2019 NBA Draft Prospects: Centers

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2019 NBA Draft Prospects: Centers 

Post#1 » by RealGM Articles » Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:39 pm

Center is a position that has evolved significantly over time and the 2019 NBA Draft class perfectly shows how players at the youth level are much more focused on developing the skills more likely to be needed of them in the NBA than in the past. There are no Jahlil Okafor’s in this top five – no behemoths who opted to spend their time developing a back-to-the-basket game.


All five of these centers are decent-to-good finishers out of the pick-and-roll and four of the five are already capable shooters out to three-point range. That said, they all figure to need significant improvements to their physical profiles in order to withstand the demands of the pro game on defense.


Texas’ Jaxson Hayes and Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton will need to bulk up, while Buducnost Podgorica’s Goga Bitadze needs to continue working on his conditioning. Meanwhile, it’s unclear what Oregon’s Bol Bol needs in terms of physical development. He played in Eugene listed at 235 pounds but slimmed down to 208 after missing most of the season recovering from foot surgery.


ESPN’s top 100 was used as the guide for the positions and rankings cited, for organization purposes.


The stats cited in this post were researched at our own stats’ database and hoop-math and the measurements cited were researched at NBA.com and Draft Express’ database.


Let’s dive into the specifics.


- Jaxson Hayes (Ranked 11th, Texas, 19 years old, 6’11, 218 LBS)


Hayes averaged just six minutes per game during his junior year at Moeller High School. Two years later, he’s ranked as the top center and 11th overall on ESPN’s top 100.


The Cincinnati native profiles as a rim runner who offers consistent vertical spacing both diving down the lane in pick-and-roll and spot up at the dunker spot. Thanks to his explosive leaping ability off two feet, without needing to load up to go up, and his 9'2 standing reach, Hayes offers a massive target playing above the rim as a target for lobs.


Hayes has shown pleasing development on non-dunk finishes with his dominant right hand as well and proved to have remarkable coordination for someone his height catching the ball above or around the foul line, dribbling to gather balance and attacking the basket with explosiveness elevating out of one foot in traffic – converting 86.7% of his 120 attempts at the rim in his lone season at Texas.
































































TABLE 1 – TOP FIVE PLAYERS IN FG% AT THE RIM IN 2018-2019, AMONG ESPN'S TOP 100



ESPN RANK



PROSPECT



TEAM



USG%



RIM FGA



% RIM FGM



11



Jaxson Hayes



Texas



17,2



120



86,7%



41



Daniel Gafford



Arkansas



26



223



82,1%



90



Donta Hall



Alabama



16,8



123



82,1%



75



Tacko Fall



UCF



21,8



169



80,5%



13



Brandon Clarke



Gonzaga



23,9



236



79,7%



Source: hoop-math


       

_


Other areas of his offense are underdeveloped.


Though he did flash some ability to deliver drop-offs out of his short drives and kick-outs out of short rolls, Hayes didn’t make a habit of making plays for others on the move and wasn’t asked to attempt facilitating for others out of the high post – assisting on just 2.6% of the Longhorns’ scores when he was on the floor.


The 6'11, 218-pounder was given some opportunities to post up less imposing defenders from time-to-time and flashed a capable go-to righty hook off the defender’s left shoulder but didn’t often play with enough force to back down opponents and create space for more efficient looks or display a diverse set of skilled moves to work his defender out of position – finishing his 49 two-point shots away from the basket at a 29% clip.


His 74% foul shooting (100 free throw attempts) on comfortable mechanics out of standstill position suggests continued work ethic and a killer development staff could eventually develop him into a capable floor spacer on occasion in the future – similar to what happened to Texas alum Jarrett Allen, but that’s pure potential for now.


On the other end, Hayes did his best work near the rim as well – leveraging his quickness, his explosive leaping ability and his length to protect the basket coming off the weak-side in help defense. Aside from averaging 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes, he consistently influenced shots around the goal via disciplined verticality or acting as an intimidating threat that forced opponents to rush poor attempts while guarding with his arms up.


However, Hayes is also quite prone to biting on shot fakes and exposing himself to foul trouble at this point of his development, as he averaged 5.7 personal fouls per 40 minutes last season, which then limited his playing time to just 23.3 minutes per game in 32 appearances.


But perhaps more critically, he needs to do a better job in the defensive glass. The just-turned 19-year-old is often soft with his boxouts, which compounds his exposure battling for position under the rim, considering he doesn’t have a particularly big rebounding area for someone with his height – collecting just 16.4% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season.


That somewhat lean frame for someone his height works to his advantage away from the basket, though. Hayes is quite mobile and agile, offering versatility in terms of pick-and-roll coverage. He was asked to do a bit of everything at Texas: dropping back, hedging and switching, and proved himself capable of credibly executing these schemes out in space.


Bol Bol (Ranked 15th, Oregon, 19 years old, 7’2’’, 208 LBS)


Bol Bol was limited to just 268 minutes last season after undergoing left foot surgery in early January.


But Oregon did play the 21st toughest non-conference schedule in the country, according to Team Rankings, which allowed him to face some decent level competition in his mere nine appearances, in which he piled up the numbers.


The son of Manute Bol averaged 28.2 points per 40 minutes on 61% effective shooting and posted a 32.7 PER in 29.8 minutes per game.







































































TABLE 2 - TOP FIVE PLAYERS IN SCORING PER 40 MINUTES IN 2018-2019, AMONG CENTERS RANKED ON ESPN'S TOP 100



ESPN RANK



PROSPECT



TEAM



MIN/GP



USG%



TS%



PTS/40



15



Bol Bol



Oregon



29,8



32



63,2



28,2



23



Mfiondu Kabengele



Florida State



21,6



28,5



59,3



24,5



17



Goga Bitadze



Buducnost Podgorica



23,4



24,7



65,8



24,1



41



Daniel Gafford



Arkansas



28,7



26



65,2



23,6



83



Sagaba Konate



West Virginia



24,1



27,6



54,4



22,6



Source: our stats' database


         

_


He is viewed as a potential unicorn who can offer vertical and horizontal spacing on offense while protecting the rim on defense. But there are questions on if the 7'2 center is suited for the speed and the toughness of the NBA.


Bol can play above the rim as a target for lobs sneaking behind the defense and his massive nine-foot-seven standing reach makes him capable of reaching the ball higher than most opponents in a crowd but he is often lackadaisical with his screening and rarely dives hard down the lane.


The 19-year-old also doesn’t play with much force with his back to the basket, as Bol is unable to set deep position and struggles to create separation on attempts to back his defender down at this point of his development. He hasn’t yet developed power moves, a left hand as an option on turnaround hooks or a patient approach trying to work his man out of position with shot/head fakes and generally shies away from contact.


But his height and overwhelming length, together with soft touch on right-handed hooks and his shooting ability on turnaround fadeaway jumpers, sustained him putting up a credible attempt on just about every other post up touch in the collegiate level, as he shot 44.6% on 56 two-point shots away from the basket.


What generates the most interest is his potential as an outside shooter, though. Bol nailed 13 of his 25 three-point shots in college and, as his 75.7% foul shooting (even if on only 37 free throw attempts) substantiates, he certainly has the touch. But his mechanics are quite unorthodox, as he has a low release, launching the ball from in front of his face, pushing the ball out.


The Findlay Prep product can make open looks on spot-ups and as the trailer in transition but struggles to get quick shots up out of the pick-and-pop and against effective closeouts.


Bol can put the ball on the floor against hard closeouts and shows decent coordination for someone his size. He’s even flashed some side-to-side shake on crossovers, spin moves and the ability to high step his way forward on straight line drives.


The Khartourn, South Sudan native of American citizenship lacks explosiveness elevating off one foot in traffic, hasn’t yet developed a stop-and-pop jumper and is prone to having the ball stripped of him on the move due to his loose handle but has shown he is a capable finisher from the in-between area on running floaters and floaters off a jump-stop.


Bol is not as versatile on defense, though.


He is very effective defending closer to the basket, with his nine-foot-seven standing reach making it tough to finish over him when he is well positioned. Thanks to his length and decent leaping ability out of two feet without needing forever to load up, Bol averaged 3.6 blocks per 40 minutes at Oregon.


That said, he is not very energetic coming off the weakside in help defense. Bol is also not consistently diligent and physical with his boxouts. It didn’t cost him in college, as his massive rebounding area helped him collect 25.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, but figures to become problematic in the pros.


That lack of intensity prevents him from being considered a good option to defend away from the rim as well. Bol is generally lackadaisical with his closeouts at the three-point line and often can’t do so with enough balance to stay in front when he does manage to force that shooter to put the ball on the floor.


Though he is mobile enough to stay close enough to drive drivers from the foul line down, Bol doesn’t figure to be suited to pick up smaller players on switches with any regularity – having rarely shown the sort of flexibility to get down in a stance and the side-to-side quickness needed to keep shifty types in front out in space.


Goga Bitadze (Ranked 17th, Buducnost Podgorica, 19 years old 7’0’, 251 LBS)


Bitadze recovered very well from Kentucky’s destruction of Mega Bemax in the Bahamas in August, when he and the rest of the Serbian team looked undraftable.


The seven-footer started the season in dominant fashion in the Adriatic League and scored a transfer to Buducnost Podgorica in late December, where he had the opportunity to log 13 Euroleague appearances. With the Montenegrin club, Bitadze looked like a high level contributor among Europe’s elite – posting a 23.3 PER in 314 minutes against the best competition in the globe outside the NBA.


The Georgian center had a killer year as a scorer – averaging 1.7 points per shot on 408 total live-ball attempts – thanks mostly to his efficacy out of the pick-and-roll.


He is a good screener who looks to draw contact and his wide 251-pound frame makes it challenging for on-ball defenders to navigate him cleanly. Though he doesn’t have much lift going up strong off two feet in a crowd and can’t play above the rim as a target for lobs diving down the lane in traffic, Bitadze is well coordinated for someone his size and impressed with his agility on the move.


He can catch the ball around the foul line, take a dribble to gather balance and gain momentum before attacking the basket off one foot, besides flashing the ability to adjust his body in the air on non-dunk finishes around rim protectors and proving himself a capable finisher with his off left hand.


That said, the most eye-catching aspect of his development has been his evolution into a real threat as an outside shooter. The Sagarejo, Kakheti native nailed 40.9% of his 88 three-point shots in 50 total appearances with Mega Bemax and Buducnost last season, at a pace three such attempts per 40 minutes.














































































TABLE 3 - TOP FIVE PLAYERS IN THREE-POINTERS MADE IN 2018-2019, AMONG CENTERS RANKED ON ESPN'S TOP 100



ESPN RANK



PROSPECT



TEAM



3PM



3PA



3P%



3PM/40



3PA/40



17



Goga Bitadze



Buducnost Podgorica



36



88



40,9%



1,2



3



50



Naz Reid



LSU



28



84



33,3%



1,2



3,6



23



Mfiondu Kabengele



Florida State



24



65



36,9%



1,2



3,3



68



Alen Smailagic



Santa Cruz Warriors



19



80



23,7%



0,9



3,9



30



Nicolas Claxton



Georgia



18



64



28,1%



0,7



2,5



Source: our stats' database


           

_


Most impressively, he didn’t just take long-range looks on spot-ups and as the trailer in transition but also out of the pick-and-pop as well. Bitadze has a high release and comfortable mechanics for someone his size, proving capable of getting these shots out without needing forever to load up.


He doesn’t play with enough force trying to establish deep position in the post but does use his strength when he does get the ball. He can back down his defender lowering his shoulder and can consistently create space to launch hooks off the defender’s left shoulder when he puts his mind to it but is yet to develop a particularly diverse arsenal of moves when forced to rely on skill.


On the other end, Bitadze is an uneven defender.


He is not suited to defend pick-and-rolls above the foul line – often struggling to hedge-and-recover in an effective manner and unable to get down in a stance picking up smaller players on switches out in the perimeter, though he does have a good deal of length to block some three-point attempts if the opponent doesn’t manage to rock him off balance properly.


Bitadze is also only so-so at stopping the ball dropping back – nimble enough in short areas but yet to develop a good understanding of how to use his wide frame to clog driving lanes. He doesn’t regularly make preventive rotations to keep ball handlers from getting to the rim and can improve his timing stepping to the front of the basket in help defense, as he averaged 6.4 personal fouls per 40 minutes.


However, Bitadze is quite large, has a massive standing reach and shows good discipline guarding with his arms up around the basket, which makes it challenging to finish over him when he is well positioned, aside from the fact he’s an impressively quick leaper for someone his size off two feet – averaging 3.4 blocks per 40 minutes.


On the glass, Bitadze is physical and diligent with his boxouts but not quite dominant chasing the ball off the rim – collecting 23.8% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season.


Mfiondu Kabengele (Ranked 23rd, Florida State, 20 years old, 6’10’’, 256 LBS)


Kabengele is a good scorer out of the pick-and-roll with the potential to offer vertical and horizontal spacing.


He is an explosive leaper who can go up off two feet without needing space to load up and play above the rim as a target for lobs, not just sneaking behind the defense but diving down the lane in traffic as well, though he needs to improve his touch on non-dunk finishes – converting a not all that impressive 63.7% of his 168 shots at the rim last season.


The six-foot-10 center is also a threat popping out to the three-point line, as he’s proven himself capable of screening and setting his feet quickly with somewhat impressive fluidity. He has comfortable mechanics, catches the ball on the hop, gets great elevation and launches his shot from a high release – nailing 36.9% of his 65 three-point shots last season.


The third level of his production on offense comes via the offensive glass, where Kabengele is quite active, consistently trying to work his way into inside position and using his seven-foot-three wingspan to rebound outside of his area – collecting 11.5% of Florida State’s misses when he was on the floor.


Other areas of his offense are underdeveloped.


The Ontario, Canada native hasn’t yet developed a patient approach in the post, often rushing his way into odd turnaround fadeaway jumpers. He has light feet but raw skills operating with his back to the basket and doesn’t use his 256-pound frame to back down his defender with power moves.


He also doesn’t have much of a face-up game yet, though his coordination suggests there is a good deal of potential there to be developed, and hasn’t shown to be a capable shot creator for others on the move or operating with his back to the basket – assisting on just 3.2% of Florida State’s scores when he was on the floor.


Defensively, Kabengele is productive at the rim and in the perimeter as well.


Florida State had him guarding below the foul line more often than not and he’s shown great fluidity dropping back in pick-and-roll defense – flashing some very good understanding of how to use his frame to clog up driving lanes and keep ball handlers from turning the corner a fair amount, besides leveraging his leaping ability to bat away lobs.


Kabengele proved to be a proactive help defender coming off the weak-side in help defense and stepping up to the front of the basket. He is an explosive leaper off two feet, which combined with his nine-foot-three standing reach, helped him average 2.8 blocks per 40 minutes. He is also shown impressive discipline challenging shots via verticality.


Kabengele is diligent with his boxouts but isn’t very dominant chasing the ball off the rim – collecting just 20% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season, which is an unimpressive mark for a center.


Florida State didn’t switch often but he proved himself a credible defender when he did find himself matched up on wings from time-to-time. Kabengele can bend his knees to get down in a stance, has a couple of lateral slides in him to stay in front and puts in the effort to contest pull-ups effectively.


Nicolas Claxton (Ranked 30th, Georgia, 20 years old, 7’0’’, 216 LBS)


Claxton is a very unusual player. Despite being seven-feet tall and being listed as a center by ESPN, the Greenville, South Carolina native is essentially a pure perimeter player.


He’s taken almost two thirds of his shots away from the basket, gets touches curling off screens, takes three-pointers off some movement and clearly feels more comfortable facing up and taking his man off the bounce.


The Legacy Charter School product not only has grab-and-go ability off defensive rebounds and can trigger offense in the half-court but has proven he is capable of going end-to-end on fastbreaks.


Claxton has remarkable agility for someone his height – having shown a functional handle for isolations against less nimble defenders, side-to-side shake to crossover into pull-ups and light feet to spin into hooks off a jump-stop or euro-step his way through traffic in the lane.


He’s an explosive leaper elevating off one foot and can hang or adjust his body in the air, having also shown exceptional touch with his dominant left hand on non-dunk finishes and proved he is capable of scoring with his off right hand as well. He lacks strength to finish through contact and actively shies away from physical play at times but cleverly uses fakes to get shot blockers off their feet – converting his 111 attempts at the rim at a 71.2% clip, with less than half of those assisted.


Claxton has also shown he is a capable shot creator for others off the dribble, able to deliver simple drop-offs and kick-outs against a collapsing defense – assisting on 12.2% of Georgia’s scores when he was on the floor.


That said, it’s his three-point shooting that will likely be his swing skill in the pros. Claxton spaces out to beyond the arc off the ball when Georgia ran middle pick-and-roll and took quick shots jogging to open spots around the perimeter from time-to-time. He gets a lot of elevation on his jumper and fully extends himself for a high release, though his mechanics at the top can improve – nailing just 28.1% of his 64 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 2.5 such attempts per 40 minutes.


His touch needs improvement as well, as Claxton has shown to be a more comfortable three-point shooter than foul shooter, which causes skepticism over his ability to develop into an above average threat from long range – hitting just 64.1% of his 192 free throws.


He lacks strength and doesn’t play with enough force to try setting deep position in the post against just about every opposing big man but has shown he has a functional enough post game to perhaps discourage opponents from switching smaller players onto him without any concern.


Defensively, Claxton struggles to contribute.


He hasn’t yet developed the ability to stop the ball dropping back in pick-and-roll defense and though his agility suggests he should be suited to pick up smaller players on switches consistently, Claxton doesn’t often play with the sort of intensity needed to do well in possessions that require multiple efforts.


He also tends to be soft on closeouts and can’t stayed balanced enough to defend off the dribble when he does manage to rush the shooter off his shot, although Claxton has shown a knack for using his seven-foot-two wingspan to make plays in the passing lanes – averaging 1.3 steals per 40 minutes.







































































TOP 4 - TOP FIVE PLAYERS IN STEALS PER 40 MINUTES, AMONG CENTERS RANKED ON ESPN'S TOP 100



ESPN RANK



PROSPECT



TEAM



MIN



STL



STL/40



STL%



68



Alen Smailagic



Santa Cruz Warriors



818,4



40



2



2,3



30



Nicolas Claxton



Georgia



1011



34



1,3



1,9



41



Daniel Gafford



Arkansas



918



29



1,3



1,8



83



Sagaba Konate



West Virginia



193



6



1,2



1,7



50



Naz Reid



LSU



925



25



1,1



1,5



Source: our stats' database


         

_


He flashed proactivity helping on doubles near the rim when he was close by but was often late stepping up to the front of the rim in help defense and is prone to biting on shot fakes.


Claxton is quite soft on his boxouts, regularly giving up inside position. Though he is an explosive leaper off two feet and can reach the ball higher than his opponents – collecting 20.7% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season based on jumping ability alone, the issue figures to become problematic in the pros.


He is hopeless defending the post as well with his underdeveloped 216-pound frame – desperately needing to front to deny post entries or be helped with hard doubles that immediately force his defense into scrambling mode. 

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