Ethan Happ is a 6’10” senior big for the Wisconsin Badgers. Happ tested the 2018 NBA Draft waters and, despite not receiving an NBA Draft Combine invite, had the opportunity to work out for a handful of teams and receive candid feedback from scouts and executives. Happ, a Third-Team All-American as a junior, ultimately returned to Madison for his senior season, and has taken his game to another level. Happ is neck-and-neck with Zion Williamson atop KenPom’s Player of the Year formula, and is on pace to become the only player since 1992-93 to average 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists over the course of a full season. Despite his three-point and free throw shooting woes, Happ is one of the more unique prospects in recent memory, and the intricacies of his unconventional game warrant a close look from NBA talent evaluators.
Tale of the Tape
Post Facilitation & Footwork
Happ is best-known for his versatility as a post-up finisher on the block. His footwork and fundamentally sound, yet highly believable, pump fakes allow him to elude athletic rim protectors. Happ uses the glass extremely well, and has natural touch as a finisher with both hands. His post-scoring dominance has caused defenses to send help via dig downs or even hard doubles immediately upon receipt of a post-entry pass. This frees up one player, normally backside in the Badgers’ offense, either cutting to the rim or spotting up for a weak side corner three. Happ has proven to have the vision and passing accuracy to function as an unconventional primary facilitator out of the post.
Happ leads the Badgers with 107 assists through 21 games, having notched nearly double that of the next closest Badger. This is unique, to say the least, for a high-major big man. Happ is on pace to become the only high-major player since 1996-97 listed at 6’10” or taller to average 5+ assists per game. His AST% has consistently increased each season. Happ has assisted on 38.9% of his teammates’ field goals while on the court this season. This uptick in assists is particularly impressive given the fact that Happ’s turnovers have remained steady. His decision-making acumen is evidenced by a 1.76 AST/TO ratio, impressive for a high usage big.
In the clip below, we will highlight Happ’s footwork and subsequent vision/IQ as a post facilitator.
At the next level, Happ will have to be able to make reads and facilitate from all three levels of the floor in a variety of game situations. As highlighted in the clip above, Happ possesses the ability to create for others in transition, from the high post, and from the block. Happ has the potential to translate as a short-roll passer in the pros, which could help him provide value on offense as a non-shooter.
Defensive Instincts & Activity
Despite his lack of vertical athleticism and explosiveness, Happ has been an active, impactful defensive presence. Over his 5 years in Madison under the tutelage of Bo Ryan and Greg Gard, Happ has developed into a defensive pillar of a consistently stingy Badgers defense.
Happ is highly effective at closing out defensive possessions. Though not an explosive vertical leaper, Happ excels at establishing defensive rebounding position, sealing off the opposition, and being quick to the ball. Happ is having a career year on the glass, pulling down 8.2 defensive rebounds per game.
Happ also excels at closing out defensive possessions by disrupting offensive flow and forcing turnovers. Though his STL% has taken a dip this season, Happ has proven more than capable of forcing turnovers and making defensive impact plays. When his man attempts a post-up, Happ positions himself in a way conducive to maintaining the mobility to step forward and reach around the post-up for a steal or deflection of the entry pass. Paint deflections are highly valuable within any defensive scheme at any level of basketball, whether a turnover is forced or opponents are prevented from executing on their primary offensive sets. He has even shown the anticipatory acumen to extend this passing lane disruption out to the perimeter.
In the clip below, we highlight Happ’s defensive activity, anticipation, and knack for making defensive reads that turn defense into transition offense.
Happ can, at times, can be a bit overzealous in taking risks to finesse his way to steals rather than holding his position and bearing the brunt of physicality in the post. He could stand to improve his ability to withstand contact from tougher bigs in the paint, and be a bit more selective as to when to gamble defensively.
Happ will go down as one of the most individually accomplished players in Wisconsin and Big Ten basketball history. He is a uniquely talented facilitator for his size, has magnificent footwork, and is an intelligent positional defender. While these skills translate well into a modern NBA that asks for more polish, ball skills, and IQ from big men, the holes that do exist in Happ’s game make his NBA fit a bit clouded in the eyes of scouts and front office decision-makers. His lack of a jump shot and inability to efficiently convert at the free throw line, in conjunction with the inherent limitations of his physical tools, make Happ’s path to an NBA roster spot heavily reliant on team context and scheme.
Despite All-American production, Happ’s draft stock has fluctuated over the past few years. While only one team needs to fall in love with him as a late 2nd round prospect, Happ’s more likely outcome entails proving himself in Vegas at NBA Summer League and choosing a professional basketball career path that best suits both his short-term and long-term goals. Happ could sign with a G League team with the potential to earn a two-way contract, develop a jump shot, and attempt to work his way up to the NBA. He could also, alternatively, sign with a high-caliber European team, earn more money, develop as a shooter, and attempt to make a future run at his NBA dreams after refining the holes in his game. Regardless of the path he chooses, Happ projects to be a productive, successful pro.
*Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports-Reference.com