June 10, 2011

NBA draft position preview: big men

The list of the top big men in the 2011 NBA Draft is littered with names that even die-hard hoops fans may not be familiar with. Four of our Top 5 are international players, and the only American born player -- Tristan Thompson -- played just one collegiate season at Texas. Teams that go big at the top of the draft will be taking a big gamble. Because of the uncertainty at the top, teams looking for a post player in middle of the first round (like the Sixers picking at No. 16) could come away with a steal. Some more established and recognizable names will fall, while lottery teams bank on the potential of the players listed below.

1. Enes Kanter (6-11, 260, Kentucky)

Kanter sums up this year's crop of post players perfectly. The 19-year-old has all the tools, but good luck getting a handle on how he'll perform against NBA competition.

Unless you've followed Turkish basketball closely, chances are you haven't seen Kanter play. He spent last season sitting on the Kentucky bench after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. He practiced everyday with the Wildcats, but practicing and game action are far different animals. Kanter is an extremely polished and athletic post player, that rare combination of size and skill.

He's a legitimate center at 6-11, and is able to step out and knock down the mid-range jump shot. Kanter also has the intangibles in his favor -- from all accounts he's very coachable and handled his frustrating season at Kentucky with maturity beyond his years. Look for Kanter to go in the Top 5, maybe as high as No. 3 to the Jazz.

2. Jan Vesely (6-11, 240, Czech Republic)

Like Kanter, Vesely isn't your typical big man. The 21-year-old is an extremely gifted athlete who can excel on the offensive end right away. Vesely is a high-energy guy who would be a great fit for a team that likes to push the tempo. Consistency is the question mark with Vesely, who some feel is a tweener at the small and power forward positions.

Vesely will rely on his athleticism and explosiveness from the jump in the NBA. He's billed as having a quick first step and being a great finisher around the rim. Vesely will need to improve his strength and play on the defensive end to fulfill his potential as a Top 10 pick. The Raptors could take a chance on him with the fifth selection.

3. Jonas Valanciunas (6-11, 240, Lithuania)

In the mold of his foreign counterparts, Valanciunas is able to run the floor and is very skilled with the ball in his hands. Valanciunas is considered by some to have the most talent and potential of any of the international players in this year's draft. At 21-years- old, he has significant European experience under his belt.

The knocks on Valanciunas are familiar: needs to add strength, improve his defense and consistency to be a factor over the course of an 82-game season. But his upside will be too much for a team picking in the Top 10 to turn down.

4. Bismack Biyombo (6-9, 240, Spain)

Biyombo was born in the Congo, but last played professionally in Spain. Where as other international players are known for their offense, the 20-year-old Biyombo is a defense-first big man. He's one of the top rebounders and interior defenders in the draft -- an elite level shot blocker with a NBA-ready body. His offensive game needs serious work, but whichever team drafts him will take the immediate dividends of his defense and wait for his offense to evolve.

Biyombo should go anywhere in the 8-13 range with the Pistons, Bobcats and Bucks being the frontrunners for his services.

5. Tristan Thompson (6-9, 225, Texas)

Thompson has a ton of potential. He averaged 13 points and eight rebounds as a freshman at Texas. Thompson's frame has all the makings of a terrific rebounder and shot blocker. He made great strides offensively during his time in Austin, a lefty who is a handful to defend on the low block.

Thompson, 20, attacks the offensive glass, taking advantage of his terrific leaping ability and nose for the ball. He'll get the bulk of his points early in his career in transition and on the offensive glass. Look for Thompson to go anywhere in the 10-15 range.

5 others to keep an eye on: Markieff Morris (Kansas); Kenneth Faried (Morehead St.); Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania); Tobias Harris (Tennessee); Justin Harper (Richmond).

NBA draft position preview: big men
Thursday, June 9, 2011

Posted: 11 a.m.
By Sean Kane
E-mail Sean Kane at skane@comcastsportsnet.com
CSNPhilly.com Contributor

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