Some of the best players in NBA history have played the center position, including Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among many others. However, the center position is not emphasized nearly as heavily in the modern NBA with the play on both ends of the floor predominantly controlled by perimeter players. There are still a handful of elite centers in the NBA today including Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, and Rudy Gobert, and there are a few players in this draft class who could join those names as the best in the NBA at their position.
|Player Name||College/International Team||Overall Ranking||NBA Comp|
|James Wiseman||University of Memphis||#5||Anthony Davis|
|Onyeka Okungwu||University of Southern California||#9||Ben Wallace|
|Aleksej Pokusevski||Olympiacos Pieraus (Greece)||#18||Toni Kukoc|
|Reggie Perry||Mississippi State||#20||Montrezl Harrell|
|Jalen Smith||University of Maryland||#23||Thomas Bryant|
|Udoka Azubuike||University of Kansas||#28||Clint Capela|
|Zeke Nnaji||University of Arizona||#31||Taj Gibson|
|Vernon Carey||Duke University||#32||Greg Monroe|
|Daniel Oturu||University of Minnesota||#40||Kenneth Faried|
|Jon Teske||University of Michigan||#53||Enes Kanter|
#1 - James Wiseman: Probably the most-hyped prospect from this draft class over the last several years, James Wiseman's early departure from the University of Memphis after three games disappointed plenty of basketball fans. Of course, his incident with the NCAA will raise some eyebrows from NBA front offices, but the bigger issue is that there is very little film of him against college-level players. He dominated in high school, but you'd expect him to - he's a 7'1", 235-pound beast. There were lingering questions about his motor and slopiness from high school that didn't get answered, but there's no way he makes it out of the top five with his elite upside. He has the size and strength to defend at the rim with the agility and length to defend on the perimeter. He has the craftiness and grit to finish in the paint with the touch and dribbling to score from long range. All that's missing for Wiseman is the tape.
#2 - Onyeka Okungwu: The Chino Hills high school basketball team has been made famous by the Ball brothers, but there's a legitimate argument to be made that Okungwu is their best prospect. His defensive impact cannot possibly be overstated as he's likely the best player in the draft on that end of the floor. Okungwu flashes the combination of physicality and grace that made Ben Wallace a 4-time Defensive Player of the Year and NBA champion. His defending is ideal for the modern NBA as he can patrol the paint while having the quick-trigger reflexes to close out to the three-point line when necessary. Okungwu is incredibly raw offensively and I rarely saw any type of consistency in passing, shooting, or dribbling in his tape. There are flashes of upside in all three, but even if he never develops a reliable offensive game, Okungwu's defense is going to make him a longtime NBA starter.
Mid First-Round Picks
#3 - Aleksej Pokusevski: The Serbian prospect who played for the Greek club, Olympiacos Pireaus, is arguably the most unique player in the draft as his long-term trajectory is difficult to pin down. Pokusevski is a physically imposing player at 7'0" with a 7'3" wingspan and 9'1" standing reach, although he spends most of his time playing on the perimeter. He produced impressive numbers in international play, but he weighs less than 200 pounds per some sites - an absurdity at 7'0". His rim protection has been very good, but it's questionable if he can be a full-time five in the NBA at his current measurables. Pokusevski's shooting is arguably the best at this position and he is impressive with the ball in his hands, but he struggles to get downhill due to limited core strength. Pokusevski is a one-of-a-kind player and that can either make him a diamond-in-the-rough or a draft-day bust - it's tough to know for sure.
#4 - Reggie Perry: I love it when I turn on a player's tape and the first thing that stands out is their work rate. It makes everything else easier for the player and it suggests a dedication to their craft. Perry's motor was the first thing that caught my eye when I watched him play, and I was immediately hooked. At Mississippi State, Perry took on a much larger role in his sophomore season and he responded with 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, up from 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds the year prior. He stretched out his offense as a shooter in Year 2, displaying an encouraging 3-point stroke while nailing 76.8% of his free throws, a strong number for a big man. Perry's baseline in the NBA is as a high-energy role-playing big man and he has the upside to become a team's frontcourt centerpiece.
#5 - Jalen Smith: I wrote about Jalen Smith in my power forward rankings, but I'll bring him up again here because I believe center is the better position for him in the NBA. The shooting upside is encouraging, but at his size (6'10", 225 lbs) and with his strong rebounding, he's a better fit to play closer to the basket. Thomas Bryant is my favorite comp for Smith and while Bryant likely would have been a power forward a few decades ago, he's found success as a center in the modern NBA. Like Smith, Bryant doesn't necessarily have the best size or athleticism, but with a high motor and strong instincts, he's made an impact as a rebounder and pick-and-roll dive man.
Late First-Round Picks
#6 - Udoka Azubuike: I hate to sound like a broken record when I talk about frontcourt prospects, but the evolution of the NBA this decade dictates everything about the center position. If this were 1984, Azubuike might have been the center that the Trail Blazers drafted over Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie. Azubuike's an imposing player on the floor at 7'0", 270 lbs with a 7'7" wingspan that will be one of the longest in the NBA. He's an absolute bully on the glass and an adept post scorer. Azubuike's rim protection is also arguably the best in the entire draft class.
#7 - Zeke Nnaji: Nnaji played one season of college basketball alongside Nico Mannion and Josh Green while at the University of Arizona. He was a 4 or 5-star recruit coming into the NCAA and impressed in his one year of college ball with 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game as he earned a First-Team All-Pac 12 spot. He is a very efficient interior scorer and a solid rebounder who's defense hasn't quite come around yet. In order for him to carve out a significant NBA role, he will need to either unlock more of a long-range shooting game or improve his defending.
#8 - Vernon Carey: Duke's leading scorer this season was Vernon Carey, a consensus five-star recruit who earned National Freshman of the Year honors this past season. He was a very efficient interior scorer, putting up 17.8 points per game on 57.7% shooting. However, the modern NBA doesn't emphasize interior scoring in the same way as it used to. Carey also doesn't possess the foot speed to guard athletic fours or the size/strength combination to guard powerful big men. He has a solid offensive foundation, but I have concerns about how his game translates.
Second Round Picks
#9 - Daniel Oturu: When teams are looking for a center in the 2nd round, they'll likely be looking for one who is an unfinished product with an untapped ceiling. Daniel Oturu fits that description as he's just 20 years old and is coming off a massive breakthrough season in which he bagged 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game in a difficult Big Ten. He was named to the Big Ten's All-Defensive Team, as well, and profiles as an above-average interior defender in the NBA. Oturu is a high-energy big man who is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none prospect. There could be hidden value here but at the very least he can likely carve out a backup role as an energetic, tone-setting center.
#10 - Jon Teske: The former University of Michigan center is now 23 years old and likely does not make the top ten list for centers for most other websites. However, I'm letting my bias get the better of me and I'm using this as a shoutout to my man Jon Teske. He was a four-year player at Michigan who played 3 minutes per game in his freshman season and ended his senior season as arguably the team's best player. He has more than enough size for the center position at 7'1", 260 lbs, and he showed flashes of 3-point shooting upside in college. The upside isn't tremendous with his age and the tread on his tires, but Teske has been one of my favorite players to watch over the past few years and there's a strong chance he can contribute in the NBA.