On Tuesday afternoon, center Illini Kofi Cockburn announced on his Instagram that he must give up his last three years of university eligibility and declare for the NBA draft. Cockburn averaged 13.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game to win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In the Big Ten games, Cockburn posted 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds while shooting just under 50% of the field. I caught up with Sam Vecenie who covers the NBA draft for The Athletic to ask him where Cockburn ranks as hopeful after his first year season.
The Daily Illini: In terms of Kofi’s NBA potential now as a rookie, where is it?
Sam Vecenie: I think Kofi is in a more difficult position. I have not currently ranked it in my top 100 prospects. I would say it is between 101 and 115, something like that. His game is not only particularly translatable in the direction that the NBA is currently taking. It’s a bit difficult to determine what he’s doing at this point, that is, the NBA level. It certainly has that cap and that potential, because every time you measure 6 feet 11 inches has a wingspan of 7 feet 5 inches, you’re definitely in the mix. Currently, I don’t think her skill level is up to par.
DI: What should Kofi prove in the coming months?
Vecenie: I’m not sure he’ll have a chance to prove what he needs in the next few months. The great thing he needs to keep improving is his hands, he has to keep improving his footwork, he has to keep the perimeter at a much higher level, he has to be a much better rim protector at the inside, to be honest. For his skills to translate to the next level, he must be a sacred rim protector of almost elite level, in my opinion. This is not where it is now, it is good. But, it is not at the level it should be. Surely anything he could do as a jump shooter would be helpful. I am quite doubtful that he will be a jump shooter in the future. Finally, the big thing that he doesn’t do well is to diagnose the game. His sense of attacking play is sorely lacking. He’s got less than a one-to-three turnover help, he’s not a guy who reads very high levels regularly. He is simply very tall and can establish an extremely good position at the college level. In addition, he is able to collect his misses on the attacking glass. It’s a valuable skill set, but how much does that translate to the next level? I think I have some real questions.
DI: Are a lot of the questions around his game right now because of a player’s cruelty?
Vecenie: Yeah, I think it’s true. I think the question with many of these great men is, what’s the benefit? What do you get from someone like Kofi Cockburn by writing it? Are we sure it is a starting center on the road? I don’t think we have anything like this. Does it have this cap? I don’t know, his skills are really far from being a guy who could have an extremely high impact on the NBA game. He is really strong and can establish a position, but many centers can make it to the next level. So, I just worry, given how raw the skills are and the feel of the game is that physical tools will not be able to eclipse that to the next level.
DI: Do you expect it to receive feedback to gather this information and process this information?
Vecenie: I will not project what his decision will be. I think it depends on him. If he doesn’t want to go to college anymore, more power for him. I think he has a reasonable chance of being a two-way guy next year, but if I advised him, I think his cap is much better when he goes back to school next year.
DI: The biggest area he needs to improve on is his skill set and basketball IQ, right?
Vecenie: I think it has to improve positionally, to defend itself away from the basket and must be a little better to defend near the basket. Like I said, he’s not a bad basket defender. It is certainly very effective at the college level because of its size. But, there are a lot of areas around it, in rotation and in terms of its overall impact, in terms of timing, on which I think it needs to continue to improve.