The 2014 NBA Draft: Profiling the Top Centers

The weakest position in this draft class could still provide some valuable pieces for NBA frontcourts.

In the final part of my 2014 NBA Draft prospect series I analyze the top centers looking to hear their names called on June 26th. You can find the small forwards here, the shooting guards here, the point guards here and the power forwards here.

With the exception of one player who has gotten a lot of attention, the 2014 center prospects haven’t received much hype. But there are still other guys to know.

1. Joel Embiid

School: Kansas
Height: 7’0”
Weight: 247 lbs.
Age: 20

I don’t think there's any doubt that Joel Embiid is one of the highest-risk, highest-reward players that has ever entered the NBA Draft. Seven foot tall centers who can get out in transition with established NBA-caliber post moves all while playing stellar defense don’t come around every year. Embiid has the ability to be one of the top true centers in the league in just a few years if everything falls into place.

Unfortunately, injuries have derailed Embiid’s short career already, and his draft stock is dipping as a result. He missed significant time, including the entire NCAA Tournament, with a back injury, and just a few days before the draft, it was reported that he had to have surgery to repair a foot injury. Unlike most draft prospects, the questions with Embiid don’t lie with what he will be able to do on the court - they wonder whether he will spend enough time on it to have an impact.

Player Comparison:

Hakeem Olajuwon – This is a little unfair to be comparing Embiid to the Hall of Famer, but this is the type of ceiling he has as a post presence.

Draft Pick Projection:

Philadelphia 76ers – Embiid doesn’t end up falling too far, as the 76ers can’t pass up the opportunity to have the lethal combo of Embiid and Nerlens Noel terrorizing the paint.

2. Jusuf Nurkic

Country: Bosnia
Height: 6’11”
Weight: 280 lbs.
Age: 19

An absolute monster inside, Nurkic isn’t getting enough love from mock drafters. He moves extremely well for someone who is 6’11” and 280 pounds, and has the athleticism to catch the ball and finish in transition. Nurkic averaged 28.0 points and 13.6 rebounds per 40 pace-adjusted minutes in the Adriatic League, and should be able to score at the NBA level. He moves his feet well on defense and should be a solid presence in the paint.

Nurkic can be a little undisciplined on the court at times, and he tends to lose focus, especially on defense. As with many young international players his intangibles and basketball IQ need improvement to be able to succeed in the NBA.

Player Comparison:

Nikola Pekovic – Pekovic has been outstanding for the Timberwolves when healthy, and I believe Nurkic can actually be a better all-around player when all is said and done.

Draft Pick Projection:

Phoenix Suns – Miles Plumlee played admirably last season, but Channing Frye doesn’t have much of an inside presence. Adding a bruiser like Nurkic adds a new dimension to the Suns lineup.

3. Mitch McGary

School: Michigan
Height: 6’10”
Weight: 260
Age: 22

Mitch McGary turned heads with his outstanding play in Michigan’s NCAA Tournament run in 2013. He came in with a lot of hype in 2014, but was injured for the year early in the season. A behemoth inside, McGary has excellent mobility and a motor that never stops running up and down the court. He is constantly around the ball and should grab double-digit rebounds on a nightly basis right off the bat in the NBA.

The 22 year old doesn’t have a lot of offensive potential, and won’t put up any big scoring numbers. His potential is limited due to his skill and the fact that he is slightly undersized as a center. A very smart player, McGary will never be a superstar but he should find a solid role with whichever team decides to draft him.

Player Comparison:

Bill Lambeer – A bruising, mobile big man, Lambeer embodies the type of player McGary should strive to be in the NBA.

Draft Pick Projection:

Cleveland Cavaliers – If the Cavs decide to pass on Embiid with the first overall pick, they should use their second rounder to add depth to a weak interior.

4. Walter Tavares

Country: Cape Verde
Height: 7’3”
Weight: 265 lbs.
Age: 22

With a freakish 7’9” wingspan, Walter Tavares has the kind of size and mobility combination that scouts drool over. He's surprisingly quick with his running motion, and can get up and down the floor on the fast break. The sky is the limit for Tavares on defense. If he can improve his basketball IQ and get stronger in the paint, he could become a lockdown rim protector. He even has surprising touch around the basket and could develop a nice mid-range jumper.

With that said, Tavares is one of the most inexperienced and raw players in draft history. He just started playing the game a few years ago, and is still way behind the rest of the draft prospects in terms of development. His offensive game relies almost exclusively on dunks and put backs at this point and it will be several years until we see him making some real post moves.

Player Comparison:

Peter John Ramos – Tavares has a long way to go before he develops the offensive polish that Ramos possesses, but he the potential to get there someday.

Draft Pick Projection:

Houston Rockets – What better way for Tavares to quickly develop into an NBA-caliber center than to go against Dwight Howard every day in practice. Now that Omer Asik is finally out of town, the Rockets could use some long-term depth at the position.

5. Artem Klimenko

Country: Russia
Height: 7’1”
Weight: 228 lbs.
Age: 20

Artem Klimenko has a nice combination of upside and current ability for an international prospect. He's extremely mobile for such a large player, and has great catch and finish skills on the fast break. Klimenko also moves his feet well on defense and will have no problem getting out to guard the better shooting big men. A solid rebounder, there's no reason that Klimenko can’t be a nice role player in the NBA.

Before he will be playing serious NBA minutes, however, Klimenko will need to get significantly stronger. He lacks explosiveness as an athlete, and will need to bulk up to be able to hang with the bigger centers in the NBA. While his offensive game isn’t quite where it needs to be, he has the potential to be a solid scorer both inside and with his mid-range game.

Player Comparison:

Timofey Mozgov – One of the few Russians who has had success in the NBA, Mozgov has established a nice bench role with the Nuggets. Klimenko could even be a little more polished offensively in the end.

Draft Pick Projection:

San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs have a few second-round picks to work with, and adding a big man with potential like Klimenko sounds like a move a championship-caliber team would make.