Kennedy Meeks is old school. Throughout his four years at the University of North Carolina, the 6-foot-10 Tar Heel lived in the paint, taking zero shots from three-point range. However, he isn’t going to let a lack of shooting keep him from reaching his dream of playing in the NBA.
“I’ve worked tremendously hard to get to this point,” Meeks told Basketball Insiders at an Elite Skills Training workout on May 30th. “Countless hours of doing stuff by myself and trying to get better each and every day and it’s finally paying off.”
Most outlets project Meeks, who averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds during his final college season, to go unselected during the NBA Draft on June 22nd, mainly due to his lack of an outside game. However, some would say he has proven himself worthy of a selection, or at least consideration. Meeks followed up averages of 12.2 points and 11.5 boards during the six-game NCAA Tournament by making his presence felt in two Draft Combine scrimmages, where he averaged 16.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. While he didn’t have many private workouts at the Combine, Meeks has since worked out for other teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors and, according to him, the perception may have changed.
“For the most part, I’ve been doing a great job,” Meeks told Basketball Insiders at a Pro Day on Monday. “I think I’m definitely surprising some people… and, hopefully, one team will draft me.”
Meeks is no stranger to doubt or adversity. While he has slimmed down considerably during and since his time at UNC, questions about his conditioning and his weight have always followed him. In addition to that, Meeks has been slighted for a lack of athleticism since coming out of high school. He has managed to keep his head above all of the talk, though. Recently, Meeks told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel that he draws inspiration from friend Hassan Whiteside, a similarly underrated and overlooked prospect early on in his NBA career.
“I think everybody has the same opportunity,” Meeks told Winderman. “It’s about who takes advantage of it and I plan to take advantage of it for sure, especially for me being a senior.”
Like Meeks, Whiteside wasn’t one for shooting threes in college—although Whiteside only played one season in the NCAA as opposed to Meeks’ four—and primarily did his damage on the inside. Both players shot around 50 percent from the field but weren’t great free throw shooters. Whiteside still lacks an outside shot. The only real differences between the two? Whiteside has grown into a 17 point, 14.1 rebound per game monster who signed a $98 million contract last offseason. Meeks has the potential to do the same if given the chance.
Another comparable player to Meeks is Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson. The Cavs big man, like Meeks, isn’t a stretch-center. Thompson wasn’t a great shooter in college and still isn’t a great shooter from anywhere outside of the paint in the NBA. Both are capable, but not exceptional defenders. He is somewhat undersized at the center spot, standing at 6-foot-9. Both are monsters on the glass. However, while Thompson was able to parlay his rebounding proficiency into being selected fourth overall in the 2011 draft and eventually a five-year, $82 million contract with the Cavs, Meeks may likely go undrafted.
One area where Meeks must improve is on the defensive end. Somewhat undersized when matched up with typical centers and outmatched, speed-wise, by smaller forwards and guards, Meeks can be exploited by offenses, especially in the pick-and-roll. And while he was able to handle Gonzaga big man and projected lottery pick Zach Collins during the NCAA Championship game, Meeks knows he will have to play harder and more consistently on the defensive end in order to have a chance in NBA.
“Block some shots, score low post and lock down shots on the outside,” Meeks said when asked what he has to do to get himself drafted.
While Meeks is somewhat lacking in certain areas of his game, he has proven himself to be serviceable in at least a rotational role on a team in the NBA, especially a team that needs help on the glass. While he may not be as quick or athletic as some players today, Meeks has a great combination of strength, footwork, soft hands and is an experienced leader. Even if he goes undrafted, Meeks has the right tools and mindset that will allow him to latch onto a team and prove he can make a positive impact.
“You have to have the right mindset to be physically ready for the big leagues,” Meeks said.
While he may be old school, he’s ready for today’s NBA.
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