NBA Draft 2014: Ranking the Centers

What had been a class with one super prospect and not much else was further weakened by Embiid’s foot injury and the sad news about Isaiah Austin having to give up the game. Most of this piece is me urging the Cavs to forge ahead and draft Embiid. I still believe he’s going to be special, whether it is in Cleveland, Milwaukee or some other lucky city where the brain trust has enough foresight to take a chance on him.

Here are the numbers:

Center Prospects






Joel Embiid 






Jusuf Nurkic






Mitch McGary






Walter Taveres






Sim Bhullar






Alex Kirk






Jordan Bachynski






Omar Oraby






Alec Brown






Daniel Miller







1. Joel Embiid, Kansas: Click on his name for my piece from a couple of weeks ago urging the Cavs to draft him. That gives the analysis of his potential greatness. The foot injury is a tough turn to his journey to the NBA. There are now legitimate questions about Embiid’s career. He’s already looking like one of the big men who just couldn’t stay healthy enough to reach their great potential. Kevin Pelton at ESPN (sorry insider’s only) did a great job of breaking down the history of navicular bone injuries. He looked at 5 players: Bill Walton, Kevin McHale, Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Curtis Borchardt. The important line from the article is:

“five post players missed an average of 47.5 percent of their teams’ scheduled games in seasons after the injury”

That’s obviously a bad stat for Embiid, but it is also a small sample we’re looking at. Two of the 5 players actually recovered quite nicely. Ilgauskas actually went on to be something of an ironman career once he got over his foot problems. Kevin McHale missed little time after coming back from the injury. So it isn’t like this injury is a career death sentence. Another success story is Michael Jordan. Jordan recovered from a similar injury his 2nd year in the league. Jordan missed only one game the next 5 seasons. So there are successes and failures we’re looking at here rather than a consistent 47% games missed. That makes the injury a definite concern, but something that Embiid could easily recover from. That would be followed by his going on to the great career he projects to.

Right now my feeling remains the same that Cleveland should make the bold move and draft Joel Embiid #1. The main reason for this is Embiid has more upside than any other player in this draft and it isn’t even close. You just don’t pass on such a player. Considering he’s a young guy and with a long career ahead of him, I’d take the chance that with the right preventive care and therapy he’ll get to the point where injuries aren’t a concern.

If they have to take things slow with Embiid and miss the playoffs for another year or two while he gets stronger and more durable, that shouldn’t keep them from drafting him. Shoot, why not let this lottery luck streak play out anyways. Patience can be a good thing. Smart teams take the long view. The best example of this is the 1978 draft. Boston used a rule that’s no longer in place to draft Larry Bird as a future in 1978. Bird would remain in college for the 1979 season, but Boston held his rights and had until the 1979 draft to sign him. Boston signed Bird and the rest is history.

Do you think there are any Boston fans still bitter over the fact that they missed out on watching a rookie like Freeman Williams or Reggie Theus (drafted right after Bird) during the 1979 season? Do you think anyone in Indiana is rationalizing that the Pacers passing on Bird with the 3rd pick was OK because they got to watch Rick Robey ply his craft in a Pacer uniform in 1979 while fans in Boston had to wait a year for their first rounder to arrive? If a great player is there, you draft him and hope for the best. If you have to wait a year for him to get healthy it is still better than drafting an inferior player.  Getting impatient with the draft is a sure way to mediocrity. Taking the long view and drafting potentially great players is always the way to go.

I also have to bring up Bill Walton here. Any serious basketball fan knows his story. At his best he was simply one of the best players ever. Unfortunately injuries caused him to miss the vast majority of his career following his championship win in 1977. Look at the 5 players drafted after Walton in 1974: Marvin Barnes, Tom Burleson, John Shumate, Bobby Jones and Scott Wedman. Jones had the best career of this group. Is watching Bobby Jones play a solid 12-year career with a few all-star appearances preferable to the run Walton had there? I’m sure any fan or executive would take the single championship a Walton brought the team even with all the missed chances and the heartbreak of the 1978 season that came with the injuries.

Greg Oden? Yeah, that happened and that’s the risk you take. But there is no Kevin Durant out there as a consolation prize in 2014. There are some good players, but no one in the class of Embiid. Please don’t bring up Sam Bowie either. He was never at the level Embiid is now as a prospect.

The Cleveland Cavaliers need to do their fans a solid and draft Joel Embiid. And should the injuries continue and Embiid’s career never takes off, the Cavs will at the very least have put themselves in the pole position for the 2017 “Faker for Maker” tankfest.

2. Jusuf Nurkic, Cedevita: The Euro Boogie? Nurkic looks a lot like DeMarcus Cousins from a few years ago. He’s big. He scores a ton of points, but doesn’t do it as efficiently as a center prospect should. He’s an excellent rebounder. His defensive numbers are weak, but improving. And to make the comp complete, Nurkic fires up more 3-pointers than he should.

He got some PT this year for the first time and checked in with a nice season. His defense might need some work. His rebounding numbers in Eurocup games were nowhere near as impressive as his Adriatic numbers, which are shown above. He’s also been very foul prone and that will be an adjustment. But projecting him as a player in the mold of Boogie Cousins isn’t a stretch at all, though that would be a high end projection. In a down year for college centers, Nurkic gives this group something of a boost. He looks like he can be a usable rotation center at the very least. He’s still just 19 so there’s a lot of upside here.

3. Mitch McGary, Michigan: McGary is the best rebounder available and a player who should become a solid rotation big, possibly splitting time at PF and center. McGary isn’t a great shot blocker, but gets a lot of steals and I’m not quite sure how that projects him defensively at the next level.

A good recent comp is Dejuan Blair. Blair was a great rebounder in college. He got a lot of steals, hit a high percentage of his shots and had a low B40. That’s McGary. McGary is taller than Blair and his ailment is the back, where Blair’s are his knees. Blair has had 5 productive years as a backup rotation big and should be good for at least 5 more. It is easy to see McGary’s career playing out in similar fashion and that makes him a pretty good score in the post-lottery picks.

4. Walter Taveres, Gran Canaria: He has some nice numbers, though nothing dominant. He looks like he could become at least a decent backup and possibly a starter.

5. Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State: He’s slow and he’s too fat, but someone should draft this guy just to see what happens if he can get himself into better shape. Bhullar hits 3 of the 4 benchmarks of a superstar center. He hit .648 on 2-pointers, an 11.5 R40 and a 5.0 B40. Those are seriously good prospect numbers. A big negative is that he gets very few steals, just 3 this past year. That confirms he lacks the quickness NBA players usually possess. Despite his shot blocking prowess he has a lot of work to do before he’s a good defender.

I get that he’s a project and may never work out, but he’s 7’5” and he has already shown he can be very productive at the college level. I think drafting this guy in round 2, setting him up with a personal trainer and making sure he gets plenty of time in the D-league is a smart investment with a ton of upside.

6. Alex Kirk, New Mexico: Kirk is a willing, but inefficient 3-point shooter. He has hit only 25% on 139 attempts in 3 years. This tells me that someone, possibly only Kirk himself, believes there’s some ability there. If he can get that number up to 35%, he has enough other skills to be a decent stretch 5.

7. Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State: He’s been an excellent shot blocker for 4 years and that’s worth something. His other numbers have rarely measured up, though his R40 clicked past 10 for the first time this year. He’ll be 25 when the NBA season starts so there isn’t any upside here. Like Bhullar his low S40 is something of a red flag. Worth a look because rim protectors are rare and useful ones are valuable, but he doesn’t seem likely to have a big impact.

8. Omar Oraby, USC: A poor man’s Jordan Bachynski.

9. Alec Brown, Green Bay: A stretch 5. Brown is a shot-blocker on the defensive end and a gunner on the other end. He has hit 42% on treys for consecutive seasons now. His 4.1 B40 is one of the best among this year’s center crop. He’s a weak rebounder, as his 7.5 R40 shows . His 2PP has been < .500 2PP in 4 seasons. Typically a center with the last 2 stats on his resume is a non-starter as a prospect. Unlikely as an NBA stint would be for Brown, he does have a couple of very valuable skills and might find a spot as a specialist.

10. Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech: Of the remaining NCAA centers, Miller is the only one worth a mention. He’s had three ordinary years leading up to this breakout senior season. He wasn’t great as a senior, but good enough to be worth a look. He didn’t do anything great, but was solid across the board. He might be able to hang on as an emergency big buried deep on the bench.

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