College basketball season is approaching, and with that the Blue Zone gives you a breakdown of the 2020-2021 women's basketball squad. Be sure to check out the previous previews: Vanessa de Jesus, Uchenna Nwoke, Jiselle Havas, Sara Anastasieska, Jada Claude and Jaida Patrick.
Last year's statline: 4.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG
Game breakdown: Akinbode-James is a bit of a conundrum. The big is coming off of a sophomore campaign in which most of her offensive production suffered a dip in efficiency, and her defense slid from a Synergy Sports rating of good to below average.
Offensively, Akinbode-James’s lower efficiency isn’t too much to worry about. She essentially played just as well in 2019-20 as in 2018-19, she just had to spot up and cut more often, according to Synergy Stats, two areas in which she struggles. She continues to be excellent on the offensive glass and on putbacks, ranking in the 93rd and 97th percentiles in offensive rebound percentage in her two years, according to Her Hoop Stats.
Defensively, Akinbode-James had a very strong debut in the frontcourt, but her defense in the post fell off last year. Overall, she’s been average in her two years at Duke. But there’s reason to believe expectations should be closer to her freshman campaign. For starters, she improved on both her steals and points last year, a lot of which was due to improved strength in the post.
Even Wolfpack center Elissa Cunane, a 2020 third-team All-American, had trouble playing through her. Her consistently good ability to closeout while still keeping her feet light and hips loose makes Akinbode-James a difficult matchup for opposing bigs.
Akinbode-James’s game screams rim-runner with some pick-and-roll mixed in. She’s had trouble being able to fill that role, since we are yet to see her and Jade Williams play well together. Her ability to limit her high rates of turnovers and fouls will be key to staying on the court.
Role on the team: Akinbode-James should be competing with Jade Williams and Jennifer Ezeh for post minutes. Given that a modern college team can really only play two bigs at the same time, Duke is likely to try to make pairings of each work together. Akinbode-James could finally fit with Williams if the latter can adapt into a stretch big, but it remains to be seen how Akinbode-James could fit with Ezeh, since Ezeh is another traditional style of frontcourt player. How well Akinbode-James complements the team’s better guards will determine how much she’ll dominate the rotation.
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Projected stats: 25.0 MPG, 5.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG