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Ex-Raptors Series: Alexis Ajinca Back In The NBA To Stay

When Alexis Ajinca arrived in Toronto back in January 2011 he was the typical young big man who blew teams away with his unbelievable physical attributes and let them down hard when they couldn’t seem to convince him to use them. In the end, it was three years and out for the 7’1 center with the 7’9 wingspan who the Charlotte Bobcats had drafted 20th overall in 2008.

Ajinca seemed to have it all.  His length made it easy to block shots, swipe steals and grab rebounds. His smooth shooting stroke let him sink shots out past the three-point line with efficiency. However, Ajinca couldn’t put it all together and it became apparent that coaches wanted him to play in the paint where those obvious physical attributes should have given him an advantage on the offensive glass and made him a superior rim protector at the other end. Instead he showed a love for long range twos and threes.

These tendencies made Ajinca look soft and inconsistent. He was as frustrating a player to watch as there could be because he should have been able to do so much more.

Alexis Ajinca interview,

 

“I guess when you are young, you are still learning everything,” Ajinca told Pro Bball Report. ” Now it’s been seven years, so now I know what’s going on and what to expect. I am more aware of how to work hard and stay in shape than when I was younger and when I was in Toronto.”

Ajinca played in the French Pro League before he was drafted and he returned there after his brief stint in Toronto. He had a lot to learn about himself and how to be pro.

“I went back overseas after the lockout and the main focus was being consistent, energy and everything,” Ajinca said. That’s one thing I learned, to be consistent and be a leader and stay ready no matter what the case may be.

“Just stay focused because sometimes I’d lose my focus, maybe just stay too much relaxed and that’s a big change.

“Something young players have to learn is you may have been unstoppable for four games straight, but its only four games out of 82 games, so it’s nothing yet. You have to do the whole season like that.

“Nothing that you achieve is ever enough.”

When Ajinca returned to the NBA for the 2013-14 season with New Orleans, he stuck and last summer the team rewarded him with a four year $20 million contract.

Gone were the three-point attempts. Ajinca has only shot two three-balls since his return and his shooting percentages reflect the improved discipline. He has become a reliable reserve that rebounds at a high rate at both ends of the court.

At 27-years-old, Ajinca is still young for a big man and his game still has room to improve. It’s even possible he’ll get a chance to develop that three-point shot he loved during his first go-around in the NBA if he can stay disciplined enough to keep doing the things that got him back in the NBA to stay.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.