Today I finish up the position analysis series with the big men. Obviously the highlight here is Oden, but there's not much quality beyond the top few (especially since Hibbert decided to return to school.) This is nothing new for a position that hasn't been producing for about a decade..
1) Greg Oden - Ohio State - No matter what Oden did, he probably was never going to live up the expectations. So his averages of 16, 10, and 3 block per game along with a trip to the finals, though phenomenal by most standards, are barely mediocre for him. Its hard to know just how much the injured right wrist hindered his game, especially on offense. There were times when his moves looked timid, stiff, and flat out awkward. Then again, shooting free throws lefty, he was already as good as most NBA bigs. Even his 3 block a game average was probably lower than expected. In fact, his blocks went down throughout the season, never having more than 4 in a game after February 6th. Of course, blocks is somewhat of an unfair measure, because it doesn't take into account how many times the opposition avoided the paint or took a bad shot instead. For my tastes, Oden's most impressive skill was actually his foot speed. He gets up and down the court fast for a guy his size, and he looked really impressive when forced to step out on the perimeter against pick and rolls or to cover mismatches. Kevin Durant might actually be more of a lock to be a future superstar. But it doesn't matter. The center position is so weak in the NBA, and the position can be so dominating, that you simply have to take Oden #1 no matter what you think of him.
2) Spencer Hawes - Washington - I thought Hawes was going to have a better freshman season. He averaged 15 points, 6 boards, and under 2 blocks a game. Not horrible, but the fact he only had 10+ rebounds 3 times is a bit disturbing for a 7-footer. But there were and are a lot of positives, and the biggest thing holding Hawes' draft status down was Washington's lack of success. Compared to Oden (and most big men for that matter), Hawes has a better developed and more refined offensive game. But yet with all that skill, he didn't really dominate because his athleticism and strength were just average. These limitations also hurt him on defense. But how many big men over the last decade have been drafted because of physical upside? Dozens, and most never develop the skill to be a plus asset. With Hawes, you get the skill from the get go, and hope that a life working out and exercising improves his athleticism. I'm pretty sure Hawes will exceed expectations as a pro.
3) Tiago Splitter - Tau Vitoria - Splitter is basically a power forward, so imagine how thin the center ranking would be if I put him in that list. But in the NBA today, power forwards play center half the time, so he made more sense here. I usually don't bother doing much analysis of international guys, leaving it up to the guys who truly watch those games. The fact is that Splitter's been a possible Draft pick for the past 3-4 years, so I probably could do a full profile on him. But I wont. Splitter projects to be a fringe starter/6th man type talent.
4) Ante Tomic - KK Zagreb - With Tomic here, I'm just going on what I've read. All reports suggest that Tomic is one of this draft's biggest risk/reward prospects. He's 7-2, highly athletic, and surprisingly skilled at all aspects of the game. But he weighs 3 pounds, can't play in the post yet, and is a project. You'll either never hear of this guy 3 years from now, or he'll make a GM look like a genius.
5) Sean Williams - Boston College - I'm not on the Williams band wagon. Sure, there's the 5 blocks per game average, the (ridiculously) long arms, and the good reflexes. And then there's.. not too much else. At 6-10, he lacks the height to really be a legit center and he needs to add bulk and strength. Its not like he's rail thin, but he's just not that strong in his base. Because of this, though he's a great shot blocker, he projects to be a slightly below average post defender. Offensively he has no game outside of 3 feet from the hoop. All of this adds up to a tweener who would be best served coming off the bench. Then you add in the suspensions and the trail of trouble he's left behind, and honestly, why bother? With all that negativity out of the way, he's still the 5th best big man prospect, a legit late first to early second round prospect. For teams like Boston, Seattle, or Philly, who have nothing to lose.. than why not take a stab at Williams.
6) Aaron Gray - Pittsburgh - Gray was virtually the same player his senior year than in his breakout junior year. Gray's biggest asset, especially compared to this horizontally challenged set of bigs, is that he already weighs 260+ pounds. He's got the mass of a legit center, though the mediocre athleticism to boot. I wouldn't say Gray is plodding, because his speed isn't that bad, but lets just say he's not going to run with the Suns. Defensively, he's not a great shot blocker, but unlike a Williams or Tomic above, he can be a more effective post defender because of his size and strong base. Also, compared to Tomic or Williams, Gray's "ceiling" is much lower. Its hard to see him ever starting consistently in the NBA, but its also hard to see him failing greatly. A career reserve.
7) Marc Gasol - Akasvayu Girona - Gasol is similar in quality and potential to Gray above. At 7-0, 270 pounds, he's very similar in size to Gray, but Gasol is considered to be in worse shape and struggles with weight. Neither is a super-athlete that can run or jump out of the building, but Gray is a bit better at rebounding and post defense. Offensively though, Gasol has a more diverse post game, is known as a superb passer, and brings a little flare to the game. Though similar in size and talent, I put Gray ahead because he's more of a lock and doesn't struggle as much to stay in shape.
8) DeVon Hardin - California - Compared to the other college centers on the list, Hardin accomplished the least in college. If you draft Hardin, you're basically drafting his physical talent. Physically, he's good enough at everything (strength, footwork, height, length, etc) to make an NBA team. But he also has no moves down low, and seriously I mean no moves, and he has a below average jump shot. He has improved every year which is a plus, especially from the free throw line. Hardin is exactly what the 2nd round of the Draft was made for. Guys who have potential, but just haven't put it together yet.
9) Stanko Barac - Siroki Brijeg - I wont bore you with comments on Barac.
10) Kyle Visser - Wake Forest - Not even Kyle Visser thought Kyle Visser would average 17 and 7 last year. After being a three year reserve, Visser took advantage of Wake's complete lack of skill and experience. But the fact is that someone has to score the ball, so just because Visser averaged 17 doesn't mean he's really that great. I think the word that sums up Visser's game is mediocrity, perhaps decent if you prefer that word. He doesn't have a single plus NBA skill. On the flip side, he also doesn't have any huge flaws, and his skill and footwork is surprisingly good for a guy who played the bench up until last year. He'll find a nice home at the end of somebody's bench.
Summary: Oden is a must-own talent. Hawes is an underrated prospect, who could be a consistent yet unspectacular starter. As noted above, Splitter is a fringe starter/6th man type talent. Williams is best suited as a 6th man, while Gray and Gasol are backup-quality talents. Hardin, Barac, and Visser are end of the bench guys.