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2023 NBA Draft according to YODA: First round centers

Metropolitans 92 v Cholet Basket - Betclic Elite Playoffs
Victor Wembanyama will be the first pick of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

In this part of the 2023 NBA Draft according to YODA (short for Ye Olde Draft Analyzer), I’m looking at the centers.

Previously, I wrote about first round guards, wings and forwards.

To reiterate (for those not interested in clicking into one of the other articles), I think there are four meaningful NBA positions:

  • Guards — traditional point guards and shooting guards who don’t have the size to play traditional small forward (think Bradley Beal, Monte Morris, Jordan Goodwin)
  • Wings — traditional SGs and SFs who don’t have the skills/aptitude of a PG but aren’t big enough to tussle with the big boys (think Corey Kispert, Will Barton)
  • Forwards — traditional PFs or SFs but aren’t full-time centers (think Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura)
  • Centers — the big guys who patrol the paint and protect the rim but generally not quick enough to defend the perimeter or keep up with wings and guards (think Daniel Gafford, Kristaps Porzingis)

For the uninitiated, YODA is my stat-driven prospect evaluation system that uses only publicly available information. It operates under the theory that a prospect’s on-court production is a reasonable way to assess how he applies his skills, size, athleticism and basketball IQ to competitive games. The system attempts to account for level of competition, age, athletic tools, defensive prowess, injury history, and intangibles like off-court trouble, relevant exceptional achievements, etc.

History shows that in most cases, excellent players in non-NBA players tend to be the most successful at the NBA level. There are exceptions, but there aren’t many examples of players who went from a collegiate scrub to an even useful NBA player.

Anyway, let’s get to the big men:

  1. Victor Wembanyama, French LNB Pro A, age 19 — The most hyped prospect since Lebron James, Wembanyama is a freakish mix of size and skills — a bizarro mashup of Lew Alcindor and James Harden. He’s going to the San Antonio Spurs, where he’ll get to develop his game and his body under the tutelage of all-time great coach Gregg Popovich. He’s still listed at 7-2, though media reports suggest he may be as tall as 7-5. He dominated a strong professional league in France this season and led his team to the Finals, which start today. A few “tap the brakes, this guy might need a year or two” items — he’s shooting just 27.6% from three-point range, and he commits a lot of turnovers. His effective field goal percentage is a meh 50.8% so far this season. Some of the poor three-point shooting could be shot selection — he lofted more than a few one-footed bombs as if they were eight-foot floaters — and he was the primary focus of opposing defenses. The “cautions” aren’t to say he won’t become a great NBA player just that it might take him a little time to hit his stride. That happened with other super-young players, including Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Durant.
  2. Leonard Miller, G League Ignite, age 19 — It’s a GIGANTIC step down from Wembanyama to Miller, but I still think Miller’s numbers signal promise. He was productive in the G League, though Bullets Forever’s Matt Modderno cautions that Miller was a garbage time hero. Still, 60.2% on twos, 14.4 rebounds per 40, along with a good enough free throw percentage (79.2%) and enough made threes to think he can improve in that area with some work. He got 4.2 offensive rebounds per 40, which is strong. Biggest concerns would be at the defensive end where he managed just 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 40. ADDED NOTE: Modderno says teams view Miller more as a forward than a center.
  3. Adam Sanogo, Connecticut, age 21 — Efficient scorer (63.7% on twos, 36.5% on threes) who rebounded decently (3.9 offensive boards per 40). Didn’t excel at traditional big man defensive chores like shot blocking (just 1.2 per 40). Lots of turnovers (2.9 per 40 to just 1.9 assists) and elevated fouls (4.0 per 40).
  4. Tristan Vukcevic, Liga ABA, age 20 — Excellent shooter in a strong international pro league — 67.8% on twos, 37.9% from three, 80.0% from the free throw line. He was okay on the defensive boards but didn’t get to the offensive glass much. Solid playmaking at 3.1 assists to 2.7 turnovers per 40. Produced 1.5 steals per 40, which is pretty good for someone his size. But just 1.2 blocks, which is not good for someone his size. Fouled a ton (6.5 per 40). The statistical signals for athleticism are decidedly mixed — the two-point percentage and steals are encouraging, but the lack of offensive rebounds, low blocks and high fouls are potentially concerning.
  5. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana, age 23 — Older prospect whose game is strictly inside — he didn’t attempt a three-point shot all season. His rebounding, blocks and high free throw rate are positive signs. Also encouraging: 4.7 assists per 40 (to just 2.9 turnovers) and just 2.0 fouls per 40. Research in recent years indicates that big men who produce assists tend to be better defenders. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a contending team that needs a backup center trade into the first or buy a second round pick to take him.

That’s the end of YODA’s list of first round centers. Just missing the cut and players I’d be interested in as second round picks or undrafted free agents:

  • Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
  • Dereck Lively II, Duke
  • Drew Timme, Gonzaga
  • Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona
  • Liam Robbins, Vanderbilt

Next up: The YODA Big Board