NBA teams drafting outside the 2009 Lottery for a big man are going to have to look elsewhere. The pool of center prospects for next June’s draft isn’t really much of a pool – it’s more like a puddle. You’ve got three very good big guys near the top of the draft list and a Grand Canyon sized gap between them and the rest of the prospects.
With that said, there are a few young guys and/or rather unknown European center prospects that are only one good season away from propelling their stock. With the number of quality center prospects seemingly so low this year (you’ll be hard pressed to find more than four or five centers projected to be among the 60 players picked in next June’s draft), a player with a solid season or a flash of potential could see his name called a lot earlier than expected this year.
1. B.J. Mullens – Ohio State – FR
Along with Ricky Rubio and Blake Griffin, B.J. Mullens is the third player considered as a potential first overall pick in next year’s draft. If that happens, it will mark the second time in the past three years a Buckeye freshman center went first overall, and three years in a row a frosh Buckeye big man went in the first round.
So what makes Mullens so special? Athleticism, quickness, good hands and being 7-feet tall are a good start. Playing a season in the notoriously physical and tough Big 10 should help prepare him for the NBA. If Mullens progresses as expected, and the NBA trend of bigger is always better in regards to drafting a player first overall, B.J. might be your best bet to go numero uno.
2. Hasheem Thabeet – Connecticut – JR
The Tanzanian titan made a giant leap last season, bridging the gap between “prospect” and “player”. While no doubt Hasheem Thabeet’s game still has plenty of room to grow – especially on the offensive end – he is well on his way.
Even if Thabeet never pans out as an offensive player, he will have a long, productive NBA career as a defensive specialist – even Shawn Bradley lasted in the League for over 800 games. A towering 7’3”, with long arms and a solid 263-pound frame, Thabeet swats shots with the greatest of ease. Just ask Notre Dame, who Hasheem rejected 10-times in a game last year.
3. Andrew Ogilvy – Vanderbilt – SO
Otherwise known as A.J. Ogilvy, due to an Air Jordan hat he used to wear as a youth (luckily he didn’t have a Bobby Simmons hat), Ogilvy was another freshman who had an outstanding season last year. Despite not being the top gun on the Commodores – that role was played by Shan Foster – the big Aussie still managed to pour in 17 points a game while leading the team in rebounding (6.7rpg) and blocks (1.4bpg).
A.J. uses his 6’11” 250-pound physique to overpower collegiate defenders in the post, getting and keeping good position down low. He also possesses a good shooting touch, nice passing skills and is a smart player with a good feel for the game. While he doesn’t project to be a star in the NBA, he should be a solid pro for several years.
4. Jerome Jordan – Tulsa – JR
Kingston, Jamaica native Jerome Jordan is one player who could see his draft stock soar with a solid junior season for the Golden Hurricane. Last year was a revelation for Jordan, as his 143 blocks broke the Conference USA record for swats in a season. He also averaged a very healthy 10.5ppg and 7.9rpg.
Jordan has only been playing basketball for a few years, so he is still very inexperienced and raw. He also needs to put more bulk on his 7’0” 235-pound frame. However, if he continues to improve like he did from his freshman to sophomore season, the sky is the limit for him. Remember – Patrick O’Bryant was a Top 10 pick!
5. Cole Aldrich – Kansas – SO
It is rare to find a player who only averaged 8 minutes of burn a game on a list of top NBA prospects. But Cole Aldrich didn’t just play on a run-of-the-mill basketball team last year – he suited up from the national champion Kansas Jayhawks. And as he showed in the Final Four versus North Carolina – eight points, seven boards and four blocks in 17 minutes – he can produce when given a chance.
With the Jayhawks basically gutted this season, Aldrich will get that chance. A solidly built 6’11” 240 pounds, Aldrich is also a decent leaper, a good shot blocker and solid rebounder. He will look to show why he was a Rivals Top 30 prospect coming out of high school this season in Lawrence.
Next in line: Slava Kravtsov, Ukraine; Miroslav Raduljica, Serbia; Luke Nevill, Utah; Russell Hicks, Florida International; Gasper Vidmar, Turkey.