Draft Notes: 2021 NBA Draft Dynasty Scouting (Centers)
Nikola Jokic’s magical 2021 MVP season represented the first time a center has won the award since Tim Duncan (2002 & 2003) and Shaquille O’Neal (2000). In between those two decades the requirements from the position have drastically changed. Centers now have to check off a myriad of boxes in order to be matchup proof defensively or alternatively bring a level of offensive skill too tantalizing to take off the court.
As a league trend this has probably evolved past the realistic expectation that every team will be able to find a one size fits all option as a starter. Whereas even the best of the best have exploitable weaknesses that create a fissure when it comes to roster construction. The premise that big men are less valuable than they’ve been in the past would still be broadly inaccurate. Styles make fights; the reality is it’s become imperative over the past few years to have contingency plans available to handle all the responsibilities needed from your bigs when the situation arises.
Using the 2021 playoffs as an example, no matter how hard Mike Budenholzer believes Brook Lopez is playable down the stretch in a series that features Kevin Durant performing at the peak of his super powers, that will never be a matchup that ends well. Tyronn Lue’s adjustment after falling down 0-2 against Utah was to replace their generally solid starting center Ivica Zubac for Nicolas Batum in order to space the floor better and force the 3x Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, to defend more often in space on the perimeter, an adjustment that changed the complexion of the series.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the top big men who’ve declared for the 2021 NBA Draft.
Evan Mobley, University of Southern California, 7″ 215 pounds
- 16.4 ppg in 33 mpg, 8.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 58 FG%, (33 games)
- 2021 Pac 12 Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year
- As a 19 year old freshman, he quickly established himself as one of the most impactful two way players across the nation. Led college basketball in overall win shares, and was second in defensive win shares only to Neemias Queta of Utah State.
- Over the course of his one and done campaign, Mobley’s defensive instincts shined as he frequently would display superlative processing skills to react to the play happening in front of him.
- Defensive playmaker who causes havoc at all three levels on the floor, frequently blew up plays on the weak side. His 7”4 wingspan allows him to recover with a strong contest even when quicker defenders blow by him with their first step. Active hands that clog up passing lanes
- Needs to improve his technique opening up his hips while defending switches; can get caught flat footed at times when left on an island
- Shot 55% in the restricted area on 258 attempts. Although the number isn’t overly impressive on the surface, he was tasked with creating a sizable chunk of his offense via face up opportunities from the mid post and the perimeter. NBA spacing & creation besides him should aid his finishing capabilities and get him easier buckets at the next level
- 12/40 on three pointers; doesn’t immediately project as a shooter who defenses will respect from the perimeter but the upside is within the range of possibilities as a feasible development while on his rookie contract.
- 49/97 (51%) on shots classified as mid range attempts; comfort level in this range is a positive indicator for future improvement
- Nifty dribbler for his size who enjoys bringing the ball up in transition; can put the ball on the floor in straight line drive scenario’s to get to the rim; at this point of his development limited to creating for himself with a live dribble as he would either throw errant passes, get his dribble tied up by a smaller defender, or find himself in no mans land while trying to make something out of nothing
- NBA Role: Versatile Big / Defensive Anchor / Post scorer
Mobley represents where the future of the center position is heading as a rangy big man with the lateral quickness to cover a vast amount of ground defensively on a possession to possession basis. He has an argument for one of the safest players in this draft due to his combination of untapped upside and translatable defensive skills that represents extremely valuable currency. Certain draft pundits would make the argument that centers are unwise investments inside the top 5, however Mobley’s legitimate two way upside means he has the versatility to avoid the pitfalls of being headhunted in playoff settings which would place him among a small group of bigs.
Alperun Sengun, Besikas, 6″10 240 pounds
- 19ppg in 28mpg, 9.4 Rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.7 blocks per game, 81% FT, 70% true shooting percentage(29 games) in the Turkish Super League; To put his production as a 18 year old into perspective, he was the only player inside the top 10 of points scored that was 25 years or younger in addition to finishing 4th in rebounds & second in blocks
- Calm post presence; takes his time & gets to his spots; exceptional footwork; displays adequate touch with either hand; has a couple of nice counters in his repertoire but will need to continue growing this aspect of his skillset to become a impact player in the NBA
- Herky-jerky offensive rhythm keeps defenders off balanced and allows him to draw fouls at a strong rate. 6 FTA per game
- Uses his frame productively to pave space for his teammates as a screener; seals off defenders aggressively in the paint to create advantageous passing opportunities
- Times his rolls well + rolls with intent
- Intrigue as a playmaker; shows a budding sixth sense on finding creases to dime up his teammates; Solid vision out of the post; keeps his head up and surveys his surroundings for cutters and perimeter shooting opportunities
- Needs to tighten his handle to further explore his playmaking chops; high dribble that leads to turnovers in traffic
- Traditional drop coverage defensive center; can use his length to disrupt perimeter shots when he’s in position, however laterally his feet are a step behind when attempting to shuffle with shifty guards or wings
- NBA Role: Post Scorer / Rim Deterrent
The Turkish center currently wears the crown for the best international prospect coming over to the states among this very talented 2021 NBA Draft Class. While it’s easy to scoff at the the level of competition in the Turkish Super League, Sengun’s mix of youth and an enticing skillset with room to grow make him a talent we shouldn’t be sleeping on. For him to reach his full potential on offense he’ll need to extend his shooting range to become a plus offensive asset and avoid being a rotational center.
Usman Garuba 6″8 229 pounds, Real Madrid
- Day 1 NBA contributor on defense; impressive lateral mobility, projects as a dependable defensive presence that possesses the functional versatility to bother perimeter creators and contribute as a weak side rim protector
- Compact frame. For an athlete of his stature, does a great job of bending his knees and staying low while trying to prevent driving lanes; uses his wingspan aggressively to obstruct passing lanes
- Has already shown an adept feel for defensive concepts that will be asked of him in the NBA; plays bigger than his listed size due to his 7″2 wingspan
- Plus defensive IQ for a teenage prospect; disciplined with his assignments and excels as a team defender due to his natural instincts and ability to defend multiple positions
- Plays within his role on offense; makes rudimentary reads out of the short roll and can quickly diagnose the open pass
- Attempted 133 three pointers during his final season with Real Madrid; only connected 31%
- 53% as a finisher in the paint over 210 attempts
- NBA Role: Rim Runner / Versatile defensive Big / Weakside Rim Protector
Usman has been on international scouts radar since he earned the Most Valuable Player award at the 2016 FIBA Under 16 European Championship at the youthful age of 14. His resume is impressive and has been battle tested in high level basketball settings more than any other prospect in this class. In 2019 he became a full time member of the Real Madrid senior team and became the youngest player to enter their starting lineup (Yes, even younger than the prodigal child himself, Luka Doncic).
Garuba isn’t a complete “non” shooter. According to Instat’s player tracking technology, connected at 37% on his corner three pointers his final season before entering the draft. As an athlete who’s closer to being maxed out physically then other neophytes in this crop of prospects, his three point development becomes one of the biggest swing skills in this class. Otherwise, this is one of the cleanest projections of a plug and play draft pick with an extremely high floor towards contributing at some level to winning basketball.
Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky, 6″10 205 lbs
- SEC 1st team All Freshman & SEC 1st Team All Defense
- Led Kentucky in Blocks, Rebounds, & Field Goal Percentage
- 7″5 Wingspan; Uses his length to disrupt the shots of opposing players; comfortably rotates between defending bigs and smalls
- Tireless motor with the agility to cause havoc as a defensive playmaker; doesn’t give up on plays and shows a high level of determination to fight for 50/50 balls.
- According to Instat’s player tracking, opponents shot a ludicrous 21% on three pointers where Jackson was deemed the nearest defender
- Lateral mobility allows him to stunt and dip his lower base to interrupt possible penetration while recovering to the outside threat; his comfort level closing out on shooters is among the best in this class & a skill that should translate to the next level
- Despite having a slender frame, held his own in the paint due to his length and discipline in the post. Opponents only shot 36% on 133 attempts when attacking Jackson in the restricted area
- Runs full speed in transition; consistently puts pressure on the opposing big man to match his effort in the open court; should score all of his points via rim running, offensive put backs, and transition leak outs
- Shot 48% inside the restricted area over 129 attempts; lack of muscle and a high center of gravity played a severe part in his issues finishing, regularly throw up rushed shots in the paint or increase the degree of difficulty
- Inconsistent touch; struggles to repeat his shooting mechanics as a shooter, leads to some erratic misses
- NBA Role: Mobile big / Rim runner / Defensive Anchor
Although Jackson is at the early stages of his skill development as a prospect, his potential to make an impact within his role on both ends of the floor fits the direction of modern NBA and should intrigue an organization needing an influx of talent in their front court to take a shot on him outside of the lottery on draft night. Landing with a team that can maximize his defensive gifts in short spurts as he grows into his frame is the best path towards immediate impact.
Day’Ron Sharpe 6″11 265 lbs
- Excels as an entry passer; shows a general understanding of leverage on the floor, makes quick decisions and uses soft touch passes to find the open man
- Fights in the paint as a rebounder; shows a myriad of different techniques including an impressive swim move where he quickly rips his arm over the top of his defender and uses his bottom half to box out on the offensive glass.
- Not overly explosive as an athlete nor does he have superlative vertical leaping ability but has shown to have a consistent motor which allows him to be a presence in the paint
- Strong hands; allows him to high point the ball at it’s apex and snatch 50/50 balls out of the air
- Despite being a patient screener who utilizes his frame effectively to create air space for his pick and roll partner, was rarely used in pick and roll scenario’s at North Carolina
- Lack of tight area explosiveness limited his effectiveness as a finisher at the college level; 48% in the restricted area on 223 overall attempts
- Needs to show improvement throwing his weight around as an offensive post player; despite having a size advantage against most college big men, smaller defenders would be able to stifle post attempts or push him away from the paint. Generally would seek to go around his defender using finesse moves instead of using his size to create easier attempts
- NBA Role: Glass cleaner / Rim Deterrent / Post Scorer
Sharpe needs to show more assertiveness in the paint as his approach gets lackadaisical at times which leads to him disappearing for stretches. His freshman year was spent in a rotational platoon at North Carolina, only recording 19 minutes per game and 4 starts over the entirety of the season. This places him in the tier of projects who’ll need additional refinement at the G-League level to explore his game in an environment more conducive player development. Despite all of this he displays legit skill and is above where most young big men are at his age in terms of processing the court around him as a passer. Sharpe has potential starter upside if he can prove to be a consistent rim protector in the NBA.
Neemias Queta, Utah State 7″ 245 lbs
- 2021 Season statistics: 15points per game, 10 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 3.3 blocks, (30 minutes per game)
- 22 years old on Draft night; Partially torn meniscus suffered playing in the EuroBasket 2018 U20 European Championship for Portugal tournament slowed his overall development process
- Advanced Metric Darling: Led the Mountain West in 2021 in rebounds, blocks, second in defensive rating per 100 possessions, and first in defensive win shares
- Mobile for a 7 footer but can still look awkward at times due to having high knees
- Footwork in the post can use additional refinement. Not unskilled but also doesn’t make his back to the basket repertoire seem natural at all times; showcased an improved feel for the post over his last season in school
- 53% in the paint over 271 attempts during his junior season
- Enrolled at Utah State as a freshman at 205 pounds, added 40 pounds of weight, additional strength to his frame over his four years in college has allowed him to become a major rim deterrent due to his length; however, high center of gravity will be an issue to watch when defending against NBA post players
- Disciplined post defender; stays grounded without biting on unnecessary pump fakes; utilizes his length to disrupt shots without picking up ticky tack fouls; 2.4 fouls per game in 30 minutes during his senior season.
- NBA Role: Anchor Big / Rim Runner
Queta’s projected role isn’t complicated to foresee, he’s a rim protector, a vertical lob threat, and if you pray for the best, a center who won’t get repeatedly sautéed on the perimeter.
*All stats courtesy of Instat Sports*