Sham’s unnecessarily great big draft board: Centres
June 21st, 2011

(Listed in no order other than the order they were thought of.)

Any time you watch a game with Jonas Valanciunas in, randomly pause
the live action, and I guarantee he will be making this face.

Jonas Valanciunas – Valanciunas was a big minute player in the EuroLeague aged only 18. You just don’t do that in the EuroLeague, unless you’re Ricky Rubio.

Right now, he compares somewhat to Joel Przybilla if Joel Przybilla had any offensive finesse. Valanciunas runs the pick-and-roll to a Lithuanian standard, is smooth, polished, controlled, never rushed, and highly poised, with good touch around the basket and a very nice free throw stroke. He does not shoot jumpers yet, but he’s such a quick learner and such a good foul shooter (89% in the EuroLeague, 125-158 and 79% across all competitions) that it won’t take long. He is an extremely good rebounder through size, smarts and effort, and he blocks shots with his great wingspan and aforementioned effort level.

More than likely, he will not stay Przybillay for long. This is in no small part because of his much higher offensive skillset. The free throw percentages already mentioned are a testament to that.

Nonetheless, there are still flaws. Valaciunas is finesse more than power, doesn’t have a go-to move other than the pick-and-roll, and still has to beef up some. He was also consciously and constantly attacked by opposing EuroLeague offences, for he was the young and experienced one. And it is true that he struggled with that at times, giving up fouls on his pick-and-roll defence, and not always being in position. But it is also true that he improved noticeably during the season. Such is the common trend amongst Valanciunas’s story – if there’s something he can’t do, he learns it incredibly quickly. I don’t see what part of this fails to translate to the NBA. And thus I see a good quality NBA player in our midst.

It doesn’t matter if you have to wait an extra year. It’s worth it.

JaJuan Johnson – Johnson is as athletic as any big in this draft pool, and as much of a go-to scorer as any. He does this in four ways – the dunk, the jump shot over the left shoulder, the jump shot over the right shoulder, and the right handed hook over the left shoulder. That, plus any resultant free throws, is about it, yet due to his size, he can get them off at any time. Triple J’s J has improved over the years, to the point where it included consistent three point range as a senior. He also bulked up slightly, although he remains (and will always be) slender. He runs the court very well, excels as a weak side shot-blocker, and defends the perimeter well for a de facto big man.

The downsides are an inability to handle the interior play due to his lack of size (and/or interest), and the resultant poor rebounding. Such downsides have not prevented Channing Frye from a solid, well paid career.

Keith Benson – Benson is, essentially, the mid-major JaJuan Johnson. He is perhaps marginally bigger, but the difference is negligible. Neither is really a centre, and neither is really a power forward. Yet both adhere to the new model of big man, the face-up thin and athletic ones. Benson doesn’t look for contact, nor take it well. He is not great at posting, does not take charges, and likes to float around the perimeter, even without a handle. Yet he does have good touch when finishing around the basket, including a rather ugly right handed hook and hitting his free throws, in spite of a weird hitch in his release. His jump shot has also improved greatly, and now incorporates three point range. And while Kito is an example of why blocked shots do not necessarily equal good defence – especially since he goes for them excessively – he can change many a shot on the interior with his reach and athleticism. He rebounds, too, although his dominant size against mid major competition rather biased those numbers. Benson struggles on the interior, is too slender, and does not always give defensive effort, but he’s got enough on his resume for that to not matter too much.

Nikola Vucevic – Vucevic was covered to some degree here, and whilst he played only one game after that post was written, he has nonetheless seem his draft stock grow on account of his favourable measurements. Rare is the day that a player is in fact bigger than they are listed, but Vooch – commonly listed at 6’10 and 220 – measured at the combine to be 7’0 and 260 with a 7’5 wingspan. If you were asked to choose the ideal centre size, it’d be about there. This, combined with the inside/outside offensive game, fine rebounding and sufficient defensive skillset that he had long since demonstrated, has made him a first rounder. Before he became a jump shooting specialist as he aged, a younger Mehmet Okur was much like this.

……hence, Jorts. He should be made to play in Jorts constantly.

Josh Harrellson – After making scant little effort to get into shape or stay in the post during his first two seasons, Jorts was pressed into service as Kentucky’s centre last year due to lack of alternatives, and responded with a strong year. He was one of the game’s best rebounders, as well as one of its biggest players, a legit 6’10 and 280. He stopped taking the threes he was predisposed towards (and underqualified for), and became a decent pick-and-roll option for the Wildcats, exhibiting a solid handle for one so big. (Even if he never took more than two dribbles at any one time, he never turned it over in doing so.) Not fast, Harrellson is physical without being clumsy, hence the great rebounding numbers and decent foul rates (only 2.4 in 28.5 minutes per game last year). He never posts up, can’t hit a foul shot, hasn’t a go-to move on the interior and has fairly average touch, but he can at least be used to move the ball and rotate the action without throwing it away. That, plus his very good offensive rebounding, gives him a role on that end.

The fact that Harrellson clearly wasn’t especially motivated until he got within touching distance of the money is rather alarming, but the motivated Harrellson was a pretty good player. So if he can stay motivated, he has a chance.

(The problem Josh Harrellson faces – who drafts Josh Harrellson when they could just sign Brian Zoubek? And who signs Brian Zoubek for their NBA team anyway? So far, no one. Zoubek signed with the Nets, but was cut before the season. If he’s surplus, so is Jorts.)

Greg Smith – More than most, Smith is trying to take advantage of this weak draft. He has declared after a solid but not eyecatching sophomore season at Fresno State, one in which he averaged 11.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, shooting 57% from the field and 54% from the line. An out-and-out post player, none of his touch, footwork or defensive awareness is especially refined, but the physical profile (6’10, 250, hands the size of small yachts and sufficient mobility) makes him intriguing. Ideally, he would hone those skills as an upperclassman, but he chose to forego his final two years (citing “instability” at Fresno State) to gamble on the idea that he’ll be drafted as a project at some point. He might be right, too.

Here is a video of Greg Smith in high school, made (and thus captioned) by Greg Smith himself.

Ater Majok – Majok is technically automatically eligible this season. For all the hype of his arrival at UConn, he lasted precisely one season, and did very little in it. Leaving last summer to play professionally, Majok began life in the Turkish second division with Isikspor, and averaged a healthy 13.9ppg, 8.6rpg and 3.1bpg. He then moved to Australia to first play for the Perth Wildcats (8/3/2), then later for the Gold Coast Blaze (3/2/1). And that’s not great. Majok turns 24 in a fortnight, and is still thoroughly underdeveloped (and, frankly, not that talented). All he has going for him now is name recognition.

Michael Dunigan – Dunigan is another technically eligible player, unexpectedly leaving Oregon last summer to begin a professional career with Hapoel Jerusalem. Once in Jerusalem, he never played – the team that sorely needed a centre with actual size, as opposed to the stream of power forwards they forced out at the position, didn’t see fit to use him, seeing as he was a project. Limited to only one garbage minute, Dunigan was eventually loaned to Estonian team BC Kalev/Cramo (who, as a Baltic League/VTB United team, are a cut above the rest of Estonia), where things brightened up. In the Baltic League, Dunigan averaged 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.2 steals and 3.3 fouls in only 22 minutes, shooting 59% from the field and 71% from the line. An out-and-out post player who never steps away from there – on either end – Dunigan is very strong and sufficiently mobile, with some touch, and the ability and desire to always establish post position. Samardo Samuels made the NBA with a similar (if more polished) skillset, and Dunigan is taller and a better rebounder. He’s worthy of a late second, presumably as a draft-and-stash.

Jordan Williams – Williams was second in the NCAA in defensive rebounding percentage last season, ranking behind only Kenneth Faried and Kawhi Leonard amongst realistic draft candidates. (Well, unless you count Luke Sikma.) At 6’9/6’10 ish and roughly 250, Williams is rather caught between positions – he got into much better shape in his sophomore season, losing much excess weight and showing up rather trim, yet this also meant he no longer had NBA centre size. It didn’t stop him from being one of the best collegiate rebounders, and rebounding normally translates, but the size advantage will become a size disadvantage. Williams also showed up with a sporadic jump shot as a sophomore, after not having one at all as a freshman, but the same physical profile problems apply – Williams is simply not athletic, which is a problem on both ends when you’re not quite big enough. He’s a banger who will fight for the boards, work hard defensively, blocks a few shots, can occasionally post up, finishes, and is generally rather high IQ. But losing all the weight didn’t make him any faster.

Nevertheless, he’s not a whole lot less athletic than his namesake Aaron Williams – at least, not during Aaron’s latter years. And even in the athleticism-based NBA, rebounds are rebounds.

Jeremy Tyler – Tyler’s squirly route to the NBA took him from high school to Israel (where he averaged 2/2 for Maccabi Haifa and thoroughly disappointed) onto Japan (where he was coached by former NBA head coach Bob Hill). Playing for the Tokyo Apache in the BJ League alongside Byron Eaton and Robert Swift, Tyler averaged 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, improving considerably during the course of the season. [As an aside, Eaton averaged 17.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game, while Swift averaged 13.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.] In less than half the game, however, Tyler managed to turn it over a whopping 2.3 times per game.

Without a collegiate resumé, and with only an amazingly anti-climactic season in Israel to his credit prior to this year, this season with Hill represented Tyler’s career to date. And in a weak as uncompetitive as the BJ League, Tyler’s averages are underwhelming. The reason he is a draft candidate, then, is the reason he was ever relevant – his physical profile. Tyler can jump with the best of them, which is pretty much the first thing you look for in a 6’11 260lber, even if it shouldn’t be. He can also dribble and shoot fairly fluidly for one so big. But his effort has always been consistent, and his fundamentals have always been terrible. The turnover numbers from the BJ League suggest that half a calendar year with Bob Hill was not sufficient to straighten them all out.

Someone will pick him anyway. And justifiably so.

“Two tickets to the gun show.”

Mike Tisdale – Tisdale has always been incredibly, infamously thin, and all the weight training programs and forcefeeding he was subjected to have not really changed this. Were it not for the lack of girth, Tisdale would have a great body type for a center – 7’1, with very long arms, and pretty good mobility (running the floor well for a big man). However, even now that he’s slightly bigger, Tizzy is not tough. You can be slender and tough, as Valanciunas demonstrated above. But Tisdale isn’t. He can’t handle the physical play. He shoots jump shots or fadeaway mid-range hooks, and doesn’t keep position on the interior. And at no point in the process does he look like Dirk Nowitzki. Not even Earl Barron.

Jarrid Famous – Famous never really did anything on a South Florida team that, before, during, and especially after the Dominique Jones era, could really have used an extra offensive option. He did exhibit a mid-range jump shot in his senior season, finishes reasonably well, and he also ran the court well for one so big. But Famous cannot create in the post, on the perimeter, or anywhere. He is a finisher, and a finisher who gets stripped easily. Famous is on the radar because he’s athletic, and not the Benson/Jajuan Johnson type of athletic, but the kind of athletic that also has sufficient strength for the interior. He uses these to get position around the basket, while also hustling hard, and rebounding fairly well, particularly offensively. Yet Famous doesn’t block shots, defends via the foul, turns it over far too much, is awkward, raw, underdeveloped, would rather not handle the physical play, and has limited skill. But at least he added the mid range jumper. Maybe if he starts making fewer mistakes, he can replicate the career of Malik Allen.

Max Zhang – Zhang left California early to go and play professionally back in China, and is technically automatically eligible this season due to his age. He joined up with the Shanghai Sharks – the team owned by Yao Ming – and returned with some expectation. However, he frankly disappointed early, and while Max (or, as he’s really named, Zhang ZhaoXu) brightened up later, his final statistics of 7.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 2.9 fouls per game are rather underwhelming in a league where bigs should dominate. Zhang is a legit 7’3 and not immobile, and is a paint presence defensively through size alone. But he’s raw and clumsy and just not very along for a soon-to-be 24 year old.

If he’d never played in college and been eight years older, he’d’ve been drafted in the first round. Think Pavel Podkolzin. Alas, it is not to be.

I have yet to ever mention Max Zhang without mentioning his eyebrows, so why start now.

This picture is not doctored.

Giorgi Shermadini – Shermadini is one of the most skilled and polished bigs in the draft, and he’d be a late first rounder were he a collegiate. He excels at no one facet of the game, but he also has few flaws, save for fouls. Shermadini is a high IQ and outrageously efficient offensive player, a 7’1 pure low post player with some decent jump shot range who is smart, poised and polished, with some post moves, footwork, pick-and-roll play, good touch, and a very nice free throw stroke. On loan at Olimpia Ljubljana last season, the Shermanator shot better than 70% from the field and better than 76% from the line across all competitions, while also rebounding well. The defence is less impressive – he can’t defend the perimeter, is not fast, reaches, and commits many silly fouls. But in a draft starved of true offensive interior players with genuine centre size – aren’t all drafts starved of that? – we’re about to overlook one of the few that there is. Even if he only ever mirrors the career of Ian Vougioukas, that’s worthy of a pick in this draft. If he does not get drafted, we need to reconsider the entire draft process.

Dallas Lauderdale – Lauderdale’s plus strengths are his shot-blocking instincts, his strength, and his aggression. That’s about it. He cannot dribble, shoot or pass, and he’s also a strangely poor rebounder. Offensively, he is limited to a short lefty hook shot, the dunk, and a free throw technique reminiscent of Charles Barkley’s golf swing. It is mainly the middle of these three, which is why Lauderdale has shot 72% or better in each of the last three seasons. He also has a career high single season free throw percentage of 46%, dropping as low as 31% this season. Lauderdale plays rather like Ben Wallace, if Ben Wallace could not rebound or pass. But in absolutely no way must he be confused with Ben Wallace.

Alex Stepheson – Stepheson can’t catch, rarely creates in the post, has a rough touch around the basket, can’t dribble or make a foul shot, struggles to defend outside of the post, and is all strength with not a dollop of finesse.

That said, Chris Richard made it to the NBA on multiple occasions on this basis.

Gary McGhee – McGhee’s interior defence is technically precise, and his offence emphatically lacking. His offensive skills are limited to the offensive rebound and occasional finish – other than that, McGhee does not touch the ball on that end. What he does do is defend the interior, and he does a solid job on the perimeter for one so big (and with such little athleticism). Despite lacking an ideal inch or two in height, McGhee is strong, physical and unafraid, and is a deterrent and disturbing presence on the interior.

The Chris Richard corollary applies here, too.


Ibrahima Thomas – Thomas never quite broke out. He never stopped fouling, and he never resigned himself to a life on the interior on offence. While pretty much all Senegalese big men fit the same mould – you can draw a pretty sturdy line through Mouhamed Sene, Mamadou N’Diaye, Mahktar N’Diaye, Hamady N’Diaye, Boniface N’Dong, Aziz N’Diaye, DeSagana Diop, Malick Badiane and Moussa Seck – Thomas preferred to go the Cheikh/Mamadou Samb route. Thomas likes a jump shot or two, despite not being a good shooter, and has never bulked up. He shot 23 for 100 on three pointers for his collegiate career with both Cincinnati and Oklahoma State, fouled 3 times per game in less than 20 minutes as a senior, and was consistently inconsistent. Thomas had the frame, the wingspan and the opportunity, but for whatever reason, he always wanted to be David Andersen. He became less awkward as time went on, making fewer mistakes with the ball and making better decisions, and become a useful (and the tallest) piece of Cincinnati’s impressive defence, giving forth fairly consistent good effort, finishing around the basket when he was there, rebounding well, and being a useful shot-blocker when he wasn’t just reaching and grabbing. It was all rather underwhelming, though, in light of what he might have been.

Brian Williams – Despite never getting into shape at any point in his four year Tennessee career, and being arrested and suspended as an upper classmen, and being witness to his team’s/program’s spectacular implosion as a senior, Williams still did some good things. All the meat on his bones makes him a pretty immovable load on the interior, which translates to great rebounding, particularly offensively. Williams grabbed 7.4 boards in only 23 minutes per game as a senior, 3.2 of which were offensive. It also meant constant foul problems – Williams only played 23 minutes per game because he fouled 3.2 times in that time, unable to defend the perimeter, and outquicked even by other bigs. Further to that, Williams takes some jumpers without being much of a shooter, can’t hit a foul shot, and finishes rather than creates around the basket. His effort was inconsistent – it’s often too easy to confuse yelling after big plays with effort – and his conditioning was consistently unacceptable, even if he did manage to drop from 400 to 300lbs.

However, the same logic applies as it does to Alex Stepheson. If you can rebound like that, you can be as flawed as you like, because not many can. And Williams is a better rebounder than Stepheson. So Williams has a faint chance. Very faint.

Posted by at 5:11 AM

2 Comments about Sham’s unnecessarily great big draft board: Centres

  1. spacegostal22 June, 2011, 8:23 pm

    any insights on Mssr. Kanter at this time?

  2. Mark Deeks (Sham)22 June, 2011, 10:52 pm

    For reasons unknown even to myself, I left Kanter and a couple of other centres off the centres list, so they'll be on the power forwards list instead.