2012 NBA Draft: Ranking The Centers
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
Year in and year out things always change with the draft, but one constant seems to be that centers are always at a premium. Teams reach for centers more so than any other position. This year’s crop of centers happens to be one of the best from top to bottom in recent memory. There are five who are legitimate first round picks and several more who will be selected in the second round. As we’ve done with the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards, here’s a look at the top five along with the rest of the class.
The Top Five
Andre Drummond (UConn, Fr.) – 7’0, 279 lbs.
When evaluating Drummond it’s easy to fall in the same trap that you can fall into with Harrison Barnes. You have to focus more on what he can be rather than who he was in college because that’s where the true promise is, especially in the case of Drummond. A lot of people don’t realize that Drummond is 18 years old. He should have been finishing high school rather than entering the NBA Draft this summer.
When you take all of that into consideration, it’s a lot easier to understand why he doesn’t get the most out of his abilities or have an adept skill set yet. He’s still learning the game. He doesn’t realize how good he can be yet, but all of the tools are there for him to be a beast at the league’s thinnest position.
Drummond has been projected to be selected anywhere from two all the way to 12. Patience will be vital for whatever team chooses him. There may not be much in terms of instant impact, but taking Drummond now could be like winning the 2013 lottery because he probably would have been the top pick in next year’s draft had he stayed in high school as planned.
Meyers Leonard (Illinois, So.) – 7’1, 250 lbs.
There’s no other way to describe Leonard’s recent ascent up the draft boards other than predictable. Far too many talent evaluators have gotten caught up in how much more Leonard could have done as a sophomore. The real story with Leonard is how much he improved from his freshman year. The leap Leonard took was massive and if his next one is half as big, he’s going to be just fine as a pro – certainly worth a lottery selection.
Quite possibly the biggest surprise from the NBA Draft Combine was Leonard repping 185 lbs. on the bench press 19 times. It says a lot about his work ethic, which has often been questioned. You don’t become that strong at that young age without being dedicated.
With his strength level, athleticism and upside Leonard has probably worked his way into the top 10. The Detroit Pistons make a lot of sense for him. John Henson is supposedly high on their list, but taking him and passing on Leonard could be something they regret for a very long time.
Tyler Zeller (North Carolina, Sr.) – 7’0, 247 lbs.
Initially Zeller was slated to get selected in the top 10. His stock has slipped slightly, which was to be expected considering his age and the upside of younger big men like Drummond and Leonard. Still, there’s a lot to like about Zeller. He’ll almost undoubtedly provide more help immediately than the aforementioned centers. While he may not be a starter at the next level, he should be a really serviceable backup and those are hard to find.
Zeller is not as a strong as the average NBA center, something he’ll have to work on. What he doesn’t have in strength, though, he makes up for in pure determination, speed, skill and basketball IQ.
There is an outside chance that the New Orleans Hornets could reach for Zeller at 10 if their top targets at that spot are off the board already. The Houston Rockets could consider him at 12. That appeared to be his floor before the Milwaukee Bucks moved down and acquired Samuel Dalembert.
Fab Melo (Syracuse, So.) – 7’0, 255 lbs.
It was really sad to see that after all the hard work Melo put in last summer that he was academically ineligible to play in the NCAA Tournament. It obviously had a great effect on his team and a strong showing could have propelled him into the lottery.
Melo transformed his body and now completely looks the part of an NBA center rather than just having the tall part down as he did previously. He’s still very raw with a lot of areas that he needs to improve in, but he’s young and very coachable from all indications.
It’s important to note that Melo has not been playing basketball or speaking English for very long. The fact that he’s as good as he is now is really encouraging when trying to project where he’ll be three or four years from now. The Boston Celtics would be ideal for him. They did a great job developing Kendrick Perkins, who Melo could end up being a lot like in his best-case scenario.
Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt, Sr.) – 6’11, 264
Much like Melo, Ezeli is fairly new to the game. He also experienced a lot of bumps in the road this year, missing the early portion of the season due to an injury and never really getting to 100 percent. He could have jumped up the draft boards with a big senior year, but is now looking like a late first rounder at best.
Where Ezeli is going to make his niche is on the defensive end. He’s still developing offensively, however, he’s good enough defensively to help NBA teams right now.
The Miami HEAT seem to be the most logical destination for Ezeli. They need defensive and strength at that position, not offense, which suits Ezeli perfectly.
The Rest Of The Class
Bernard James (Florida State, Sr.) – 6’10, 230 lbs.: The oldest player in the draft. Has the most interesting background as he served two terms in the military prior to college.
Kyle O’Quinn (Norfolk State, Sr.) – 6’10, 241 lbs.: Late bloomer who has the ability to be a menace defensively. Has been on the rise thanks to the way he finished the season, played in Portsmouth and in private workouts.
Henry Sims (Georgetown, Sr.) – 7’0, 241 lbs.: Busted onto the scene late to put himself on the radar. Possesses a rare combination of size and passing skills.
Miles Plumlee (Duke, Sr.) – 7’0, 252 lbs.: Has skyrocketed as of late due to his physical tools. Never produced as expected in college, but could be better suited for the NBA game.
Justin Hamilton (LSU, Jr.) – 6’11, 264 lbs.: Well rounded big man who can be a force on the glass. Is well-travelled and older than most in this draft class, but good enough to make a team.
Izzet Turkyilmaz (Burhaniye) – 7’1, 211 lbs.: A mystery who has had limited exposure. Has great size, but little experience. Would stay overseas for a few years before coming to the league.
Dusan Cantekin (Serbia) – 7’4, 257 lbs.: The tallest player in the draft. Far from a stiff, but needs to put in a lot of work to play at the next level.
Robert Sacre (Gonzaga, Sr.) – 7’0, 263 lbs.: Charismatic big man who understands how to play the game and use his size. Has improved since the end of the season.
Garrett Stutz (Wichita State, Sr.) – 7’0, 252 lbs.: Has a very legitimate shot to get drafted in the second round thanks to the strides he’s made over the last year. Talented offensively.
Ognjen Kuzmic (Bosnia) – 7’1, 231 lbs.: Has yet to see consistent minutes overseas. Shows flashes of being a solid defensive presence.
Darko Planinic (Bosnia) – 6’11, 255 lbs.: Physical, blue-collar big man who doesn’t excel offensively yet. Wouldn’t get serious looks from the league until a few years down the line at the earliest.
Maik Zirbis (Germany) – 6’10, 252 lbs.: Efficient five man who rarely ventures outside of the paint on either end. Slightly undersized.
Alen Omic (Bosnia) – 7’0, 255 lbs.: Has prototypical size but is subpar athletically. Hasn’t proven himself against a high level of competition.
Renardo Sidney (Mississippi State, Jr.) – 6’9, 304 lbs.: May have peaked as a high schooler. Has consistently hurt his stock since then. Has the talent to play in the league if he ever gets serious.