NBA Counterparts for College Basketball's Top Power Forwards
If there's one position that doesn't instantly translate from college basketball to the pro game, it may be power forward. The athletic big men who dominate in college don't instantly have the same impact when they get to the NBA, often moving down a spot to small forward if they're not strong enough, yet pro scouts continue to search high and low for these players.
Look at the most recent NBA draft for evidence. Four of the top 11 picks, including No. 1 selection Ben Simmons, played the 4 in college. All told, there were 18 players listed as power forwards taken in the 2016 draft, 14 of which played high school or college ball in the United States.
Scouts will be closely watching the college game again in 2016-17 looking for the next crop of 4s, and in their evaluation process, they'll look to compare them to current or former pros. We've done the same, coming up with NBA counterparts for the 10 power forwards most likely to get drafted in 2017.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Compares to: Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets
What NBA scouts are looking for most in power forwards is energy, desire and drive. Strength can be improved and technique can be learned, but without that willingness to fight hard at all times, any effort to make a prospect better could be pointless.
Edrice "Bam" Adebayo has never had his motor questioned; if anything, many wonder how he's able to keep going at 100 percent for so long.
"Adebayo has the kind of activity NBA teams covet from a big man," Bleacher Report's Scott Phillips wrote.
At 6'9" and 225 pounds, Adebayo can still bulk up but already has a chiseled frame, one that should make for much better rebounding numbers for Kentucky than Skal Labissiere produced in 2015-16. There's too much talent on the Wildcats for him to be able to match Kenneth Faried's numbers (14.8 points, 12.3 rebounds per game) in college, but the similarities are there in terms of skill set and energy level.
Chris Boucher, Oregon
Compares to: Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic
There aren't many players out there who can block your shot on one end and then drill a three-pointer over you on the other, but that's who we discovered in Chris Boucher last season at Oregon. A junior college transfer who had bounced around at several schools before getting to the Ducks, the 6'10" forward set a school record for blocks with 110 while shooting a respectable 33.9 percent from the perimeter.
Overall, he averaged 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, shooting 53.9 percent overall.
With a 7'3 ½" wingspan and great hops, Boucher figures to at least have a role in the NBA as a defensive specialist. It's whether he can build off his thin, 200-pound frame that will indicate how far he goes.
Bismack Biyombo, a first-round NBA pick in 2011 out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doesn't shoot threes, but he does disrupt shots on the interior. He's had 576 in five seasons, a career block rate of 5.9 percent that is among the best in the league during that span.
Harry Giles, Duke
Compares to: Chris Webber (retired)
The Harry Giles who will debut for Duke in a few months may not be the one who last played competitive games in November, or he could be better. That's the unknown that comes from a prospect who tore the ACL in his right knee two seasons after suffering the same injury in his left knee—there's no idea what he'll be able to do when he returns to action.
Based simply on potential and ability, Giles is a superb talent. It's why DraftExpress still has him projected as the No. 3 overall pick for 2017 despite no action in more than nine months.
The 6'11" Giles may end up spending what figures to be a single season at Duke just getting back into shape and returning to his old form rather than trying to get better. But that old form is pretty good, one that compares to former NBA standout Chris Webber due to his ability to overpower defenders on the block and handle the transition game so adeptly.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Compares to: Jared Dudley, Phoenix Suns
At 6'7", Nigel Hayes is undersized for a power forward even at the college level. However, he's sturdily built at 245 pounds and has shown his strength quite well for the past three seasons. But each year at Wisconsin has seen him move further and further from the paint, taking 133 three-pointers in 2015-16 after not attempting one as a freshman.
Is Hayes trying to prepare himself for an NBA role where he'll need to be more of a perimeter player than an inside force because of his height, or is he losing interest in being an interior player despite that being what scouts still project him as? Your guess is as good as ours.
The shooting numbers don't indicate that this is the way he should go, as Hayes made only 29.3 percent of his threes last year and only 40 percent of his two-pointers. However, if he can get the numbers just a little bit better, then a Jared Dudley-type career seems possible.
Dudley improved to 44.3 percent from three as a senior at Boston College in 2006-07, but he backed off on the outside shot in his first few pro seasons. In 2009-10, that became a bigger focus, with four seasons draining at least 100 threes.
Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
Compares to: Charlie Villanueva (free agent)
Luke Kornet was the tallest player on Vanderbilt's roster last season at 7'0", yet he played far away from the basket while 6'11" Damian Jones and 6'10" Josh Henderson handled the dirty work down low. The Commodores have a new coach in Bryce Drew, but his experience working with Alec Peters makes it likely that Kornet will remain more of a perimeter player on the offensive end.
Yet expect Kornet to be active on the boards, averaging 7.3 rebounds in 27.4 minutes last season along with 8.9 points per game. Kornet also attempted 93 three-pointers but made only 26, a 28 percent clip.
Kornet remains a work in progress because his growth spurt came on so quick. He went from 6'3" to 6'10" between his junior and senior seasons of high school, so the development of prototypical power forward techniques hasn't happened. If it does, he'll get evaluated as a more complete player, but for now, he's one of those stretch prospects who is more valuable drawing defenders away from the basket than doing anything on the interior.
It's the track Charlie Villanueva took through most of his 11 NBA seasons, where about one-third of his shots have come from three-point range, though he's managed to average between 6.4 and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes throughout his career.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Compares to: Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
Foreign-born players continue to be more and more prevalent in the NBA, with the 2016 draft featuring 15 of the 30 first-round picks being born outside the United States. That included several international players who opted to play college basketball in America, usually after spending at least one year in the states at the prep level.
Lauri Markkanen's time in the U.S. has mostly been limited to visiting Arizona and a little time this summer getting settled on campus. But that was followed by a return to Finland, where he was the star of his country's under-20 team at the FIBA European Championship in July. He averaged 24.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range.
That varied of a game isn't common from 7-footers, particularly those who like to run the floor, drive and camp out on the perimeter as much as they like to spend time backing up defenders in the paint.
"Markkanen already has serious stretch-4 capabilities, looking at ease shooting the ball from deep, coming off screens, out of pick-and-pop situations and off the dribble," DraftExpress' Julian Applebome wrote.
Whether Arizona coach Sean Miller allows him to be a three-point shooter remains to be seen, but the fact he can do that is why he compares to Meyers Leonard. The 7-footer rarely took those shots at Illinois, but he's made 133 in his last two NBA seasons, and he is a career 38.5 percent shooter from deep.
Cameron Oliver, Nevada
Compares to: Draymond Green, Michigan State
A strong freshman season at Nevada got Cameron Oliver onto the radar, but his performance at the Adidas Nations event in California in August is why he's smack dab in the middle heading into 2016-17. Applebome rated him as the third-best college player at the competition.
The 6'8" Oliver averaged 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game while shooting 50.6 percent overall from the field. That included making 20 of 61 three-pointers, including three in a College Basketball Invitational postseason victory over Vermont in helping the Wolf Pack eventually win the title over Morehead State.
"He'll have to make a bigger jump offensively in 2016-17, but with promising outside touch and face-up footwork, he's developed a skill set to build on," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote.
We're aiming high with Oliver's pro comparison, but Draymond Green was a slow developer in college who went in the second round and has become one of the best undersized big men in the NBA. Oliver's start puts him on track to be able to get close to that level someday.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Compares to: Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Arguably the top mid-major player in college basketball in 2015-16 and one who surprisingly opted to stay in college rather than turn pro after his junior season, Alec Peters is exactly the kind of power forward the NBA is looking for. The fact the NBA will have to wait for him another year was partly its doing, he's said.
"Be a guy at a mid-major school next year that’s dominating at my level" is what Peters was told by scouts, according to College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster.
He's done this already, but it never hurts to have another year of doing so. The 6'9" forward was nearly unstoppable last season regardless of what he was doing, averaging 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50.5 percent overall and 44 percent from three-point range.
His ability to stretch the floor with perimeter shooting but not be a liability on the interior is what will get him a shot at a long pro career. Peters is already ahead of what Kelly Olynyk did while at Gonzaga, where he was primarily a post player. But since turning pro, he's developed an outside shot that's added to his value.
Ivan Rabb, California
Compares to: Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Ivan Rabb was the highest-rated freshman in the country last season not to enter the NBA draft, even in a test-the-waters manner. The No. 7 player in the 2015 recruiting class was already well-regarded by scouts before entering college and remains as such.
"Even if scouts see the same player they saw in 2015-16, we'll still be talking about a late-lotto to mid-first-round talent," Wasserman wrote. "… His finishing ability, rebounding instincts and low-post play should translate [to the pros]."
His freshman numbers were modest, averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for a California team in which he wasn't regularly the first or second option. With Jaylen Brown and others moving on, Rabb has a chance to show more of his offensive skill set.
Rabb's upside is similar to Chris Bosh, who left Georgia Tech after one season and immediately became a fixture in the NBA. For Rabb to do that, though, he'll need to continue to build strength and add muscle to his 6'10", 215-pound frame, and it may take him a few years to match Bosh's early impact.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Compares to: Jared Sullinger, Toronto Raptors
At 6'9" and 247 pounds, Caleb Swanigan could either be an undersized 5 or bruising 4, depending on the direction he wants to take his game. His freshman season at Purdue indicates he's leaning toward the latter, a guy who will bang around inside for rebounds but doesn't have the back-to-the-basket game to make that his full-time role.
Instead, Swanigan's offensive approach is more centered around a jumper, and so far not a particularly good one. He shot 46.1 percent overall and 29.2 percent from three-point range as a freshman.
Because Swanigan is too small—from a height standpoint, at least—to be a true rim protector, improved shooting is what will move him forward. Jared Sullinger had a much better defensive reputation when at Ohio State as well as a more polished offensive game, though the similarities in how each attack the boards are quite striking.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.