Due to the lack of established big men available on the free-agent market, teams looking to shore their frontcourt depth turn to the annual draft festivities to bring in centers with the hopes that they will one day become the next established center of the NBA.
Sometimes these players (drafted in the first or second round, or via free agency) do turn out to become decent NBA centers. More often, they do not work out and find themselves out of the league.
One player that was drafted 20th overall in the first round back in the 2008 NBA Draft is Alexis Ajinca. Ajinca who is 7'2" and weighing in at about 248 lbs. was playing in the top French league before making his debut with the Charlotte Bobcats in the '08-09 NBA season. A player naturally labeled a “project” due to his age and need to quickly learn the NBA style of play, fell out of favor in Charlotte however.
During his rookie year, he averaged 2.3 points per game in 31 appearances, averaging 5.9 minutes a contest. In 2009-10 Ajinca was a non-factor as he only played in six games, averaging only 1.7 points per game after falling out of the regular rotation. Ajinca did get assigned to the NBA D-League Maine Red Claws in order to work on his game and get some playing experience.
During the summer of 2010, Ajinca was traded, along with Tyson Chandler, to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Matt Carroll, Erick Dampier, Eduardo Najera and cash considerations. In Dallas, Ajinca was supposed to be getting a chance to revive his stagnant NBA career, but he was not expected to be in town for long.
He was thought to be an add-in in the Erick Dampier for Tyson Chandler swap, but the Mavericks decided he could add some depth to their frontcourt. Ajinca appeared in 10 games with Dallas and averaged 2.9 points in 7.5 minutes per game.
The Mavericks looked to add some shooting to their roster, and traded Ajinca along with a future second-round pick and cash considerations to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for the draft rights to Greek player Georgios Printezis (drafted in 2007) along with a $1.5 million trade exception equal to Ajinca's salary that they used to sign veteran guard Peja Stojakovic for the remainder of the season. Stojakovic was bought out and released by the Toronto Raptors after making only two appearances for the Raptors due to a knee injury.
In Toronto, Ajinca finally received steady minutes and even showed he could hit from the three-point line. He averaged a career-high 4.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 24 appearances while playing a career-high 11.0 minutes per game.
Currently an unrestricted free agent, Alexis Ajinca needs to continue playing consistent minutes in order to prove he deserves to remain in the NBA and not be another international big man that crashes and burns out of the league. It would not be too shocking to see him in bench role somewhere in the NBA in 2011-12, as size is something you cannot teach and is something teams will look to build on.
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