As we continue to examine the best players at their respective positions in this years draft class we surface our attention to the big men for today’s rankings. On Monday we took a look at the top 20 guards in this year’s class, and yesterday our own Ryan Blackburn ranked the top forwards and wings of the 2021 NBA Draft.
If you haven't checked out either of those I highly recommend doing so because one (or maybe even multiple) players on those lists should have a pretty decent shot at being selected by the Denver Nuggets come draft night.
The Nuggets needs certainly center around shooting guard and potentially adding another wing, which makes center feel like a far and distant third as far as Denver’s needs are concerned. Still, you never know what the Nuggets might do on draft night and that is why for today’s exercise we’re taking a look at the best centers in this year’s class.
1. Evan Mobley
Mobley is an elite player that has an incredible feel for the game on both ends of the floor. Not only is Mobley an elite offensive player, but he is arguably the best defensive player in this draft class as well. Mobley thrives offensively in the pick and roll because of his ability to score in a number of different ways, whether it’s via the short roll, pick and pop jumper, or just attacking the defense and going to the basket. He also showcased some passing skills at USC.
The best part of Mobley’s game is his defensive potential as he possesses the ability to be an elite defender at the next level. Mobley is an elite shot blocker who plays incredibly disciplined defense, which puts him in great positions to have success. His athleticism defensively allows him to play solid on-ball defense as he was rarely beat during his one season at USC. Just a dynamic 2-way player who can be an instant contributor in the NBA.
Draft Grade: Top-3 pick
2. Kai Jones
Jones is from Nassau, Bahamas and began playing organized basketball just five years ago at 15 years old. Even though he is an incredibly raw prospect, Jones showed flashes of greatness during his two seasons at Texas. Jones saw an uptick in minutes this past season and even though his stats aren't eye popping, his play certainly is.
What really stands out about Jones is his athleticism is off the charts. Whether he’s running in transition or beating his man off the dribble, Jones has what it takes to be a dynamic scorer at the next level, which is insane considering he’s almost seven feet tall (6’10’’) and weighs in at 220 points. Jones not only affects the game offensively but he projects to be a really solid defender in the NBA, which he showcased time and time again during his time at Texas.
Draft Grade: Lottery pick (1-14)
3. Alperen Şengün
Alperun Sengun is a big man from Turkey who has had an incredible rise up the ranks internationally. Last year was his age-18 season, and he will turn 19 in just a few days. Very few players have put up the statistical numbers he put up last year, and it has led many to compare him to other impressive international bigs, notably Nikola Jokić. Sengun won’t be Jokić, but he might be something else entirely. He shows impressive athleticism, a good wingspan for blocking shots, and a skilled offensive game filled with shooting range, post footwork, and quality passing.
There will always be questions about drafting and developing big man prospects in today’s NBA, but Sengun’s highlights and game film make it seem like a worthy investment to see what he can do at the NBA level. It might take some years to figure it out, but if he does, he could become a great center.
Draft Grade: Lottery pick (1-14)
4. Usman Garuba
One of the most NBA-ready defenders in this draft class, Usman Garuba spent the last several years playing professionally with Real Madrid and most recently won the EuroLeague Rising Star award for the 2020-21 season, given to the brightest young player in the entire league. Garuba did it with his defense, and he showcased elite athletic ability to defend his position, as well as guards and wings on switches. His defense is tailor-made for NBA competition, but his offense is a major work in progress, as he was often utilized like a rim-rolling center in pick and roll sets. He needs to work on his jump shot, as well as his ability to handle the basketball to be more functional in an NBA offense. If he can take those steps, he has bright future as a versatile power forward who will flourish as a small ball center option at the highest levels.
Draft Grade: Mid First round
5. Isaiah Jackson
Isaiah Jackson started several games for a disappointing Kentucky team this year, but he certainly wasn’t the reason for disappointment. Jackson played his role well as a rim running, rim protecting, athletic big man, averaging 2.6 blocks in just 20.8 minutes per game. He also managed to get his hands in passing lanes, and he has the mobility to switch at a reasonable rate.
He should be a quality rotation big for sure because of his defense and rim running; however, the top big man stars in the NBA today are often tasked with being more than screen and roll threats. He will need to continue improving as a passer and an individual scorer to lock in as a starting caliber big rather than a rotational backup.
Mid to Late first round
6. JT Thor
Another young prospect that has an incredible amount of upside, Thor comes into the NBA at 19 years old following one season at Auburn. A lot like Kai Jones, Thor doesn't have eye popping numbers, but when you watch him play you can tell the potential is there. Thor has the ability to be a really good defender at the next level as he uses a combination of athleticism and defensive IQ to thrive on that end of the floor.
It’s not just defensively where Thor could contribute in the NBA as his offensive game — with a little more polish — can be equally as dynamic. Thor can put the ball in the basket, but his inconsistency on that end of the floor is what holds him back. Once Thor finds a rhythm and confidence as a scorer he will be able to dominate driving to the hoop, hitting stop and pop jump shots, and possibly even growing as a three-point shooter. Adding that offensive versatility to his game could take Thor’s game to a whole other level, which is what makes him such an intriguing prospect to watch.
Draft Grade: Late first/early second round (25-40)
7. Neemias Queta
What’s not to like about this guy? If it wasn't for Evan Mobley this guy would be the best shot blocker in this years class. It was incredible seeing what Queta was able to accomplish when Utah State played Colorado State this past season because the Rams had absolutely no answer for him on either end of the floor. Whenever CSU would drive to the rim it did not go well for them as Queta blocked NINE shots against the Rams in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Not only is Queta an elite shot blocker, but he’s also an incredible finisher near the rim. Queta is never going to beat you with a jump shot, but if you can get the ball in his hands near the rim there is a great chance he will make the defense pay. For a team like the Nuggets who could use a shot blocker, Queta is an intriguing option if they decide to trade back into the second round like they have shown willingness to do these past few years.
Draft Grade: Second round with loads of potential
8. Charles Bassey
Charles Bassey is a very interesting three-year prospect at Western Kentucky. He’s monstrously athletic, clocking in at 6’10” and 230 pounds at the combine with a 7’3” wingspan. He patrolled the paint in his two years (plus an injury redshirt in his sophomore season) and was the CUSA rookie of the year his first year and player of the year his third year. He has a great motor with strong rebounding skills, the athleticism to go above the rim and move in space, and the shooting touch to be a possible pick and pop option at the next level.
There are questions about how effective he can be offensively though. The jumper is inconsistent, and he does a poor job reading the floor and being a stable playmaker for others while he’s out there. Like many of the other centers in this class, if his job is just to be a rim roller, then it limits the ceiling of his impact. If he can find stability with his jumper or improve his reads in the pick and roll, he may already have the defensive abilities to be a stable starter at the next level. It’s a gamble, but not an unfounded one.
Draft Range: All over second round
9. Day’Ron Sharpe
Day’Ron Sharpe came off the bench for UNC this year behind an older player, and he was only able to average 19 minutes a night because of it. Still, Sharpe showed during his time at UNC that he had some unique tools. Averaging 1.4 assists in 19.2 minutes per game as a 6’11” backup center is pretty impressive. Sharpe showcases good vision and can roll into the middle of the defense and make good decisions. He was also a great rebounder at the college level, maintaining an incredible 18.1% offensive rebounding rate, something very few freshmen have ever accomplished.
Whether he can hold up at the NBA level remains to be seen. He has the rebounding and passing down, but his actual defense is up for debate. He isn’t much of a rim protector. He also isn’t a shooter or creator with the ball in his hands, and there will be a learning curve on offense for sure. Teams will be intrigued enough to take him though.
Draft grade: Early to mid second round
10. Isaiah Todd
Isaiah Todd spent the last season with the G League Ignite squad where Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga also played. Todd shot the ball reasonably well from both the three-point line and free throw line, and at 6’10” he has good potential to be a stretch power forward option at the next level without giving up size. He shows good athleticism and bounce, and he also shows some good touch in the post on some difficult turnaround jumpers. The perimeter shooting will likely be there.
He can create off the dribble a bit, but not a lot. He’s mostly going to be a pick and pop option at the next level, which means his defense needs to be great in order to see significant floor time. Todd has a 7’1” wingspan and shows the ability to prevent some shots at the rim, and at just 19 years old, he still has a long way to go; however, he doesn’t appear to be a primary rim protector, and he doesn’t appear to be that switchable. If he can’t do either of those things, he will be extremely limited on both ends of the floor at the next level.
Draft Range: All over second round