NBA Draft Week – Centers

Title: NBA Draft Week – Centers
Date: June 25, 2008
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: For a full week I focused exclusively on the NBA Draft, one of my favorite nights of the sporting calendar. This piece looked at the center class, headlined by Brook Lopez.

This is Part 5 in a 7-part NBA Draft Preview Series here at The On Deck Circle. While I apologize to our readers who aren’t NBA fans, Thursday is the NBA Draft, one of my favorite nights of the year, and as such our coverage will focus primarily on the draft this week (supplemented, of course, by a bunch of non-basketball stuff, too). The series will take a look at the draft, position by position, attempting to amalgamate information from ESPN and Draft Express and condense it into digestible profiles for the top players of the Class of 2008. Monday, I started with Point Guards, yesterday feature Shooting Guards and Small Forwards, today will examine Power Forwards and Centers, and Thursday will look at potential Toronto Raptor draft picks. The week-long coverage will commence with a live-blog of Draft Night, starting in the afternoon with news updates. Up next, the Centers.

 More after the jump!
Brook Lopez, Stanford
Measurements: 7’0”, 260lbs., Age 20
Draft Express Rank: 1
ESPN Rank: 1
Projection: 3-10
Synopsis: Nobody really seems sure where Brook will go, both because there are other intriguing prospects available and because he, too, is a pretty big question mark. While his offensive game is as polished as any big man in the draft, Brook’s athleticism and unorthodox style of play are concerns. He also likes to shoot, even bad shots, and is an average rebounder at best, so team’s will be looking at Eddy Curry numbers (though I’m not at all comparing the two). Lopez One is big, though, and excels running the floor and basically all over the offensive end. He’s going to be a good player, but whether or not he’ll be great is the question stumping GMs.
Interesting Fact: Was ineligible for the first half of this past season because he struggled academically – a scholastic problem only, I think, as he has a high basketball IQ.

Kosta Koufos , Ohio State
Measurements: 7’1”, 245lbs., Age 19
Draft Express Rank: 2
ESPN Rank: 2
Projection: 12-20
Synopsis: The Mehmet Okur comparisons really are fitting, as Koufos is a sub-par athlete with questionable shot selection who also happens to have a great frame and great scoring instincts. He’s also fairly mobile, has 3-point range, and can be an average defender immediately. With his high upside at both ends, scouts can ignore his lack of quickness and intensity, as well as some off-court maturity concerns. Koufos probably won`t be a franchise player, but he could be a sleeper if he falls from the lottery.
Interesting Fact: He was born in Ohio but has dual citizenship (Greece) and plays for the Greek national team.

DeAndre Jordan , Texas A&M
Measurements: 7’0”, 260lbs., Age 19
Draft Express Rank: 3
ESPN Rank: 5
Projection: 12-30
Synopsis: One of the largest mock draft gaps I’ve seen, Jordan fits best on a young team with time to wait, meaning if he isn`t taken in the lottery he could continue to slide. Jordan is an impressive prospect the likes of which we`ve seen before, with poor strength, fundamentals, defense, and maturity. There is obviously a great deal of potential for Jordan to be a bust, and he really should have returned for at least one more year of school. Teams will look at his body and salivate anyways, as he adds insane athleticism and wingspan to a package that includes NBA-ready finishing and rebounding. Big gamble here, as fringe playoff teams and competitors will likely want to stay away from one of the biggest project players in the draft.
Interesting Fact: Jordan once scored 37 points in a High School game…and set the school record with 20 blocks.

Marreese Speights , Florida
Measurements: 6’10”, 245lbs., Age 20
Draft Express Rank: 4
ESPN Rank: 3
Projection: 18-25
Synopsis: Another impressive body with great athleticism, Speights raises the same concerns most college big men who leave early do – basketball IQ, work ethic, conditioning, and the need for time to develop. Makes you wonder why they don`t just stay in school longer, but I digress. The scouting report is that he can score facing the basket and with his back to it, he has fantastic finishing ability around the rim, and should be a great offensive rebounder immediately. His decision making and maturity will hold him back, placing him in a similar draft situation to DeAndre Jordan, though Speights could contribute more initially.
Interesting Fact: Attended Hargrave Military Academy in high school, the same school Larry Brown, Torry Holt, David West, Josh Howard, and Joey Alexander went to.

Alexis Ajinca , France
Measurements: 7’1’, 225lbs., Age 20
Draft Express Rank: 5
ESPN Rank: 5 (as a Power Forward)
Projection: 10-15
Synopsis: Although you probably haven`t heard much about him yet, Ajinca has sky-rocketed into the lottery over the past few weeks, as he showed great shot blocking potential and measured in with a 7’9”wingspan at the Nike Hoops Summit. He is very athletic, unselfish, and almost has 3-point range already, giving him huge upside in combination with his shot blocking. Not to be a broken record with the big men, but he’s a little skinny, an average rebounder, and will need time to develop and improve his basketball IQ. He’s worth a risk in the lottery, for sure, and a team that is building for now and the future (Philadelphia, for one) could provide a suitable home.
Interesting Fact:Here’s your fact – arm in the net dunk, in a game!

Robin Lopez , Stanford
Measurements: 7’0”, 255lbs., Age 20
Draft Express Rank: 11
ESPN Rank: 4
Projection: 15-20
Synopsis: I’ve heard that if the Raptors keep their pick, Robin is a lock at #17, but Alexis Ajinca and Donte Greene roam in the back of my mind still. Robin would be my first choice for the Raptors, even though some media outlets have trouble understanding why a 7-footer who isn’t a great rebounder or athlete is expected to be a big contributor. Fair enough, but he could step onto an NBA team and be an instant defensive contributor, plus he is an agile big man with strong passing skills, making him a good fit in a faster offense. He’s physically tough and will block shots immediately, providing a toughness and defensive presence several fringe playoff teams could use.
Interesting Fact: Best. Hair. Ever.

JaVale McGee , Nevada
Measurements: 7’0”, 237lbs., Age 20
Draft Express Rank: 6
ESPN Rank: 7
Projection: 18-25
Synopsis: Apparently, McGee underwent some rigorous training in preparation for the draft, leaving college for six weeks to prepare at a private location. Whether or not it paid off is unclear, as I saw him in the lottery on some mocks during the season. The main problems with McGee are ones that are going to take a long time to fix, if they can be fixed – he has a low basketball IQ, is an awful defender, has poor fundamentals, lacks mental and physical toughness, and lacks strength to a Durant-like degree. Still, I’d be swayed by the reports on his private workout regimen, since it shows the kid clearly wants to be an NBA player. He has great size (and he’s shredded) working for him, is a great athlete, and already has NBA 3-point range, giving him a few good pieces to build on. He’s a serious risk in the lottery, but a team with the flexibility to stash him in the D-League for a year or two could do worse.
Interesting Fact: Is represented by NFL-agent Roosevelt Barnes, a former linebacker for the Detroit Lions and point guard for the Purdue Boilermakers (on their Final Four team in the 1980s).

Roy Hibbert , Georgetown
Measurements: 7’2”, 272lbs., Age 21
Draft Express Rank: 7
ESPN Rank: 6
Projection: 15-25
Synopsis: To the casual fan, it’s a shock to hear Hibbert won’t even go in the lottery. He’s been hyped for some time now playing on Georgetown, and I remember a time when he could have been a #1 pick in some people’s minds. Now, he’ll be lucky to sneak into the lottery, after failing to significantly improve over his last three years of school. With his size, frame, and work ethic, Hibbert could still blossom into a starting NBA center. After all, he has good shot blocking and defensive instincts, a good touch around the basket, and is an excellent passer for someone his size. He isn’t the athlete you’d want, and he has durability concerns, but in a league devoid of true centers he should have no trouble finding playing time.
Interesting Fact: Before letting him play basketball, his parents tried to get him to play tennis, golf, and the piano.

The International Centers 
I grouped these three together because they all have the same story – high-potential big that is somewhat raw, and because there is no precedent for them to be successful, really, teams will wait on them with fingers crossed. Ante Tomic is a 7’2”, 220lbs., 21 year old Croatian with the highest upside of the three. He can score and handle the ball with the best of them but is far too thin and raw defensively. He is currently projected to go in the 30-40 range. Nikola Pekovic is a 6’11”, 243lbs., 22 year old Serbian who is the most proven of the group. Pekovic has performed as the top center in the EuroLeague and is the most NBA-ready, with scouts thinking he has little downside. His hands, IQ, and questions about whether he’d come to the NBA are holding back his draft stock, but his toughness, rebounding, and efficient offensive game have me thinking he should be pegged higher than the 30-45 range he’s currently projected to go in. Omer Asik is a 6’11”, 230lbs., 21 year old Turkish player who scouts say is the most attractive of these three, but there are huge concerns if you could get him to jump to the NBA, as he just signed a 5-year deal in Turkey with no buy-out clause. Still, he is an American-style center with more grit than Euro-flash, and teams will probably take a chance in the 35-45 range.

There are even more big men to be had later in the second round. This year’s draft is deep for bigs, and like the power forward crop, most are either players with high upside and no guarantee or low-downside players with low ceilings. Among them, you may recognize Rider’s Jason Thompson, California’s DeVon Hardin, Kansas’ Sasha Kaun, and Australian Shaq, Nathan Jawai, who was originally thought to be a potential lottery pick. On the bright side of all this depth – the D-League draft will be a hot night, and Europe should have a decent incoming class.

Check out Monday’s piece on Point Guards, yesterday’s pieces on Shooting Guards and Small Forwards, today’s piece on Power Forwards, and check back Thursday for Potential Raptor Picks and a Live-Blog of the Draft.

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