Who to watch in March Madness – Part 4 – Centers

The following is a guest post by Michael McNamara (a.k.a. loveforthehornets).

So far we have looked at shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards; so in our fourth and final installment we take a look at the centers that the Hornets might consider in the 2010 NBA draft. The Hornets are very thin at the center position, with Emeka Okafor as the only legitimate center on the team, and some say he might even be better suited as a power forward.

The crop of centers this year is average, at best, with three to four guys who could be first round picks- none of which are expected to be franchise building blocks or multi-time All Stars. Center is, without question, the most overpaid position in the game and that is because legitimate big men are so hard to find that teams have to overspend to acquire one or keep one. Therefore, getting a solid big on a rookie contract for the next 4-5 years could be of huge value to any team.

Ideally, the Hornets would like to add a center with some athleticism that would have the ability to make an impact on the defensive end- both blocking shots and grabbing boards. A center who could play in both the high post and low post would also be a plus, as this would allow him to be on the court with either West or Okafor.

So having said that, let’s take a look at the Centers we should keep an eye on this month:

1. Cole Aldrich, Kansas

Cole Aldrick, KansasChances he will be available: 40 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

As we have stated, legitimate centers are hard to come by and Aldrich is, at the very least, a legit and solid center prospect. With shoes he measures out at 6′ 11.5” and a solid 250. Also, he has a long wingspan (7′ 4”) and a frame that could add 10-20 pounds of muscle if he choose to go in that direction. He is also a good athlete for his size and has a high motor, as he often both out-skills and out-works his opponents. Think Tyler Hansborough but with skills and size that can actually translate over to the pro game.

His experience and basketball IQ would allow him to be one of the few bigs in this draft that could actually come in and contribute from Day One. His fundamentals are extraordinary and perhaps most importantly, he understands his limitations. You will never find Aldrich trying to do too much on the court and that is often a value that is overlooked. Anybody who has watched Julian try to overdribble and make a great play or Okafor attempt a post move from more than 8 feet from the basket understands the value of knowing your limitations. Aldrich, perhaps more than anybody in the draft, does.

Lastly, Aldrich could fit into our front court much the way I suspect CP3 will fit into our back court when he returns. Aldrich can play in the post and defend the center position when West in on the court or he can man the high post and cover power forwards when Okafor is on the court. That versatility is huge, especially come playoff time when teams shorten their benches or during the season when injuries occur.

Why the Hornets would pass:

It’s hard to imagine the Hornets passing on Aldrich if he falls to them, but it is conceivable. First, Aldrich has seemed to regress this year and might have already reached his ceiling. With the exception of blocks, his stats are down across the board. Some say it is because he is getting less minutes, but his per 40 minute averages are down as well and things like FG% should not be affected by playing three less minutes per game. In fact, with more talent on this team than ever before, one could argue his FG% should be going up, not down. Not to mention his FT% has gone from 79 percent to 68 percent as well.

Without question there will be players with higher “upside” available when the Hornets select, and although they don’t often succeed when they go that route, it is possible that the Hornets have a new GM and/or coach when the draft comes around that may be more easily seduced by that sort of player. Some evaluators go for the home run or strikeout guys while others are content with a solid double. Aldrich is a solid double, but perhaps the new regime (if there is one) will think it is time to swing for the fences.

2010-11 Outlook (if drafted) :

Aldrich has the intelligence, fundamentals, and work ethic to come in and be the backup center from the opening tip-off. He is an instant upgrade over the Sean marks and Aaron Gray’s of the world, and would allow Songalia to play the four position exclusively, which is a better fit for him.

If and when Songalia is traded next season, Aldrich’s versatility could allow the Hornets to get by with a 3 man rotation at the power forward and center positions. Under this scenario, Aldrich could see himself playing as many as 25 minutes a game and even starting from time to time when West or Okafor miss a game.

His natural position is center, however, so Aldrich will primarily be a backup as long as Okafor remains a Hornet. With his versatility and Okafor’s ability to move over to the four as well, Aldrich could still get starter minutes and be a valuable asset to the team. Those hoping he can one day be an All Star center will be disappointed, but old Hornet favorite Matt Geiger with a more polished offensive game could do wonders for this team.

2. Hassan Whiteside, Marshall

Hassan Whiteside, MarshallChances he will be available: 25 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

Perhaps the fastest rising prospect right now, Whiteside might be impossible to pass up if he is there in the late lottery. Still growing, Whiteside is 6′ 11” with a massive wingspan (7′ 6”) and has the kind of athleticism and wingspan scouts drool over. His lateral quickness and leaping ability are at the top of the center class and at the very least, Whiteside should grow into an elite rebounder and shot-blocker in the league. For a visual, think Marcus Camby.

The Hornets would draft him knowing that he is at least two years away from making an impact, but when he does develop he can offer a defensive skill set that maybe only 3 or 4 other centers in the league can match. That is hard for anybody to pass up.

Offensively, Whiteside can play the role that Chandler made so famous, as his wingspan and freakish athleticism would allow him to go get practically anything CP3 can throw up near the rim. He has nice touch on his shot that can be developed, along with a fairly raw set of post moves that show some potential. All that being said, the Hornets would draft them with the hopes of getting an elite defensive game changer and any offense would be icing on the cake.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Whiteside is the polar opposite from Aldrich, so the same argument applies. If the people who are calling the shots love the challenge of a boom or bust type, Whiteside would be the pick if available. But if they want someone who can contribute immediately and, at worst, will be a solid role player, then they will go in another direction.

Whiteside is so raw and weak at this point that there is no way he can see the floor next year and who knows if he will ever blossom. If you take a glance through any past draft, you will come across at least one high first round pick that stands 6′ 11” or taller that you have never seen play a game in your life. That guy was drafted on potential, and that potential never developed. It is high risk/high reward, and if you get the reward, you could become an elite team. But if he is a bust, you will be on the message boards three years later screaming, “Why did we pass on (insert name here) for Whiteside in 2010!”

2010-11 Outlook:

This will be short. Whiteside would see as much time on the court in meaningful minutes as you or I will if he is drafted. He is that raw and needs to spend all his time in the weight room.

By 11-12 he could be a 9th man off the bench who can give our second unit energy and defense, and perhaps we could see him as a starter by 12-13 if it all works out. Bottom line, that is a long time to wait when you can get guys like Aldrich or Patterson who are good players and can contribute immediately.

3. Solomon Adibi, FSU

Chances he will be available: 98 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

Adibi is the sole legit 7 footer in this draft that is worthy of a first round pick. He stands 7′ 1” 251 pounds and has plenty of room on his frame to one day be a 275 pound monster in the middle. We can drive home the point, yet again, about how hard it is to find a legit big man, but I think you get the idea by now.

Adibi is a smart kid, who by all accounts is extremely coachable and loves the game. He is originally from Nigeria and only been playing the game for a handful of years, but shows glimpses of potential that scouts simply can’t ignore. The Hornets would be banking on this potential if they drafted him and would be hoping that in two to three years they would have what they had in Chandler when he was healthy.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Guys like Saer Sene and Michael Olowikandi come to mind, as it seems like we have all seen this story before. Yes, we have had success stories like Mutombo, but for the most part whenever we hear about a raw big men from overseas who have only been playing the game for a few years, we pray that our favorite team passes on them.

That is not to say that the raw big men from America fair much better ( Hilton, Simmons, Patrick O’Bryant, etc). The fact is that Adibi is at least a few years away from contributing and if he were 6 foot 10, he wouldn’t be taken in the first round- it is that simple. He would be drafted on sheer size and potential and it just doesn’t make sense for the Hornets to take that big of a risk when this is such a solid draft and they hit on two guys last year who were NBA ready from Day One (well maybe not according to B Scott, but that’s another story).

Adibi would be a nice selection if the Hornets had a loaded front court and had 2-3 years to wait, but they need help now.

2010-11 Outlook:

Adibi would get major minutes in the NBDL and might even get invited to the All Star game, but that would be his best case scenario. More likely, he would sit on the bench and learn in practice and garbage time. Maybe by year two he could get 8-10 minutes a game, but it would be hard to expect more than that.

Long term, he could possibly be a Samuel Dalembert type, which is not bad at all, but even that would take 3-5 years to get to. More likely he would be a solid role player and defensive cog who would get overpaid after his rookie contract based on potential. Think Nazr Mohammad or DeSagana Diop.

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