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NBA Draft Preview Part I: Centers

Taking a look at the top centers available in the 2012 NBA Draft

The NBA Draft is right around the corner so the time has come to take an in-depth look at the players hoping to hear their names called out by Commissioner David Stern on the night of June 28. To help with the process, Rockets.com is once again enlisting the help of NBA draft expert Jim Clibanoff.

The formula is simple: our man Clibs will team up with our own Jason Friedman to break down the draft position by position, offering his thoughts on the top prospects, while sprinkling in a few feelings on some lesser known players who might be worth a closer look in the draft’s later stages.

Today’s feature focuses on the center position. One final note: players' height and weight are taken, when possible, from the NBA’s combine measurements.

Andre Drummond, Fr., Connecticut

Combine measurements: Height: 6' 11.75'' (with shoes), Weight: 278.6, Wingspan: 7' 6.25'', Standing reach: 9' 1.5''

Basic stats: 10 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.7 bpg, .538 FG%, .295 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .578 points per possessions (16th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .422 ppp (96th percentile)

Jason’s take: Look up the definition of “upside” in this year’s edition of the NBA Draft dictionary and you’re very likely to see a picture of Andre Drummond right next to the word. The Connecticut center is a physical freak, drawing comparisons to Dwight Howard due to his ridiculous combination of size, strength and explosive athleticism. Of course, there is a big difference between being an elite athlete and an elite basketball player and the latter is what Drummond must now concern himself with, just as Howard did when similar concerns were raised about him on draft day. The tools are all there. And the greatest reason for optimism to date lies in the fact that Drummond wasted little time becoming an interior defensive force; just check out his super Synergy stats when defending post-ups. To be sure, Drummond’s offensive game needs significant work and polish, but the same can be said for nearly every big man at the beginning of his NBA career. The key to his future success will be determined by the way he answers the two questions that stand between every supremely gifted player and superstardom: How badly does he want to be great and how hard is he willing to work to make it happen?

Tyler Zeller, Sr., North Carolina

Combine measurements: Height: 7' 0.5'' (with shoes), Weight: 247.4, Wingspan: 7' 0'', Standing reach: 8' 8''

Basic stats: 16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, .553 FG%, .808 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .882 points per possessions (66th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .663 ppp (75th percentile)

Clib’s take: If you look at the continuum of the ultimate low or ultimate high of a guy, yes, the variance for someone like Drummond is going to be vast. It will be less vast for Tyler Zeller but while the upside isn’t as great, make no mistake: he’s an extremely polished player with a good motor. He has face-up skills, can get things done in the low post and has high pedigree. I like him and expect him to be a double-digit scorer within his second or third year in the league. I’d like to believe he can approximate the success Mehmet Okur had as an NBA player. He has that NBA readiness. He still needs to get a little bit stronger but his body is developed enough where you can throw him in the fray and he’s not going to shy away from anybody. He’s a safe selection and a guy who can play the five and the four.

I think as a rebounder and defender, he’s not going to rely as much on physicality as he is savvy and smarts. He might not be your leading rebounder but he’s going to be a good complementary rebounder.

Meyers Leonard, So., Illinois

Combine measurements: Height: 7' 1.25'' (with shoes), Weight: 249.8, Wingspan 7' 3'', Standing reach: 9' 0.5''

Basic stats: 13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg, .584 FG%, .732 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: 1.048 points per possessions (88th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .697 ppp (70th percentile)

Jason’s take: Though he’s not quite on the same level as Drummond from a freakish athleticism standpoint, many teams find Meyers Leonard’s upside and potential similarly alluring, likely making him a lock as a lottery selection this summer. He measured out as the tallest player at the NBA combine and reportedly wowed clubs with his work during the various drills there as well.

Leonard made a massive leap forward during his sophomore season, seizing the opportunity presented to him by anchoring the Illinois interior on both ends of the floor. Though he is not necessarily fluid and instinctive just yet (how many 20-year-old centers are, however?), Leonard still managed to be exceedingly effective and efficient operating out of the low-post, and while he will likely always be more effective with his back to the basket (not a bad thing, by the way), he’s also started to show an ability to face-up and knock down the occasional mid-range jumper as well. With the proper amount of patience, experience, hard work and development, Leonard’s NBA future could be a very bright one indeed.

Fab Melo, So., Syracuse

Combine measurements: Height: 7' 0'' (with shoes), Weight: 255, Wingspan 7' 2.5'', Standing reach: 9' 1.5''

Basic stats: 7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.9 bpg, .566 FG%, .633 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .818 points per possessions (54th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .333 ppp (98th percentile)

Clib’s take: A space filler. He had a disappointing freshman season but was one of the most improved players this year. He got into better shape, ran the floor much better, and showed a greater concept of the American game … He played last summer with the Brazilian World University Games team, gained important exposure there, got more serious about the game and anchored that Syracuse defense this year.

Right off the bat he should be able to take up space, get you some rebounds, defend in the post and block some shots. His offense is still very much a work in progress. But he’s certainly a pure five man. I actually have him a little bit ahead of Meyers Leonard.

Festus Ezeli, Sr., Vanderbilt

Combine measurements: Height: 6' 11.5'' (with shoes), Weight: 264.2, Wingspan 7' 5.75'', Standing reach: 8' 10''

Basic stats: 10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.0 bpg, .539 FG%, .604 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .75 points per possessions (41st percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .577 ppp (87th percentile)

Clib’s take: He’s a banger. He’s a guy who can be inserted into an NBA low post game now and be your six fouls to give. He’s an intelligent guy who’s limited offensively but vastly improved from his underclass years. If you’re looking for a gritty low post defender who won’t need the ball in his hands, he’s your guy. He’ll be low maintenance and should be able to give you third-string or possibly backup center minutes very early on.

Miles Plumlee, Sr., Duke

Combine measurements: Height: 6' 11.75'' (with shoes), Weight: 252.4, Wingspan 7' 0.75'', Standing reach: 8' 8.5''

Basic stats: 6.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, .9 bpg, .610 FG%, .632 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .898 points per possessions (68th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .917 ppp (30th percentile)

Clib’s take: It’s hard to evaluate a guy who doesn’t play a ton. A lot more of the minutes went to his brother the last couple of years but he’s got athleticism and fundamentally he’s sound. I expect him to surprise some people and stick around the league for a bunch of years. If he goes in the second round he ends up becoming a good value pick as a lower maintenance, lower-salaried player for the early part of his career. I could see him playing ten years and never averaging more than 13 or 14 minutes per game, but people will always want to have him around because he’s got the size and skill to contribute and will be a good locker room guy.

Henry Sims, Sr., Georgetown

Combine measurements: Height: 6' 11.75'' (with shoes), Weight: 241.2, Wingspan 7' 4'', Standing reach: 8' 11''

Basic stats: 11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 bpg, .462 FG%, .708 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .792 points per possessions (48th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .696 ppp (70th percentile)

Clib’s take: You talk about some of the most improved players in the country and Henry Sims is clearly in that group. He’s undersized a bit for the five spot but he can really pass the ball from the high post … He’s a guy who can come in for Summer League and attempt to impress. His game actually could be more well-suited for high level international programs because he’s skilled, can face up and distribute the ball. A very unselfish player.

Bernard James

Combine measurements: Height: 6' 10'' (with shoes), Weight: 229.8, Wingspan 7' 3'', Standing reach: 9' 0.5''

Basic stats: 10.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, .9 bpg, .606 FG%, .552 FT%

Synergy stats of note: Offense: Post-ups: .795 points per possessions (49th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .474 ppp (96th percentile)

Clib’s take: He’s one of the more unique players out there with regard to his background coming from the military. He’s a true man. You find so many guys who are 35-years-old or older who stick around because of what they do in the locker room and what they can do helping younger players. I look at Bernard James as a guy you could bring in to fill the same role. He might just play 8-to-12 minutes per game, but he’s someone who will command respect and can whip younger, more underdeveloped players into shape. He’ll be a voice of reason and a guy who will defend the post. He blocked shots well for Florida State.

He has a lot of room for improvement on offense and needs to improve his free throw shooting numbers but is a guy who knows his limitations and his real life experiences will benefit him greatly in getting acclimated to a higher level of basketball. If he can just defend your post for a handful of minutes he’s a worthwhile low-salaried player to keep around.

When you see the success Lavoy Allen had defending the post in the playoffs for the Sixers, it makes you think that there could easily be a place for a guy like Bernard James.