Can Emmanuel Malou make the leap?

Emmanuel Malou is a name in Australian basketball that has more intrigue associated with it than most do with a myriad of uncertainty and difficult circumstances following the early stages of his playing career.

Malou flirted with the idea of the NBA Draft on two occasions, eventually going undrafted in 2016, and has dealt with U.S. College eligibility issues and injuries along his journey.

Now in his mid-twenties, Malou finds himself playing NBL1 with the Albury-Wodonga Bandits where Australian coaches and fans can finally get a consistent look at his game in a level of competition where his play can be more easily compared to others.

Standing at 6’9” with good mobility, athleticism, and flashes of the modern power-forward skill-set, Malou has enough intrigue to his game to keep himself on the radar of NBL teams.

One team that certainly had him on their radar before the 2018-19 NBL season was the Cairns Taipans.

“He’s got good size, good length, and some athletic ability so obviously that flags him for clubs - you need to look at this guy and see where he is at,” said Cairns Assistant Coach Jamie O’Loughlin.

“We had a chance to have a look at him close up. I think he was here for four days or so working out.”

“He came in and worked really hard while he was here, and he was easy to communicate with, but he was lacking NBL level conditioning.”

“He was coming back from some injury issues so he hadn’t gotten to full fitness. His fitness level at the time was sort of well below the NBL requirements so we gave him some feedback around that stuff, just needing to get himself in tip-top shape and then see how it plays out from there.”

“We took that into consideration and tried to assess him on some other things as well.”

Malou was playing with Melton in The Big V, a couple of levels below that of NBL1, before his workouts with Cairns and therefore wasn’t in the middle of a consistent run of form in a meaningful setting, whilst also not being totally injury free.

The Taipans eventually filled out the rest of their roster without Malou on it as he seemingly wasn’t quite ready at that point in time to be the upside play that he hoped Cairns were after.

“I could 100% agree with Jamie on that,” Emmanuel openly explained (in regards to where his body was at).

“I was playing through a lot of pain at the time while trying to manage a pretty bad ankle.”

“I’ve come a long way since that time. I’ve worked harder and I’ve been eating right to keep myself prepared for when an opportunity presents itself.”

Malou’s hard work is becoming more obvious as the NBL1 season progresses as he again proved to be a significant factor with a strong performance in a win over the highly touted Kilsyth Cobras on the weekend,

His teammate Deba George received most of the credit with a barrage of pull-up three-point makes and countless plays out of the pick and roll but his chemistry with Malou was, and has been throughout the season, a highlight.

Malou’s ability to finish strong at the rim, either rolling after setting a screen, running in transition, or hanging out in the dunkers spot, pairs well with Deba’s floor game as he regularly draws extra attention and zips a pass through a gap in the defense.

Malou has shown some variety though with some strong offensive rebound and put-back results, as well as a decent handle for his position, some spins and step-throughs in the post, and a comfortable looking jump-shot out to three-point range (even if the volume of attempts hasn’t been there yet).

The opportunity to show this all off has also now grown with leading scorer Ken-Jah Bosley sidelined with injury.

The Bandits will need consistency from Malou on offense and will need him to anchor and help ratchet up a below-average team defense to keep them in the playoff picture, and also in order for him to impress NBL decision makers.

“I think NBL teams would want to see that I can play through physicality, knock down open shots, be a rim protector, and be able to score in different ways,” said Malou.

“They’d be wanting to see if I could defend different positions and also be able to rebound quite well.”

One standout play that went some of the way to summarising Emmanuel's talent was a sequence that occurred on the weekend against Kilsyth.

In this sequence Malou switched onto Isaac Turner, blocked his three-point attempt, before seconds later picking off a Peter Hooley drive and dish pass, then he lead the fast break with ball in hand, and finally euro-stepped and drew the blocking foul on Tohi Smith-Milner.

It hasn’t all completely come together for Malou just yet but the building blocks are in place and he’s showing more and more of his game as the season progresses.

The depth in Australian basketball and the NBL is only getting stronger and with that comes difficulty in landing a fully-contracted roster spot though.

“I’d say that most clubs have a list of 30-40 guys that are not in the league that they track and see how they’re going and progressing, and he’s certainly one of those guys for us,” said O’Loughlin.

“He’s not been able to play for long stretches, and whether it’s changing school or it’s going from one club to another, or it’s getting injured, it’s been this constant cycle for him which has obviously been difficult.”

If Malou can continue to stay in great shape and show consistent form for the Bandits, perhaps these next couple of weeks can be a defining point and lead to a breakthrough NBL opportunity and some stability in his career.

In the meantime, he’s saying all the right things and playing well on the court, and with that, is absolutely worth monitoring as one of the most interesting players and stories in NBL1.