As a rule, big men develop slower than guards. The 2012 NBA Draft is no exception, as the top two prospects at the center position, Andre Drummond and Meyers Leonard, are nowhere near their ceiling. But while their development could determine the future of the franchise that drafts them, the identity of the franchise that drafts them could also determine how much they develop.
There's no better example than the career trajectory of JaVale McGee. McGee joined a Washington team where the inmates were running the asylum, where Andray Blatche was considered a veteran leader and who had neither a strong head coach or an established point guard. As a result, McGee developed a series of bad habits that made him one of the laughingstocks of the NBA.
However, all that changed when he was dealt to the Denver Nuggets at the trade deadline. In Denver, McGee was playing for George Karl, one of the most respected coaches in the NBA. The Nuggets had the depth to make McGee earn his minutes, while they also had two PGs (Ty Lawson and Andre Miller) who could create easy shots for him.
McGee shined in their first-round series against the LA Lakers, putting up stat-lines of 16/15/3 on 8-12 shooting and 21/14/2 on 9-12 shooting. Five years after he was drafted, it seems like his NBA career is finally going in an upwards direction.
This is why the draft is usually not a panacea for the league's worst franchises: very few players come into the league fully developed and poorly run teams are going to have a much harder time developing the talent they have on hand.
For example, if Drummond were selected by Charlotte, he would be walking into a situation almost as dysfunctional as the one he left at UConn. The Bobcats two lottery picks in 2011, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, struggled mightily as rookies while playing with veterans, like Boris Diaw, eager to get out of town and marginal NBA players. For that matter, neither Walker, an undersized combo guard, or Biyombo, an extremely raw but athletic young center, fits well with Drummond.
Leonard, on the other hand, has drawn comparisons to Tyson Chandler, and it's no coincidence that Chandler didn't begin to blossom as an NBA player until he left the Chicago Bulls and played with Chris Paul in New Orleans.
Five years from now, they both have the chance to be two of the best centers in the NBA. The question is whether they'll still be playing on the team that drafts them next week.
1) Andre Drummond, UConn
Drummond has a higher ceiling than any player in the draft, even Anthony Davis. For starters, Drummond is 6'11 and 280 pounds with a 7'6 wingspan as opposed to 6'11 and 220 pounds. If you don't think that is a big deal, have someone hit you in the chest with a 45-pound weight for two hours and see how you feel.
Neither player showed all that much offensively as a freshman, relying on their size and athleticism to overwhelm opponents. And while Drummond didn't post Davis' preposterous rebounding and shot-blocking numbers, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 28 minutes a game is still pretty impressive.
2) Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Leonard has all the tools to be an excellent two-way center in the NBA. He's huge (7'1 and 250 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan), an excellent athlete and an extremely capable finisher at the rim (58 percent from the field) and from the free throw line (78 percent as a sophomore). Most impressively, he improved exponentially from his freshman to his sophomore season, an indication that he's willing and capable of putting the time in to improve.
3) Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
Ezeli wasn't a star in college and he won't be one in the NBA, but his game should translate to becoming a high-level role player at the center position. He's got the size to hold position on the low block (6'11 and 265 pounds with a 7'6 wingspan) and the athleticism to protect the rim (two blocks a game), and while he won't create his own shot at the next level, he's enough of an offensive threat that teams will have to respect him inside.
4) Tyler Zeller, UNC
Zeller is extremely skilled and runs the floor well for a center, but I don't see him as a frontline starter in the NBA. He has a high center of gravity at 7'0 and 250 pounds, so it will be hard for him to post up starting-caliber big men, and with a 7'0 wingspan, he won't block many shots either. However, he should still carve out a long and successful career as a third big man coming off the bench.
5) Fab Melo, Syracuse
A project in every sense of the word. Melo has the size and athleticism at 7'0 and 250 pounds with a 7'2 wingspan to be a defensive difference maker, but he's a lost cause on the offensive end right now. Teams won't have to defend him at the next level, and it's going to be hard for a 21-year-old who spent the last two seasons in a 2-3 zone to be good enough defensively to justify playing 4-on-5 on offense.
6) Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
If Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins can get minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals, there has to be a place in the NBA for a 7-footer as versatile as Sacre. He's reasonably athletic, comfortable with the ball in his hands and can even shoot from the perimeter (76 percent from the free throw line). While he's not a great shot-blocker, 7'0, 260-pound centers who can provide decent individual defense while being useful offensively don't exactly grow on trees.
7) Bernard James, Florida State
James has one of the more unique stories in the draft: a 27-year old who didn't play in high school but sprouted after joining the Air Force. At 6'11 and 230 pounds, he doesn't have great bulk, but his length (7'3 wingspan) and athleticism made him an excellent shot-blocker (2.3 a game) and finisher (61 percent from the field) at Florida State. He learned the game from Leonard Hamilton, a former NBA coach who emphasizes tough man defense, and he could be useful in a Joel Anthony-type role as a shot-blocking, small ball center.
8) Reggie Johnson, Miami
As a prospect, Johnson is very similar to Dexter Pittman: a massive wide-bodied 6'10, 300-pound center with surprisingly nimble feet, an advanced low post game and a soft touch at the rim. However, like Pittman, his lack of length and vertical explosiveness will make it difficult for him to finish in an NBA paint or protect the rim.
9) Xavier Gibson, Florida State
Gibson never produced much in college; in his senior season, he averaged seven points, four rebounds and 1.3 blocks on 48 percent shooting. However, he's a big and athletic body at 6'11 and 250 pounds, capable of banging in the paint and moving his feet on the perimeter, which he was often asked to do in Florida State's aggressive man-to-man schemes.
10) Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State
If you follow college recruiting, you're probably familiar with Renardo Sidney. He was once the No. 1 player in his high school class and he's got an unbelievable amount of skill for a 6'9, 305-pound big man with a 7'4 wingspan. But, at Mississippi State, he struggled with his conditioning as well as his attitude, and he checked in with a 22.4 percent body fat percentage at the Combine, behind only Oliver Miller all-time. Underachieving AAU stars have become good values in the second round in recent years, and he might be worth a flyer to see if he ever figures out how to be a professional.
Missed the cut: Justin Hamilton, LSU; Kyle O'Quinn, Norfolk State; Miles Plumlee, Duke