Toronto Raptors guard Ben Uzoh (18) chases Sacramento Kings guard Josh Akognon (0) in the Vegas Summer League

No Joshin'...This Guy Can Play! Josh Akognon Hangs with the Mavericks (Dallas Mavericks 2012-2013)

Who is this guy??

Maybe the hottest shooter at the Dallas Mavericks’ training camp.  He doesn’t even have a guaranteed contract but Josh Akognon (pronounced uh-koy-nun) may end up being the biggest surprise of all in a group of impressive rookies.

Finishing up practice before heading to Barcelona, four players were locked in a three-point shootout – Dirk, Mayo, Roddy and…Josh Akognon.

The Dallas Mavericks released Tu Holoway and DJ Mbenga Tuesday leaving Akognon as the sole remaining player outside of the presumptive “Gang of 15.”  But if you don’t know who Akognon is and you thought you were paying attention, it’s hard to believe he slid under the radar.

This is the same guy who impressively came off the bench playing for the Sacramento Kings just this summer in Las Vegas to lead the team, averaging 19.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.  But that type of performance isn’t unusual.

Josh’s play in college was nothing short of electrifying. Playing his first two years of at Washington State, he was voted the Pac-10’s “Most Underrated Player” by Sports Illustrated and as with his play this last summer for the Kings, Akognon led the team in scoring despite coming off the bench most of the year.

He transferred to Cal State-Fullerton for his junior and senior years and achieved numerous accolades.  His senior year was named the 2008-09 Big West Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, averaging 23.9 points per game, good for 8th in the nation.  A scoring machine, he hit 136 three-pointers (2nd best in the nation per game) and 132 free throws (8th best in the nation with 89.2% FT percentage) and set a Big West Tournament scoring record with 37 points including 9 threes.  He reached double figures in 36 of 37 games, scored over 20 points twenty-two times, over 30 points six times and even had two 41 point games.

Josh has something in common with late-to-the-game rookie Bernard James, who is entering the NBA at age 27.  A five-year player in college (with a year off for transferring), Akognon was not drafted and instead spent three years overseas, playing professional ball in the Estonian League, Baltic League and Chinese Basketball Association before finally landing a brief stint the NBA Developmental League’s Canton Charge in 2012.  A Nigerian-American, he also played for the Nigerian team in FIBA competition.  He lands at the Mavericks camp at the ripe old age of 26, just a year younger than James.

Akognon was on his way back to China where teams placed him high on their priority list. In 2010-2011, his first year, he averaged 28.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.6 steals per game and followed up with similar numbers in 2011-2012.   After playing in the summer league for Sacramento he was prepared to head on back to China but after receiving an offer from Mark Cuban he opted to go to Mavericks training camp.

It’s not surprising that reports he has been considered one of the fastest scorers around with numerous offensive moves, many of which he is able to execute against almost anyone.   Combining speed, misdirection and a quick release he can get his shot off almost anytime and can hit from anywhere including beyond the arc.  Despite his size (he is listed at 5′ 11″ and 185 lbs.) he is also not afraid to make contact and goes to the line frequently while connecting at a 90% clip.

There is a lot of upside potential to Akognon, who has a reputation for scoring even when the opposing team keys on him, certainly the case during most of his college career when he wasn’t surrounded by great talent.   During his sophomore season, after Akognon earned Pac-10 player of the week honors he proceeded to score 25 points against UCLA while being guarded primarily by noted defensive stopper Arron Afflalo.

But of course, there are reasons he isn’t already in the NBA.  While somewhat small even for a point guard, his skills are more suited to an off guard and he is significantly undersized for that position.  While his quickness enables him to stay in front of most players, they can take advantage by posting him up and naturally, contesting shots is sometimes difficult.  Coming out of college he had not learned to use his quickness to get into the passing lane and on offense, his game had not matured for the talent level and team play of the NBA.  He showed a tendency to be overly concerned with finding his own shot and somewhat shortsighted in not passing off frequently enough.   As a result he would frequently over dribble or find himself in traffic and that can be even more of a dead end at the NBA level.

Still, after three years overseas there has been much time for improvement.  Josh, a husband and father, left the sunny skies of California for the freezing cold of the Baltics and then to Southern China in order to support his family and now hopes he can finally find success in the NBA.   His mentors have told him and he is well aware that he must continue to do what he does best but work on being more of a playmaker and passing the ball.  He also fully understands that much like one of his summer teammates, Jimmer Fredette, lights-out scoring in college doesn’t necessarily immediately translate into making a huge impact in the NBA.

On a team loaded with combo guards, the Dallas roster may be tough to crack.   If nothing else he will probably be offered a spot on the Texas Legends but it seems more likely that if he doesn’t make the squad he will head back to China, where he will get lots of playing time and a better paycheck to support his family.

Needless to say, Josh could be one of the feel-good surprises of the year and judging by the way he can put the ball in the hoop, giving him a chance could be exciting.   A little new “instant offense” should always be on the menu and good things do sometimes come in small packages.

We’ll be watching.

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