NBA Draft 2012: Which College Big Man Should Portland Trail Blazers Draft?

Wesley HodgesContributor IIIJune 13, 2012

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 25:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) Tyler Zeller #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks dejected in the locker room as he answers questions from the media after they lost 80-67 against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Midwest Regional Final at Edward Jones Dome on March 25, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

It has been well documented up to this point that the Portland Trail Blazers will probably try and get a starting-caliber center from this year's NBA draft.  It was probably the team's weakest point last season, other than point guard, and there really isn't anyone that would justify the cost of free agency.  

Ten million dollars a year for JaVale McGee, anyone?  How about Spencer Hawes?  No thanks.  It looks like the Blazers will be able to get someone just as good in the draft that, for at least the next few years, will play for a fraction of the cost.

Sure, we can all dream about some scenario in which we trade a draft pick and a couple of players to Orlando for a long-term shot at Dwight Howard, but let's be honest: if he doesn't like Orlando, why would he want Portland?  Besides, I think fans would turn on him pretty quickly if he started up that same drama in Rip City.

So, the draft it is.

There are a few big names out there right now that the Blazers could end up drafting.  Andre Drummond of Connecticut is the highest ranked, with Meyers Leonard of Illinois and Tyler Zeller of North Carolina also getting a serious look.  

But which one is right for this Portland team?

Right now,'s Chad Ford has Drummond projected as the fifth pick in the draft, one spot head of where Portland will draft first.  He has Leonard going 12th to Milwaukee, and Zeller as the 14th pick.  

Drummond might be the biggest reach for the Blazers.  He is big and very talented, and could easily dominate most other NBA centers based on those two qualities.  However, the question so far is if he has the potential, why didn't he show it in college?  

NBA champions need winners, and while it's too early to say if Drummond is or isn't a winner, he hasn't shown it so far, meaning he could just as easily be the next DeMarcus Cousins as the next Dwight Howard.  The Blazers should pass, and go for a guard at No. 6.

That leaves Leonard or Zeller as realistic options for the Blazers with their second pick of the draft at No. 11.  Zeller has more college experience and is more ready to contribute right now.  But that may not be what the Blazers need, possibly being two or even three years away from serious contention unless everything goes their way this summer.

Both players are really tall; Leonard is 7'1", and Zeller is 7'0".  Both helped their teams to the NCAA tournament last season.  Both shot well over 50 percent from the field, and Zeller was a better overall shooter from the free-throw line.

The consensus seems to be that Leonard has the potential to be better down the road, but may not be very NBA ready for the next year or two.  

In the end, it doesn't really look like there may end up being a huge difference between the two.  I prefer Zeller over Leonard because for the past few years the Blazers have not done a very good job of developing their younger players.  Guys like Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Nolan Smith have either been up and down or simply not lived up to what they could be yet.

In addition, Zeller is a winner, having won it all in college, and could be the team's starting center from day one.

Here's to hoping that the Trail Blazer management knows what it's doing with this one.