The Importance of Olivier Sarr
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of Davion Mintz, a Graduate Transfer Combo Guard from Creighton, and how I felt like the more current buzz around the addition of Olivier Sarr had overshadowed Mintz’ potential impact on the 2020-2021 Kentucky Wildcats. Now, it is time to dive a little deeper into Sarr’s game and why I think he can be one of the better true post players we have seen in Lexington under Coach Calipari. There have obviously been some guys with more raw talent, and several that had more NBA Draft potential, but the skill level that Sarr has in the post, along with his extremely high feel for the game, really excites me for how good he can be next season.
Before we dive into a few broader aspects of the Wake Forest transfers game, I would like to show a couple of clips that exemplify why I am so high on Olivier Sarr. From a coach’s standpoint, Sarr is extremely advanced in terms of the way he plays the position. You have to give Danny Manning a lot of credit for his development at Wake Forest because you can tell he has been coached the right way when it comes to footwork, how to use his body, and developing a full array of post moves.
In this first clip, Sarr is running the floor hard, something he does all the time, and does an excellent job of initiating contact with his defender at the free throw line. This seems like a small point, but it is very important and something that even the best post players simply do not do very often. As the ball crosses half court, Sarr is actually the first guy down the floor and typically a player in his position would just float on to the ball side block, or at best continue running all the way to the front of the rim. When he notices that he is leading the break, he stops and finds the body of the nearest defender to start “sealing him up” to try and get the ball. Sarr continues to post and gets the ball after a second or too. When he does catch the ball, once again, he shows his veteran post IQ by feeling the defender slightly shaded to his left shoulder so instead of just going to his dominant right hand, he makes a move to his right shoulder with his left hand for a relatively easy finish. It will be common theme throughout the videos in this post, but the physicality and patience that Olivier Sarr showcases in the post are what make him so hard to guard.
This is just an elite overall clip for Olivier Sarr. On the defensive end to begin the sequence, Sarr is in help near the midline as he should be (while guarding the player in the deep right corner). As the ball is driven, he does an excellent job of taking an extra step or two across the midline, but also clears the restricted arc so as not to draw an automatic “blocking” foul. After he gets the stop and falls to the ground, he immediately gets up and sprints down the floor, trailing the ball by several steps. As the point guard “slices” the floor, Sarr has made his way inside the 3-point arc. Once again, he is actually the nearest guy to the rim but starts sealing his man around the free throw line which initially allows the point guard to try and drive it. Sarr eventually gets the ball at the front of the rim after the initial drive. When he catches the ball, Sarr showcases another veteran move. Instead of immediately starting to dribble the ball, he starts to make his move to his left shoulder without a dribble. As he turns, Duke brings a double team which would have led to an easy turnover had Sarr put the ball on the ground. Instead, he is able to split through the double-team and get a basket without ever having to dribble. Again, it seems pretty simple but that is a big time play.
Pick and Roll
Beyond simply scoring with his back to the basket, which we will get to in the next segment, Sarr is the most advanced at scoring out of the pick-and-roll. Due to his dribble drive and spacing philosophy, Coach Calipari doesn’t utilize the pick-and-roll as much as a lot of college basketball, but we may see it more next season with Devin Askew, Davion Mintz, and Sarr. First off, Sarr is a patient screener, meaning that he actually makes sure to get his screen set and make contact with the on-ball defender before rolling to the rim and looking for the ball. Secondly, he flips his head quickly and makes eye contact with the ball-handler so he is ready to receive a pass as soon as he is open. Lastly, he has great hands and body control which allows him to go get the ball when it is thrown up to him on the roll. Kentucky has had a lot of big men who were elite at catching the alley-oop and flushing it home but, from a fundamental perspective, Olivier Sarr really might be the most advanced pick-and-roll big man that Coach Cal has had in Lexington.
There are four different plays out of the pick-and-roll shown in the above video and the last one deserves some special attention to further breakdown what makes Sarr so great as scorer off the roll. He sets the ballscreen just to the left-hand side of the top of the key and starts to roll down the lane line as he normally would. However, because he flips his head so quickly to find the ball, he notices the ball has been moved ahead to the right wing and shifts his path more towards the front of the rim which gets him open. The post entry pass isn’t perfect, so Sarr collects himself after the catch, gives a little fake, and then spins back to the middle to finish over his right shoulder with his left hand. I can’t say it enough, his feel in the post and full package of post moves are truly elite.
Back to the Basket
One of the things that differentiates Oliver Sarr from a lot of college big men, including even some of the great ones at Kentucky, is his ability to score consistently with both hands. To use a recent comparison, Sarr is significantly more advanced in the post than Nick Richards was. Richards was a better face-up shooter and probably a better defender, but Sarr is absolutely better at scoring with his back to the basket. The two best qualities that Sarr has in the post are his patience and his ability to “feel” his defender. A lot of college post players have dominated high school basketball for years and rely on a simple hook shot with their strong hand, or dunking, to score. Just in the clips above (I only watched three games of his to compile these videos), he makes a spin move to his left shoulder and finishes with a right hand hook shot, a face-up, spin move to the left shoulder turnaround jumper, a face-up, spin move to the right shoulder left handed hook shot, and a move directly to his right shoulder for a running left handed hook shot. A lot of those moves are shown multiple times in different circumstances. This variety of post moves isn’t something that we are used to seeing at Kentucky in recent seasons. Especially having the option late in the shot clock to throw the ball inside, as opposed to always relying on the guards to make a play, will be a huge advantage. Sarr is a scoring big man with elite footwork and post moves and I think fans are going to be very pleasantly surprised with just how good he really is.
Defense, Rebounding, and Passing
This third category is just a catch-all for the rest of Olivier Sarr’s game. First of all, he is an excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. He has averaged two offensive rebounds per game for his career, including nearly three a game last season as a Junior at Wake Forest. He averaged nine rebounds a game last season overall. With being a true 7-footer, Sarr doesn’t necessarily look nearly as strong or as physical as he plays. He certainly isn’t afraid to mix it up on the boards and always attempts to offensive rebound. Defensively, Sarr can get out of position at times, but makes up for it with his length and how hard he plays. The first two clips in the video above showcase his ability to recover to block a shot in the post, while the third clip shows him rotating down from the perimeter for a big blocked shot. Sarr has also showcased the ability to pass the ball well enough to trust throwing it to him on the perimeter as well. This obviously is a staple to his game but being able to see the floor well enough to hit the open man, and having the ball skills to deliver an accurate pass, are certainly positives. Sarr proved it last season in the ACC, but his ability to rebound on both ends of the floor consistently will make him a double-double threat night-in and night-out next season.
I’ve been gushing about Olivier Sarr on Twitter ever since he committed and I had the time to breakdown some of his play on film. I generally am not one to overhype players and I don’t like to get fan’s hopes up, but I just don’t really see a scenario where Olivier Sarr won’t be a big time player next season for the ‘Cats. When breaking down his film he is just so advanced in terms of the way he operates in the post. His footwork is excellent, the way he fights for position is great, he can score the ball in a variety of was over both shoulders, and he plays extremely hard. He clearly was mentored very well by Danny Manning at Wake Forest, and I am sure that Coach Calipari and big man expert Kenny Payne are very excited to coach Sarr for one season in Lexington.