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Draft Prospects: Lower-Tier Centers

Today Blazer's Edge looks at four centers projected to go mid- to late-first round in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Portland Trail Blazers desperately need a center. Would any of these guys fill the bill?


Yesterday we looked at a couple players the Portland Trail Blazers could move up for in the 2013 NBA Draft. Today we're going to cover four centers generally pegged below Portland's #10 pick...players the Blazers could probably draft at 10 outright or might be able to trade down and still get.

Kelly Olynyk--7'0", 234lb C from Gonzaga, 22 y.o. Junior

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk is going to be fine in the NBA as long as he doesn't have to play anybody bigger or more athletic than he. This being the NBA, though, that list of players is short. Olynyk does have athletic skills. He gets up and down the court well for a guy his size. He also has great balance and body control. He just doesn't have much explosive, quick-twitch ability. He's at this level because he's a basketball player, not because he's an athlete.

Olynyk makes up for that lack of overt athleticism with a well-rounded offensive game. If there's such a thing as a "stretch center" he could be one. He's got a nice jumper and a good dribble from the perimeter. He's a crafty post player with good hands and a soft touch on his shot. He's smart enough to know what to do with the ball and he has enough fundamentals to do it.

But Olynyk may not be able to establish position in the post at the next level, nor consummate his moves with a good shot. It's hard to envision him dribbling around or spinning through NBA defenders. Likely he'll be left putting up shots over the top.

Lack of explosive athleticism will hurt Olynyk at the defensive end. He's not a shot blocker, not much of a rebounder, and he defends like a bowl of oatmeal on roller skates. He can move in one direction and I guess you'd get mildly disturbed if you tripped over him? Other than that, he's not going to make a mark on "D".

Verdict for the Blazers

I'd be curious to see the Blazers design some high post sets featuring Olynyk. He'd be a threat to shoot or dribble drive. If he could hit LaMarcus Aldridge or cutters with solid passes he could find a niche there. His face-up game and the range on his jumper would also be welcome in Portland.

But lack of defense, shot blocking, and rebounding are not what the Blazers are looking for in a center. Chances are the Blazers will pass on him long before they'd ever give Olynyk a chance to pass for them.

Mason Plumlee--7'0", 238lb C from Duke, 23 y.o. Senior

If it were possible to grab a center off the Wal-Mart shelves, that center would probably look like Mason Plumlee. He'd be in a pretty display, near the higher-end merchandise. On the box would be a picture of him jumping and dunking. He looks nice when he's floating through the air. No doubt they'd have magenta and green streaks behind his feet and a lens flare beaming near the basket, accentuating his leap.

Also on the box would be some specs on his rebounding and pick setting, both of which are adequate. Whether he's slipping the pick or setting and rolling he moves with purpose. His board work follows suit.

Once you got him home and opened him, you'd find the typical Wal-Mart fare...serviceable as long as you don't overuse it. His post game would work well enough. If he only had to worry about defending one person he'd be fine there too.

When you started to look for high-end features, though, you'd quickly remember where you bought him and how much you paid. His game is sufficient as long as he's within a dozen feet or so of the basket...typical 7-footer fare. Move him outside on either end and you're asking for trouble. Most of this comes from his inability to switch directions. He looks good as long as he only has to move one way (or not move at all, such as defending the post). As soon as he has to help, reverse, do anything beyond a simple spin he's out of his element. His momentum carries him beyond the play and his brain can't get his body to recover quickly enough.

Verdict for the Blazers

Even a Wal-Mart center would look fine in Portland right now, but Plumlee will probably end up being a back-up in the NBA. The Blazers need more help than that. They already have a young reserve center. In another year with a more complete roster Plumlee might be a value pick. 7-footers who can play are always welcome. But Plumlee doesn't fit Portland's profile right now.

Gorgui Dieng--6'11", 230lb C from Louisville, 23 y.o. Junior

Gorgui Dieng is a legit athlete. 6'11", nice wingspan, fluid in motion...almost everything he does from a pure athletic standpoint (as opposed to a technical basketball standpoint) shows good form. He's moving quickly, jumping high, but he doesn't look like he's putting undue stress on his body. He just knows how to move it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than when you watch his hands. His feet are fine too, but his hands border on artistic. They're always in motion, looking as if they're ready to do the next thing instead of catching up to the last thing as is the case with so many big men. Seriously, I want to go through his highlights and Photoshop in little lightning balls around his hands as if he's getting ready to cast some kind of spell. Then when he gets a block or something, ZZZaaaappp! Discharge. I'm relatively sure that if you told Dieng to defend on any carpet in the world he'd build up enough static electricity to send you to the moon.

When it comes to blocks, this guy's got a little Dikembe Mutumbo in him. The arms, the grace of the swat, the pride in the accomplishment. He's not Mutumbo-sized nor does he have Mutumbo's strength but Dieng is like Deke's little brother.

Rebounding and defense complement Dieng's shot blocking. Again energy, motion, anticipation, and athleticism make a nice mix. Obviously Dieng cares about that end of the floor and feels confident in his ability to alter the game.

The tables turn when Dieng gets on the offensive end. Every move with the ball looks rushed, almost as if he's intimidated in turn by his own defender. The confidence is missing, along with most of the fundamentals. These shortcomings showed against college defenders. It'll be harder in the NBA. Dieng won't be a complete bust on offense but you're going to have to wait for him to find his sea legs. It'll be a long wait. Plus the finished product will likely incorporate only one or two reliable scoring moves. You're drafting Dieng as a defensive presence, hoping to get by with some offensive rebounding and chip shots on the other side.

Verdict for the Blazers

What do the Blazers need again? Shot blocking? Rebounding? Intimidation? And they can live without the offense for a while? Dieng looks like a good fit then. He won't be considered a star in the league. He'll never score 20 points, or even close. But his impact in Portland would be maximized compared to most other teams.

The real question here is Dieng's value versus other options. Selecting him at #10 could be considered a reach...maybe. Trading down means losing the chance to pick somebody else at that 10th spot. Buying into a second 1st Round pick to get him means losing more cap space this summer. Would Dieng add enough, and soon enough, to justify any of these moves? If Portland's center situation changes in the near future or if Dieng ends up being a decent reserve player instead of a full-time starter, would the Blazers still feel like they took full advantage of their opportunities by selecting him?

Rudy Gobert--7'2", 238lb C from somewhere above the skies of France, 20 y.o. ProA Player

Rudy Gobert is tall and has a super-ridiculous wingspan. You know those pre-game circle-sway dance huddles all teams do? Gobert will be able to touch his own fingertips. He's a one-man group hug.

Seriously, take a buddy and a metal folding chair to your local playground court. Line up at the free throw stripe and have your buddy stand on the chair 2 feet in front of you. Try to make a free throw over him. That's what it's like being defended by Rudy Gobert.

All the good things about Gobert's game have to do with his Condor-esque reach. He can dunk. He blocks shots. He doesn't have to be in position for offensive rebounds; they just get to him before they get to anybody else. To his credit, his hands are good and he's got decent ball control. Any time he gets space NBA point guards will be able to lob to him while blindfolded. With enough room to operate Gobert is going to be a nice weapon.

And...errr...he's tall. And...errr...he has long arms. Yeah.

Did I mention he's tall? His wingspan? How about his height?

The problem here is that we've exhausted his demonstrated ability. And none of that ability has been proven in the NBA. Already the game moves too fast for him, and that's in France. The NBA is a guard/small forward league. It's going to move even quicker. A huge wingspan is great in theory but in practical terms it may end up as more square inches of arm to get fouls called on.

Gobert doesn't have a great sense of fundamentals, especially when somebody is leaning on him. Part of it is physical limitation. How are you going to get a low center of gravity to block out or defend the post when you're that tall? It's not like he weighs 300 pounds. Part of it is skill. He can catch the ball fine but once he's got it he has all the touch of your corner mailbox. Part of it is just not knowing the game yet.

NBA bigs are not going to let Gobert dunk or even take two steps without getting chucked. They're going to try and rip away every rebound, push him out of post position, make him uncomfortable, dare him to put up any kind of shot under pressure. They're going to shove him around on the other end too. If he's not strong enough to bully his way to rebounds and not quick enough to block the layups of fast, agile guards he loses his effectiveness.

Mind you, Gobert is still going to erase plenty of cute floaters in the paint. There will be a no-fly zone around him. If he's anywhere near the lane you better stay out or dunk hard. But those amazing moments will be salted atop a large heap of adjustment and frustration.

Verdict for the Blazers

Somebody's going to be tempted by Rudy's altitude and promise but I don't see how the Blazers take this risk. The upside isn't high enough and the potential problems are legion. Gobert needs a team that can bring him along slowly, using him in back-up situations where he won't get exposed while getting used to the game. The Blazers need more than that.

Just like Shabazz Muhammad felt like a Minnesota Timberwolves pick, Rudy Gobert has Sacramento Kings draft written all over him. The typical Kings vibe would be to draft Trey Burke at #7 then buy up one of Atlanta's picks to get Gobert, then stink to high heaven because Gobert didn't fit and Burke wasn't enough on his own. Again, this is not a pattern for the Blazers to emulate. Rudy coming to Portland seems like a long shot.

Go ahead and give your thoughts on any or all of these four centers in the comment section below. Do any of them excite you? If so, how and why?

More Draft Links around Blazer's Edge:

All the articles in this series covering potential Blazer selections from A(dams) to Z(eller).

Complete coverage of Trail Blazer pre-draft workouts.

SBNation's less Blazer-centric but more comprehensive view of the 2013 Draft Class.

ZiggytheBeagle's comparative charts of selected draftees.

--Dave (