2015 NBA Draft: Ranking the Centers

There haven’t been a lot of good, deep center classes in the history of the NBA draft. The last draft with multiple all-stars at center was 2007 with Horford, Noah and Gasol. Before that it was 1992 with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning. Before that it goes back to 1970 when HOFers Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens and Dan Issel all came into the game, along with the solid Sam Lacey. The 2015 draft has the potential to join this group. That will be a great thing for a league that’s starving for some good big men.

Here are the numbers. Players are listed in order of how I would draft them all other things being equal.

Center Propsects 2PP P40 R40 B40 A/TO
Karl Towns 577 19.3 12.6 4.2 0.8
Jahlil Okafor 664 22.5 11.0 1.9 0.5
Willie Cauley-Stein 572 13.7 9.8 2.6 0.8
Frank Kaminsky 581 24.8 10.8 1.9 1.6
Myles Turner 513 18.5 11.9 4.8 0.4
Robert Upshaw 597 17.2 12.8 7.0 0.4
Dakari Johnson 506 15.5 11.2 2.3 0.7
Guillermo Hernangomez, Sevilla 539 20.6 11.4 2.6 0.4
Mouhammadou Jaiteh, Nanterre 597 19.9 11.6 0.9 0.4
Michael Holyfield, Sam Houston 606 18.3 17.5 5.3 0.2
Kendall Gray, Delaware State 554 13.0 13.1 3.1 0.5
Cady Lalanne, Massachusetts 582 15.1 12.4 2.5 0.1


Karl Towns, Kentucky

Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is the defender. He’s the coveted rim protector who can come right in and help a team that needs defense. At least that’s the buzz going in. He better be, because he doesn’t offer much in the way of offense. His numbers aren’t those of the typical center drafted in the top 10 either:

Willie Cauley-Stein 2PP P40 R40 S40 B40
Freshman 621 13.9 10.3 1.4 3.4
Sophomore 596 11.0 9.8 1.9 4.6
Junior 572 13.7 9.8 1.8 2.6

Being at Kentucky is different from most places. Most programs are lucky to get one usable center. Kentucky often has 3 or 4 on their roster. As a freshman Cauley-Stein had to battle Nerlens Noel for rebounds and blocks. In his best year as a soph it was Dakari Johnson. This past year it was Johnson and Towns. I think we can say his numbers were suppressed at least a little.

His sophomore season he topped 1.5 S40 and 4.0 B40. Here are other college centers who topped those numbers in the past 30 years:

College Centers 2PP P40 R40 S40 B40
Hakeem Olajuwon 611 20.3 16.7 2.0 7.5
Shaquille O’Neal 628 35.1 18.7 1.9 6.4
David Robinson 591 32.6 13.7 2.4 5.2
Patrick Ewing 570 22.1 12.7 1.9 4.1
Elden Campbell 636 26.0 10.3 1.6 4.4
Jamaal Magloire 490 12.5 11.3 1.6 5.1
Scot Pollard 525 16.4 13.2 2.0 4.2
Oliver Miller 707 25.6 12.6 2.4 4.8
Nerlens Noel 590 12.9 11.6 2.6 5.4
Bernard James 657 16.3 11.2 1.6 4.6
Patrick O’Bryant 557 17.3 12.9 1.5 4.8
Willie Cauley-Stein 596 11.0 9.8 1.9 4.6

There are the 4 greats and a group of journeymen. Since Cauley-Stein lacks the offense to be one of the greats, best to focus on the journeymen. Campbell and Magloire were actually solid journeymen defensive specialsts. Pollard played fewer minutes, but did stick in the league 11 years.  Miller never got his weight in line for long enough to reach his potential. James was 27 when he came into the league. Noel’s career is just starting out. Cauley-Stein’s rebound rate is the lowest in the group. I suspect some of that can be explained away by playing at Kentucky, but it is a concern.

Cauley-Stein obviously has the potential to become a solid NBA defender. That’s a valuable piece. His numbers haven’t been consistently great, but there are extenuating circumstances and they’ve been good enough.

For Cailey-Stein both the upside and downside are limited. Barring injury or sudden indifference he should at least have a career like Magloire or Campbell. That’s a player who sticks around for a long time and is generally appreciated more by coaches and players than fans. The high end would be Joakim Noah from his all-NBA year in 2014. That’s a pick best made to fill a need once the potential stars are all off the board. That makes Cauley-Stein a good pick once the top 10 come off the board. I like him better than Kaminsky based on a preference of offense over defense. Kaminsky is a better choice if he’s a better fit.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky would be the offensive immediate help center answer to Cauley-Stein’s defensive one. Kaminsky is a late bloomer. He logged only 600 minutes combined his first couple of seasons and was used mostly as a stretch 5. He didn’t emerge as an inside force until his junior year.

Frank Kaminsky 2PP 3PP P40 R40 S40 B40 A/TO
Freshman 619 286 10.3 8.2 0.7 2.1 1.0
Sophomore 547 311 18.0 7.6 1.9 2.3 2.9
Junior 582 378 22.8 10.3 1.1 2.8 1.3
Senior 581 416 24.8 10.8 1.2 1.9 1.6

The fact that he was a poor rebounder the first two seasons could have had something to do with the fact that half his shots came from the outside so he was just hanging around the perimeter so often on offense. The improvement thing is always a good-bad thing. It’s good that he worked hard to improve. It’s bad that he had to work hard to get this good. In general I feel it is a positive though.

Kaminsky does 2 things that make him unique. He drilled the 3-pointer at a clip close to 40% for consecutive seasons on 199 total attempts. He’s the best passing big man in the draft, dishing out 2.6 A40 with very few turnovers.  Without those 2 skills he looks like just an ordinary run-of-the-mill center prospect who comes off the board in round 2.

Kaminsky is definitely a unique player. With offensive creativity and innovation running rampant in the NBA, he could become quite a fun, valuable player in the right system. He certainly isn’t a traditional center who steps in the middle and is counted on for rebounds, defense and a few putbacks.

His defensive numbers are substandard, but not terrible. He has a higher B40 and S40 than Jahlil Okafor after all. As a rebounder and inside scorer it’s the same story. He’s not quite at a level I’d like to see a prospect at, but not so bad where I think it will be a problem considering his other skills. While he won’t be a great defender, or even above-average, I think he’ll be able to do enough. He does have a high S40 for a big man, which is a good sign.

Frank Kaminsky is a solid prospect for today’s NBA. My hope is he goes to a team with a creative coaching staff that uses all his skills. A center who can fill it up from the outside, help an offense with his passing skills and hold his own on the boards with adequate defense and inside scoring is a valuable player. Kaminsky shouldn’t last too long on draft day.

Myles Turner, Texas: Turner has a higher upside than Cauley-Stein and Kaminsky. The high end for Turner is a player with some of the best qualities of both players. There is some bust potential too and often young bigs just take so long to develop that they don’t payoff until after they’ve been traded. Turner works best on a team that can be patient and for that reason he’s behind the 2 upperclassmen.

Robert Upshaw, Washington: Upshaw was putting together a historically good season at Washington before being dismissed from the team in January.  This was the 2nd time he had been dismissed from a team, the first being Fresno State in 2013. Upshaw’s numbers this year would put him in the discussion with Towns and Okafor as the top overall pick if they were posted over an entire season. That’s how impressive his play was.

The problem is they weren’t posted over an entire season, just 474 minutes. That coupled with 360 ordinary minutes at Fresno State in 2013 makes me wonder how much a reflection of Upshaw’s real ability these numbers are. That’s not the biggest issue though. Upshaw was dismissed from 2 teams in his 2 seasons of NCAA ball. It just doesn’t speak well for his character that he hasn’t proven he can last one season without the team dismissing him.

Upshaw is like Hassan Whiteside from 5 years ago. Even though Whiteside didn’t have the dismissal issues, that’s the best comp I can think of. He might fall off the map and re-emerge as a break out star in 5 years like Whiteside did this past year. The payoff could be huge for any team willing to gamble that Upshaw can get his act together. He’s a late round one pick at best.

Dakari Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson’s numbers aren’t great, but they were posted at Kentucky where he was fighting the likes of Towns and Cauley-Stein for rebounds and blocks. He’s a young sophomore, still just 19. He has upside, but there isn’t a lot in his numbers that is promising. Johnson is a good round 2 gamble. He’s big and in the right situation he might develop into a useful pro.

Guillermo Hernangomez, Sevilla:

Mouhammadou Jaiteh, Nanterre: Hernangomez and Jaiteh are the only two foreign centers that I look at and think, “yeah that guy is worth a second rounder.” Both are in the same place as Dakari Johnson. They’re all young and have the upside, but the numbers aren’t all that promising.

Michael Holyfield, Sam Houston State: An interesting player simply because he has some of the best per minute numbers I’ve seen. The negatives are glaring. He’s so foul prone he has never been able to stay on the court for more than 20 minutes per game his entire career. He turns the ball over too much. Holyfield is worth a look based on the positives and the hope that the negatives can be minimized. If nothing else he might work as a low-minute energy player.

Kendall Gray, Delaware State:

Cady Lalanne, Massachusetts: Gray and Lalanne are the best of the 5th(?)-tier centers. They’re good enough that they might catch on as a 3rd center in the right situation.


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