NBA Draft: Top 10 Centers

Oden leads list of available big men

June 26, 2007


By Steve Aschburner

Special to CSTV.com

 

People have considered Greg Oden to be a man-child for a couple of years already, given his rapid physical development and imposing 7-foot, 250-pound size.

 

Only more recently have folks come to see Oden, Ohio State's freshman center and the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft June 28, as a man-gentleman.

 

Oden's ability to impress basketball scouts during his one season with the Buckeyes was no surprise, given the clamor about him halfway through his high school days. Then Oden dazzled with his athletic ability in pre-draft skills testing, posting times and results in keeping with the excitement over his advancement to a pro career.


 

 

 

But Oden's personality has been the facet winning over observers and potential employers -- really, there's only one, the Portland Trail Blazers, who hold the draft's first pick -- during his recent sessions with reporters and team executives. They have come away talking about a young man who is not just a center but is centered, with a friendliness, a humility and a marketing image that has the NBA drooling nearly as much as Oden's on-court talents do.

 

"I just want to present to teams, to show them that I am a guy who is going to work hard," Oden told media reps at the Orlando pre-draft camp in early June. "Don't go by what you read about me. I am a delightful guy. I don't go to sleep all the time, a boring big man. I have energy and I am going to go out there and be excited to play."

 

Oden will be the big man of this year's draft in every way, one spot ahead of Texas forward Kevin Durant and way out front of the other projected centers from this class. Washington's Spencer Hawes, who might ordinarily opt to stay in school, will wind up as a top-10 pick because of the shortage of stellar centers in this group. By the second round, NBA teams will be gambling on some big guys' sheer size, hoping that they can mine enough talent or effort to go with that physical frame.

 

Here is a glimpse of the top 10 center prospects: 

 

1. Greg Oden, Ohio State, Freshman, 7-0, 250

 

The excitement around Oden is understandable, since he's the best center prospect in the draft since Michael Olowokandi in 1998. Just kidding. This guy is tops since Shaquille O'Neal in 1992. Some critics want to see more of a killer instinct in him, but that should come with maturity and a growing sense of his ability to dominate. His offensive repertoire needs work, but Oden already is a difference-maker on defense. There's really nothing to not like, on or off the court.

 

2. Spencer Hawes, Washington, Freshman, 7-0, 230

 

Big, white and ... stiff? Those three syllables don't always go together. Hawes, just one year into college, has a pretty mature package of offensive moves and a great feel for the game. He moves well enough -- he's no lummox -- and can rely on his fundamentals while he adds some strength and savvy.

 

3. DeVon Hardin, California, Junior, 6-11, 235

 

The stress fracture that Hardin endured in December has gotten plenty of attention, with teams determined to gauge the long-term health of the California big man's left foot. Hardin, when healthy, is a powerful presence inside, a lively rebounder and shot-swatter who lives for dunks. The rest of his offense is undeveloped, although he did hit a solid 82 percent of his free throws in his 12 appearances last season.

  

4. Sean Williams, Boston College, Junior, 6-10, 235

 

Here's another big guy who didn't finish the season, although it had nothing to do with a stress fracture. Williams was cut from the team in January after a series of violations. He is exceptionally skilled, with a great vertical leap that allows him to get or alter many shots. And he is as aggressive as he is athletic, if he can properly channel his emotions, clean up his behavior and become a solid employee and team guy.

 

5. Marc Gasol, Spain, 7-0, 265

 

Gasol has the nice touch and nose for the hoop that his brother Pau has demonstrated as an NBA All-Star forward, and Marc has the girth to hold position inside better. But he's a plodder who can get beat - rather than backed down, like his brother: defensively. Trying to recover, he tends to pick up cheap fouls. Maybe a little sibling rivalry will continue to propel this Spaniard's game.

 

6. Kyle Visser, Wake Forest, Senior, 6-11, 250

 

Good hands help to make up for slow feet with Visser, who developed nicely in his time at Wake Forest. Getting stronger didn't help his mobility, but it has aided him in traffic. His post work is solid and, defensively, he takes up space and is able to fight for position. His shooting ability, both from outside the paint and from the line, needs work.

 

7. Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh, Senior, 7-0, 272

 

Gray has a lot of admirers for something that he doesn't do: He rarely brings the ball down low, putting it in danger of being stolen by smaller men's hands. That's a desirable big man fundamental in a guy with a number of them. He is built for this position, with a good touch and a zeal for the boards. But he's a player more than he's an athlete, and he needs to work in a half-court offense.

 

8. Stanko Barac, Bosnia, 7-1, 225

 

You might not want to see your rookie 7-footer launching shots from the three-point arc, but Barac has that ability. He has drawn comparisons to Utah's Mehmet Okur that way, although Okur has better mobility. This guy is pretty well schooled but, at age 20, needs his game to catch up to his body. He'll need to toughen up inside, too.

 

 9. Mohamed Abukar, San Diego State, Senior, 6-10, 210

 

A senior who stands 6-foot-10 and harbors NBA desires ought to be able to pull down more than 5.8 rebounds per game in the Mountain West Conference. Abukar had his moments this season and is a reliable shooter. But he is turnover-prone and is not a natural shot-blocker.

 

10. Darryl Watkins, Syracuse, Senior, 6-11, 260

 

Watkins is physically gifted and has increased the range on his jumper. But he doesn't play strong, doesn't work as hard as he could and seems less driven than a guy should be when he's likely to get a brief second-round look or be faced with drawing interest from the pool of undrafted free agents. He truly is a project player who might need time in the D League or overseas before he's ready for the NBA.

 

Steve Aschburner is a senior NBA reporter and columnist, covering the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 13 seasons and serving as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-07.