As the Knicks continue to spiral, it might be worth taking a look at some of the big men projected to be taken in the summer’s 2022 NBA Draft.
With every game that the New York Knicks lose, fans will begin clamoring for the NBA draft. If not a tale as old as time, it is at the least a tale as old as 20 years. As it currently stands, the Knicks are nine games under .500 and 3.5 games behind the last play-in spot at the All-Star break. This season has brought very little to be optimistic about, and the draft is about nothing if not unbridled optimism.
This current class is nothing to write home about, as outlined here. However, this class is not without its appeal. I think the key to this class is understanding that it is not a five-star restaurant, but a buffet dinner. The 2022 NBA Draft does not have a lot of “can’t miss” prospects, but it does have a little bit of everything, and that might be a good thing.
The areas of need for the Knicks are not yet clear and there are many directions they could go come June. One area that will be discussed ad nauseam between now and that night will be their big man rotation. Unlike their guards and wings which are filled with a litany of young prospects, the center position is a little more open long-term. Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson are certainly not the answer, and Mitchell Robinson’s future is unclear at this time. While the Knicks could be hopeful for Jericho Sims’ future, there is still a case to be made for other options.
Whether the Knicks are looking for a Mitchell Robinson this offseason, or just trying to shore up their bench due to his injury history, this draft class will provide many options. No matter where the ping-pong balls land, there will be big men prospects on the board. There are some extremely high-ceiling big men prospects such as Chet Holmgren (if you count him) and Jalen Duren, as well as a handful of centers that are projected to be strong role players with one or two elite skills that should translate to the next level.
The center position has changed more in the modern age of the NBA than any other in the game of basketball. We have entered a time where “traditional” big men have been rendered nearly obsolete while versatile skilled centers like Jokic and Embiid compete for the MVP.
There are a lot of different skill sets that can be incorporated into the center position and there would be benefits to each of those things. Would the Knicks be prioritizing a stretch 5 that can add to their spacing or play next to Julius Randle without clogging the paint? Or would they be looking more for rim protection and rebounding to keep in line or replace Robinson?
If the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau is involved in the decision-making, there could be more of an emphasis on pick-and-roll or team defense. They already took a center that can jump out of the gym at the end of the second round last year with Jericho Sims. Could they try to continue that route?
Regardless of what they are looking for, this is an extremely versatile class of big men. While there are only a couple of prospects that would project into the All-Star range, there are prospects down the board that can help teams if they are in the right fit. It will be on the front offices to not only draft wisely, but the coaching staff to develop and flesh out these prospects.
The Top of the Class
This 2022 class of centers is headlined by two high ceiling lottery prospects that were big-time prospects out of high school and have shown flashes of why this year in college basketball. Jalen Duren and Chet Holmgren have both been playing their best basketball of the season in recent weeks and their teams are thriving because of that. Holmgren is a likely top-three pick that will get compared to the likes of pre-injury Kristaps Porzingis due to his insane rim protection and three-point shooting. His extremely slender frame is a cause for concern with some, but his offensive output and rebounding of late has eased the minds of most of his doubters.
Jalen Duren could end up in the top five but is almost certainly a lottery pick. After reclassifying early from high school to attend Memphis, Duren was immediately looked at as a top prospect. The Memphis Tiger’s motor and effort have been questioned throughout the season, but nobody will ever question his athleticism or physicality. The freshman from Philadelphia is just barely 18 and will have the most NBA-ready body in this class. Physically, he can compete from day one with athleticism that has drawn comparisons to Dwight Howard. If he can lock in and put it all together, he has arguably the highest upside in the class.
I'm still completely in on Jalen Duren
Just watch how fast he is end to end lol. And then to be able to gather and dunk this? The flashes are very much there pic.twitter.com/8zrs1Ano8U
— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) February 16, 2022
While there are only two centers that are locks for the lottery, there are another few prospects that have played themselves into the first round and could find themselves in the lottery. These are all players that came back to school which has proven to be the right decision.
The transfer portal opening up and COVID-19 allowing players to play immediately after transferring has changed college sports. No player has taken advantage of that more than Walker Kessler. After a disappointing freshman year at UNC where there were issues with fit and playing time, the big man from Georgia transferred down south to Auburn where his defense has helped them be a top team in the country. Kessler has been an absolute anomaly with historical shot-blocking performances. Since December, Kessler is averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, and an astounding five blocks per game, while shooting over 70% from the field.
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 17, 2022
Mark Williams is probably the player that has risen the most on draft boards this year. With a few good games under his belt as a freshman at Duke, Williams has come back with a vengeance after teasing the NBA Draft and has now played his way into a near-lock for the first round. The Duke sophomore is a long athletic prospect that looks like he can be an elite defender and a prototypical rim running big. While the seven-footer is not the most versatile player in the draft, he projects to be an elite version of what he is, with all of the right tools.
Christian Koloko is a defensive player that will be in consideration for the college basketball Defensive Player of the Year. He is a key reason that Arizona has had the success that they have had this year and has anchored their defense and shut down some of the most proficient big men in college basketball. Arizona’s defensive schemes are based around athleticism with a deep drop coverage where Koloko is rarely asked to leave the paint. However, what he does in the paint is make his opponents’ lives a living hell. There are many questions about what he could do on the offensive side of the game, but there is no doubt that he could impact the game defensively at the next level.
Christian Koloko, C #35 Arizona pic.twitter.com/xCogtBCNSd
— ⚡️ (@Prime_VC) February 18, 2022
Rest of the Class
While those defensive-minded prospects all have the tools and bodies to flourish at the NBA level, there is another handful of big men that show certain attributes that would appeal to NBA front offices.
Trevion Williams may not have the physique that appeals to general managers, and traditional old-school big men are not the current trend, but there is still a case to be made with his level of skill. With elite footwork to make up for the athleticism, Williams is able to average 12 points and seven rebounds a game as one-half of the twin towers at Purdue along with Zach Edey. The biggest intrigue with the Purdue junior is his elite playmaking and decision-making prowess. Williams is a flashy and productive passer that does a great job of finding cutters going to the basket as well as making outstanding outlet and inbound passes.
Trevion Williams with a nasty no-look pass from the post. Currently on pace to join Ethan Happ, Kyle Anderson, and Scottie Barnes as the only 6'9"+ High Major players with assist rates above 30%. pic.twitter.com/LcK1cVFFb8
— Will Morris (@w_a_morris) December 18, 2021
Orlando Robinson is a lesser-known name in the world of college basketball but is running roughshod over the competition in the Mountain West. The Fresno State sophomore is averaging 18 points a game and shows a fantastic touch around the basket. He is shooting 30% from deep on three attempts a game and projects to be a competent or better shooter at the next level with a comprehensive three-level scoring game at the college level. With a seven-foot frame, there is enough offensively to draw himself to teams in the second round.
Contrasting in nearly every way to Orlando Robinson is Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn who is a massive deal in the world of college basketball. Cockburn was an elite pick-and-roll threat with Ayo Dosumnu on last year’s one-seeded Illinois team and the walking double-double has passed 1,000 points for his college career in Champaign. There are plenty of questions about his translation to the NBA, but he will try to dunk on anyone that moves, and the fact that he can is appealing in and of itself.
Kofi CockBurn with 23 points and 18 rebounds and the dunk of the year pic.twitter.com/HTgASiBYuD
— HoodieSzn (GoldyMVPSzn) (@DrHoodieMaddog) January 7, 2022
There are a lot of questions about what the Knicks will do in the offseason and they start with Mitchell Robinson. What happens with him will dictate what Leon Rose and co. will look to do this summer. No matter what they try to do in the frontcourt, there will be options for the short term as well as the long term.
Some players can fit well with the young core that the Knicks have in place as well as fits for their current roster. Depending on what sort of team stylistically they are trying to build, they can attempt to fill some holes from this year’s draft class, specifically on the defensive end.
The Knicks have plenty of choices and there is no wrong way to go when it comes to this class of big men, but who wouldn’t want to see a pass like this to Obi Toppin?
LOL this is the most flawless execution of a full-court pass I’ve ever seen. Trevion Williams to Zach Edey. pic.twitter.com/Zzom8CtanI
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) January 4, 2022