On the most recent episode of the Bleav in Wizards podcast, we spoke to Capital City Go-Go head coach Ryan Richman about the younger Wizards. He gave us some really interesting updates on the development of players like Admiral Schofield and Garrison Mathews that I think most Wizards fans would find interesting. Richman also offered some real insight into the types of things the organization is looking for when they make personnel decisions.
Richman had some nice things to say about Anzejs Pasceniks and his development over the course of the year. He specifically complimented Pasceniks’ self-awareness of his performance and how understanding mistakes can help him figure out how to improve.
While on the topic of centers, Richman made a point that seems to reflect the opinion of most, if not all, NBA teams today. Essentially, he said that as a center, if you can’t protect the paint, you really can’t play. Due to the amount of spacing NBA teams create now, a center has even more ground to cover defensively.
That emphasis, plus the premium teams have put on stretch bigs, formed the basis for a lot of the rankings below. Continuing the series we started a few weeks ago, here are the top 10 centers in the 2020 NBA draft.
Good long-term NBA starters
1. James Wiseman (7’0ish): Peak DeAndre Jordan with more touch and offensive potential? Or maybe like Hassan Whiteside with a better motor and more mobility? Championship Mavericks-version Tyson Chandler? Pick one. Wiseman’s length and timing guarantee he will be a great defensive deterrent and a lob threat for at least the next decade. The Wizards could use more athleticism overall and Wiseman has plenty of spare. Watching a 7-footer who can cock the ball behind his head while it’s at rim level and dunk it will never get old to me.
A few swing skills like how much his shot or feel for the game improve will ultimately determine just how high his ceiling is and what his second contract looks like. He’s going to need some time to get stronger and learn when to try to block shots and when not to. Ultimately, I think who drafts him and what role they try to give him early will determine how much of his potential he’s able to reach. But pterodactyls with this much upside don’t come along that often which is why I have him in the top spot.
2. Onyeka Okongwu (6’9ish): He could end up being the better player long-term but he doesn’t have the same insane physical gifts as the guy in the top spot. I don’t really buy the Bam Adebayo comparison (beyond their height) because he isn’t nearly as dynamic and can’t create for others the way Adebayo does. Although, he’s actually a pretty solid passer out of the post. I’ve heard more athletic Al Jefferson as a comp and I like that because he certainly has a bag of tricks as a post scorer. He’s definitely much more skilled with the ball than Wiseman but I’m just not sure that skill-set is in super high demand anymore or if he can get off some of those moves against better NBA defenders.
Okongwu’s got good hands, can score in a variety of ways, moves well laterally to defend the pick-and-roll, and seems to have a high defensive IQ for a player his age. Some analysts are worried that he could get bullied by elite centers like Joel Embiid. I’m less concerned about that because most centers get bullied by Embiid, that’s what makes him elite. For more info on Okongwu’s potential fit, check out an earlier episode of Bleav in Wizards with Gilbert Arenas. Arenas knows Okongwu well and had some nice things to say about how he would look next to John John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Fringe starters and solid role players
3. Zeke Nnaji (6’10ish): This might trigger half of the fan-base who seemingly hate Thomas Bryant but Zeke Nnaji gives me some Bryant vibes. Not identical players but he’s great at running the floor and beating his defender to the spot (which I think is an underrated skill next to Wall). He also finishes well around the rim like Bryant.
He’s a really good mid-range shooter right now and his jumper looks good enough to me that I think it’s safe to assume he’ll be at least a solid three-point shooter eventually. Like Bryant, he’s also cement-footed on defense at times and quicker players can just blow by him. He appears to be a solid athlete though so hopefully good coaching can help him on that front.
4. Killian Tillie (6’10ish): I have had a man-crush on Killian Tillie since the first time he stepped onto the court for Gonzaga what seems like 7 years ago. He has really good touch, can really shoot it from three, and helps facilitate for others. Some of his floaters and scoops remind me of Antawn Jamison. He’s never going to win Defensive Player of the Year but I think he’ll be a solid enough defender at the NBA level because he seems to understand positioning.
He played a lot of power forward this year but I think that was more to enable Filip Petrušev to be successful. To me, his best NBA position would be center but having the positional flexibility to move him around is always handy. I see him being like a more versatile Nemanja Bjelica, which would make him a handy addition if Davis Bertans leaves in free agency. I would have found a way to put him higher on this list if he weren’t made out of paper-mâché. If he can finally stay healthy he’s going to have a long career.
5. Isaiah Stewart (6’9ish): A grown-a** man. I don’t think I need to say that much more about him, honestly. He reminds me somewhat of Marcin Gortat in his prime. He’s got those wide shoulders to set monster picks with, he rebounds hard, and he uses some tricky moves around the rim to make up for not being a human pogo stick like some of these guys. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling but he’s relentless and I’d bet on that translating.
Higher bust potential
6. Daniel Oturu (6’9ish): Daniel Oturu’s post moves aren’t polished like Okongwu or Vernon Carey but he’s still pretty effective around the rim regardless. He has more untapped upside in the areas that teams are prioritizing these days: perimeter shooting and shot-blocking. He’s not great defending in space but neither are the next few guys on this list and I think he has the potential to be serviceable in that department.
Oturu’s a better prospective rim-protector than Carey and better equipped to be isolated on the perimeter than Azubuike. His shot is kind of slow but it looks solid enough and he actually made them at a good clip this year (around 37 percent). He’s basically about the same level player as the guys coming up next but has more growth potential in those key areas. To be fully transparent, I think he also probably has more bust potential because he is still somewhat raw and looks uncoordinated at times.
7. Vernon Carey Jr. (6’10ish): Vernon Carey Jr.’s one of the more polarizing guys on this list and maybe in this draft. I’ve seen some draft experts that have him in the 20’s and others in the 40’s or 50’s. He does a few things pretty well, it’s just a question of whether or not you think those things translate at the NBA level. Or if they’re things that NBA teams even value anymore. We already established in the point guard article that I love a good (i.e.: lazy) lefty-lefty comparison. Based on that, I think he could bring you that Zach Randolph-style post-scoring and rebounding.
Carey is a back-to-the-basket big who uses a combo of craftiness, position, and brute force to score. But he probably won’t ever be a great shooter or defensive anchor, which are the two skills NBA teams seem to target in their center rotations these days. If you just watch highlight reels you’ll see a few spectacular blocks and think he’s a good defender. But he’s not super long or explosive and he’s sluggish defending the pick-and-roll. If he ends up developing a legitimate three-point shot it would add versatility and help teams justify giving him minutes.
In a vacuum, I actually think I like him better than Oturu because I know what he is. I’m just not sure he can protect the paint the way Richman was talking about so he may be a victim of the NBA’s current style of play.
8. Udoka Azubuike (7’0ish): Udoka Azubuike brings a similar skill-set to Vernon Carey Jr. in that he’s also more of that old-school center. He’s bigger, longer, and better defensively around the basket than Carey. He’s also less mobile and would be exploited even more away from the basket than Carey would. And there’s at least a decent chance Carey turns into a solid shooter.
Carey has more upside than Azubuike but Azubuike could come in right away and give you some solid defensive minutes against some of the more imposing offensive centers in the league. He kind of reminds me of Roy Hibbert in terms of the role he could fill. Sadly, Hibbert went from valuable one day to no longer having a place in the league the next because of the defensive switching that goes on now. I think Azubuike can find a home as the third center somewhere though. I have to think he can at least bring whatever it is Ian Mahinmi brings and at a bit of a discount.
Intriguing Two-way prospects
9. Omer Yurtseven (7’0ish): Omer Yurtseven’s kind of the offensive equivalent of Azubuike. He’s got spin moves, hook shots, turnarounds, fadeaways, and hits mid-range jumpers. He didn’t take or make a lot but he looks fairly decent from three and I think with some more seasoning he could be a threat from the NBA line.
His lateral quickness and vertical explosiveness aren’t great. But he seems to know where to be on defense and doesn’t foul a ton. Hopefully, he learned some tricks from Patrick Ewing at Georgetown this year. I’m higher on him than most and I’m not sure I can fully articulate why. I could see him carving out a career similar to former Wizard Jason Smith.
10. Nick Richards (6’11ish): Nick Richards must have been somewhat maddening for Kentucky fans and John Calipari. Richards would occasionally provide a “holy sh*t” moment and then you’d realize no one had called his name for ten minutes. He can run the floor, challenge shots at the rim with his length, and even has a little touch and a mid-range game.
I think Richards has enough tools to be a lot higher on this list but seems content to be just another guy out there. He showed progress in that regard this season but I wouldn’t draft him if I were a general manager. However, scooping him up on a two-way would make someone look pretty smart if he ever figures it out.
Disclaimer: Luka Garza and Filip Petrusev weren’t considered here because, selfishly, as a college basketball fan I want them both to go to school for another year.
I hope this will lead to a discussion so let me know if I’ve completely missed the mark on someone or there are glaring omissions!
For more of the conversation with Ryan Richman and Larry Hughes on the development of the Wizards’ young players, make sure to download the last episode of Bleav in Wizards on iTunes and Spotify.