ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Arizona’s Mathurin, Koloko go in top-25 of The Athletic’s NBA mock draft

Feb 18, 2022, 8:56 AM

Center Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats and guard Bennedict Mathurin #0 of the Arizona ...

Center Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats and guard Bennedict Mathurin #0 of the Arizona Wildcats smile together during the NCAAB game at McKale Center on January 03, 2022 in Tucson, Arizona. The Arizona Wildcats won 95-79 against the Washington Huskies. (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

The Arizona Wildcats inch closer to running away with the Pac-12 regular season title, and it’s two likely first-round NBA Draft picks leading the way.

Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko rounded into their roles quite well for the 23-2 Wildcats, who have six regular season games remaining heading into a Saturday matchup against the Oregon Ducks.

Mathurin has benefitted playing with a talented group that shares the ball well, though he has upped his aggression from his freshman season.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, in his most recent NBA mock draft, has Mathurin going ninth overall, which as of the NBA All-Star break would be a Portland Trail Blazers pick.

Bennedict Mathurin is the prototypical floor-spacing wing who can attack closeouts and score off floaters and out in transition. He has taken a leap this season into a larger role under new coach Tommy Lloyd, averaging 17 points, six rebounds and two assists while shooting 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3. This comes one year after he shot 42 percent from 3 but was largely a catch-and-shoot gunner only, as opposed to having expanded his overall offensive game now. Mathurin is the kind of scorer who should find success in the NBA and shouldn’t have too many problems athletically on defense. But he does need to improve his engagement and overall willingness to battle on that end.

Koloko, in his third college season, developed slowly before taking a leap this year.

The swift-footed, 7-foot-1 center has added strength to hang with even the most powerful college centers. He’s averaging 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game.

In Vecenie’s NBA mock draft, Koloko goes 25th overall to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Just ask the Big Ten how much they enjoyed dealing with Koloko’s length this season, as Kofi Cockburn was held to a season-worst 5-for-15 mark from the field against Koloko; Hunter Dickinson went 4-for-10. The Wildcats play in a significant drop, where Koloko rarely leaves the paint out of ball screens. But when he does, he’s shown good enough recovery speed and mobility to be able to make it work at the next level.

Among the apprehensions, Vecenie still sees the raw aspects of Koloko’s offensive game. At this point, he uses his length to overcome a lot and is at his best catching in the low-post and hitting simple hook shots. More advanced moves might be beyond him now but necessary as he faces more post resistance against NBA bigs.

For all his physical improvements, Koloko also remains on the slim side. He’ll be limited as an NBA rim-protector and utilized against more small-ball lineups initially.

For now though, he and Mathurin have a chance to win the Pac-12, earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and perhaps boost their stock further with a strong postseason run.

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Arizona’s Mathurin, Koloko go in top-25 of The Athletic’s NBA mock draft