The 2024 NBA Draft is wide open with no clear-cut No. 1 overall pick.
There are NBA teams in need of rim protection and help in the front court and it's difficult to predict where Zach Edey, Donovan Clingan and Hunter Dickinson — three players dominating the paint in college hoops this season — will fall in the draft and how they stack up against other centers projected in their draft class. Alex Sarr, a 7-foot-1 center playing for the Perth Wildcats in Australia's NBL, is a potential top-three pick and will undoubtedly be the first center off the board. His inside-out game translates well to the NBA, he can knock down 3s and is an elite rim protector.
After Sarr, then who?
Purdue's 7-foot-2 center Edey is the frontrunner for Player of the Year and came back his senior year with something to prove after testing the NBA waters last spring. Edey is averaging 23.4 points and 11.6 rebounds for the No. 2-ranked Boilermakers and is second in the country in scoring behind Denver's Tommy Brunner, who's averaging 26.1 points so far this season. Edey entered the season and had improved his conditioning and footwork on the block. He looks much better running up and down the court and has avoided injuries this year. He's only attempted one 3-pointer all season but is an efficient 62.7% from the field.
UConn sophomore Clingan showed glimpses of what he could be on the team this season after stepping up big in the NCAA tournament in a supporting role behind Adama Sonogo. He had three big blocks against Drew Timme when UConn faced Gonzaga in the Elite Eight and was a projected first-round pick heading into the 2023-24 season. The 7-2 center has been playing through injuries all season and his minutes on the court have been limited. He missed a month of the preseason with a right foot injury and missed three weeks after hurting a tendon in the same foot during a game Seton Hall on Dec. 20. In Sunday's win over Xavier, Clingan finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes.
Dickinson was the hottest name in the transfer portal last spring. The 7-2 center chose to play his senior season at Kansas after leaving Michigan. He's leading the Big 12 in rebounds (11.2) and second in scoring (18.7) behind his teammate Kevin McCullar Jr., who's averaging 19.8 points per game. Dickinson has attempted way more 3-pointers than Edey and Clingan this year, going 1-5 from behind the arc and finishing with 20 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in the 79-75 loss to Iowa State on Saturday.
"All three players are great college players," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "Historically speaking, dominant college bigs don't translate well to the NBA. The 82-game schedule is grueling, there's little time to recover and teams will try to isolate them outside of the block if they can't step out and guard the perimeter."
"This draft is going to be very unpredictable," another NBA scout said. "Sure, Edey could go No. 14 (referring to where Edey is currently projected in mock drafts) or he could go late in the second. He's not 14 on my board."
History of dominant college centers in the NBA
Iowa's Luka Garza was unstoppable in college and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and averaged 24.1 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior. The 6-10 center was also named the National Player of the Year before being drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 52nd pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He spent one season on a two-way contract with the Pistons before being picked up by the Minnesota Timberwolves in August of 2022. He has been on a two-way contract with the Timberwolves the last two seasons and has appeared in nine NBA games this season, averaging under 3 minutes per game.
Drew Timme led Gonzaga to the title game his junior season and finished his college career with 2,307 points and 896 rebounds. His inside game was tremendous for the Bulldogs throughout his entire career and he averaged career-highs of 21.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game during his senior season. He was named the WCC Player of the Year and the MVP of the WCC tournament during his final season. Timme, a 6-10 center, went undrafted in 2023 and is currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks' G League team.
Udoka Azubuike, a 7-foot center out of Kansas, was a fantastic pick-and-roll threat alongside Devon Dotson during the 2019-20 college season. Kansas was the No. 1 team in the country before COVID-19 shut down the season. Azuibuike averaged 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds in his final college season and was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 27th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. At the time, it was a shocking pick for the Jazz, particularly in the first round, and it ended up not working out for them. Azubuike spent the majority of his time in Utah on their G League team and underwent surgery on his right foot in March 2022. The past August, the Phoenix Suns signed Azubuike to a two-way contract and he's logged 12 games so far this season.
Other centers projected higher than Edey, Clingan and Dickinson
Duke center Kyle Filipowski has been consistent all season. The 7-foot sophomore elected to return for his sophomore season after undergoing double hip surgery last spring. He shot only 28% from 3-point range his freshman year and has improved in that area, now shooting 37% from behind the arc. Duke runs a lot of their offense through him and he's gotten better with the ball in his hands, limiting his turnovers and tightening up his handle. Filipowski's draft range is anywhere from mid-lottery to late first round.
Zvonimir Ivisic, a 7-2 center out of Croatia playing for Kentucky, was finally cleared by the NCAA after missing half the season. In his first game, the freshman scored 13 points and added five rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 16 minutes. The following two games, his minutes have been limited as the coaching staff finds a way for him to be added to the rotation without disrupting the chemistry they've built the first half of the season. Ivisic shoots the 3-ball well and is a terrific passer. His teammate Aaron Bradshaw, a 7-1 freshman center, was a five-star recruit coming in and started the season late after undergoing foot surgery last summer. Like Ivisic, his minutes have been limited (averaging 6.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game) but for teams looking to draft on upside and want a young, versatile center they can mold within their team's system, both Kentucky centers are an option late lottery to the back half of the first round.
Another young player with untapped potential and a high ceiling is Baylor's Yves Missi. The 7-foot freshman was a 6-4 shooting guard four years ago and shot up eight inches over two years. Baylor has one of the best perimeter offenses in college hoops and Missi's role has been strictly inside the paint. He's currently averaging 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game but with his potential as a pick-and-pop threat at the next level, his draft range is anywhere from late lottery to mid-20s.
Kel'el Ware transferred from Oregon to Indiana after a less than impressive freshman year with the Ducks. A new team and system under Mike Woodson has given him new life as a prospect and he's flourishing in taking over Trayce Jackson-Davis's spot, who the Warriors drafted with the 57th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Ware, a 7-foot sophomore, is shooting 44% from 3-point range and averaging nearly two blocks per game, boasting versatility both offensively and defensively, and his projected draft range is anywhere from mid-to-late first round.