Image: nbl.com.au

Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman believes talented centre Ariel Hukporti’s game can propel him into the NBA.

After coming off a torn Achilles that caused him to miss the entire NBL23 campaign, the seven-foot giant has been a rim-protecting force, pairing together with Jo Lual-Acuil to form one of the league’s most potent duos.

In 25 games this season, Hukporti is averaging 8.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks whilst shooting 59 per cent from the floor.

Back in November, a number of NBA representatives came down under to closely observe Hukporti.

“He’s been great. He doesn’t take possessions off,” Vickerman said.

“He’s engaged and he’s helping his teammates out as much as possible. He can be frustrated if he doesn’t quite get as much help as well.

“And he can be frustrated with referees at different times, but I think he moves on so quick and everybody’s going to have a little frustration.

“I think the work ethic and understanding of what he needs everyday and him owning his own development have been massive growth.”

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Only on nine occasions this season has Hukporti not blocked a shot, with his personal best number of blocks being five in a match, coming twice against the Adelaide 36ers.

Vickerman says Hukporti’s rim-protection and defensive influence in the paint can translate into the NBA, with the league’s strong presence in protecting the interior.

“The speed, the rim presence at both ends, the ability to get out of screens and be a lob threat,” Vickerman said.

“The ability to protect the rim. We’re a team that doesn’t switch as much as the NBA and that’s something that they want to see a little bit more from him.

“And there’s probably in the last few games, there’s probably some opportunities for him to show that skill.

“But his footwork and his ability to sit down and guard in a switch can be fantastic.”

Hukporti’s offensive game is established on finishing around the rim and catching lob passes for alley-oop dunks, having not attempted a single three-pointer this season.

The last eight NBA seasons have seen shooting threes becoming an important skill for the big men with the evolution of the three-point shot. Brook Lopez is a notable name, who transformed his game from being a low-post player to stretch five.

As for practicing his three-pointer, Vickerman says it is an area Hukporti has been working on this week.

“We think his shot has gone to another level in practice and I challenged him today to get a number of three balls,” he said.

“And if he does that, there may be the opportunity for him to show that a little bit more as well.

“But he’s been committed to the development of his shot and something that we haven’t exposed enough.

“But I think at the next level, he can shoot the three-ball.”

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