Fast Five: The 5 Best Center Prospects In This Year’s NBA Draft

Every other week, we’ll be assessing how the top prospects of the 2014 NBA Draft are faring in college and overseas. Stick with us each week for assorted thoughts, including the biggest risers and fallers, the standouts, the sleepers and what we know and don’t know about the next NBA Draft class…

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Over the past few weeks there has unfortunately been news that some prospects will not play again this season due to injury, academic circumstance, and other miscellaneous events. It happens every year, but losing two potential first-round picks in a span of roughly 48 hours is always a tough blow.

Here is the NBA Draft Fast Five.


ONE: What Do We Know?
We now know that Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), P.J. Hairston (North Carolina), and Mitch McGary (Michigan, more on him below) will not play basketball on a major college level again this season.

Grant is no longer enrolled because of an academic situation and Hairston was ruled to not have a future with the Tar Heels or in NCAA basketball due to “a number of mistakes” that he made.

Freshman Chris Walker (Florida) has not suited up for a game yet either as he worked to gain his eligibility. Earlier this season, Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss) sat out waiting for his chance to play, Eric Moreland (Oregon State) was suspended for the first 14 games of the season, and Chane Behanan (Louisville) was kicked off of the team recently as well. There are many situations like this in any given year and before the end of the season there are likely going to be more names added to this list.

TWO: What Do We Not Know?
Back injuries can be debilitating for basketball players because they limit athleticism, explosion and the ability to run up and down the court with fluidity. It has been seen in recent years with Dwight Howard, Richard Hamilton and Robin Lopez. Howard has come back and is not the same player. Hamilton never really came back. Then there is Lopez, who took a few years to truly get back to form.

Mitch McGary is set to have back surgery and is out indefinitely this season. He may medical redshirt and then come back to college again next year, or leave for the NBA with no assurances that he will be the first-round pick like he would have been last year. How will McGary come back from this injury? He does not rely heavily on athleticism like Howard, but is more of a power player that uses his size and strength to his advantage. Everyone heals and recovers differently. No matter his recovery rate, this is going to impact the future of McGary long-term.

THREE: Stock Rising
Early in the season Aaron Harrison (Kentucky, freshman) struggled with his shot, but overall he has been a consistent guard prospect while his brother has been up-and-down. Harrison has good size and as of late has displayed good ball skills as a scorer. Over his last three games against quality opponents, Harrison has averaged 17-plus points per game and looked very comfortable making plays through the offense.

FOUR: Stock Falling
To start the season, Wayne Selden (Kansas, freshman) played very well, showing great body control, shooting, and an ability to make plays on the offensive end. He has the physical intangibles to be a quality off-guard at the NBA level. Since then he has gone 6-for-15 from three and struggled to score the ball. The Jayhawks have a deep roster of future NBA players so the shots are sparse, and as of late Selden has not taken advantage of his looks and therefore has not looked like a lottery pick in the process.

Keep reading for a look at the five best center prospects…

FIVE: Quick Hitter
This time of year, every prospect is in an evaluation process that includes a breakdown of their strengths and their weaknesses. That is something I was reminded of this week on the NBA Draft Podcast and it is a concept that has to be understood by a casual fan. Right now Andrew Wiggins has shown flashes of tremendous NBA potential as well as his flaws — same for Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and everyone else on the board. All of these prospects are equally talented and flawed at the same time. They are not finished products.

When evaluating a prospect it is not an insult to put too much emphasis on their flaws. That is part of the overall package. LeBron James had flaws as a prospect, Kobe Bryant had flaws. They all do.

It is tough for objective fans and media to hear about the flaws of a prospect, but look at them as areas of opportunity and a sign that there is a ceiling that is much higher than originally thought for the prospect in discussion.


Top Five Center Prospects

1. Joel Embiid: 7-0, 240 pounds – C, Kansas
Stats: (In 21.4 MPG) 10.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 66.7 percent FG, 63.8 percent FT (37-for-58)
There has not been a prospect in recent memory that has the progression rate of Embiid at center… or perhaps any position. He has gone from raw athlete to one of the more polished offensive big men at the amateur level and is starting to become an imposing force on the defensive end as well.

2. Willie Cauley-Stein: 7-0, 244 pounds – C, Kentucky
Stats: (In 27.5 MPG) 8.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 4.1 BPG, 63.2 percent FG, 48.6 percent FT (18-for-37)
Although Cauley-Stein is a one-dimensional athlete, an elite defender and shotblocker, those two skills are starting to shine through as NBA-level, despite his limited offensive abilities. Athletically there are no prospects with Cauley-Stein’s ability to defend for 94 feet and protect the rim.

3. Dakari Johnson: 6-10, 250 pounds – C, Kentucky
Stats: (In 9.8 MPG) 3.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.2 BPG, 48.5 percent FG, 47.8 percent FT (11-for-23)
Very small sample size for the big man, but when he gets on the court he does make an impact as a rebounder and scorer in the paint on an efficient level.

4. Kaleb Tarczewski: 7-0, 255 pounds – C, Arizona
Stats: (In 26.0 MPG) 10.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 58.6 percent FG, 76.3 percent FT (29-for-38)
While he is not a throwback back-to-the-basket big man, Tarczewski is a skilled big man capable of scoring from the midrange and at the rim. Few big men have his combination of athleticism and skill.

5. Josh Scott: 6-10, 215 pounds – C, Colorado
Stats: (In 28.5 MPG) 13.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 54.8 percent FG, 82.9 percent FT (68-for-82)
One of the more underrated overall talents with the ability to play big in the paint, pass the ball off the block, and score from the perimeter is Scott. He is not looked at as a high ceiling prospect, but does everything either very well or on par with his peers.

The center position is almost a dying breed. It is rapidly becoming a place on the floor for a niche-based player or a skilled enough power forward to spread the floor in offenses that are becoming position-less. These centers are not going to reinvent the position, but all of them bring skill and a quality to the court that a traditional power forward does not.

What do you think?

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