PBT NBA Draft preview: Top 5 centers

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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.

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle

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The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.