This matchup lived up to the hype and then some, with Fazekas scoring 35 points in a variety of ways and Kaun countering with 19 points and 9 rebounds himself. Both showed us their many strengths and weaknesses as players all night long, and when this highly entertaining game was overwith a narrow two point road victory by Nevada--both had made big statements for the scouts in attendance.
One of the most storied basketball arenas in the country in "Phog" Allen Fieldhouse hosted this matchup. Kansas fans were out in droves as always and the atmosphere was fantastic. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN did a great job narrating this game for us. When the dust settled, Kansas was handed only its 9th home loss in the past 11 years and change.
20 year old junior big man Nick Fazekas, one of the most prolific scorers in the country last year, matched up with fellow 20 year old Sasha Kaun, a much more raw and unproven sophomore who was forced to take a backseat to Wayne Simien last year because of his inexperience and inconsistent skills. Both Fazekas and Kaun are considered late bloomers who have made some serious strides in their games over the past few years, with Fazekas being the much more heralded of the duo after two excellent first NCAA seasons.
Neither Kaun nor Fazekas disappointed us even one bit with the way they stepped up to the plate for their teams and led them in both points and rebounds. Kansas looked to go inside early and often to Kaun right off the bat to try and get Fazekas in foul trouble. Kaun was guarded for the most part by 7 foot Nevada senior Chad Bell and 6-9 junior college transfer Demarshay Johnson in the first half, but did get to test Fazekas on a couple of occasions. Kansas went with super athletic and raw 6-11 sophomore C.J. Giles to try and slow down Fazekas initially, and also threw 6-9 freshman combo forward Julian Wright at him in spurts. Neither had much success at all keeping up with him.
After missing his first shota jump-hook shot from the baseline that he would hit consistently throughout the game afterwards, Fazekas announced his presence to the scouts almost immediately by receiving the ball with his back to the basket, turning around, backtracking smoothly and knocking down a difficult off-balance jumper off the dribble with his foot on the three point line. This is a theme that would repeat again and again throughout this game. Fazekas understands his strengths and weaknesses as a player and is coming close to maximizing his ability to get his shot off from difficult situations with very little space, usually with very good results.
Kansas looked to get its frontcourt involved early, and Kaun responded by establishing position deep in the post time after time, making nice catches and scoring rather easily right underneath the hoop. Nevadas gameplan was clearly to keep Fazekas out of foul trouble, and he very rarely made much of an effort to challenge Kaun around the basket.
Nevada came right back, using their excellent sophomore PG Ramon Sessions to push the ball up the floor quickly and perfectly dump the ball down low immediately before Kansas had time to set up their defense. In a play that we would see over and over again early in the shot clock, Fazekas ran the floor extremely well, set up shop and calmly used his soft touch to score on whoever was guarding him, this time Kaun. Again, Fazekas understands his limitations and does what he needs to do to refuse the defense ample time and space to set up and stop him.
After the two traded baskets a bit, Fazekas shows us his signature move, setting up right outside the paint and showing no hesitation unleashing his go-to move; a beautiful jump-hook shot from the baseline that he executes quickly and fluidly using his high release point, outstanding footwork, and a super quick one-handed release on his shot. He catches the ball and all in the blink of his eye: looks over his left shoulder ever so slightly, sends a strong fake to his right to get his man off-balance and then spins quickly again to his left while elevating and squaring his shoulders to swish the jump-hook shot effortlessly. Kansas is trying to double team him at this point but Fazekas gets going so quickly and appears to have this move down so well (as only hours and hours of practice will afford) that he does not even notice the double team (Kaun is just late) while spinning and knocking down the difficult one handed shot. He showed the ability in this game to convert this shot from either side of the paint, the middle of, and as far as 10-12 feet out from either side. Again, his recognition of what the defense is giving him and what he needs to do to get his shot off is off the charts.
Kaun finished the half with 10 points and 6 rebounds on 4-7 shooting. Five of his rebounds were offensive. Fazekas was outstanding with 14 points on 6-10 shooting, but only 2 rebounds.
The 2nd half is even more intriguing for us as Kaun and Fazekas spend much of the first 15 minutes going head to head. Fazekas camps out a bit more behind the arc in this half, but gets a great opportunity to show off his range and passing ability. Early in the 2nd he whips a beautiful bounce pass from behind the 3 point line to a cutting Kyle Shiloh for an easy layup.
The first few minutes of the 2nd half might have been Kauns best of the game. First he starts with a strong block after playing good defense on the smaller Demarshay Johnson. Next time down the floor he backs him down showing nice footwork and scores on him with a baby-hook shot. Kaun is guarding Fazekas and he forces him away from the basket and into a tough contested baseline jumper. Next play down he again calls for the ball in the post, receives it, and goes up strong before being fouled by Fazekas. Immediately afterwards he helps his team out even more by getting his hand on a loose ball and keeping it alive for the offensive rebound and ensuing basket. This stretch of the game in the first ten minutes of the 2nd half showed us a couple of important things in Kauns game; mainly in his energy, his scoring ability after again establishing position deep in the paint, and his potential on the defensive end forcing Fazekas into a number of tough shots. He was active and looked strong crashing the offensive and defensive glass. Kaun also showed off his inexperience by air-balling a baseline jumper from 8 feet out.
One particular play highlighted Fazekas savvy and experience as a player as well as his perimeter stroke. After having a post-entry pass deflected out of bounds by Kaun, on the ensuing inbounds play Fazekas wisely pushes off him ever so slightly before the play starts and gets him caught up behind a screen. This allows Fazekas the room he needs to come off the screen and stroke an uncontested beautiful 3 pointer.
After nearly 12 straight minutes Kaun finally gets a breather as Coach Self inserts C.J. Giles back into the lineup. Giles shows the most frustrating part of his game almost immediately with a foolish and unnecessary foul on Fazekas after he pulls down a rebound and heads back to the bench with 4 fouls. Kaun is back in the lineup on his way to a career high 34 minutes in this game. Self gives him a break by letting him guard Chad Bell. Fazekas responds by scoring nicely off an offensive rebound right over the anemic Christian Moody.
Over the last 6 minutes Fazekas is rarely matched up with Kaun on either end of the floor, despite the fact that neither are in any kind of foul trouble. Kaun wants the ball every time down the floor but doesnt get a touch for nearly three minutes. When Kansas needs a basket in crunch time Coach Self finally responds by bringing Kaun off a short curl into the post to get him to the line. Kaun goes 1 for 2. Fazekas comes backs and buries an open 3 after shaking C.J. Giles badly. He once again gets the ball after creating plenty of space for himself, steps up confidently and shows perfect mechanics knocking down the shot. Self draws up a play for a lob to Kaun next time down, but Kaun cant quite get off the floor well enough and the ball goes back to Nevada. Fazekas goes right back at Moody, fouls him out, and knocks down his free throws to finish with 35 points on the night. Kansas again needs a basket and again goes inside to Kaun, who establishes deep position and is fouled. This time he knocks down both to finish the game with 19 points. Kansas guard Russell Robinson misses a free throw and then an open layup and Nevada comes away with the victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
Nick Fazekas: 35 points, 8 rebounds (2 offensive), 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 0 blocks, 0 steals, 2 fouls, 36 minutes, 13-21 FG, 2-5 3P, 7-8 FT
Sasha Kaun: 19 points, 9 rebounds (6 offensive), 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 block, 1 steal, 2 fouls, 34 minutes, 7-14 FG, 5-6 FT
Both Fazekas and Kaun had career games on national television in front of a horde of scouts.
Fazekas was ridiculed last March for entertaining thoughts of declaring for the draft. Hes clearly not an NBA player, CBS Sportsline columnist Greg Doyle chastised, and at that point, he really wasnt that off. Therefore, after his extremely disappointing play in the NCAA tournament, Fazekas went into the gym this summer and came out a much more complete player.
The first thing you notice about the improved version of Nick Fazekas is his willingness to go earn a living inside the paint. When last years version would have drifted outside almost exclusively and tried to beat his matchup with a sweet jumper, Fazekas is establishing position inside, scoring with his back to the basket and showing a wide array of moves in the post. The turnaround jumper is a move that few big men in college have mastered the way he has, but the footwork he shows getting his man off-balance to deliver his trademark jump-hook shot using an incredibly soft touch is an advanced move that not many NBA big men even have in their repertoire. Fazekas runs the floor awkwardly, but well, and is a true go-to guy for his team who can score from anywhere on the floor. His jumper is money anywhere out to the college three point line, and his long arms and the quick and high release point on his shot (from both inside and out) will make him a tough player to block at any level thanks to his size. He is a smart, savvy player who understands the game, makes quick decisions and is outstanding moving off the ball and passing both out of the post and from the perimeter. As mentioned above, the way he finds spaces to get his shots off despite his physical limitations, the amount of attention he always receives from opposing defenses, and the sheer unlikelihood of it all at his size is nothing short of astonishing. Much like J.J. Redick at Duke has evolved from a spot up shooter to a complete all-around offensive weapon over the past few seasons, Fazekas has grown similarly as a player. While he certainly isnt the toughest big man you will find, he looks more willing to take contact than he appeared to be last season. Fazekas is about as skilled a big man as you find anywhere these days, and that alone makes him a very intriguing prospect for this years NBA draft.
Unfortunately he has quite a few holes in his game right now, some of which hamper his NBA potential as a power forward/center substantially. First is his body. While he looks a bit stronger than he was last year, he is still extremely thin and frail, especially in the upper body. That comes to play defensively and on the glass more than anything. Fazekas was pushed around all night by the much stronger Sasha Kaun as well as by C.J. Giles. He struggles to establish and hold position for himself on the defensive glass, as witnessed by the 6 rebounds that Kaun managed to come away with, many of which where in Fazekas area.
Many lanky NBA big men make up for their lack of bulk by moving quicker than their opponents and out-jumping them. Fazekas doesnt look like hes going to be able to do that as he plays below the rim for the most part and doesnt have the quickest feet. With his narrow shoulders you have to wonder just how much potential he has to add strength to his frame. Defensively is where he really suffers, though. Its hard to imagine him being quick enough laterally to guard the more athletic power forwards who like to take their man out to the perimeter, but its equally tough to see him not being pushed around all night in the paint. Hes often late on defensive rotations, and as is the case with his rebounding, you have to wonder just how committed he is at times to this part of his game. Its not easy to play 35+ minutes a night and carry your teams offensive load the way he is forced to do in many long stretches, but he would be well served to show a slightly improved motor to make up for his physical shortcomings that are already a bit concerning.
Despite the seemingly harsh criticism, Nick Fazekas is still a unique prospect that will find his fans in NBA circles. Its been quite some time since weve seen such a skilled 6-11 big man come out of the college ranks, and just as much as he projects to struggle defensively and rebounding the ball, he appears to have what it takes to hurt the other team even worse on the offensive end of the ball, even if only in spurts off the bench. Fazekas will almost surely declare for the draft and will give NBA teams a chance to take a long hard look at just how athletic he is, how much potential his body has, and how he looks against many of the college beasts like Taj Gray and Shelden Williams that he will surely meet up with in NBA workouts. His stock will fluctuate greatly depending on who you ask, but at this early point of the season he appears to be a solid first round pick in an age limit-depleted draft.
On the other end of the spectrum we find almost the exact opposite type of player in Sasha Kaun. Ironically, its Kaun who is the European with the bruising mentality, as opposed to Fazekas the American who plays a game reminiscent of perimeter oriented European big men such as Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol, minus a bit of athletic ability of course.
Kauns 25 point, 16 rebound effort in Kansas first game of the season might look more impressive on paper than yesterdays 19 and 9, but the fact that he did it against mighty Idaho State left at least a few people a bit skeptical about what that counts for when its all said and done. After a quality 12 point, 6 rebound performance in 22 minutes against Arizona it was noted here on DraftExpress that Kaun is putting himself firmly on the NBA draft radar with his play so far. If there was ever any doubt about that beforehand, yesterdays outing against Nevada proved that he is on the verge of establishing himself as one of the best low post scorers in the country this season.
Kaun has shown absolutely no shame in barging his way into the lane on any given possession, muscling his defender out of the way and calling for the ball at the top of his lungs. He establishes such good position in the paint, and goes up so strong to the basket when the ball does come, its hard not to pencil him in as Kansas go-to scorer when the Jayhawks really need a basket. Coach Self indeed took note of that and made it a point to call Kauns number numerous times down the stretch last night to get him the ball in a position to score. For the most part that worked out well.
Kaun is a 6-11, 250 pound bruiser who uses his size and bulk to the fullest in the 25 minutes per game hes been averaging this year. He has improved significantly from last year in terms of enhancing his overall bulk and athleticism, as well as realizing how to maximize them on both ends of the floor.
Kaun has good hands, an excellent motor and all the toughness you could ask for in a developing big man prospect. Right now he gets by on very little, but only has about five years of organized basketball underneath his belt and should continue to improve his overall skill level over the next few years at Kansas. He scores almost strictly in the paint at this point in his career, battling for offensive rebounds, showing raw, but effective moves in the low post, and using his strength and tenacity to the fullest to make his presence felt. Hes a solid rebounder as well (especially on the offensive end) and shows average to above average athletic ability for a player his size. Defensively he needs to learn to move his feet better, although his relative lack of explosiveness limits his potential as a shot-blocker. He may remind you of a bit of a mix between Seattle Supersonics Center Vitaly Potapenko and Toronto Raptors Center Rafael Araujo in college; both super aggressive players, both late-bloomers, and both eventual NBA lottery picks. Kaun will have to improve his skill-level and all-around polish on both ends of the floor before being able to consider entering the NBA draft, but the rapid improvement hes shown from his freshman to sophomore year leaves a lot of room for optimism regarding his future.
We dont get many chances to see two teams that rely so heavily on their big men at the college level, so this was a great game to see that thats indeed possible if teams make the commitment to getting them the ball and the refs actually allow them to play.