When it was all said and done, though, it was Alain Koffi who ended up being the hero for Le Mans in the closing minutes. Coming in off the bench following a long rest after Phil Ricci fouled out, Koffi scored one basket on a post-up move to push Le Mans up by four late in the game, and then scored again on an offensive rebound put-back to finally put the game out of reach.
The French 1983-born big man is having a breakout season for Le Mans, and this is actually a great opportunity to touch on his progress here.
Koffi is intriguing first and foremost because of his awesome physical attributes. A 6-10 PF/C with a 7-4 wingspan, hes an excellent athlete whose skill-level is finally starting to catch up to his physical tools. Hes averaging 9 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes in the French league, and 7.5 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes in the Euroleague. Koffi was a menace in both games we saw on the defensive end, blocking 5 shots both coming from the weak-side or sliding his feet and rejecting his man on the ball. His timing looks terrific, as does his activity level, and his excellent lateral quickness allows him to cover power forwards just as well as his recently improved strength allows him to hang with centers. It was really impressive to see the way he can just smother his matchup with his imposing wingspan, and even use his length and instincts to get in the passing lanes.
Although his physical tools allow him to really make his presence felt as a rebounder, at times you felt like he was relying too much on his athleticism rather than being fundamental boxing out his man. His team got outrebounded by a good margin in both games I saw, particularly on the offensive end. Still, its hard not to be impressed when you see an athletic specimen like him go up and snarl away a one-handed rebound in mid-air.
Offensively, Koffi is not a very fluid player, looking fairly mechanical in his post moves (besides some basic hook shots) and seeming very hesitant to shoot the ball from medium range, even though we saw him hit a few both in games and in practice. Thinking too much has been a problem with him for quite some time, but from what we can see and also were told, hes getting a lot better in this area this season. By all accounts, his attitude is excellent, and he really does want to achieve his full potential as a player.
Koffi has one more season on his contract after this, and its quite possible that he becomes a hot commodity on the open market already this summer. Le Mans was offered a 700,000 Euro buyout a year and a half ago by a team in Russia, but they decided to hold onto him to see how he continues to develop. He missed all of last season with a broken wrist he suffered in Summer League playing for Cleveland, and is really starting to blossom now at the age of 24. Its not out of the question that he ends up playing in the NBA someday, since players with his tools are rare commodities and hes probably good enough defensively to at least make a roster.