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Examining Cliff Alexander’s First D-League Season

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With the NBADL Elite Mini Camp underway, contributor Austin Cracraft breaks down Cliff Alexander’s game and where his future lies

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As a member of the class of 2014 recruiting class, Cliff Alexander was a consensus top seven recruit in the country as well as 2014 Naismith Prep Player of the Year. On November 15th, 2013, Alexander pledged his allegiance to Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks. He would come into Lawrence as the Big 12 Preseason Co-Freshman of the Year alongside Myles Turner. Players with this many preseason accolades come with a mixed bag of outcomes.

Some, like Turner and Karl Anthony-Towns, have flourished. Others, like UNC’s Justin Jackson and Indiana’s James Blackmon, are just turning their attention to professional basketball. Alexander, on the other hand, is developing his game in the NBA D-League, and will look to further showcase his skills in the current NBADL Elite Mini Camp.

If you wanted the CliffsNotes summary of Robinson coming out of high school, ESPN’s recruiting scouting report calls him “a big mobile post that is a terror on the glass.” The interesting part of this is you could probably find opposing coaches saying this after Alexander’s last 10 games in the D-League this season.

Alexander’s stats in those final 10 games: 25.3 PPG on 60% shooting, 11.8 RPG, 7 3PM, 9 blocks

And in those games, he flashed as dominant a post-game as anyone in the D-League.

Any big man’s post-game starts with his go-to move. For Alexander, that move is his right-handed jump hook.

Once defenders catch onto Alexander’s go-to move, he has an ideal counter-move that he can attack defenders with — an up-and-under that would make Hakeem grin.

Alexander isn’t just a threat from the low post either. He can do damage from the mid-post as well with a move that another legend is known for.

The former Jayhawk can also step out and knock down the three at a respectable rate (32% on 25 attempts in his last 15 games) along with running the floor well for a 245 pound big man. Another aspect of Alexander’s game that scouts love to see: how he attacks immediately after he catches the ball. This translates to the next level well because in the NBA, defenses rotate quicker and won’t allow talented post players to have time to work.

Along with dominating the glass in a similar fashion to fellow mini camp invitee Shevon Thompson, many will wonder, what is missing from Alexander’s repertoire? Well, not much. Alexander, like most big men, favors one shoulder over the other — his left — so he must improve in that area, but has shown flashes.

Continuing to improve his outside shooting is also essential as not many possessions will feature him at the next level. Playing your role and knowing your skill-set is what teams look for in D-League call-ups. The other must for Robinson is staying focused for the duration of the game. His focus increases when he gets the ball or has a chance of scoring, but keeping that motor throughout, both offensively and defensively, could be crucial.

Defensively, Robinson’s flaws are evident. His foot speed isn’t at the level that it needs to be as he projects as a four who can play small ball five. That type of player, if offenses search them out, will get picked apart in the pick and roll.

The counteract to this for big men who tend to sag back on the pick and roll is to affect the game at the rim. Big men with slower feet typically are long and big. Alexander, at 6’9”, doesn’t defend the rim particularly well either. Averaging just under a block per game, opponents were not scared to go to the hoop with a lurking Alexander nearby.

Many forget that Alexander didn’t start playing basketball until the eighth grade, so he is still learning aspects of the game as well as still being under 22 years old. His tools on the offensive game are quite mature. However, there are needed mental and defensive improvements that are the difference between Alexander starring in the G-League next season and playing opening night on an NBA roster.