A four year starter in the ACC, this season has marked yet another step in the slow, but steady progression Zabian Dowdell
has made into becoming one of the best guards in one of the top conferences in America.
Going on the road to a young, but extremely talented Georgia Tech team, Dowdell carried his team on his back yet again to make another solid step towards securing a berth in the NCAA tournament. Dowdell is Virginia Techs go-to guy, a player whose maturity and experience has been absolutely essential in bringing his team tantalizingly close to securing their first tournament appearance since the 1995-1996 season. That goal hit a bit of a setback on Wednesday night after falling at home to a much less talented NC State team, but Virginia Tech is still very much in the picture regardless for making the big dance, largely thanks to two huge wins against Duke and North Carolina, where Dowdell scored 20 and 23 points respectively.
In terms of his NBA prospects, Dowdell has quite a few things going for him. For one, hes got excellent size, standing 6-3 with a chiseled 200 pound frame. Hes a solid defender, a much improved shooter, and has made some serious strides this year in his overall decision making, evidenced by his excellent 2.3/1 assist to turnover ratio.
Dowdell has gone from a mediocre shooter early in his college career to a very dangerous one if left open, knocking down 47.7% of his shots from the field (compared with 41.7% last year) and 41.5% of his 3-point attempts (compared with 35.8% last year). He does not have a consistent release point on his shot, but is capable of hitting jumpers in many different ways, whether coming off screens, catching and shooting, or pulling up off the dribble from mid-range or behind the arc. Hes also a capable ball-handler, not terribly explosive, especially in terms of getting off the floor, but still very much able to get into the paint and use his strength to finish or draw contact, getting to the free throw line almost 6 times a game. He has some basic hesitation moves he can go-to to overcome his lack of a lightning quick first step, and the fact that hes improved his shooting so much this year means that defenders have to play him closer than they normally would have in the past. The fact that hes left-handed also gives him a slight advantage.
In transition is where Dowdell is at his absolute best, as he loves to push the tempo of the game and is extremely reliable with the ball in his hands, averaging just 1.6 turnovers per game in 33 minutes. He does a good job of running his team and has cut back dramatically on many of the foolish mistakes that characterized his play early on in his career, making quick and efficient decisions and often passing up good shots for better ones to get all of his teammates involved. Hes not a pure point guard in the classic sense, but he has a nice variety of passes in his arsenal that he can utilize, particularly in terms of feeding cutters in the paint. Sharing some ball-handling duties with fellow senior combo guard Jamon Gordon
(who is having an excellent season in his own right), he does a nice job moving off the ball looking for open spaces to get his shot off as well.
Defensively, Dowdell is committed to keeping his man in front of him and can be a real nuisance in the passing lanes, averaging a league-leading 2.5 steals per game, tied with backcourt mate Jamon Gordon
. In the Georgia Tech game in particular he did an outstanding job on Javaris Crittenton
, bodying him up all day long and pestering him into a 5-19 shooting outing. His strength and experience really come into play in this area, and he leaves a solid impression with the way he plays angles and forces matchups into positions they are not comfortable in.
All in all, Dowdell has improved enough over the past few years that he deserves be mentioned as a legit NBA draft prospect. He doesnt overly excel in any one part of the game, but also doesnt have any considerable weaknesses that cant be overcome with hard work. Starting in arguably the best conference in America over the past four years makes him one of the most experienced guard prospects in this draft, and if hes able to continue his strong play into the months of February and March, he will surely draw even more attention to himself. The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, right down the road from his college, could be a place where he can really make a name for himself. If the NBA isnt in the cards for him right away, he can rest assure that high-level European teams will welcome him with open arms, as he is basically the prototype for what they are usually looking for out of American players in their backcourt.