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2020 NBA

2020 NBA Draft Positional Rankings: Center

As the NBA prepares to return to play July 30th, draft prospects are at home trying to stay in shape for what might be the longest basketball offseason of their entire lives. The draft is still 88 days away, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue analyzing prospects. Here are the top 15 centers of the 2020 draft class. Check out other positional rankings here: 

point guard   shooting guard   small forward   power forward

  1. James Wiseman- Memphis

As the consensus number one pick in the draft coming into the 2019 college basketball season, things didn’t exactly go according to plan for James Wiseman. Eligibility issues involving him and coach Penny Hardaway left him with a 12-game suspension a few games into the season. In a surprising turn of events, Wiseman elected to leave school to prepare for the NBA rather than serve the suspension.

Without any major body of work outside of high school to show scouts, his stock has taken a hit, but don’t expect him to slip too far. Wiseman is a legit seven footer with freakish athleticism for his size. He is well built, mobile, and has a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He has shown himself to be an elite shot blocker and vertical spacer.

He has also shown a very solid post scoring game. Obviously it is a risk taking a player in the top five that has never played any college or professional basketball, but Wiseman’s physical tools are so good that teams will be willing to look past the small sample size.

Draft Projection: top 3

2. Onyeka Okongwu- USC

Possibly the most impactful defender in the entire draft, Onyeka Okongwu is a unique center. He stands only 6-foot-9, but with a 7’1 wingspan, he is an elite shot blocker. Being slightly undersized also helps him tremendously on the perimeter, as he is mobile enough to stay with guards on a consistent basis.

In his freshman season, he averaged 2.7 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. On the offensive end, he is great in the pick and roll and is a real lob threat with his athleticism. However, he does not have much of an isolation scoring game outside of simple post moves.

If a team is looking for a go-to player on the offensive end, he won’t be their guy. But what he can be at the next level is a defensive nightmare for opposing offenses in and outside of the paint for years to come.

Draft Projection: late lottery

3. Vernon Carey Jr.- Duke

Given his play style, some NBA teams might be wary of drafting Vernon Carey. He is not a great defensive player in space or at the rim, and although he has expanded his shooting range, he is not a stretch big. Most NBA bigs can do one of those two things. But what Carey brings to the table in other areas of the game is too eye popping to ignore.

From anywhere inside the arc, he is a dynamic scorer. He has a polished post game, is very athletic for someone with a 6-foot-10 270 pound frame, and has a smooth shooting touch from mid-range. When he has position down low, he is near impossible to stop.

His body also makes him a very effective rebounder, especially on the offensive end. Last year he averaged 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and was one of the best players in the ACC. If he can improve his play on the defensive end, then he could be a steal.

Draft Projection: mid to late first round

4. Daniel Oturu- Minnesota

If you didn’t watch Minnesota basketball last season, you didn’t miss much. The Golden Gophers finished 12th in the Big Ten; a down year for the program. But the one star that emerged from the turbulent season was sophomore Daniel Oturu. He stuffed the stat sheet all season long by averaging 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks.

The 20-year-old can stretch the floor with his shooting, score inside, and is a great rim protector. But his passing really needs to improve to make him a complete offensive player. He also hasn’t shown the ability to stay with guards on the perimeter, which is a must-have skill for the modern big. But his scoring ability alone makes him a very intriguing player.

Draft Projection: mid to late first round

5. Zeke Nnaji- Arizona

If there is a player in this draft that embodies the term “energy guy”, it is Zeke Nnaji. The 6-foot-11 freshman is not a player with many polished skills, but with his high motor and athleticism, he makes a real impact on both ends of the floor. He can rebound at a high level, is very active on the defensive end, and never takes a play off. He can switch on to guards and is a real lob threat. Expect his high motor and great work ethic to allow him to improve every year. He is definitely a raw talent, but the upside is clear.

Draft Projection: late first round

6. Isaiah Stewart- Washington

As the prospect with the most NBA ready body of all centers, Isaiah Stewart uses his strength very well on both ends of the floor. He is only 6-foot-9, but is a tremendous rebounder, and is a physical force around the basket. Last year he also began to stretch his range out to three point line. On the defensive end, his combination of strength and length makes him great on the interior.

To play big minutes as a small ball five he needs to improve his defense on the perimeter, where his lack of lateral quickness hinders him, as well as his passing. But as another player that has a high motor, he will do everything he can to fill these holes.

Draft Projection: late first to early second round

7. Udoka Azubuike- Kansas

Few players in this draft class have as accomplished of a college career as Udoka Azubuike. In his four years at Kansas, he was a two time All-Big 12 selection, a Big 12 player of the year, and a Consensus All-American. Last year he was probably the best two-way center in the country by averaging 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks while shooting an amazing 74.8% from the field.

He proved himself to be a proficient pick and roll big who can also dominate in the post and anchor your defense. He is only at this point in the list due to a perceived lack of upside. He is 22-years old, much older than the prospects in front of him, and he has not developed much of an offensive game outside of the paint, or an ability to pass out of the post.

His ceiling in the league is probably that of an energy big who can block shots and be a rim runner. However, that is the type of player that a lot of teams could use; just most likely not on a top 25 pick.

Draft Projection: late first to early second round

8. Xavier Tillman- Michigan State

Another star big man out of the Big Ten Conference, Xavier Tillman improved every year at Michigan State. He went from playing 8.7 minutes a game as a freshman to being a perfect pick and roll partner for All-American guard Cassius Winston and a defensive anchor as a junior. He is mobile, strong, can pass, finish, and averaged 2.1 blocks a game.

The achilles heel for him is his size. He stands only 6-foot-8, and doesn’t quite have the physical tools to play power forward. His 7-foot-1 wingspan helps close the gap between him and bigger centers, as shown by his shot blocking ability and 10.3 rebounds per game playing in the Big Ten, but it may turn out to be a bigger problem at the next level.

Draft Projection: late first to early second round

9. Filip Petrusev- Gonzaga

Coming from a very talented Gonzaga team that had National Championship hopes before the season was cut short, Filip Petrusev may elect to return to the Bulldogs for his junior season. But if he decides to come out now, he projects to be picked sometime in the first half of the second round.

He is a legit 7-foot with nice footwork and an array of shots down low to go along with a nice stroke from mid-range. Despite his tall frame though, he is not incredibly physically imposing. He has a wingspan shorter than his height, and overall is not a great athlete.

This certainly limits his upside on the defensive end, where he is only an average shot blocker and struggles to stay with guards. But if a team is looking for a big who can score inside, he is going to be the best available big for that role in the second half of the draft.

Draft projection: early to mid second round

10. Nick Richards- Kentucky

There has not been much hype around this Junior from Kentucky, but Nick Richards might have been the most valuable player on Kentucky last year. His impact, especially on the defensive end of the floor, was unquestionable. To go along with being one of the best rim protectors in the country, he switched out on guards frequently and effectively; rarely looking vulnerable having to defend the elite guards of the SEC in space.

On the offensive end, he has never showed much of a jump shot or faceup game, but he is a very effective finisher at the rim; shooting 64.4% last year. He finds himself at number 10 in this positional ranking mostly because of his age and lack of room for growth. Similar to Udoka Azubuike, he is far less likely to become a great scorer or playmaker than the younger prospects in the draft. But for a second round pick, he can give you tremendous value on defense.

Draft Projection: mid second round

11. Kaleb Wesson- Ohio State

Yet another center from the Big Ten cracks the list; Kaleb Wesson had quite the journey in his three years at Ohio State. He came in as a four star recruit- a great talent, but very out of shape. He struggled with the pace of the game his freshman year, and did not look like he would live up to his high school ranking.

He improved sophomore year, but was still 6-foot-9, 290 pounds, and NBA teams were not looking to use a draft pick on him. This was his wake up call. He trimmed more than 40 pounds before his junior season, and looked much better on the court.

With new found mobility to go along with his shooting touch and inside scoring, he is now a much more intriguing prospect. He still has a long way to go on the defensive end, but teams will be looking at him throughout the second round.

Draft Projection: mid to late second round

12. Freddie Gillespie- Baylor

No team utilized guards more heavily last season than Baylor. They often had three or even four on the floor at once last year making their defense quick and switchable. But they would not have been one of the best defensive teams in the country last year without their leader on the back end: Freddie Gillespie.

He averaged 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals last year, and his impact goes way beyond the statistics. He could guard everywhere on the floor; shutting down pick and rolls, providing perfect help defense, and always being in the right place. He brings great energy to the floor on every play, and doesn’t require touches on the offensive end.

But he is another undersized center at 6-foot-9. And at 22 years old, you aren’t going to see him develop many new skills. His value is solely his ability to rebound and defend, but he gives you enough there that an NBA team should give him a shot.

Draft Projection: mid to late second round  

13. Luka Garza- Iowa

Another player that may elect to return to school, Luka Garza is set to be the preseason favorite for National Player of the Year if he decides to take his name out of the draft. This is the most likely scenario, but since he did declare, he is eligible for this ranking. Last year he was the most dominant player in the Big Ten, and was runner up for National Player of the Year after being beaten out by likely top five pick Obi Toppin.

Garza averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game on 54.2% from the field and 35.8% from three. With these numbers, it’s easy to wonder why he shouldn’t be higher on this list, but the fact of the matter is that his game is not exactly built for the modern NBA. He is a traditional back to the basket scorer without much natural athleticism. He is not going to run the floor well, and he is not going to be a lob threat.

He will certainly struggle to guard more athletic bigs and switch out on the perimeter. 15 years ago he would certainly be a first round pick, but in today’s game, he may struggle to keep pace. His ability to stretch the floor along with his post scoring may garner him some attention, but if he stays in the draft, he is unlikely to go higher than 50th in the draft

Draft Projection: late second round 

14. Jon Teske- Michigan

A player who has been on many winning teams, few players have the experience that Jon Teske has. The numbers don’t jump out at you, but he has enough translatable skills to the league that he may get a shot. He can score in the post, is a solid rebounder and low post defender, and has shown improvement on his jumpshot.

However, only averaging about 11 points and 7 rebounds a game as a senior is not what you would like to see from a prospect. He also isn’t the kind of great athlete who can grow into his physical tools. Teske’s most likely a guy who will have to earn his way onto a roster through the G-league.

Draft Projection: late second round to undrafted

15. Nathan Knight- William and Mary

The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) is not exactly a conference known for producing NBA talent, but Nathan Knight was so dominant that scouts could not completely ignore him. He averaged 20.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on 52.4% shooting. He showed an ability to score on all three levels; a unique ability for a big, and was dominant on the boards.

But with the obvious lack of competition in his conference, it is hard to determine how good of an NBA prospect he really is. And at 22 years of age, he doesn’t project a high ceiling. If he is not drafted, expect him to be one of the first players to be picked up on a summer league team if the league takes place this fall.

Draft Projection: late second round to undrafted

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