It's A New Day For NBA's "Center" Position
LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge
Scout National Basketball Columnist
Posted Jun 23, 2006


You don't neccessarily have to be a seven-footer who rarely strays from beyond the low post to be considered a "center" in the NBA these days. That philosophy in reflected in a list of the top post players that will be selected in Wednesday night's NBA Draft.

The breed of NBA cat once called “center” has changed considerably since the days when the prerequisites for the position included being something close to 7-feet tall with offensive and defensive skills being almost entirely low-post in orientation.

 

So, for definitions’ sake, we’re acknowledging the evolution and are now listing what everyone used to refer to as “centers” as “posts”.

 

These are guys who will be capable of playing down low “in the painted era” (apologies to Hubie Brown) or in the high post region.

 

And here is how we rate the top 15 of the “hybrids” in this draft pool, with a handful of other candidates who could be selected in the second round (one or two of which could sneak into the first) Wednesday night.

 

The best of the bunch is, without much dissent to be found, LaMarcus Aldridge of Texas, who – especially in the opinion of those who don’t think it will be Andrea Bargnani – may be the first selection.

 

(*Heights, without shoes, and weights as measured during the Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando)

 

LaMarcus Aldridge (*6-10, 234) Texas

Projected position: Power forward/Center

What NBA talent evaluators like: He’s by far the most gifted 6-10-plus player in this draft pool, with the tools to be a double-figure rebounder and 15-point-per-game-plus scorer very early into his NBA career, and the best opportunity among prospects of his size in this draft class to be an all-star. He is skilled enough to be every bit as affective from the high or low posts.

What they wonder about: Can he hold up against the pounding he’ll take, especially inside the lane? How quickly can he polish his low-post offensive repertoire?

Frank says: If healthy, he might have been a top three selection in the 2005 draft.

Draft night projection: No. 1 or 2

 

Tyrus Thomas (*6-7 ¼, 217) LSU

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: Vertically, he’s easily the most explosive of the post prospects in this draft. He constantly plays well above the rim, even in traffic, and pursues rebounds as well as anyone who’ll be drafted Wednesday night.

What they wonder about: How quickly can he add the bulk to battle with NBA power forwards as a rookie? How long will it take for him to develop the offensive fundamentals he’s lacking right now?

Frank says: His regional play against Duke and Texas was phenomenal.

Draft night projection: Top six

 

Shelden Williams (*6-7 ½, 258) Duke

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: Williams is by far the most polished post prospect in the draft and the one most physically able to withstand the low-post punishment – and dole out plenty of his own – from Day 1 in the NBA.

What they wonder about: Despite his strength and power, he is not particularly explosive, vertically, and often struggled to score against taller defenders in college.

Frank says: He might not ever be an all-star but he could evolve into a consistent 12-point, eight-rebound per night contributor.

Draft night projection: No. 5 to 8

 

Patrick O’Bryant (*6-11, 249) Bradley

Projected position: Center

What NBA talent evaluators like: He’s got “true center” dimensions, better-than-average athletic ability and considers himself a “center”, unlike so many 6-10 and 6-11 guys who aspire to be “wings”. He’s got the frame to carry another 20 or so pounds quite easily.

What they wonder about: Jim Les did a nice job with him in two years in Peoria but he is still lacking in basketball polish. And his instincts aren’t as pronounced as most of the other fellows who will be lottery selections Wednesday.

Frank says: I’m not sure he’s a better prospect than Hilton Armstrong but the consensus is that he will be selected before the Connecticut player is.

Draft night projection: Nine to 14

 

Hilton Armstrong (*6-9 ½, 240) Connecticut

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: He demonstrated slow, but steady, progress over his first three years in Storrs, then blossomed into a possible lottery selection as a senior. The comparisons to former NBA center/forward Elden Campbell are valid, although he appears to play at higher energy level on a more consistent basis.

What they wonder about: His offense repertoire is still pretty much limited to short jumpers (off the pass), dunks (after penetration passes) and follow shots.

Frank says: Long-shot special – two years from now he’ll be the best power forward to come out of this draft.

Draft night projection: 10 to 15

 

Cedric Simmons (*6-8 ¼, 223) North Carolina State

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: He made dizzying improvement from his freshman to sophomore seasons, especially in his assertiveness under the backboards. He’s got very long arms, chases every missed shot and challenges most opposition attempts. He’s a better than advertised passer.

What they wonder about: He’s still raw and a big mechanical on offense. Can he go out on the floor and guard big forwards with perimeter skills?

Frank says: Right now he looks like he’ll make more of an immediate impact based on his ability to rebound.

Draft night projection: 10 to 17

 

Mouhamed Saer Sene (*6-11, 237) Senegal

Projected position: Center

What NBA talent evaluators like: He’s got the physical dimensions and instincts to become one of the better shot blockers in the NBA once he’s sturdy and polished enough to stay on the court for any extended period on a consistent basis. He’s faster than most centers he’ll compete against.

What they wonder about: Can his offense come along any faster than it has for DeSagana Diop and Tyson Chandler?

Frank says: At least three high school players in the 6-10-plus range – Greg Oden, Spencer Hawes and Kevin Durant – would have been selected before Sene had they been eligible and willing to enter the draft.

Draft night projection: 15 to 21

 

Alexander Johnson (6-9, 235) Florida State

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: He’s got a nifty combination of strength and explosiveness and has reasonable range (he shot 31 percent on 3’s last season) on his jump shot. He became a much more active player and improved his free-throwing shoot 100-plus point to .706.

What they wonder about: He’ll be 24 in February – 2 to 3 years older than some of the guys in the power forward category in this draft pool. He’s not a very good passer or ball handler.

Frank says: With he and Al Thornton in the frontcourt, how did the Seminoles miss out on the NCAA Tournament once again?

Draft night projection: 20 to early second round

 

Ryan Hollins (7-0, 240) UCLA

Projected position: Center/Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: His “length” (one of the catchwords of 21st century basketball scouting) and running and jumping ability are every bit the equal of any of the guys who will be selected long before he is. His post moves are still a bit mechanical but showed considerable improvement over his senior season.

What they wonder about: Is he more “big track and field athlete” as opposed to “a future starting NBA center?” He can get frustrated rather easily.

Frank says: He finally played like a consistently forceful college center for the final two months of his career.

Draft night projection: 22 to early second round

 

Josh Boone (6-9, 235) Connecticut

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: On his best nights, he’s springy, active and as good a combination of shot blocker/rebounder as there is in the draft pool. He plays within the limitation of his offensive skills.

What they wonder about: Why didn’t he have more “best nights” this past season after exhibiting a seemingly “lottery selection future” as a freshman and sophomore? Can he score on more than just dunks and layups?

Frank says: He’s the definition of a “perplexing prospect” but it’s still difficult to envision Boone not being chosen in the first round.

Draft night projection: 23 to early second round

 

Paul Davis (6-9 ½, 240) Michigan State

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: His offensive polish and versatility is superior to that of nearly every other power forward prospect that will be chosen Wednesday night. And those who don’t think he’s an exceptional runner should recalibrate their stop watches.

What they wonder about: Like Josh Boone, he, too, often seems like anything but a “high-energy” guy. And he seemed to hang his head a bit at times, as well.

Frank says: Combine his offensive know-how with Tyrus Thomas’ athletic ability and determination and, voila! Rookie of the Year!

Draft night projection: 23 to early second round

 

James Augustine (*6-8 ¼, 227) Illinois

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: Courtesy the time he spent with Deron Williams and Dee Brown, he’s got pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop offense mastered. He runs very well and is among the better passers among post prospects.

What they wonder about: Can he be physical enough to rebound against NBA power forwards? Can he create offense off the dribble on the wing?

Frank says: He was under-appreciated in some media circles during his four years in college. But NBA scouts definitely have an appreciation of his skills.

Draft night projection: 23 in first round to first 10 picks, second round

Leon Powe (6-8, 245) Cal

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: Inside the lane, he’s as strong as they come in this draft pool. He was nearly impossible to check, one-on-one, in the low post for the Bears last season and evolved into a more than adequate shooter to the 15-to-17 foot range while being the dominant inside player in the Pac 10.

What they wonder about: Some think he is a lot closer to 6-6 than the 6-8 he was listed at in high school and college. Can he guard skilled forwards on the perimeter?
Frank says:
Assuming his perimeter skills improve, he could probe to be a “steal” if he is selected in the second round.

Draft night projection: Late first round to early second round

 

Joel Freeland (6-11, 230)

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: His stock rose immensely after his recent performance in the Reebok Camp in Italy. He’s a bouncy and aggressive athlete who, because of his age and lack of experience, could evolve into a center with perimeter skills some day.

What they wonder about: He didn’t play against a high level of competition in Europe (he’s from England) and seems like a guy destined to spend some more time seasoning overseas (or in the Development League) before becoming an NBA factor.

Frank says: Like Mouhamed Saer Sene, he can almost be looked upon as being on par with some of the elite U.S. high school players of the class of 2006 – he’s only 19.

Draft night projection: First 10 selections in second round

 

Matt Haryasz

Projected position: Power forward/Center (*6-9 ¾, 219) Stanford

What NBA talent evaluators like: He has excellent hands, is a pretty good athlete and has a dependable jump shot (especially of the turn-around variety) up to 17 feet away.

What they wonder about: His strength and “toughness” and his inability to be a more forceful performer during the Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando.

Frank says: A variety of injuries kept him from having the kind of senior season that was anticipated of him.

Draft night projection: Mid to late second round

 

Paul Millsap (*6-6 ¼, 258) Louisiana Tech

Projected position: Power forward

What NBA talent evaluators like: He’s got a nose for the ball and is one of the better offensive rebounders in the draft. He uses his bulk and strength to gain advantageous scoring position in half-court situations.

What they wonder about: He’s not an exceptional athlete and must tighten up his body. He also needs to expand his perimeter skills.

Frank says: If he can get into better shape and stay there, he’ll be on an NBA roster next season.

Draft night projection: Mid to late second round

 

Other second-round possibilities:

Power forward: Yemi Nicholson (6-7 ¾, 258) Denver; J.P Batista (*6-7 ½, 265) Gonzaga; Christian Maraker (6-9, 235) Pacific; Kenny Adeleke (*6-6 ½, 250) Hartford; Taj Gray (*6-7 ¼, 231) Oklahoma; Marcus Slaughter (*6-7, 220) San Diego State; Craig Smith (*6-5 ½, 259) Boston College; Curtis Withers (*6-6, 227) Charlotte; Justin Williams (*6-7 ¼, 211) Wyoming; Eric Williams (*6-7 ¼, 285) Wake Forest.

Center: Frans Steyn (*7-1 ¼, 280) Southwest Baptist University; Michael Southall (*6-9 ½, 241) Louisiana-Lafayette; Solomon Jones (*6-8 ½, 224) South Florida.



 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at www.frankhoops.com



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