2013 Draft Preview: Centers

Nerlens Noel is the top center available in the 2013 draft despite an torn ACL - USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel, Kelly Olynyk and the other centers by the numbers.

2013 Center Ratings:

NERLENS NOEL

6'11" 216 lbs , 19 years old

Expected Wins: 12.3

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

1%

23%

60%

16%

Comparisons:

Jarvis Varnado, Jamal Sampson, John Henson, Anthony Davis, Emeka Okafor, Al Horford, Calvin Booth, Derrick Coleman, Lorenzen Wright, Ed Pinckney

Noteworthy stats:

2.5 steals and 5.4 blocks per 40.

Comments:

The closest comparisons above aren't very positive, but they say more about Nerlens' incomparability than any statistical proximity to past failures. Looking at the raw comparison scores, most other players' 10th best comparison is closer than Noel's top comparison is.

Noel was billed as a top-tier defensive specialist coming into the season and his college production did nothing but build on that hype. As an 18 year old freshman playing in a major conference Noel recorded 2.5 steals and 5.4 blocks every 40 minutes. This combination of defensive statistics is special. Here is the complete list of collegiate seasons where a player averaged 2+ steals and 5+ blocks per 40: Hakeem Olajuwon '83 (2 and 7.5), David Robinson '86 (2 and 7), Nerlens Noel '13 (2.5 and 5.4), David Robinson '87 (2.4 and 5.2), Hakeem Olajuwon '82 (2 and 5.4). That is two of the greatest centers in NBA history and Nerlens Noel. Not bad company.

Don't let your imagination run too far with those comparisons though. Nerlens collected several fewer rebounds and scored half as many points per 40 as Robinson and Olajuwon did in those seasons. Noel has a long way to go before his game warrants comparison to hall of famers. Still... Noel is the first pick in this draft. His injury makes things awkward, but you don't pass on a player with Noel's combination of length, athleticism and evidence of putting them to use (even if only on one end of the court).

KELLY OLYNYK

7' 238 lbs , 22 years old

Expected Wins: 7.6

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

2%

60%

32%

5%

Comparisons:

Michael Bradley , Rich King, Horace Grant, Alaa Abdelnaby, Troy Murphy, David West, Tyler Zeller, Sean Rooks, Bryant Reeves, Isaac Austin

Noteworthy stats:

73% shooting on 11.5 attempts at the rim per 40

Comments:

Olynyk's 2013 offensive-post dominance was special. Easily the best among prospects in the past three seasons (the time period I have shot-location data for). He scored 16.8 points at the rim per 40. The next best was Cody Zeller in 2012 who scored 13.3. Nobody else was even close. Olynyk's 73% efficiency at the rim implies that he could have comfortably increased his volume even more. Olynyk's scoring game does not stop there though. He also took 5.3 mid-range shots per game and hit them at an impressive 53% clip. Jeremy Lamb, Mike Scott, Kevin Murphy, and Marcus Morris were the only other players with comparable mid-range success. Olynyk is a gifted scorer in the paint or from the elbow and even hinted at the ability to stretch to the three-point line. Combine that with his solid passing and he has the potential to be a team's primary offensive threat.

The major concern with Olynyk is his defense. Box scores and scouting reports agree that he doesn't offer the defensive presence teams want at the five. His explosion after a couple completely unremarkable seasons is also concerning, but given the fact that teams routinely draft 7' stiffs in the hopes they might develop, it would seem weird to pass on a 7' stiff who did develop. I should also note that I have run some RAPM-based projection models in addition to those presented here. Those models did not like Olynyk as much as the WS-based models. This may speak to his likely defensive liabilities.

Olynyk has rare size, coordination, and horizontal athleticism, as well as exceptional offensive polish to go with it. Because of this he could be a great player. Unfortunately he first needs to demonstrate enough defense and rebounding to warrant regular time on the court.

MIKE MUSCALA

6'11" 232 lbs , 21 years old

Expected Wins: 7.1

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

2%

52%

43%

3%

Comparisons:

Keith Benson, Nick Fazekas, Jason Thompson, Larry Sanders, Carlos Rogers, Cal Bowdler, Larry Krystkowiak, Michael Cage, Chris Dudley, Curtis Borchardt

Noteworthy stats:

8.3 jumper attempts per 40; 82% on free throws

Comments:

Muscala demonstrated significant improvement between every year of college. His rebounding moved from 8 to 14.8 per 40, his passing moved from 1.2 to 3.1 per 40, his FTR from 0.29 to 0.51 and his scoring volume moved from 16.1 to 24.8 per 40. We should be concerned about the role his weak competition played in his numbers, but by his senior year they were impressive across the board.

Muscala was almost always the biggest man on the court in his final season, but he still settled for more than 8 mid-range shots per 40. He was not necessarily bad at those shots (39%), but he also was not good enough to justify that many of them. This could be a function of game planning, but it could also mean he is getting out-muscled down low (it is telling that John Henson is the player in the past three years to have the most similar shot distribution to Muscala). If Muscala really is struggling to get offensive position in the Patriot league, you need to worry what is going to happen to his game in the pros. The fact that he drained 82% of his free throws implies that he can make a mid-range game work, but a center needs to be able to fight as well.

Some reason for concern, but Muscala should still be an easy pick in the late lottery.

STEVEN ADAMS

6'11" 255 lbs , 19 years old

Expected Wins: 5.6

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

6%

69%

23%

1%

Comparisons:

James Augustine, Emeka Okafor, Josh Boone, Mikki Moore, Derrick Coleman, Ed Davis, Greg Anderson, Tony Battie, Jordan Hill, Jeff Adrien

Noteworthy stats:

Comments:

Adams is a nice but boring prospect who looks to be appropriately climbing draft boards. He blocks shots and has found some limited success scoring at the rim. After the combine he measures out close to the other big-stiff prospect (Len) but is younger and produced better across the defensive stats. He may go in the top ten and it is difficult to fault whichever team pulls the trigger.

JEFF WITHEY

6'11" 240 lbs , 23 years old

Expected Wins: 2.9

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

9%

80%

11%

0%

Comparisons:

Hilton Armstrong, Cole Aldrich, Loren Woods, Kevin Salvadori, Etan Thomas, Jason Lawson, Ken Johnson '01, Othella Harrington, Jim McIlvaine, Roy Rogers

Noteworthy stats:

5.1 blocks and 2.7 pfs per 40

ALEX LEN

7'1" 255 lbs , 19 years old

Expected Wins: 2.2

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

7%

79%

13%

1%

Comparisons:

Robin Lopez, Greg Kite, Jamal Sampson, Jelani McCoy, Andrew Lang, Antonio Harvey, JaVale McGee, Jon Koncak, Andrew DeClercq, Mikki Moore

Noteworthy stats:

0.3 steals per 40

Comments:

Alex Len collected 12 steals in 1,470 minutes of collegiate basketball. That is 0.326 steals every 40 minutes he played (this rate is actually even worse adjusting for pace). Out of the 1,506 players in my dataset who played at least 1,000 minutes of NCAA basketball Steven Hunter is the only one to post a worse steal rate than Alex Len. For a little more context, here is the complete list of players to play at least 1,000 minutes in college and record less than half a steal per 40:

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For every 1 steal that Len collects, Noel collects 8, Dieng collects 5, Adams, Plumlee, and Zeller each collect 4, Withey and Olynyk each collect 3, and Muscala collects more than 2. While ball-stealing itself is not a key part of the center position, this huge disparity between Len and men who succeed in professional basketball should be concerning. I really wonder how much of the glow about Len's "athletic potential" is failing to look past his impressive frame to the more basic dexterity, coordination, and awareness that separates successful project bigs from your annual second-round 7' stiff.

Statistically speaking, Len ranks sort of in the middle among college centers in just about every category. I struggle to understand how a massive man who fails to dominate when pitted against players 4 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter will suddenly excel against his physical peers, but that seems to be the hope.

All of my concerns aside... there are very few men in the world who are 7'1" 255 lbs. One analysis estimated that 17% of 7' US-born men between 20 and 40 are playing in the NBA. There is a reason for that. Size is a huge advantage in basketball and at the center position in particular. I assume scouts have some reason to think Len might ‘figure it out,' and if he does he has the frame to succeed. I can't completely fault that thinking since it has occasionally worked in the past, but I still want no part of Len in the lottery.

MASON PLUMLEE

6'11" 245 lbs , 23 years old

Expected Wins: 1.7

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

9%

82%

8%

0%

Comparisons:

Sam Perkins, Jason Collins, Loren Meyer, Sean Rooks, Othella Harrington, Lonny Baxter, Jake Voskuhl, Mark Madsen, Jarron Collins, Rony Seikaly

GORGUI DIENG

6'11" 245 lbs , 23 years old

Expected Wins: 0.8

Success Probabilities:

BUST

BNCH

STRT

STAR

9%

82%

9%

0%

Comparisons:

Miles Plumlee, Jake Voskuhl, Kevin Salvadori, Eric Riley, Brad Lohaus, Ekpe Udoh, Mason Plumlee, Greg Stiemsma, Luke Schenscher, Ivan McFarlin

Comments:

Dieng posted two seasons of great D-ASPM and has the reputation to go with it. He may have a future as a defensive focused +/- favorite similar to Ekpe Udoh. He also may not be very good.

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