I like this crop of centers a lot. I also have to say that I’m not sure what exactly the future of the center position is. Teams still need rim protectors and inside scoring is always useful. But the 2 top teams played the finals without a traditional center. Such a thing used to be unheard of in the NBA where an all-star center was a necessary piece for any team with title aspirations.
That said, as analysts we have to proceed as if centers and the inside presence they bring on both ends of the floor will continue to be an important part of any NBA team. If the league is eventually taken over by Draymond Green clones at the center position, I’ll adjust my analysis accordingly.
This is a deep group of centers, though it lacks star power. There are a lot of centers this year who I would describe as “worth a look”. The young players all have some question marks. The older players are mostly 5th-year seniors who have had up-and-down careers. But it is a good, deep group of players who many years would all be considered worth a draft pick, but will see several be squeezed out this year by numbers. Here are the numbers:
Players are listed in the order I would draft them, all other things being equal.
Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville: Onuaku improved a lot from his freshman to sophomore year:
He had very little offense as a freshman, but really stepped things up as a soph. He went from an average rebounder to a dominant one. His defensive numbers improved. His passing improved. His passing improved even more during his sophomore season. Improvement like this in a young player is very impressive. This is clearly a player willing to work on his game.
Another thing to know about Onuaku is he’s a young sophomore. He won’t turn 20 until 11/1. He’s the age of most freshmen. That gives him more upside than the typical sophomore. He has better numbers than all the other freshmen centers and all the older centers for that matter.
The only negative is he has no outside game, not even from the midrange. This is something he’ll need to develop to become a complete player. Such a task has always been easier than developing defense or rebounding.
Onuaku looks like a real good prospect to me. The stark improvement over his freshman year suggests he’s a hard worker. His numbers meet all the necessary benchmarks of a strong NBA center prospect. His game still needs some work, but he is very young and has shown the capacity for improvement. Right now he looks like a player who could come in and help a team with inside rebounding and other grunt work with a reasonable expectation that he’ll develop into a strong rim protector while improving on offense.
Onuaku has the look of a top 10 pick at center. I like that he’s a solid prospect right now and I like his potential for improvement into a top flight NBA center. He is a legit lottery pick and will be a steal if he slips to round 2 as is the buzz.
Zhou Qi, Xinjiang: As is the case with Onuaku, Qi’s numbers are very impressive for a young player. Any center prospect who can rebound, block shots and hit over .600 on 2-pointers in a competitive league at this age is a solid prospect. Qi might have more upside than Onuaku because of his 7’7” wingspan and a decent outside shot.
Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl is an impressive offense player and rebounder. His defense has been weak though and that could keep him from having much of an impact. The defensive shortcomings keep him below Onuaku and Qi, but he’s still a decent prospect.
Diamond Stone, Maryland: Stone has an impressive freshman year. He’s a tier below Onuaku and Qi. His rebounding and defense could stand some improvement, but his upside makes him worthy of a late first round pick.
Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: Ochefu’s absence from the mocks is a real head scratcher to me. Forget the question of why is it that the NCAA champ is unlikely to get a player drafted while a non-tournament team like Washington has 2 players possibly going in the lottery? Even though that’s a damn good question. Ochefu deserves more respect. His defense was one of the driving forces in Villanova’s NCAA championship. He has been over .600 on FGs for 3 seasons. He’s a stellar rebounder. He became one of the better passing big men in the nation his senior year.
Ochefu may never develop much of an offensive game. But he is a prospect who has shown he can board effectively, play smart effective, if not exactly dominating defense, pass well from inside and score efficiently on put backs and layups. That’s a solid NBA center prospect and one who should hear his name called near the end of round one.
Ivica Zubac, Mega leks
Ante Ziric, Cibona Zagreb
Georgios Papagiannis, Panathinaikos: I grouped these 3 together, because of the time constraints and they’re all pretty similar as far as their upside goes. All look good enough to eventually play a role in the NBA, but none has the look of a future star. I like Zubac best of the 3 because of his defense.
Thon Maker: I have no numbers on Maker, therefore my opinion of him as a prospect is limited to ”tall, long, young and talented is always worth a look”. Back in the 1989 draft I would have said the same about Shawn Kemp if I was doing such analysis at the time. This isn’t to compare Maker to Kemp, just to say that big, talented players are worth a long, hard look.
Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV: His numbers on both offense and defense are soft overall. If you add up the upside, his outside shooting ability and strong rebounding numbers it’s enough to move him ahead of an impressive group of 5th year seniors.
Shawn Long, UL-Lafayette: Long has been on my prospect radar for a while. I think he should be drafted. He’s one of the best rebounders in the nation. He’s a good shooter for a big guy. He has posted better defensive numbers in the past. There’s enough in his 4-year stat profile to make him worth a second round pick.
AJ Hammons, Purdue: Hammons will be 24 in August and is coming off his best season. He has always been a good shot blocker and rebounder. His offense has always been soft. This year he did hit 6-11 on 3-pointers after going 0-12 in his career previous to this season so there might be something there. Hammons is a solid pick in round 2.
Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: Mockevicius was quite the stat monster this season. He has always been a decent prospect, but this season he went through the roof. He scored often and efficiently. He rebounded at a historically great level and played decent defense. That’s a good center prospect. The negatives are he’s foul prone, a poor passer and a 5th-year senior.
Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones improved this year, but his numbers still come up a tad short of where a prospect needs to be. His defense is especially suspect.
Mamadou N’daiye, UC-Irvine: He reminds me of Sim Bhullar. Dominant numbers, but the low S40 suggests he doesn’t have the quickness to keep up with the pace of the NBA, which isn’t getting any slower. He’s definitely worth a developmental flyer in round 2 though.
Marshall Plumlee, Duke: Plumlee didn’t get big minutes until this year as an older senior. That’s a negative, but his numbers are similar to his brothers who both went on to decent NBA careers as inside bangers. Those bloodlines, in addition to some decent numbers make me think he could help a team with his energy inside.
Adrian Diaz, Florida International: Diaz is another big guy worth a look. He checked in with a very solid season at FIU after struggling at Kansas State in previous years. A transfer is a negative mark, but any player who hits .650 on a 20.9 P40 while posting a 4.0 B40 and rebounding adequately is worth a look.
Cameron Ridley, Texas: He has had an up-and-down career, but was on a roll as a senior this year before an injury ended his season after 13 games. He has shown flashes of being a dominant defender during his 4 seasons in Texas and that makes him worth a look.