As we continue our draft profiles here at Denver Stiffs, next on our list is E.J. Liddell from Ohio State University. Following an incredibly productive three year career with the Buckeyes, Liddell enters the NBA Draft as a projected first round pick whose draft range is right around the Denver Nuggets first round selection at 21st overall.
In fact, the Nuggets seem to be showing some interest in Liddell as he posted this on his Instagram that he was working out with the team:
Looks like the #Nuggets worked out OSU’s EJ Liddell, via his IG. pic.twitter.com/Tlt4jIS7ad— Mike Singer (@msinger) May 31, 2022
Liddell really broke onto the scene two years ago as a sophomore when he played a massive role in Ohio State’s trip to the NCAA Tournament, which was ultimately cut short in the first round following an upset loss to cinderella 15th seeded Oral Roberts. This past season was much more successful for Liddell and the Buckeyes as they advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before ultimately losing to Villanova.
Not only was Liddell named First Team All-Big Ten this past season, but he was also named to the Big Ten First Team All-Defense. Liddell gets it done on both ends of the floor and plays with heart and energy that should 100 percent translate to the next level. At 6’7’’, 240 pounds, Liddell is a tad bit undersized, but uses his big frame to his advantage on both ends of the floor and was a dominant force in the Big Ten conference over the course of the past few seasons.
E.J. Liddell, forward, Ohio State
Age: 21 (12/18/2000)
Liddell’s per game stats for his junior season (2021-22)
Following a solid sophomore season, Liddell burst onto the scene this past year averaging 19.4 points per game, while playing 33.2 minutes per game. He not only scored the ball every night, but he did so pretty efficiently as Liddell shot 49 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from beyond the arc, which were both his collegiate career highs.
Rebounding is another part of Liddell’s game that shined this past year as he hauled in 7.9 rebounds per game to go along with 2.5 assists per game. Liddell is not just a one dimensional player as his high skill level allows him to get his teammates involved as well.
Liddell’s rebounding ability also created a lot of second chance point opportunities for not only himself, but his teammates as well. Another eye popping stat that stands out for Liddell was his 2.6 blocks per game as he wasn’t just getting the job done offensively, but on the defensive end of the floor as well.
The only real concerning stat from Liddell last season was his 2.4 turnovers per game, which was a career-high for him. A lot of these turnovers came from the Buckeyes asking Liddell to do more with the ball in his hands though, so with more responsibility obviously came with a couple more turnovers per game.
We’ve already touched on it a little bit, but Liddell’s frame at 6’7’’, 240 pounds allows him to match up against most forwards and even some smaller centers at the next level. Liddell’s defensive versatility allows him to switch with ease on the defensive end of the floor and his competitive nature shines whenever he is matched up with someone one-on-one.
Take this play for example in Ohio State’s game against Duke this past season, Paolo Banchero — a projected top-4 pick in this years draft — gets the ball in the post and tries to go to work on Liddell. At 6’10’’, 250 pounds, Banchero has the height and size advantage on Liddell, but that doesn't stop him from making the play:
Impressive defense from EJ Liddell here, displaying his strength, discipline and length defensively in the post pic.twitter.com/xJAwDskTFh— HoopsWill (@HoopsWill) May 16, 2022
That play came when Liddell had two fouls as well, so he was forced to play smart and discipline on the defensive end of the floor. Even though Liddell had a disadvantage in length compared to Banchero, he made up for it with positioning and timing to block the shot, which is something he did incredibly efficiently this past season for the Buckeyes.
Here is another example of Liddell’s versatility as he breaks to the basket to get the short-side block, which led to a breakout and easy basket for his team:
EJ Liddell's versatility on defense is what will keep him in the NBA for quite a long time.— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) March 18, 2022
Undersized four at 6'7", but 240 pounds make up for a lot. One of the safest guys to bet on in the early second round. Can immediately contribute to any second unit! pic.twitter.com/KFEafu7eCg
Not only can Liddell affect shots when opponents are going at him one-on-one, but his instincts and IQ allow him to be a fantastic help defender who possesses the ability to help his teammates near the rim. This part of Liddell’s game should easily translate to the next level and it’s such an important reason why he was named to the Big Ten First Team All-Defense this past season.
Scoring, especially in the low post
When Liddell is not affecting the opponents shot in the low-post, he is doing he complete opposite for himself as his touch near the rim was on full display during his time at Ohio state. Not only does Liddell have incredible feel near the rim, but he also gets into really good positions and his footwork is something that makes it incredibly tough for defenders to try and slow him down.
Just absolutely LOVE the feel for the game that Ohio State forward EJ Liddell has.— Tyler Rucker (@tyler_rucker) April 13, 2022
Dangerous in the midrange. Shows patience, knows how to get to HIS spots...strong footwork, waits for defense to give him an opening. Undersized but knows how to use his frame. #NBADraft pic.twitter.com/zDPVh7lhgL
The patience in which Liddell plays with is really something that stands out as he’s never in a hurry with the ball in his hands. Liddell’s array of moves allows him to set up defenders to give himself the best possible look at securing an easy bucket.
It’s not just the low-post where Liddell can do damage though as he gets a ton of buckets near the mid-range and even occasionally from beyond the three-point line. Liddell may never become a lights out shooter from beyond the arc, but in the low-post and mid-range he can 100 percent be that guy at the next level.
EJ Liddell does also very well at those mid-range jumpers after winning space in the post.— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) May 16, 2022
He's shooting 47.6% on 6.5 attempts in the mid-range. That's ELITE level scoring on high volume.
Still a 21-year-old when the 2022-23 season starts. pic.twitter.com/lc47r6suYZ
When the Buckeyes needed a bucket they could often call Liddell’s name and he would deliver. Ohio State played in a number of close games the past two seasons and the moment never seemed to big for Liddell as he wasn’t afraid to step up when his number was called.
The more we go down the list of Liddell’s strengths the more he feels like a perfect fit for the Nuggets. For a team that could use more defensive versatility on the outside and some more rebounding help, Liddell could be an instant impact player for Denver as early as next season.
Not only did Liddell average 7.9 rebounds per game last season, but 2.3 of those came offensively which is an area the Nuggets are looking to improve upon. Those second chance point opportunities are huge and they are something Liddell was able to create a ton of during his time at Ohio State.
Competitiveness and tenacity is the easiest way to describe Liddell’s rebounding ability as even though he may be undersized at times, you wouldn’t know it with how hard he crashes the boards. Positioning and his basketball instincts are what really help Liddell in the rebounding department and it’s a part of his game I expect to 100 percent translate at the next level.
When you really analyze Liddell’s game it’s tough to find any real weaknesses that concern you long-term. The lateral quickness element of his game is something that did stand out a little bit when watching his tape as he just didn’t always have that first step and speed like some of his opponents did.
The make-up speed in which Liddell played with helped his defense out a ton and it’s a big reason why he was able to accumulate so many blocks. Even though his lateral quickness is a bit of a concern, one glaring positive with his speed was his ability to get a number of blocks when playing help side defense.
He obviously wasn't having to move very far, but just that flash in his game shows you that lateral speed is an area he can easily improve on with the right coaching at the next level. It’s hard to teach a lot of things regarding the game of basketball because it’s pretty cut and dry, you either do this well or you don’t, but in Liddell’s case this is definitely a part of his game that needs some work and could easily improve sooner rather than later in the NBA.
Reluctant to shoot at times
It’s weird that as much as Liddell scored he was often to reluctant to shoot at times. A lot of that reluctancy came on outside shots as Liddell only attempted 2.5 threes per game during his time in college. That number did jump up to a career high 3.8 this past season and with more threes came more success as he made 1.4 threes per game.
Henry, recognizing late shot clock, stunts at EJ Liddell on the empty-side PnP, which in turn makes Liddell hesitate, leading to a shot clock violation.— Stewart Zahn (@szahn_bball) March 5, 2021
Liddell hit the face-up shot, but it was too late. Henry's proactive defense essentially forced the turnover. Great awareness. pic.twitter.com/wrvCTc2J7H
Just like with his lateral quickness this is a part of Liddell’s game that could easily be fixed at the next level. Reluctancy to shoot all comes back to confidence, which is something that should grow for Liddell if he can find some early success at the next level.
I think Liddell would be a home run first round pick for the Nuggets. He could immediately come in next season and contribute off the bench alongside guys like Monte Morris and Bones Hyland. Liddell would give the Nuggets defensive versatility at the forward position and would also give them a guy with upside on the offensive end of the floor.
When the Nuggets were in a pinch this season they often didn't have anyone outside Aaron Gordon to help try and slow down the other team. Liddell could easily be that guy and even though he’s a little undersized at 6’7’’ he makes up for that with his frame and competitiveness on both ends of the floor.
Liddell is rising through the pre-draft process and there is no telling whether or not he will be there when the Nuggets are on the clock. If he is though, the Nuggets would be wise to consider adding the talented two-way forward to their roster.