Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebrasketball Film Study: Blaise Keita

October 10, 2022

Nebraska turned to the junior college ranks to reinforce its frontcourt during the 2022 recruiting cycle, landing one of the top JUCO players in the country in Coffeyville Community College big man Blaise Keita.

At 6-foot-11 and 241 pounds, Keita brings legitimate center size and a track record of production after two years with the Ravens. He’s a very different type of player than we’ve seen play the five for Hoiberg to this point.

To get a better feel for how Keita will fit at Nebraska and what he’ll bring to the table, I dove into the game tape of his time at Coffeyville with the help of Synergy Sports Technology.

Keita played 30 games during the 2020-21 season, and Synergy has stats from 25 of them. He only played 18 games this past season, which counted as his freshman year because of the eligibility freeze, and Synergy has 14 of those games.

Keita averaged 10.5 points on 50.8% from the field and 72.8% from the free-throw line, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 2020-21 then upped those averages to 12.8 points per game on 51.8% shooting and 65.1% free-throw shooting and 9.8 rebounds per game this past season.

In the 14 games and just under 200 possessions Synergy tracked last season, Keita scored 0.959 points per possession (PPP), ranked in the 82nd percentile. He does most of his damage around the basket, though Synergy had him at 9-of-18 on mid-range jumpers last season.

He was slightly more efficient on greater volume during his first season, scoring 0.993 PPP (84th percentile), though he was only 4-of-13 on mid-range jumpers.

Keita shot 31-of-35 (88.6%) on dunks and 64-of-108 (59.3%) on layups during those 39 games, and 49.4% of his shots came at the rim.

What makes Keita unique in today’s game is the volume of his offense that comes from the post. For Coffeyville, 46.2% of his possessions were classified as post-ups last season, which puts him in the 97th percentile nationally in post usage rate. During his first season, the percentage was 50.9%, which was in the 100th percentile.

Keita is first and foremost a post-up big. Posting up by nature is a fairly low-efficiency play type, which is why it’s not nearly as common in offenses around the country these days. This past season, Keita wasn’t anything special in the post despite the volume as he scored 0.824 PPP (54th percentile), shot 46.7%, turned the ball over 19.8% of the time and drew a foul on 16.5% of his possessions.

However, in watching and charting all 91 post clips from this past season, it appears the injury issues that sidelined him early and limited him to 18 games might have played a factor. In his first 44 post possessions, he shot just 9-of-28 (32.1%) with nine turnovers and seven fouls drawn. In the last 47, he shot 19-of-32 (59.4%) with the same number of giveaways and one more foul.

Looking back to the 2020-21 season, his efficiency nearly matched his volume as he scored 0.899 PPP on 139 possessions (97th percentile). He shot 44% but only turned the ball over on 8.6% of his possessions while posting a similar foul rate to this past season (15.1%).

Keita isn’t Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic, but he does show good feel for working on the block. He’s comfortable putting the ball on the deck to get to his spot. He uses his shoulders well to create space and demonstrates solid footwork. He isn’t going to physically dominate his man every time down the floor, and a lot more of the shots he generates end up going over a defender as opposed to Keita getting himself past his man to finish at the rim.

Which perhaps leads me to the source of the drop off in post efficiency year to year. One of Keita’s go-to moves appears to be the jump hook, which he converted at just a 36.4% rate (12-of-33) last season after hitting 56.8% of them (25-of-44) his first season. He probably has better touch than he showed this past year, and I think that jump hook can be a real weapon for him.

Keita also has pretty decent touch shooting over the top of a defender with little push shots or short jumpers, occasionally making shots that don’t look like they have any business going in.

Here are some clips of Keita going to work in the post last season.

It’s worth noting here that a lot of his turnovers came when the defense sent extra bodies at him. He is a very poor passer with a career 0.5 assist-to-turnover ratio during his two seasons at Coffeyville, and some of his attempts to pass out of the double team were pretty wild (ending up in the backcourt, the third row or a defender’s hands).

Keita’s second-most common play type this past season was cutting at 16.2% of his possessions. He scored 1.281 PPP (84th percentile) and shot 66.7% from the field. In 2020-21, those numbers were 1.194 PPP (93rd percentile) and 60% shooting.

The vast majority of this “cut” possessions were him hanging out in what’s called the dunker spot, the area along the baseline near the basket. A good chunk of them came with him filling the short corner spot against a 2-3 zone as well. He does a good job of making himself available with his hands up and finishes strong once he catches it.

Here are some clips from this past season of Keita as a cutter.

Keita averaged 2.6 offensive rebounds per game during his two seasons at Coffeyville, but like with the hook shot, his effectiveness varied year to year. Put-backs made up 14.2% of his possessions (only 28 in total) this past season and he scored 0.893 PPP (28th percentile) as he shot just 6-of-17 from the field. However, offensive rebounding was his second-most common play type during his first season at 13.9% and he scored 1.105 PPP (92nd percentile), shooting 50% and drawing a foul on 10 of his 38 possessions. He also drew 11 fouls on 28 possessions last season, so even if he wasn’t scoring at the same rate he was still creating a lot of contact.

Keita had a tough time making contested shots and scoring in traffic after offensive rebounds this past year, but he displayed the same level of physicality and pursuit outside of his area as the previous season.

Here are a few highlights of Keita crashing the offensive glass.

The sample size on any other type of play during the 2021-22 season is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, but the Ravens seemed to push the pace far more during his first season than his second. In the 39 games on Synergy, Keita shot 28-of-35 in transition, scoring 1.303 PPP on 33 possessions in 2020-21 and 1.545 PPP on 11 possessions in 2021-22. This past season, most of those fast break opportunities came on press break plays where he was waiting on the far end of the floor, but he did show the ability to get out and run during his first season, which should serve him well in Fred Hoiberg’s system.

It’s worth noting that Keita logged just 11 possessions as the pick-and-roll roll man, 10 of which came this past season. He shot 5-of-9 with one foul and one turnover. I’m not sure how much of his lack of pick-and-roll usage has to do with Coffeyville’s offense or guard play and how much of it has to do with Keita’s skill set, but even in the pick-and-roll plays he was involved in he popped on seven of those eight shots, hitting three of them. He scored one bucket and drew one foul while actually rolling to the rim.

On the other side of the ball, Keita definitely looks to be a lot more comfortable the closer he is to the rim. He struggles to guard stretch bigs, often focusing on the ball and trying to be in help on the back side as his man floats to the perimeter, and he struggles to recover if the offense makes the skip or kick-out pass. Ideally, Nebraska is probably going to want him in the game against more traditional bigs.

When Keita does have to guard in space, he works hard to move his feet and he put some good reps on tape, but his lateral quickness isn’t a strength and you probably don’t want him switching on wings or guards if you can avoid it. He’ll occasionally show and recover in the pick-and-roll, but he’s probably best as a drop defender where he remains in the paint as the guard looks to fight over the screen.

Coffeyville mostly had Keita staying between his man and the basket in the post rather than fronting with back side help. He does a good job of holding his ground and keeping his feet rather than jumping at every pump fake, walling up to force difficult shots over the top. He is occasionally susceptible to stronger players powering through him inside, but some time in Nebraska’s strength and conditioning program should help in that area as his fundamentals are fairly sound. He does a good job of playing with verticality rather than chasing blocks, either on the ball or in help. Hoiberg said at the start of practice that Keita is leading the team in charges taken by a considerable amount since arriving on campus, and he shows the willingness to get in position and give up his body on tape.

Here are some clips of his defense at Coffeyville (six from 2021-22, three from 2020-21).

 

Keita isn’t a terribly explosive athlete, and he doesn’t always look super-coordinated. Even so, he finds a way to be effective. He has legitimate center size, a knack for scoring in the post and even the ability to step out and shoot the from about 15 feet, though that’s a bit inconsistent.

“It’s such an adjustment, and I think you saw some of that with Keisei [Tominaga] last year,” Hoiberg said about making the transition from junior college to the Big Ten. “… I think having a year under his belt now and having the type of summer that he did where he led the Japanese national team in scoring will help him immensely. So you look at Blaise coming in now and just every night going against, especially in our league, the quality of bigs that he’s going to see on a nightly basis, it’s an adjustment. 

“But Blaise has picked things up so quickly. I knew I liked Blaise; I didn’t know he was going to be as good as he is as fast as he has. Just physicality, rebounding, like I said earlier, taking charges, he’s just done a little bit of everything for this group, screening and that ability to score it in the paint.”

Keita is a very different type of player than what Derrick Walker has developed into during his time in Lincoln, but the two of them should form a strong one-two punch in the middle for Hoiberg this season.

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