At 6’8 and 195lbs, Class of 2014 5-star Malik Pope is rail thin and drenched in athleticism. The northern California small forward is currently holding down the #12 spot for Rivals.com and may not reside outside its Top 10 much longer. Young (15) for his Class, the chatter surrounding Pope is trained more on “what may be” as opposed to “what currently is”. Currently holding offers from much of the Pac-12, and national heavy hitters Kansas, Louisville, and Texas, Pope’s may prove one of the more hotly contested signings in the talent-laden Class of 2014. Little doubt Pope will have his choice of D1 destinations and plenty of spotlights to accompany his every on-court move. Too much, too soon?
An initial read on Pope’s 6’8 frame may motivate assumptions of down-low banging and a future among muscle-bound 4’s and 5’s. That is not Malik Pope, and not by a longshot. Pope possesses guard handles and next level bounce. His game hinges on agility, athleticism, and a burgeoning 3 game. At 6’8, with 2 guard capabilities, Pope generates headaches for any opposing coach doling out defensive assignments. Should Pope grow another 1-2 inches, and again, he is just 15, those headaches pale in comparison to the discomfort caused in looking to answer Pope’s harrowing match-up challenges. Floating around the perimeter, Pope is capable of creating his own shot from outside or taking his man off the dribble. His handles are not point guard worthy, but more than adequate when considering Pope is routinely guarded by 3’s and 4’s. Owing to his above average ball skills, excellent court vision, and impressive foot speed, the ’14 5-star is lethal in transition and an elite finisher. Not yet a polished scorer, Pope grabs the majority of his points via putbacks, runouts, and the occasional 3 ball. As he continues refining his midrange game and adding bulk to his frame, he should prove a dangerous mix of inside/outside. With Mitchell Love and Jay Stone graduating from he 2011-12 squad, Pope should see an increase in scoring opportunities. Raw on the glass, Pope posted double-digit rebounds five times in 2011-12, and with improved technique and strength, should consistently cross into double figures this season (2012-13). On the defensive end, the 6’8 wing makes use of his long arms and exceptional leaping ability to swat away the occasional shot and provides glimpses of elite timing. The upside of an athlete capable of blocking a shot, leading the subsequent fast-break, and slamming home the finish is akin to a “genie in a bottle” for most D1 coaches. Little wonder Malik Pope has those same coaches clamoring for his attention each time he hits the hardwood.
AREAS OF OPPORTUNITY
Pope’s game is as raw as it is potential-laden. Capable of the spectacular pass or dribble-drive, Pope registered far more turnovers than assists last season. Much the same can be said of his game behind the arc. Eye-catching when a man of his size rips the nylon from deep, but in shooting 30 percent from 3 last season, Pope was anything but consistent. Although he feels his offensive game is “close”, Pope is quick to recognize room for improvement, “I want to improve on my post and shooting game…my post up game is almost there, I just need to get stronger”. On the rebound and putback front, the 5-star wing has a strange habit of attempting to one-hand the ball, as opposed to the more secure two-handed route. The hyper-athletic junior also admits a need to dial up the academic effort if he is to surpass his stated goal of a 3.0 GPA. Displaying a bit of self-awareness and confidence, Pope pointed out “I’m off to a rough start but I’m getting there, no worries.” Across the board, the next evolution to his game comes as technique and control are paired with the abundant and explosive athleticism. Should the effort and focus come to fruition, none of the above mentioned shortfalls will prove insurmountable.
The million dollar question. How does Malik Pope’s game project to the next level? The better question may be, how much energy is Malik Pope willing to invest in his game? Should he choose to rely solely on his god-given talents, Pope will enjoy mitigated success far below what could and should be. His is a rare combination of athleticism, size, and youth. As is, Pope may only be 15-20lbs away from D1 capable. On the flip side, and hopefully closer to reality, should Malik Pope invest his energy and passion in his game (and academics), the sky might not even serve as a limit. The young man is as raw as his frame is long, and yet he consistently flashes a brilliance rarely seen from a player his age. Guard handles, legit range, next level bounce, and crazy quicks, blend to produce a life-altering opportunity for young Mr. Pope. In the short-term, expect consistent across the board statistical gains for the 5-star NorCal hoopster. For the upcoming season, I project Pope in the range of 15-17 points, 8-10 rebounds, 2.5-3.5 assists, and 2-3 blocks per game. His senior season (2013-14) should fall along the lines of Pope’s own projection of “25 points, 10 rebounds, and at least 5 assist a game”. There’s little doubt Pope will develop into a significant D1 contributor, but I’ll hold off until next year for collegiate projections. Assuming Pope develops as I project (and expect) the key scouting services should start clearing a place in their respective top 5’s. Malik Pope’s on the move, and he is bringing a wealth of talent to back his play.