By the time Ricardo Gathers arrived at Baylor as the #34 recruit nationally in the class of 2012, he had already developed a name for himself as one of the strongest players in the country. Through his first two years at Baylor, Gathers bided his time in a reserve role behind NBA-talents Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson. Last year, however, with lower expectations for the team, Gathers' role and minutes increased dramatically as he helped lead Baylor to a surprising #3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Weighing in at 273 pounds at the USA Basketball Pan American team training camp this past summer, Gathers is one of the most physically imposing players in college basketball. He overpowers his opponents with sheer power and tenacity on the glass, finishing first among DX Top-100 prospects with 14.8 rebounds per-40 minutes and leading all college players with 153 total offensive rebounds on the season.
Still, one of Gathers' biggest red flags as a prospect is that he's undersized for an NBA center. Measuring just 6-7 without shoes this past summer by USA Basketball, with a 6'11 wingspan, it remains to be seen whether Gathers has the height or length to play effectively against bigger and more athletic centers at the next level.
Those concerns come warranted as Gathers leaves something to be desired as an interior finisher on the offensive end. Though he averaged an extremely impressive 6.2 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes, he has struggled to translate those offensive rebounds into easy offense, and doesn't have great shot-selection when it comes to deciding what to do with the extra possessions he generates.
Per Synergy Sports Technology, 27.9% of Gathers' offensive possessions came off offensive rebounds one of the highest rates in the NCAA. However, Gathers shot just 32-for-74 (43.2%) on those looks off putbacks, as he lacks a degree of explosiveness and can be very single-minded with his insistence on heaving up tough shots. Gathers' inefficiencies around the rim were evident throughout the season, as he converted just 96-of-208 (46.2%) on shots around the basket. While he showed glimpses of success with a consistent left hook on post-ups from the right side, the fact remains Gathers is quite limited as a scorer with no reliable source for efficient offense.
To his credit, for a 275-pound behemoth, Gathers is deceptively agile and possesses very nice footwork in traffic. While his strides are small in transition, he still manages to run the floor well though he notoriously reserves his fastest full court sprints for the offensive end. Slimming down would improve his stamina, though he relies on his weight to bang and create space effectively on the interior. Gathers gets to the line at an impressive rate, attempting 7.9 free throws per-40 minutes. Still, just a 61.3% shooter from the line, he needs to convert at a higher rate to make his prolific foul drawing a more attractive asset for NBA teams.
Elsewhere offensively, Gathers brings little to the table. He's a black hole on the interior, tallying just 15 assists in 987 minutes played last season the fourth worst assist rate among DX Top-100 prospects. According to our database, only six players have been drafted since 2000 with as poor an assist rate as Gathers did last season (minimum 900 minutes played)
Defensively, Gathers' effectiveness varies based on the situation. He's a glass eater with great instincts for both timing and positioning, which helps Baylor curtail opponents' second chance opportunities. Moreover, he uses his elite strength to prevent opponents from gaining good post positioning. He's comfortable defending the interior and is clever with his position, often baiting opponents to throw into the post, only to disrupt the entry feed.
But while he dominates the boards on both ends, he's not long enough to survive as a rim protector in the NBA (1.4 blocks per-40) and he often looks overmatched by speed when he's forced to defend on the perimeter an absolute red flag for a undersized big man in the evolving NBA. He's not the most diligent defender and can lose concentration of both his man and his team's defensive scheme, especially when forced to matchup against a floor-spacing big.
Still, after exploding upon insertion into the starting lineup, Gathers has cemented himself as a viable NBA prospect, due to his one highly translatable skill--rebounding. He'll need to show continued progression as either a finisher on the interior or as a passer/decision maker in his senior season to ease NBA teams' concerns about his limited offensive ability. He'll also need to improve his free throw touch to not hinder his ability to take advantage of the tremendous energy he provides offensively. Defensively, his physical limitations will always be a hurdle he has to overcome at the professional level. Still, with another season to show improvements on that end of the floor, he has a chance to turn the negative defensive perception around.