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Raphielle Johnson

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Draft Center Rankings

Thursday, May 24, 2018


The center position boasts three players expected to go in the lottery of this year’s draft, most notably former Arizona 7-footer Deandre Ayton. Ayton’s firmly in the conversation for the top overall pick, which is currently held by Phoenix, and with the combination of size, skill and athleticism it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Also headlining the center position in this year’s draft are former Texas big man Mohamed Bamba and former Duke pivot Wendell Carter Jr., with the former setting a record last week for the longest wingspan measurement in the history of the NBA Draft Combine.

Below are some thoughts on the top center prospects in this year’s draft, with the heights listed as the players’ measurements with shoes.



Deandre Ayton, Freshman, Arizona, 7’1”, 250.0 - Ayton was viewed as one of the best incoming players in college basketball prior to last season and he lived up to that billing, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year and leading Arizona to the conference regular season and tournament titles. Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, shooting 61.2 percent from the field, 34.3 percent from three (just 35 attempts) and 73.3 percent from the foul line. From 15 feet and in there were times when Ayton was unstoppable offensively, due to his raw athleticism and ability to set up in his preferred spots and not be pushed out of those areas by defenders. Ayton did have the freedom to play some away from the basket, and while he did show off a willingness to take mid-range shots (and some three-pointers), his jump shot would not put him in the class of a Sam Perkins at this stage in his career. If there’s a concern for Ayton it’s his shot-blocking ability or lack thereof, as he averaged just 1.9 blocks per game and numbers aside did not have the look of a prolific rim protector during his lone season at Arizona. However, while the shot-blocking numbers aren’t where many would expect them to be for a player of Ayton’s height, there’s value in being a solid positional defender as well. If he can perform well defending in ball-screen situations, that would bode well for Ayton when it comes to his future as a defender at the NBA level. The offensive skills are further along at this stage, and that along with his physical abilities are why Ayton won’t be on the board for too long come June 21.

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Mohamed Bamba, Freshman, Texas, 7’0.75”, 225.6 - While Ayton did not get measured at the combine Bamba did, and as noted above the Texas product set a record in the process. Bamba’s wingspan measured out to 7’10”, the longest such measurement in the history of the combine, and that attribute was one reason why Bamba was one of the nation’s best shot blockers. Bamba averaged 3.7 blocks per game, and his block percentage of 13.2 ranked fifth nationally. The 7-footer also grabbed 10.5 rebounds per game, and while he is a work in progress offensively, Bamba averaged 12.9 points per game and shot 54.1 percent from the field. Strengthening his offensive game, including developing the ability to consistently hit mid-range shots that come about via the pick and roll game, along with getting stronger physically will be the keys for Bamba as he begins his NBA career. Nevertheless, Bamba’s upside and productivity as a defender will likely ensure him being selected within the first five picks of this draft.  

Wendell Carter Jr., Freshman, Duke, 6’10”, 251.4 - After a season at Duke in which he averaged 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, Carter is another center projected to be taken in the lottery. Carter shot just over 56 percent from the field, proving to be an incredibly difficult player to slow down when he got his hands on the basketball with both feet in the paint. Carter shot nearly 74 percent from the foul line, and while his three-point percentage (41.3) was good it should be noted that he had just 46 attempts from beyond the arc. According to hoop-math, Carter made just 36.8 percent of his two-point jump shots last season, but the mid-range shooting is something that can be fine-tuned (his free throw percentage may bode well when it comes to determining how much progress he can make in this area). Another area in which Carter will need to make strides will be defending in space, something bigs have to be able to do when dealing with the pick and roll game and spacing of the NBA. Duke played zone for most of the 2017-18 season, which afforded Carter the opportunity to patrol the paint and not get caught on an island defensively all that often. Due to the difference in defensive rules, Carter will need to show that he has the footwork needed to defend a position that’s become more mobile in recent years. Given his overall skill set and size it can be argued that Carter is a bit underrated in this draft pool, with it seeming likely that he goes in the bottom half of the top ten.  

Brandon McCoy, Freshman, UNLV, 7’0.5”, 250.4 - McCoy’s measurements at the combine weren’t the best, as he has just a 1.5-inch separation between his height and wingspan (7’2”), and he posted a max vertical jump of 32 inches. Nevertheless, McCoy is coming off of a solid season at UNLV, where he averaged 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. McCoy did the majority of his work offensively from 15 feet and in, with one of his best performances a 33-point, 10-rebound effort in a loss to Deandre Ayton and Arizona back in early December. McCoy shot 54.5 percent from the field and 72.5 percent from the foul line this past season, but a lot of his offensive touches came with his back to the basket. Taking a closer look at his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities, McCoy was at his best when allowed to work within his immediate area, as opposed to a big such as Bamba who could make plays outside of his area as well. Whether or not McCoy can work his way into the first round will likely depend upon how he shows athletically in his workouts, but at this stage it’s more likely that he goes in the second.  

Jontay Porter, Freshman, Missouri, 6’11.5”, 236.0 - Porter’s combine experience from a testing standpoint was difficult as well, as his wingspan of 7’0.25” is less than an inch more than his height (with shoes). With older brother Michael sidelined with a back injury Jontay Porter averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, shooting 43.7 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 75.0 percent from the foul line on a team that finished fourth in the SEC. A key reserve for the Tigers, Porter did the majority of his offensive work away from the basket with just over 46 percent of his shot attempts being three-pointers. If he put the ball on the deck to break through a defense it was more likely that Porter was going to take a mid-range jumper, and if he were to return to school for his sophomore season to become more varied in his offensive approach, it would likely be a point of emphasis for Porter. Porter’s defensive rebounding percentage ranked among the best in the SEC, but between the testing and the available film, continuing to work on his build and athleticism will be keys for the young front court prospect whether he’s a professional or a Missouri Tiger next season.

Moritz Wagner, Junior, Michigan, 6’11.5”, 241.4 - After helping lead Michigan to the national title game, Wagner made the decision to forego his final season of eligibility. Wagner thrived in John Beilein’s offensive system after experiencing some growing pains early in his Michigan career, developing into a big man who was just as comfortable playing away from the basket as he was working in the paint. Wagner shot 52.8 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three and 69.4 percent from the foul line this past season, averaging 14.6 points per game. Wagner wasn’t much of a shot blocker during his time at Michigan, but he did make noticeable strides as a rebounder between his sophomore and junior seasons. Something from the combine that did not work out in Wagner’s favor was the measurement process, as his wingspan was recorded to be just 7’0”, leaving little separation between that number and his height. Wagner was one of five power forwards/centers to have a wingspan below 7’1”, with the other being the aforementioned Jontay Porter. Of the other three, none were taller than 6’9.5” (USC’s Chimezie Metu). Wagner’s ability to stretch the floor from the center position make him an intriguing prospect in this draft, with the skill set leaving open the possibility of Wagner working his way into the latter portion of the first round.

 

Others to Watch: Goga Bitadze, Mega Leks (Serbia); Bruno Fernando, Maryland; Isaac Haas, Purdue; Tryggvi Hlinason, Valencia (Spain);  Austin Wiley, Auburn.



Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.
Email :Raphielle Johnson



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