Name: Ethan Happ
Date of Birth: 7th of May 1996
Weight: 108 kg
Pro Since: 2019
Club: Vanoli Cremona / Olympiacos BC
Role: Versatile Big
Key Skills: Post-up/Face-up, Ballhandling, Passing, Pick and Roll
The soon to be 24-year-old Ethan Happ signed a lucrative two-year rookie deal with Olympiacos last summer after a successful college career with Wisconsin. He got loaned to Cremona in Italy after a couple of weeks with the red and whites and couldn’t have asked for a better situation to blossom in. In 14 games in the Serie A he averaged 18 points (63.4% FG), 8.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists for a team that played a high tempo game and finished the season in a good 6th place before COVID-19 ended their run. Happ, known as a fundamentally sound center, impressed with his offensive package and reportedly has numerous offers on the table now for the next season.
Footwork. Happ takes full advantage of his exquisite footwork and has counter moves for days. He constantly pirouets in the paint and somehow gets to his spots. While he’s not a guy who beats you with brutal strength, you won’t find many guys in Europe who have more to offer in terms of finesse and skill. There are times when he just improvises and comes up with stuff on the fly, something that only works because he’s got great fundamentals. You can even give him the ball somewhere in the midrange area in hope of a miracle with the shot clock winding down, really uncommon for a big that can’t shoot and rather takes it to the rim.
To no surprise, Happ’s outstanding footwork is obvious in more than just one part of his game. Isolation situations, face- or post-ups, overall ballhandling, quick spins in the paint – you name it. He’s one of the best in the game only judging footwork and will probably have a long and successful career ahead of him solely based on that fact.
Ballhandling and playmaking. Another huge part of his game is his ballhandling, especially for a center. You usually don’t see a big with that combination of footwork and ballhandling. He gets closer to the rim with behind the back crossovers and other change of direction moves and stays really creative with everything he does. It looks effortless as he dribbles through traffic and seemingly always has the ball on a string. He’s mobile and has a knack for catching opponents wrong-footed. The latter is pretty obvious if you look at his go-to move, faking the handoff and driving to the cup. If that isn’t working, he’s more of a move after move after move guy. It might take him some time to get where he wants to be (mostly near the rim), but he knows how to use the right move at the right time, especially after his three or four week transition period in Cremona was over.
Another thing that stands out is his playmaking. He’s a really good passer and likes to push the ball in transition or after grabbing the rebound. He covers a lot of ground and changes ends in a heartbeat, always looking for open guys on the perimeter or cutting to the basket. He’s a good distributor from the post if the double team is coming and has the ability to see over the defense. He had some turnovers here and there, but mostly makes the right reads and observes everything with great composure.
Post-Up/Face-up/Isolation. While it’s obvious that Happ likes to share the ball, he’s definitely no stranger to putting the ball in the hoop and regularly looks for a way to isolate and take his man to school. He’s not dependent on good entry passes or other factors, he’s got the talent to receive the ball further from the rim and just dribble to his spot. He uses both hands inside the paint with a clear preference for his right handed hook shot. He won’t back down everyone all the way to the rim and has trouble with size and physicality, but possesses the fundamentals to be good. He’s unstoppable when a guard/wing switches onto him and punishes mismatches every trip down the floor. Overall he likes to face up quite a lot and regularly takes advantage of his ballhandling. He’s fairly agile and smart and you never know where he’s going one on one. His overall efficiency posting up could be a little bit better, but it will get there over time and some of it will even out if he’s adapting to the physicality of the game in Europe.
Pick and Roll. If you talk about good fundamentals, you have to point out Happ’s screen setting and pick and roll play too. He’s such a smart and good screen setter that he always finds the perfect angle. You won’t see illegal screens from him and it’s striking that he’s always aware of time and space and just knows when and where to set the screen. Sometimes you wish he would be quicker rolling to the rim, but he makes up for it in some ways with his awareness and his ability to stop midway through the process, taking one extra dribble or two and laying it in with his back to the basket. If he receives the ball as a roll man he rather goes for layups than for dunks and although he’s not the type of center that pretty much converts everything above or near the rim, he’s still someone you can count on to do damage every game.
Transition. As already highlighted, Happ likes to push the pace after grabbing the rebound, but even if he isn’t directly involved, he’s one hell of a transition player. He’s really fast for his size and eager to get downhill if he sees an opening. He sprints the lane and is available for the pass, something that was/is tailor made for a high-tempo team like Cremona.
(Defensive) Rebounding. Happ averaged 8.9 boards per game in 30 minutes this season. He could average even more if he wouldn’t emphasize boxing out so much. He might not be the most physical big out there and it’s a disadvantage at times, but he’s got the size and the discipline to be a good rebounder, especially defensively. He’s focused and not worried about his own stats in that regard, something you want to see from your player.
Interior defense. There might be two sides of the coin regarding Happ’s pick and roll defense, there’s mostly just one in terms of his interior defense. He’s definitely not imposing physical-wise and not a real inside presence despite his height. Defensively he’s a little soft and has trouble against physical bigs. He’s a below average interior defender with no real impact as a rim protector and opponents regularly beat him at the rim. He shies away from contact at times and veteran guys like Julian Gamble knew how to push him around when they played each other. Happ has to get tougher in order to make an impact on both ends, something that’s required of him when he can’t drop 20 every game anymore. He already showed some nice improvements in 2020 and threw his body around, but that trend has to continue.
Finishing against size. Offensively he’s not much of a powerful and mean inside bruiser either. He does everything with finesse and lacks some bulk in order to dominate at the highest level. He’s not elite at backing down people and rather shifts and fakes. He constantly gets bothered by size and physicality and has trouble going through people in order to finish. He tries to absorb contact, but fails to do so. Euroleague defenders like Kaleb Tarczewski gave him a hard time this season and his effiency takes a drastic hit if he has to match up against those dudes.
Pick and roll defense. While he’s quite good in the pick and roll setting offensively, he’s a little soft defensively and got caught in between a lot at the start of the season. He looked confused and lost at times and it was obvious that he had trouble defending basketball’s most common action. He lost sight of the ball(handler) and turned away too early more than once and if you add the fact that he’s not much of a rim protector, nor athletic or bouncy enough to compensate his shortcomings, trouble araises. He tried to take away both the drive and the roll, but hardly stopped one. Truth be told, he definitely made huge strides and did a solid job in the second half of the season. His quick hands were more of a factor and he wasn’t as overwhelmed as before. Happ showed that he can defend consistently and without major lapses but it has to be seen, if he can maintain that over a course of a season on the highest level.
Shooting. While some might think it’s be more of a cherry on the cake thing than a necessity for Happ to extent his game to the midrange, stretching out the defense and finding solutions against more physical dudes would actually help him quite a lot, especially in certain matchup where he hasn’t been able to score in the post.
The 23-year old center lacks any kind of range and has trouble even hitting the rim when his jump shot gets contested. He avoids letting it fly at all costs and looks for other ways to score. While that’s sometimes more, sometimes less a problem depending on the opponent, shooting only 56% from the free throw line is worrying no matter what. Happ played with his shooting mechanics since his college days but hasn’t found a good solution yet. His shot looks awful, sometimes even like he’s releasing it with both hands. He tried different things with his free throw routine, but it looks like it’s not only a mechanic problem but a mental one too. There’s some reasonable doubt that he’ll ever be a decent shooter.
Turnover-prone. Happ averaged more than 2 turnovers per game with Cremona just because of his high usage and the way his whole game is set up. There’s so much dribbling, so much one on one that’s its not surprising at all that he’s not free of mistakes. The US-center likes to drive to the rim and sometimes straight into traffic because he can’t shoot. He has to shield the ball against multiple defenders, which is almost impossible over a course of a game. If he’s playing against less talented teams he gets even reckless at times, mostly because he knows he’s better with the ball in his hands than 90% of all the other bigs. He has the numbers on offense to overshadow his turnover production by a mile, but it definitely raises eyebrows every now and then. You have to like his aggressiveness, his confidence in himself and the pure ability he possesses, but it’s a fine line.
Happ is one of the most talented bigs in Europe. His ballhandling and playmaking at his size combined with his ability to play in the post is second to none. He couldn’t crack the rotation with Olympiacos and struggled to adapt to the physicality of the pro level, something that was extremely obvious at the start of the season. Happ was still able to put up monster numbers the first day he stepped onto the court with Cremona and never really looked back. While his steady production got the headlines, his overall improvement was way more important and promising. Happ got better as a pick and roll defender, was more of a factor inside defensively and got more comfortable with the way opponents guarded him at the rim. He’s still not where he needs to be in some aspects, but you can’t expect a rookie to come in and be flawless, especially when there’s so much to be excited about. He’s a no-brainer for high-level Eurocup teams and the way he played in Cremona proofed that he’ll be a Euroleague player in the future. If he receives his Italian passport, Milano and Bologna could get into a bidding war trying to lure him out of Greece. If not, there’ll be enough offers for him regardless. If he continues his development and gets enough minutes next season, Happ will be a name that will be recognized all across Europe. Dominating at the Eurocup level before fully jumping into the Euroleague in 2022 could be a nice way to further improve and get ready for the highest level. Happ needs repetitions against some of the most physical bigs out there and playing against those guys will only make him better.