PBT NBA Draft preview: Top 5 centers


The center position has undergone a revolution in the NBA in the past 10 years — old school, back-to-the-basket power guys are fading as teams go smaller and look for longer, more active guys. Ones with a midrange shot. Ones who can protect the rim but play a little small.

That’s why there are only five “centers” listed in our draft rankings — a number of guys technically listed as power forwards could end up playing some five. Still, these five guys will get picked and down the line will get a lot, or at least some, time on the court.

PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld compiled our list.

1. Joel Embiid, Freshman, Kansas, 7’0, 241
There is now a foot injury to go along with concerns about Embiid’s back, but he is still the best big man prospect in this draft, and it’s not even close. He is still extremely raw as a player on both ends, having played basketball for just four years, but Embiid has the length and athleticism, which will get teams excited for his potential. He made big strides during his one college season, though he is most effective when play against players who were 3-4 inches shorter than him. NBA-type size was a problem, and he will need to continue to work on competing in the post against big players. Whether he fulfills his potential or not, he is still a player who can make an impact for most teams.

2. Jusuf Nurkic, 19 years old, Bosnia, 6’11, 280
Nurkic is big-bodied with emerging skill, but he is probably at least two-to-three years away from being ready to play in the NBA. He uses his body well to get position in the post, and he has already developed a few moves to help him get easy baskets. Nurkic is also a good rebounder and a decent defender. His biggest challenges will be conditioning to play the NBA-style game and still developing his understanding of how to play.

3. Jordan Bachysnki, Senior, Arizona State, 7’2, 254
Bachynski may be 24 years old already, but there are not many shot blockers like him in this class. He has the body to defend the low post well, and though his footwork isn’t great, it has improved. He has excellent timing when blocking shots, and he has shown he can challenge shooters from almost any angle well. Bachynski’s offensive game has improved over the past few years as well, and while he will never be a huge post scorer, he has a few moves to help him get some good shots.

4. Mitch McGary, Sophomore, Michigan, 6’10, 263
McGary missed most of his sophomore season with back problems and finished the year finding out he would have missed the next season because of a positive marijuana test. McGary is not a major offensive threat, but he makes his own opportunities by hitting the offensive glass, being good in the pick-and-roll game and hitting open shots quickly. McGary uses his strength well to defend the post, and while he doesn’t challenge many shots, he makes it difficult for offensive players to get to the basket. McGary is an aggressive rebounder on both ends of the floor, and he should be able to do this well for any team he plays for in the NBA.

5. Artem Klimenko, 20 years old, Russia, 7’1, 228
Klimenko is long and agile but still very raw as a player. His biggest assets right now are his physical abilities, though his game will hopefully catch up in a few years. Klimenko is at his best in transition or knocking down mid-range jumpers, though some added strength should help him score effectively in the post. Defensively, he uses his speed and length well, but he still needs to develop an understanding of how to really play. It may be years before Klimenko is close to being ready for the NBA.

Through unpredictable season for Spurs, Popovich remains steady

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich is not changing how he coaches, not after 22 seasons leading the Spurs.

The NBA’s most tenured steward is always going to focus on defense. He’s always going to dismiss talk of his brilliance because “it’s just basketball.” And he’s not going to overwork his players even though an unprecedented rash of injuries has the Spurs battling for their playoff lives for the first time in two decades.

“At this point, he’s not changing,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s a formula that has worked quite well. They have great veteran leadership and they pass it along to the young guys. You see the young guys are growing. That’s why they’re so good.”

They’re not as good as they have been, but their impressive success this year is a testament to Popovich.

San Antonio has been without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games this season and Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green have all missed significant time with various injuries. In all, the Spurs have missed 165 games as a team while battling everything from sprained MCLs to fractured wrists.

The injuries haven’t dramatically altered how Popovich manages the 82-game regular season.

“I think Pop did a great job overall, it’s not easy,” Parker said. “It was a tough one for him this year. Since I’ve been here, we have never had that many injuries. So, Pop did the best he could and I think overall he did a good job.”

Aside from All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, no Spurs player is averaging more than 28 minutes per game and veterans Parker and Manu Ginobili are averaging 20 minutes per game. Popovich has also been able to sit Aldridge, Ginobili and Pau Gasol for rest during the season.

Popovich was among the first coaches to sit players for rest rather than injury. He opted to keep Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green at home rather than have them play at Miami on Nov. 30, 2012. The action resulted in a $250,000 fine and sharp rebuke from then NBA Commissioner David Stern. The NBA changed its rules to allow teams to rest its players, but only if they listed in a timely manner who would be resting on their injury reports.

Popovich doesn’t have the firepower to repeat that mass seating now.

“It was hard to rest guys, limit guys’ minutes,” Green said. “We had some guys come back from injuries, that’s when he limited some of the guys’ minutes.”

But Popovich still has made sure players received their needed rest.

The 40-year-old Ginobili has provided the Spurs with a needed lift this month after sitting out eight games to rest. In Wednesday’s victory over Washington, Ginobili outran 31-year-old Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and then dove on it to save the possession.

“It just tells you that nobody has an excuse not to do it,” 37-year-old center Pau Gasol said of Ginobili’s hustle. “A 40-year-old does it, what about a 25 or 30 or 35 or 37 year old?”

Parker has not sat out any games for rest, but he did miss the first 19 games of the season after recovering from left quadriceps tendon surgery. Even before he lost his starting position to Dejounte Murray, Parker has spent a lot of time on the bench. Not that Parker has enjoyed the time off the court.

“For me personally, I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent it was almost too much rest,” Parker said. “I wish I had played more games, but it is what it is. Other guys, I hope they feel fresher. We’re going to need it.”

While Parker may not enjoy the rest, it seems to be paying off.

The Spurs have won five straight after losing eight of 11 games to drop into 10th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. San Antonio was in sixth place, one-half game behind Oklahoma City.

The Spurs recently beat a short-handed Golden State team by 14 points. The Spurs played with energy that they haven’t shown since early in the season when they were third in the West.

That should help then down the stretch, and possibly into the playoffs. Being rested, healthy and playing good defense is a recipe that has yielded five championships in Popovich’s tenure and extended the careers of franchise stalwarts like Tim Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

“Everybody’s bringing the juice,” Murray said. “We’re playing together on offense. I just feel like there’s more juice on defense. As I always say, defense, we’ve all got to be on the same page and be hungry and greedy on `D.’ We’ve got to keep going, we can’t get comfortable.”


Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.

This is the best missed free throw to game winner you will ever see

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We’ve all seen this situation before at every level of basketball: A team down three points gets fouled in the final seconds and has two free throws, so the shooter aims to make the first free throw then miss the second and create a rebound he or a teammate can grab then throw back in to tie the game. It works about as often as an NFL Hail Mary — either the shooter makes the shot anyway or the defense gets the board — but what other choice is there?

Nobody has ever pulled it off as well as Paulinho Boracini of the Brazilian league team Cearense.

Intentional or not (and I lean not), he banked the second free throw off the rim toward the corner, ran it down himself and hit the game-winning three.

Damn. That’s impressive.

(If Boracini and Cearense sound familiar, you win the award for “watching too much Knicks preseason basketball” because they played New York in a 2015 exhibition.)

Giannis Antetokounmpo doubtful with ankle injury for Bulls game

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks say Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The All-Star forward got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.