Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Centers to watch in the 2013 NCAA Tournament

As much as experts continue to try to write off the fate of the BIG-man in modern basketball, it remains a fact that talented BIG players are still consistently the most efficient prospects. Shooting closer to the rim, or at the rim, produces a higher field goal percentage. A higher field goal percentage leads to more wins. Defensively - a talented BIG-man can help protect your basket and force opponents into taking shots further from the hoop - which leads to a lower field goal percentage for the opponent. ...SO... The Center - is still vital, especially in the NCAA - where there simply is not a LeBron James type hybrid talent.  

Our list of 15 Centers to watch from an NBA scouting perspective: 

Cody goes strong
Cody Zeller - Indiana. Sophomore. 6'11" 230. ...Zeller is the younger brother of Cleveland Cavaliers Center Tyler Zeller. Cody is very similar to Tyler as far as his NBA prospects are concerned. Cody knows his role, and understands that he is a BIG-man. He doesn't shy from contact. He scores 17 points per game (60% FG - career) while grabbing eight rebounds per contest this season. He is not much of a shot blocker nor is he the best passing big man but Zeller runs the floor exceptionally well and he can finish around the hoop with either hand. He is also among a select group of BIG-men that shoots over 75% from the line. 

Jeff Withey - Kansas. Senior. 7'0" 235. ...Withey is a shot-blocker that also has a little bit of an offensive game. For his size, he is quick off his feet - which allows him to block shots at a high rate. He leads my database of tournament players in blocks per minute, and his career blocks per minute rate is better historically than noted shot-blockers John Henson, and Andre Drummond. Withey can step out to hit a face-up shot or score around the rim. The 23 year-old Senior was a unanimous All Big 12 selection. He shoots 72% from the free throw line. 

Kelly Olynyk - Gonzaga. Junior. 7'0" 238. ...Olynyk is a kid that continues to improve. He was recently named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. He raised his scoring, and rebounding averages with each season, while also bettering his free throw percentage yearly. He averages 17.5 points (on 65% FG), and seven rebounds per game this season. He is a nimble BIG-man with legitimate NBA size. He has a decent touch (he shoots 71% FT- career), and he runs the floor very well for his size. 

Mike Muscala - Bucknell. Senior. 6'11" 239. ...Muscala is a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year. He was not only the Player of the Year this season but also the Defensive Player of the Year, and the Scholar Athlete of the Year in the Patriot League. He has both a face-up and a low post, back-to-the-basket game. Muscala is a gym-rat that uses either hand well around the hoop. He is praised by all as a hard worker. 

Don't bring it.
Gorgui Dieng - Louisville. Junior. 6'10" 220. ...The Center with the highest ceiling is Gorgui Dieng. Although a 23 year-old junior, Dieng is still considered to be a player that is ascending. Defensively - he is a force. He moves his feet extremely well and he blocks or alters a high percentage of opponents shots in the paint. (Dieng's blocks per minute are historically equal to JaVale McGee's numbers.) While Dieng is still raw offensively - he has shown enough to make me  believe he will continue to improve. He is just a career 65% free throw shooter. 

Reggie Johnson - Miami. Senior. 6'10" 307 (or more) ...Johnson was already a big kid when he suffered a knee injury. Post knee-injury, he ballooned up in weight and has found it difficult to get onto the floor in Miami's rotation. Johnson has all the tools a BIG-man could ask for. He has soft hands, a big behind, and a natural nose for the ball. He is capable of scoring in double figures, and rebounding likewise. But the bottom-line is that - due to the knee injury or a lack of discipline, Johnson is so horribly out of shape - I am no longer taking him seriously as a NBA prospect. 

Mason Plumlee - Duke. Senior. 6'11" 245. ...Plumlee has NBA size, and he can finish above the rim. He averaged 17 points and ten rebounds per game this season, and he is unquestionably improving. However, Plumlee is not as high on my board as he may be on other boards. I think he is a quality college BIG-man but I'm not as sure about him as a pro.  He turns it over nearly two times for every one assist. He shoots only 57% from the line for his career (although he raised that to 67% FT this season). Plumlee is already 23 years-old.

Adreian Payne - Michigan St. Junior. 6'9" 242. ...Payne is another kid that has improved his game dramatically since I first saw him play as a freshman. He is now a BIG that can step out and stretch defenses with his improved perimeter shooting. Inside the paint, Payne has a quick second jump and he will try to dunk everything he can. He still struggles with ball handling - coughing up nearly three turnovers for every one assist. 

Birch tree. 
Khem Birch - UNLV. Sophomore. 6'9" 220. ...Birch is an explosive leaper that plays bigger than his listed 6'9" height. He was the 2012-13 Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year. A career 55% FG shooter, Birch scores sparingly but he impacts the game by being seemingly everywhere in the paint. He had four conference games this season with five blocks or more. Birch, from Montreal, Canada - originally played college ball at Pittsburgh before transferring to Las Vegas. 

Gregory Echenique - Creighton. Senior. 6'9" 260. ...Echenique is a 'hard-hat' Center from Venezuela. As a college BIG-man - he gets the job done. He is a good rebounder. There is nothing spectacular in his game, just solid post play offensively and defensively. I don't see much of a ceiling for Echenique. He may have already peaked when you consider his scoring has dipped in the last three seasons. 

Jon Horford - Michigan. Sophomore. 6'10" 250. ...He plays nine minutes per game, but Horford has been efficient during his rare time on the floor. Horford has the ability to knock down a face-up shot and he shows a really nice touch for a BIG (75% FT - career). Jon's older brother Al plays for the Atlanta Hawks. It may not be Jon Horford's time just yet but he's worth keeping an eye on. 

Brad Waldow - Saint Mary's. Sophomore. 6'9" 260. ...Waldow is a "wide-body" that shoots an impressive 65% FG for his brief two year career at Saint Mary's. The space-eating BIG-man needs to improve his free throw shooting (51% FT), and he needs to be better passing out of double teams (more than 2.5 turnovers per assist). With his big backside, Waldow can establish low post position with ease. He looks poised to be a prime-time performer for the Gaels in the seasons to come. 

Ryan Kelly - Duke. Senior. 6'11" 230. ...The best shooting BIG-man in the tournament is Ryan Kelly. He is deadly from three point range (48% 3-pt. this season). He made seven three point shots in Duke's win over Miami (March 2nd). ...At the line, Kelly shoots an impressive 80% - career. He improved his points, assists, and three-point shooting percentage in each his of his four seasons at Duke. 

Alex Kirk - New Mexico. Sophomore. 7'0" 250. ...Kirk provided a presence for New Mexico in the Mountain West but his 48% FG - career is huge red flag to me. A seven-footer should be much better than 48% FG. Will Kirk be able to "show, and recover" on defense in the NBA? That is the main question regarding his future. Kirk is a BIG boy. He is not the fleetest afoot but he can cause problems by taking space. He will shoot three point shots, although not very well (28% 3-pt. career). 

Steven Adams - Pittsburgh. Freshman. 7'0" 240. ...Adams is a 19 year-old Center from New Zealand. He blocks shots, rebounds, and hits an efficient 56% of his field goal attempts. He runs the floor very well and he has good hands. But he is a work in progress as a shooter, really struggling at the free throw line where he makes a putrid 42%. He has a reputation as a kid with a great motor - so let's see how he develops. 

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