The Cal Bears are a team loaded with talent, but with scouts tuning in to watch Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird, and Tyrone Wallace do their thing on the court.
But game after game, one player consistently has been impressive this season - Ivan Rabb.
Despite his inexperience, game after game Rabb has been able to score in low post, pick up defensive rebounds, make a big defensive play, and be an overall energy guy. The Bears are third in the PAC-12, and Rabb is fourth on the team in minutes played at 27.4 minutes per game and fourth in scoring at 12.0 points per game.
Rabb and Brown were two of the most highly-ranked prospects in high school, and Rabb decided to stay close to home by choosing to play for Cal. The East Oakland native helped his high school team win the state championship, averaging 24.5 points, 16.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game on their way to defeating Mater Dei in the state championship. You know Mater Dei alumni - Stanley Johnson, Matt Barkley, Matt Leinart - it was a pretty big deal for Rabb and O'Dowd to beat them.
Rabb has had his fair share of bumps along the road his first year in college - he's fouled out of five of his 28 games, and leads the team in personal fouls. He's averaging 11.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in conference play, but his defense has picked up and there are more and more moments where it looks like he has things figured out.
What I like about his game is that defensive ability, his rebounding, and his ability to score in the low-post. He's so fluid, with a mobility that makes him look like a small forward while using his length to snag rebounds in crowds. In a league where Paul Millsap is an All-Star power forward, Rabb has the ability to stay in front of players to prevent dribble penetration, while using his quickness to get to the rim to help protect the rim. Being able to move 18 feet quickly and in rhythm is a key skill for power forwards in the NBA, and Rabb is able to do that.
He measured a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan at the Nike Hoop Summit, and he's added more muscle on his 215 pound frame to help him secure rebounds. In two games against Utah and Jakob Poeltl, Rabb has 22 rebounds; against Washington and Marquese Chriss, Rabb had 14 rebounds. These are NBA caliber players in college, and Rabb is picking up double-digit boards against them on the road. He's likely to continue growing, and he'll continue to be able to add weight to his frame.
Rabb is also talented at scoring in the low post, shooting a bonkers 80.4 percent at the rim this season, according to Hoop-Math. He's left-handed, but he can finish with his right-hand almost just as well as with his natural hand. He'll get defenders into the air with pump fakes, step through, rise up and finish off glass or use a hook shot to get a field goal attempt off over his defender. He has a good pace about him, not rushing his shot attempts or putting the ball in an area where his defender can get to the ball early.
The Nuggets could use a player that can score in the low post consistently - they rank in the bottom five this year in effective field goal percentage inside 10 feet, according to NBA Stats, despite attempting the fourth-most in the league. Only the Lakers and Bulls are worse at making shots, according to NBA Stats, and was on display against the Dallas Mavericks, who used a zone defense - a zone defense - to stymie the Nuggets offense and come back from a 22-point deficit.
But the Nuggets can't just add a power forward that shoots - the league is finding ways to eviscerate bigs that can shoot but can't defend. Rabb is able to defend, shoot, and rebound - those are really important skills for the next great Nuggets team. It doesn't matter if you play good defense and force a missed shot if you can't secure the rebound afterwards.
The Nuggets have Kenneth Faried under contract for the next few years, but that's okay for Rabb. There's room for his game to continue growing, and he can do that behind Faried as he works on becoming an option for the next great Nuggets team. His combination of youth, size, physical skills, and hustle are attractive is a hot commodity that the Nuggets ought to be interested in.
I've liked Rabb's game all season - I can't say that about every player in the draft. I really appreciate consistency, and Rabb has the skills to be a consistent, night-in and night-out contributor in the NBA. I like that he's left-handed, a good chemistry guy, and a hard worker. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and seems motivated to be a difference maker on every team he plays with. Give him a responsibility and let him go to work - those are valuable players.
If Rabb slides to the middle of the first round, the Nuggets should pounce on him. He could play his way into consideration for the top-10 if the Bears perform well in the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA tournament.