The Center position has been arguably the most volatile position in the NBA over the last decade. We’ve seen the League go from wanting back to the basket pure post players to guys that stretch the floor and are more perimeter oriented and back again. Most say the "classic" Center that fans of the 80’s and 90’s loved so much is dead. The days of Shaq, Kareem, Hakeem, Ewing and The Admiral are long gone and while you still have the occasional Dwight Howard that comes along, the center position has been a lot more "misses" than "hits" lately, leaving teams with holes on the block and very few players that can get you a basket in the post when you need one. While this draft class lacks depth after one, there are a few players that could be had in the late first and second round that could become solid role players for teams in the coming years if given the chance.
2014 NBA Draft Positional Rankings
1. Joel Embiid Fr. – Kansas
Embiid is clearly the jewel of this group. He’s unanamously considered one of the top three prospects in this draft and the top overall prospect, based on our opinion. He’s got all of the physical tools needed to dominate the position and has tremendous upside. He spent one year in Lawrence playing for Bill Self where he quickly made himself a household name, showing vast improvement in one season. He’s still very raw from an overall basketball standpoint as he’s only been playing the game (organized) for around 4 years. That said, the strides he’s made over the last year show you how great of a talent he is. He’s still learning and growing, if you can believe it, and is only going to get better. He’s got great touch and feel around the basket along with excellent footwork on the offensive end. He still has a ways to go defensively but so do most players at his position and at his age. He missed the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments due to back issues and that continues to be the biggest concern with him coming into the draft. Although, his workout put a lot of doubt about his mobility to rest as he looked even better than he had during the season. If Cleveland determines that his back issues aren’t going to plague him long-term then he’ll likely be the top pick.
2. Jusuf Nurkic 1994 – International
Nurkic has gotten some lottery hype but remains a birderline first rounder on our mock. He has a combination of skills that are not commonly found in today’s NBA. His soft touch combined with his huge frame are both extremely intriguing attributes. He lacks great polish and discipline and there are question marks about his basketball IQ and whether he will stay focused enough to fully develop. Not an above the rim leaper, but is willing to throw his body around. For certain he’s got first round talent and could grab a spot in the late first based on his potential. He’s an extremely aggressive player to the point of being described as having a "screw loose" by some observers. He’s an intimidator, and his ability to fly up and down the floor and move extremely well for such a big man is what makes him so intriguing.
3. Clint Capela 1994 – International
Capela is another International prospect that has really made a name for himself over the last year. He had a lot of buzz surrounding him coming into the Nike Hoops Summit (lottery hype) this year but all of that buzz went away as he had a very sub par performance in Portland. His weaknesses were really exposed as he has very little fluidity to his offensive game and not a lot of touch on his jump shot or around the rim. He has excellent length and athleticism but is extremely raw and has a lot to learn. His defensive ability and athleticism are enough to get him drafted but he will likely spend at least two more years overseas which means that teams in the lottery won’t give him much of a look. As Coach Roy Rana stated after the Hoops Summit, he’s particularly skilled in the pick and roll on both ends of the floor. Despite all of the positives, his lack of a consistent motor, broken jumpshot and suspect feel for the game are all legitimate concerns that leave him outside many scout’s top 30 prospect lists. Whether the hype around him will be enough to land in the first round remains to be seen.
4. Mitch McGary So. – Michigan
For all the players that leave the draft too early and come back for an additional season, McGary is the poster child for why guys should "strike while the iron is hot". He came back for his sophomore campaign after what ended up being a successful freshman campaign in 2013. After helping lead Michigan to the National Championship game, McGary came back to school to try and improve his draft stock. A back injury that kept him out all season and a questionable one year ban from the NCAA for marijuana have forced him into the draft this season and severely hurt his draft stock. He’s a fringe first round pick at best currently and for a guy who was slotted to be a possible lotto pick just a few short months ago, that’s a big fall from grace. What McGary lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with his motor and hustle. He’s an above average rebounder with good size and wingspan. He’s still developing as a player and will be more of a project player than a guy that can come in and contribute right away. He could have really used another year in college but with the suspension looming, he decided to puff, puff pass on another season in NCAA. Like Embiid, he has some injury issues that will have teams doing their homework on his health but he could develop into a solid role player for a team that doesn’t need him to contribute right away.
5. Johnny O'Bryant Jr. – LSU
I have been covering the SEC for the last two seasons, let me be the first to say that O’Bryant is one of the more frustratingly intriguing prospects that I’ve seen in recent years. His size would lead you to believe that he will be a four at the next level but he just doesn’t have the speed, quickness or jump shot to play significant minutes at the four in the NBA. During his sophomore and junior campaigns, O’Bryant blossomed into one of the SEC’s elite rebounders. He’s a good athlete and has some skill around the basket but he never seemed to blossom like so many thought he would being so highly touted coming out of high school. LSU has been stuck in basketball purgatory for the last few years so very few people outside of Louisiana have seen him play very much but he has dropped some weight over the last few months and has really been working on his game since the Tigers season ended. He’s a mid to late second round pick but a guy who could develop into a solid post player if given the chance. One of the more improved players in the SEC this season, O’Bryant is a guy who does many things on the court, just none of them at the elite level.
6. Walter Tavares 1992 – International
Tavares is a sepecimen physically with the draft biggest wingspan and hands. He makes a basketball look like a grapefruit. He also shows some legitimate basketball potential with the ability to hit shots within the flow of a game and get up and down the floor. He’s a project to be certain but fits the mold of many late 2nd rounders with teams drafting a player to, "see what will happen" with their game overseas. He’s no spring chicken and the development could continue or come to a standstill. But his size and potential will warrent looks in the 2nd round.
7. Patric Young Sr. – Florida
Another player that I’ve had the luxury of watching numerous times over the last few years, Young is by far the most frustrating player I’ve seen over the last four years. He’s had an NBA ready body since he was old enough to drive but he has terrible touch on the offensive end. Defensively, he gives you everything you want from a post player. He’s strong, keeps his feet on the ground, is physical and always gets great position. He is an aggressive rebounder both offensively and defensively as well as a guy you can count on to give 100% at all times. His offensive game, or lack thereof, is really the only thing holding him back. He shows flashes of turning the corner in that regard but then a few minutes later looks like he’s never made a post move in his life. His free throw shooting leaves a lot to be desired and for a guy who gets a lot of his opportunities on the offensive end in the way of offensive rebounds, he’s got to start hitting more free throws. It is hard to imagine a player with his college stats to be labeled as a "bust" type of player in college but that’s what he is considering his physical gifts. He’s a possible second round pick and a guy who could find a spot on a roster due to his defensive ability and rebounding prowess but he will always leave you questioning what might have been.
8. Tarik Black Sr. – Kansas
Black is another player with all of the physical tools needed to be a solid player at the next level. But much like Young, he didn’t develop in college the way he needed to and is going to have to fight and claw for a spot on an NBA roster. After three mediocre seasons at Memphis where he failed to develop, Black made the decision to transfer and finish up his college career at Kansas this past season. He had a chance to be a big time addition to the Jayhawks roster but someone by the name of Joel Embiid had other plans which led Black to lose out on a large role at Kansas. He’s a bit undersized from a height perspective to play the five spot at the next level but his length and physical gifts will allow him to hold his own in the paint regardless. He still needs a lot of work on the offensive end as he’s more of a beneficiary type of post player in that he benefits from others on the floor setting him up with easy looks in the paint. At the moment, he’s a projected late second rounder to undrafted type of player.
9. Alex Kirk Jr. – New Mexico
Kirk is a skilled 7 footer that, in all honesty, could stand to go back to school for his senior year. He’s leaving the Lobos program and trying to cash in at the right time. He is coming off of his best season after averaging over 13 points and 8 rebounds a game for New Mexico. He’s an older player (23 this year) so waiting another year and being almost 25 by the time he plays his first NBA game probably went into his decision to leave. He is probably the best overall scorer right now than any other player on this list but so many at the top are younger and have so much more room to grow as to where Kirk is what he is. He’s got the ability to step out and make other centers defend him away from the basket and has turned himself into a serviceable shot blocker but his lack of great speed and athleticism really holds him back. Reminds me of a poor man’s Mike Muscala. Both have great size and rebound well while being solid offensive players. Muscala was drafted in the middle of the second round last season and Kirk’s ceiling is probably that of the current Hawk’s center.
10. Jordan Bachynski Sr. – Arizona State
Hard to believe that the Pac-12’s All-Time blocks leader could be so low on this list. But in an age where freak athletes and guys who have lots of potential get drafted, it doesn’t look good to be a four year player on a team that underachieved for most of your time there. And Bachynski is just that. He was a nice player for the Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils but he isn’t the athlete nor physical specimen that teams would want out of a starting center at the next level. He’s reached his ceiling for the most part and while he’s an above average shot blocker, all other aspects of his game leave a lot to be desired. He moves well for a big man but he’s not much of an offensive threat in the post and lacks fluidity in his game. He’s older than your average senior because he went on a Mormon mission a few years back but he could come in a spell guys a few minutes a night at the next level with some work. He’s got a great head on his shoulders and is an oustanding player both on and off the court.
Honorable Mention: Ondrej Balvin 7-2 280 C Cajasol Sevilla 1992, Sim Bhullar 7-5 360 C New Mexico St. So., Artem Klimenko 7-0 245 C Avtodor 1994, Rasmus Larsen 7-0 220 PF/C Manresa 1994, Lucas Mariano 6-10 270 C Franca (Brazil) 1993, Juvonte Reddic 6-9 250 PF/C VCU Sr.
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