A native of Nigeria, Texas Legends center Micheal Eric has found himself beneath a shadow throughout his entire NBA D-League career. Whether it was in his first season with the Canton Charge, where he took a backseat to former first round pick JaJuan Johnson and college standouts Samardo Samuels and Jon Leuer. During his first year with the Legends, he was either behind Fab Melo and Melvin Ely, or instead, literally overshadowed by gargantuens Paul Sturgess and Satnam Singh.
If the first three games of this season are any indication, however, that all may be changing very soon. With two starts already under his belt (more than he received during his time in 2013-2014 with the Legends), Eric has been a reliable option for Texas and appears to be more aggressive on the offensive end. The likes of Brandon Ashley, Toure Murry and Tu Holloway have all needed their touches, but Eric has managed to pour home nearly 14 points per game on 62% shooting.
For someone that first began playing basketball in their junior year of high school, Eric has continued to grow leaps and bounds year-in and year-out. At the beginning of his career at Temple, he was often lost on both ends of the court but by the time he was a senior, he was a nightly threat for a double-double and was a feared shot blocker on a team that clinched a #5 seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
His potential intrigued scouts at the NBA level and although he wasn't drafted, he played in the Summer League with the Cavaliers and eventually signed with the Charge. He was able to play in all 50 games, but it was clear that there was still going to be a bit of a learning curve. He often found himself settling for jump shots and despite his size, he shot only 55% near the rim throughout the course of the season.
Eric looked to build off of that the following year after receiving an invite to the Las Vegas Summer League from the Warriors and while he didn't make the team, the belief still stood that he could be molded into an NBA big man. After being traded to the Legends, the veteran got off to a good start but unfortunately suffered a fractured right patella, the fourth of his career.
The injuries seemed like they were mounting for him, but that didn't stop him. He rehabbed throughout the year and eventually signed with the Milwaukee Bucks, though they wound up waiving him. He could have returned to the D-League, but instead chose to play in Italy, where he shot nearly 60% from the field while playing around 15 minutes per game.
In late November of this season, Eric made his return to the Legends after his stint in Europe. It's clear that the brief change of scenery was good for him, as he's come back better than ever with the same athleticism that he was once known for. He's shied away from the mid-range jumper and has instead worked on his offensive rebounding and finishing abilities, which has propelled him to shooting a healthy 61% around the rim.
In addition to his work on the offensive glass, he's implemented a few quick post moves to his game that have helped him have a bit more variety on that end.
His aforementioned athleticism has been on display, as well, with a few thunderous dunks every time that he's been on the court this season.
He has managed to shown some flashes on that end, but it is clear that his game still needs quite a bit of polishing to be able to make him an impact player at the next level. While in the post, his ball-handling is very sloppy and he has cost his team a few possessions due to his inability to take care of the ball.
Aside from his deficiencies in the post, he doesn't always bring the effort that you look for on the offensive end when he doesn't have the ball. Doing the nitty-gritty things like setting hard pick-and-rolls are crucial for a team's success, but he can often be found going through the motions on those types of plays.
On the other side of the ball, Eric is definitely someone who will disrupt shots for the most part. He has has long arms which help him and he's capable of holding his ground in the post. With that being said, however, he's often late with his help defense and his subpar footwork can be exploited by quicker players.
At 27 years old, it may seem that Eric's window of opportunity is closing but his circumstances may dictate otherwise. Given that he's only been playing basketball since his junior year of high school, he doesn't have nearly the wear and tear that most of his counterparts have on them. The surgeries on his right knee are a concern, but it seems as if he's maintained enough athleticism to keep himself relevant.
He clearly has some work to do on both ends of the floor, but has continued to show promising growth year-in and year-out and with continued development can become a Bismack Biyombo-esque player. He's never going to be a two-way star with an assortment of post moves in his repertoire, but if he can continue working on his positioning on the offensive end (as well as setting solid picks), he can continue to make a further impact.
He began his career in the shadows of first round picks and college standouts, but Micheal Eric is now the one that is making a name for himself. With the right improvements in the next couple of years, he's someone that can make an impact at the next level.