A Prospect Dive: Ryan Kalkbrenner
Heading into the 2022-2023 college season, there are several returners that everyone will be keeping an eye on: Terquavion Smith, Julian Strawther, Arthur Kaluma, Marcus Sasser, Terrence Shannon Jr., and a few others who have already entered the draft previously such as Jalen Wilson, Baylor Scheierman, etc., but I want to touch on Ryan Kalkbrenner, a talented center who may make a big jump on draft radars.
Ryan Kalkbrenner is one of the more intriguing returning college bigs, and his skill set is pretty straightforward. He offers really good rim protection, while also being able to set solid screens in the pick-and-roll and can score when catching the ball on the roll or lobs at the basket.
When comparing Kalkbrenner’s advanced numbers to other players in the last class, and historically, he looks to be in some good company. According to Barttorvik, last season, there were only four players who met the following filters at the top of the screenshot below:
All three of the other players were drafted this past season, with Holmgren and Williams being top 15 picks while Koloko was an early 2nd-rounder.
If we go back to 2008, and only look at Freshmen and Sophomores who have met those same filters, we see a very interesting list. That’s some solid company for Kalkbrenner.
*Christian Koloko does not show up in this picture because of everyone getting an extra year of eligibility, so certain sites had him listed as a Sophomore, but this past season was really his third season.
Kalkbrenner really got into a groove as the season was winding down before he got injured in Creighton’s Round of 64 game against San Diego State. Over his last 12 games of the season, Kalkbrenner averaged 16.9 PTS, 9.1 REB, and 2.2 BLK while shooting 68.4% from the floor and 77.6% from the free throw line. It will be interesting to see if he can replicate those numbers this upcoming year with how much talent the roster will have (Arthur Kaluma, Ryan Nembhard, Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander, etc.), but he doesn’t need to put up those numbers to have a successful season. There will be plenty of eyes on Creighton this upcoming season, as they could be a top-10 team in college basketball, with the potential to be even better.
The main appeal with Kalkbrenner is his rim protection. He was one of the best rim-protecting bigs in the country, and there is plenty of data and film to back it up. Kalkbrenner has a good feel for the game and makes some really good rotations to block or alter shots. He can also completely deter a shot at the rim and force the offensive player to pass it. There doesn’t seem to be a recorded standing reach for Kalkbrenner, but Creighton has him listed at 7’1” with a 7’4.625” wingspan and a max vertical of 32.5”. Combining his feel with his measurements and verticality makes him such an effective rim protector.
This upcoming video will focus on Kalkbrenner’s rim protection, mainly from off-ball rotations, and a future video will show his ability to provide rim protection in other scenarios.
As is the case with a lot of big men, how Kalkbrenner’s mobility and pick-and-roll defense will be able to hold up in the NBA is the big question. Kalkbrenner isn’t the best mover, but he has been able to hold his own for the most part at the college level. Proving that he won’t be a liability on defense in the pick and roll is crucial for his success. Creighton uses Kalkbrenner in drop coverage a majority of the time, which did leave them vulnerable to hot shooting stretches from the midrange occasionally, but it was effective and allowed Kalkbrenner to be one of the top defensive players in the country. According to the Cerebro Database, Kalkbrenner ranked in the 99th percentile in both DSI (Defensive Statistical Impact) and ATR (Around The Rim) last season.
Speaking of DSI and ATR, when comparing Kalkbrenner to others in the Cerebro Database, there are only four players dating back to the 2002-03 season who were at least 7’0” and also had scores of 99 DSI, 85 ATR, and 30 3PE (3 Point Efficiency). We’ll touch on Kalkbrenner’s shooting later, but it was included in this query to show players who have at least shown shooting flashes. Here is a screenshot of the four players:
Once again, pretty interesting company. Even if it hasn’t proven to be a successful group of players yet, those are three 1st round picks.
Now back to the film… While Kalkbrenner was mostly used in drop, we did see some instances where he was asked to switch onto the perimeter, hard hedge, or blitz as seen in the video above. Seeing big men in a variety of pick-and-roll coverage is always nice to see, but it’s likely that Kalkbrenner will be used most often in drop coverage at the next level. That being said, some successful possessions switching onto the perimeter is definitely a plus, but while Collin Gillespie was a good college guard, it’s not the best test for seeing how his mobility will hold up against next-level athletes.
One of Kalkbrenner’s biggest weaknesses on the defensive end is his footwork. This can be seen at times in drop coverage, as well as closing out on the perimeter. While Kalkbrenner isn’t a quick mover, he was able to stay with non-explosive players on drives, or at least recover to contest their shots at the rim due to his length. When Kalkbrenner would get beat, it often had to do with poor footwork or having to change directions.
As mentioned earlier, Kalkbrenner is capable of setting solid screens, rolling to the rim, and finishing around the rim. He’s by no means an explosive athlete, so you can’t just throw anything up for him to grab it, but he’s more than capable of finishing lobs. Additionally, Kalkbrenner has shown the ability to slip a screen when necessary.
Kalkbrenner’s passing numbers aren’t great (averaged 0.9 assists per game, 6.7 AST%), but I tend to find his passing underrated, and it’s fair to expect him to show that more this upcoming season. He had a decent amount of solid passes to teammates back cutting, but most of those seemed like results of set plays rather than him instinctually making the right read himself. On the other hand, there were flashes of him making solid passes on the short roll, even if they didn’t lead to buckets.
While his passing is worth keeping an eye on next season, the 3-point shot is also worth watching out for. Increasing his volume and efficiency is not a necessity for him to have NBA success, but it would definitely help his chances (and upside, obviously). This past season, Kalkbrenner only shot a total of 12 3s, knocking down 25% of them (3-12). It would be really nice to see if Kalkbrenner can increase that volume a little bit, even if it’s just up to one attempted 3 per game. This is by no means enough volume to provide floor spacing and really draw whoever is defending him away from the basket, but seeing any sort of improvement here would be a positive sign.
Kalkbrenner’s 3-point volume this past year was really interesting when you look at his game log. 7 of his 12 attempted 3s this year came in two games against Seton Hall, while all 3 of his makes came in those games as well. He only attempted two total 3s in his first 20 games. Then, he attempted four 3s in a game against Seton Hall, which was followed by a 6-game stretch of not attempting any 3s again.
While dunks are important and are high-percentage shots, they are not a great indicator of touch. It’s a common occurrence for someone to cite a big man’s FG% around the rim to prop up someone’s ‘touch’, but it would be more accurate to exclude dunks when talking about touch, and look at a player’s percentage on layups, hook shots, and floaters / runners. On these ‘touch’ shots, Kalkbrenner shot 58% (91-157) this past year, which is still an impressive number.
Moving on, while Kalkbrenner is a very good rim protector, his defensive rebounding is one of his concerns as it’s not as dominant as you’d like from your big. Looking back at the first screenshot comparing Kalkbrenner to other bigs, the defensive rebound percentage column (DR) backs this up and shows that he had the lowest defensive rebound percentage of all the bigs listed in that list.
One of the main things that stand out with Kalkbrenner’s defensive rebounding is his lack of physicality. He allows opposing bigs to push him under the basket too often, and he doesn’t do a good job fighting for positioning. While Kalkbrenner is a below-average defensive rebounder, he’s a capable offensive rebounder.
He actually had more total offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds throughout the season. Kalkbrenner provides more effort and deals with physicality better on the offensive glass than the defensive glass, and is also able to use his size and length to rebound over smaller players compared to other players pushing him under the basket on the defensive end.
There are some clear differences between Walker Kessler and Ryan Kalkbrenner, but there are a number of similarities as well. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Kalkbrenner has the same type of rise that Kessler experienced last year, which resulted in him being picked in the 1st round. Kessler was a polarizing prospect depending on the philosophy of those in the discussion, and Kalkbrenner might follow in those footsteps. The discussion around the philosophy of drafting certain big men is an interesting topic itself, but that’s for another time. Nonetheless, Ryan Kalkbrenner is a talented big who should be monitored closely for the 2023 Draft.
Zach Milner, @ZachMilner13 on Twitter