second round pick this year, or as undrafted free agents after the draft.

In less than two weeks, the Seton Hall Pirates and Villanova Wildcats faced off twice. The first matchup was a very competitive game, for more than 33 minutes neither team enjoyed a meaningful lead. Then the host, Nova, started to pull away, building a 61-52 lead with 7:21 left in the contest.

But the Pirates weren’t going anywhere. They fought back, tying the score at 72 on Mamukelashvili’s great post play with 1:28 to go. The teams traded scores on the next two possessions, as Wildcats got two from the free throw line and the visitors got two from Takal Molson, who converted a nice assist from Mamukelashvili into an easy bucket. On the last two possessions, the teams exchanged misses on triple tries. However, Seton Hall added a loose ball foul, resulting in freebies that Robinson-Earl converted, giving Nova the win.

The second game, at Seton Hall, wasn’t so square. After six minutes of tit-for-tat action, Villanova, paced by solid contributions from Robinson-Earl (14 of game-high 23 points, three boards, an assist and steal in first half), built a lead that was never in serious danger.

Turning now to the players in focus, as suggested, they play the same position but do it differently. At 6-11 (with 7-0.5 wingspan) and 240 pounds, Georgian native Mamukelashvili, a lefty, is to some degree a small forward in power forward body. He can also make (some) big man plays. The 21-year-old is averaging 17.9 points (with shooting splits of 47/33.3/75.6), 6.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.2 turnovers, 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks a game in his senior year.

Sophomore Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, at 6-9 (with 6-9 wingspan) and 230 pounds, is, in turn, a power forward in a small forward’s body. He averages 14.8 points (on 50.4/26.5/69 splits), 6.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks a contest.

Mamukelashvili’s calling card is his playmaking ability at his height. He can make plays for himself and for others both from the post and by penetrating off the dribble from the perimeter.

Mamukelashvili’s post plays

Mamukelashvili’s off the dribble plays

As befits a big man, he takes a good chunk of his shots at the rim (46.5%), though he could do a better job of making them as. His 61 FG% on those shots isn’t so impressive (though if you add in 38.1 free throw rate, it doesn’t looks so bad). Part of the reason for his not too high numbers from close distance is that a bunch of his shots from there come on undisciplined drives. He often throws up some unbalanced, awkward layups/runners/floaters:

This could be mitigated when he’ll play in a more spaced out NBA offense. Another troublesome part for the young Georgian Pirate, though, is that he doesn’t show much inclination to be a threat as a roller in P&Rs and DHOs. He can pop and make a jumper, but there’s not much to show of him working as a lob/dump off/drop pass target. Scoring on those high-efficiency shots would increase his own efficiency, making him all the more interesting.

Another thing that needs work are turnovers. His assist rate (20.9) is as captivating as his 1.03 assist-to-turnover ratio is repulsive. But the turnovers seem to stem from him either being careless, or trying to do too much. So again, the situation might improve when he’s part of a more disciplined NBA offense.

Another intriguing aspect of Mamukelashvili’s game is the long ball.

Last year he shot 43.4% from three. This year, that number has dipped with increased volume, but he’s still hitting them at a number that could translate well at the next level. As we see on clips, he has NBA range already.

On defense, the Pirate could provide some solid on ball D when switched on guards.

Though it better not be in long spurts – he might ultimately get lost in the shifty mixture of moves and countermoves.

He might be underwhelming as a rim protector.

And he tends to be not focused enough on boxing out on the glass.

But he carries some promise regarding defending in space.

For his part, Robinson-Earl’s game looks much more disciplined, but also more confined. His calling card is old-school power forward midrange jumpers.

36.1% of his shots come in this form, and he makes half of them. He doesn’t show as much promise in extending his jumpers beyond the arc, though. He was better in his freshman year, when he shot 32.8% from three, but it wasn’t enough, especially since the volume (only 2.1 attempts a game) was small. The Wildcat can make some plays around the basket, where his efficiency is good (66.7 FG%).

And he can, rarely, make something happen off the dribble.

He just seems to be not skilled enough as a ball handler to make things happen more often.

Thus, his low free throw rate of 21.8. His type of game allows for only limited opportunities to facilitate something for others – this is all I could find.

On defense, as Mamukelashvili, he can provide some on ball pressure:

His steal and block rates don’t show him to be a great defender in space or rim protector. He looked to be a more promising rebounder in his first year at Nova with 16.4% rebound rate, but this season he has broken that promise with a rebound rate of 11.9 (to Mamukelashvili’s 12.1).

All in all, Robinson-Earl’s game sometimes looks like P.J. Washington. But that raises questions: Will his smaller size prevent him from repeating Washington’s success in the League? Will Washington be a successful NBA player? Do the Pistons want to have a guy who relies so much on old-school PF tricks?

So, to summarize: Although Villanova won both games, and the individual matchup between our two protagonist was tied, if I was to take a flyer on one of them at the moment, I’d definitely bet, as you probably guess, on the Pirate. Mamukelashvili is much closer to what the current Pistons’ basketball philosophy looks for from a big man.

On defense, in comparison to Mason Plumlee – I assume that how Mason is used by Dwayne Casey is the epitome of a big in nowadays Detroit basketball – he could be better defender in space while being inferior inside. On offense, it looks that he might grow into an even better playmaker and more versatile facilitator than the incumbent Motown C. His post moves stand in competition with Mason’s hooks. He adds the possibility of reliable perimeter shooting.

The one thing he might struggle to catch up with Mason on is being a threat on rolls to the basket. However, he’s still long and nimble enough and has a good enough touch to convert a lob/dump off/drop pass into a bucket when playing with a skilled P&R guard. And during his last season in Europe, Killian Hayes proved that he can make even not overly athletic bigs look good - We could see much more of this in Detroit next year.