Nerlens Noel is almost universally acknowledged as the best prospect at center.
All underclassmen who are leaving have now declared for the 2013 NBA draft, so teams that aren’t in the playoffs can turn their full attention to evaluating talent.
Center has always been a crucial position for NBA teams, and this draft is full of talented big men. Kansas center Jeff Withey was a senior last year, but there are about five underclassman centers who declared recently and could be taken in the first round. The top four are ranked below.
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Noel has been the consensus projected No. 1 overall pick in 2013 for some time now, even with a season-ending ACL injury in his only college season.
Noel measures 6’10”, and he was a ferocious shot-blocker for the Wildcats. He averaged 4.4 blocks per game to go with 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
He still needs to refine his offensive game, but he is a huge talent and will be a difference-maker on the defensive end. He’s definitely the top center prospect.
Cody Zeller, Indiana
Zeller is rated lower than Alex Len, according to CBS Sports, but he also has some advantages.
Zeller was far more consistent and polished on the offensive end than Len. He averaged 16.5 points per game to Len’s 11.9, and also sported a slightly higher field-goal percentage (56.2 versus 53.4).
Though Zeller also struggled with consistency at times, he is probably going to be better on offense than Len. He is a savvy player that went to the line 7.2 times per game, while Len went almost half as often (4.0).
His athleticism is above average for a big man, which makes him a good NBA prospect. His brother Tyler Zeller, similarly athletic at 7’0”, saw a huge jump in production after his sophomore year, so maybe Cody will put it all together in the pros.
Alex Len, Maryland
The area that Len has an advantage over Zeller is on the defensive end; Len blocked 2.1 shots per game during his college career.
Len will probably be a skilled defensive player, but he still has a lot of work to do on his offensive moves. His best scoring game in the ACC (20 points) came against a very undersized UNC team, and he scored in single digits regularly against bigger competition.
Len needs to refine his game, but he certainly has potential. ESPN’s Chad Ford (*subscription required) also ranked him higher than Cody Zeller, but also asked a simple question: “Is he tough?”
That question can only be answered after a team rolls the dice on him.
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
Dieng is possibly the most assertive rebounder on this list. When he received significant minutes during his sophomore and junior seasons, he snared 9.1 and 9.4 rebounds per game.
On top of being a great rebounder, Dieng also protects the paint. He averaged 3.2 and 2.5 blocks per game in the same seasons.
Dieng’s problem is how inconsistent he is offensively. He displayed that inconsistency in the NCAA tournament, college basketball’s biggest stage. From the Elite Eight on, he scored 14 against Duke, zero against Wichita State and eight against Michigan.
Simply put, he needs to develop a lot more to become an offensive threat in the NBA.
The best comparison for Dieng right now would probably be Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo: a good defender and rebounder who won’t score much.
*All statistics provided by ESPN.com.