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In previous columns we have gone through the guards, headlined by Cade Cunningham, and the wings, headlined by Jonathan Kuminga, so you know what that means. It is now time to break down the best big men in this year’s draft class. It is no secret that Evan Mobley is the best big man in this class, but what makes him so special, and how has been able to distinguish himself as one of the best prospects regardless of position in this year’s NBA Draft?
As always, just for clarity, I defined a big as someone who will likely spend a lot of their time in NBA setting ball screens and playing either with their back to the basket or in some cases, as a pick and pop threat at the next level. These guys will not be receiving any ball screens and most of them likely will not do a lot of ball handling; at least not early in their career, even though we have seen the role of the big man change in the NBA with guys like Nikola Jokic, Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo serving as point forwards or even point centers in some lineups.
But that is enough buildup, let’s get to the prospects and dive into what each of them is good at, and what they need to improve on as a professional.
Evan Mobley- USC
Strengths- Mobley is probably the most versatile player in this draft as there aren’t too many things that he can’t do on the basketball court. First and foremost, Mobley is an elite defender who can truly guard the one through the five, is great at defending in ball screens, and is an elite shot-blocker who averaged nearly three blocks per game as a freshman at USC. He will be a guy who can get you great defensive value from day 1 in the NBA. I also mentioned that many of these bigs likely will not handle the ball much at the next level, and Mobley is likely the only one on this list that will step immediately into a role similar to that of a Bam Adebayo or a Draymond Green. Mobley is an elite passer for his size and he showed the ability to initiate offense at USC, which he will likely be asked to do at the next level as well.
Weaknesses- Mobley could stand to add some muscle to his seven-foot frame as he weighs in at just 215 pounds. There are times where he gets pushed around in the paint, and at the next level, with some physical specimen playing in the post, he will have to bulk up to give himself the best chance to be successful. The bigger question about Mobley is his desire and aggression at times. He has stretches where he looks amazing but also has stretches where he disappears and seems disinterested. This is not wildly uncommon for a young player, but teams who could view Mobley as a potential face of their franchise are cautious about this aspect of Mobley’s profile.
Kai Jones- Texas
Strengths- Jones is elite in transition as he averaged 1.29 points per possession in transition, and shot 75.8% (25/33) in these situations. He is a great finisher and is extremely long and athletic, with the ability to handle the ball, making him almost impossible to stop with a head of steam. He also is extremely versatile on both offense and defense showing the ability to put the ball on the floor, space the floor, and guard multiple positions on the defensive end. Jones shot an impressive 38.2% from three this past season, though he only attempted 1.3 per game. With more confidence and some mechanical tweaks, Jones could be a pick and pop threat in the NBA. He also is a great offensive rebounder, as he averaged 3.4 per 40 minutes, so he could possibly get you some good value on the glass down the line.
Weaknesses- Jones’ biggest weakness is his feel and decision-making. At times he is out of position on defense, leading to charges, fouls, or missed opportunities to contest shots and on offense, there are times where we can be out of control or doesn’t know where to go with the ball, which can lead to turnovers. This is likely just a result of his youth and lack of experience and should be something that he can improve upon with more game reps. He also could benefit from becoming a more consistent shooter from the outside, but the potential is there to one day be a viable threat consistently from the three-point line.
Alperen Sengun- Turkey
Strengths- Sengun has a polished low-post game and has a few go-to moves that are deadly. He loves spinning baseline and is a great finisher, even though he is not overly athletic. He has great touch around the basket, including a good floater when he gets two feet in the paint. He also is only 18 years old and averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists with 1.7 blocks per game in Turkey, which leaves scouts excited with the upside that Sengun has to continue to get better. He also averaged 4.1 offensive rebounds per game in just 28 minutes, so at the next level, given more opportunity, he could potentially get you some decent value in that department.
Weaknesses- At just 6-foot-9, and not very athletic, he likely is not a center in the NBA, but I don’t think he is agile or quick enough to play the four. Also, he shot just 19.0% from the three-point line last season, according to basketball reference, and with the premium on three-point shooting and athleticism in today’s game, Sengun could struggle to carve out a niche until this part of his game improves.
Usman Garuba- Spain
Strengths- Garuba is one of the best defensive players in the draft, and has an argument that he might be the best. In the best domestic league in the world outside of the NBA, the Spanish ACB, Garuba was recognized as the best young prospect in the Euroleague. Though he is just 6-foot-8 inches tall, he has a 7-foot-3 inch wingspan and showed the ability to defend some of the best guards in the Euroleague, something that he will surely be asked to do in the NBA. He has excellent hands and instincts defensively, which should allow him to see minutes from day 1 wherever he lands.
Weaknesses- Garuba is still very raw offensively, and will likely never be someone that you rely on to score at the next level. He averages just 4.7 points for his career with Real Madrid and is a career 31.5% three-point shooter and 59.8% shooter from the free-throw line. He is best playing in the dunker spot on offense and simply catching and finishing, but should he add the ability to stretch the defense, he could eventually be more of an offensive threat, but for now, defense is certainly his calling card.
Isaiah Jackson- Kentucky
Strengths- Jackson is an elite-level shot blocker. In just 20 minutes per game at Kentucky, he averaged 2.6 blocks per game. That translates to over five blocks per 40 minutes. Jackson is also an elite athlete who is a lob threat and is great playing in the dunker and in short roll situations. He is an exceptional finisher, who oftentimes is finishing with a dunk at the rim if he gets his feet inside the paint. Think Jarrett Allen type of impact in the NBA with his ability as a rim protector and lob threat, without the ability to stretch the floor.
Weaknesses- Jackson tends to be a bit undisciplined at times. Given his great ability to block shots, he tends to jump for everything which oftentimes results in a foul or him being out of position to contest a shot. He also tends to set a lot of illegal screens, some of that was on the Kentucky guards leaving too early, but some of it was on Jackson sticking his elbows out or moving at the last minute. This could lead to him being in foul trouble more often than not in the NBA. He also is not a floor spacer and attempted just two three’s the entire season at Kentucky, which he made neither of. Becoming at least a threat from there would help him tremendously.
Luka Garza- Iowa
Strengths- Garza is without a doubt the best low post scorer in this draft class. Had Garza been coming out of college 10 years ago, he would be the consensus number one pick in the draft. But the game has changed, putting a premium on athleticism, versatility, and agility, which is why Garza’s stock is not as high as it would have been in another era. Still, though, I am a lot higher on Garza than many because of his offensive repertoire. Garza averaged 24.1 points per game on 55.3% shooting, including 44.0% from three on 3.2 attempts per game, to go with 8.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game. His low post-game and footwork are second to none, and he can stretch the floor with the best of them.
Weaknesses: The only reason that Garza is not a lottery pick is because of his lack of quickness, agility, and athleticism. His lateral speed is not quite what NBA teams are looking for in today’s game that emphasizes versatility and being able to play and guard multiple positions. Garza lumbers up and down the floor at times and in a fast-paced game, teams worry about how his skills will translate to the next level. His ceiling if he can improve as a passer and prove that he can defend pick and rolls would be a Nikola Jokic type of player, not saying that he will one day be an MVP, but his combination of footwork on the low block, and ability to space the floor, coupled with the lack of athleticism is where that comparison comes from. But on the contrary, his floor is probably a Tyler Hansbrough who was similarly an all-time great college player, but his game just never translated to the NBA as he came into the league right when the game was changing.
Isaiah Todd- G League Ignite
Strengths- Todd has one of the highest upsides of any big in this class. Part of that is just simply because of his current skill set, coupled with the confidence that he plays with on the offensive end. Todd stands at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds and shot 36% from three for the G League Ignite team during their 15 games played in the G-League bubble. Todd has a gorgeous stroke for his size and can serve as a pick and pop threat, or a catch and shoot threat anywhere on the court. He has great touch out of the post as well, oftentimes getting to a turnaround or a face-up jumper, which he makes at a pretty high clip.
Weaknesses- Todd’s biggest weakness I would say is his confidence because at times he settles for bad shots, and sometimes becomes too comfortable settling for mid-range jumpers, which at the next level will likely not be his role. He also needs to put on some weight as he oftentimes got buried by stronger bigs in the low post. He also is not very much of a low-post scorer, but his ability to stretch the floor likely makes up for that.
JT Thor- Auburn
Strengths- Thor is an elite defensive player. Similar to Mobley in the fact that he can guard one through five, but Thor possesses the ability to get up into ball handlers, while also showing elite ability to recover and contest or block shots. He also is an elite rim protector as he averaged 1.4 blocks per game in just 23.0 minutes per game. Offensively, Thor knows his role, and should he become a better ball handler and develop a bit more offensively, he could slide to the wing and be more of a three-and-d type of threat, but for now, Thor will be best used as a small-ball five or a traditional four with the ability to be a pick and pop threat.
Weaknesses- Thor has to become a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 29.7% from three in his lone season at Auburn and some of his misses were extremely bad. He also has to become a better passer and decision-maker, as he averaged 1.6 turnovers per game and was not asked to create much at all, which is alarming. Some of his turnovers were just really perplexing to put it nicely, so if you are in a 9-cat league, Thor is likely not your guy.
Charles Bassey- Western Kentucky
Strengths- Bassey has great size at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot wingspan. He also is a great athlete with an outstanding motor, who loves to run the floor, is a lob threat, and is an outstanding rim protector, i.e., almost everything that makes you a great NBA big. Bassey averaged 11.6 rebounds with 3.1 blocks per game, not to mention his 17.6 points on 59.0% shooting from the floor. Bassey projects as another long, athletic big, who will be a great rim-runner and rim-protector at the next level, with some shooting upside there.
Weaknesses- Must improve as a shooter, though the potential is there. Bassey shot just 30.5% from three on 2.1 attempts per game, and most of those makes came when his feet were set and he had time to get his shot off. He also was just 5-of-20 in pick and pop situations which he likely will be used a ton in at the next level. He also has some work to do as a passer, as he will surely be asked to facilitate some at the next level. Decision-making will also have to improve, as he can oftentimes try to do a bit much offensively, but some of this was likely just due to his situation at Western Kentucky being asked to create more than he will at the next level.
Day’Ron Sharpe- North Carolina
Strengths- Sharpe is an elite offensive rebounder, as he averaged 3.3 per game in only 19 minutes. This translates to over six offensive rebounds per game per 40 minutes. He also has pretty good instincts defensively and has pretty good timing blocking shots. Sharpe also is an underrated passer, even though his numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, he has shown the ability to be able to read defenses and get the ball where it needs to be. Also, at 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, he has pretty good size for an NBA center.
Weaknesses- Sharpe leaves a little to be desired on the offensive end as he is not overly athletic and is not a shooting threat at all. Teams played off of Sharpe all season and forced him to take long two-pointers, which he did not make at a high clip at all. He also shot just two threes and made neither. Add this to the fact that he shot just 50.5% from the foul line and it can cause you to question how else Sharpe will be able to score in the NBA outside of putbacks on the offensive glass.