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Oklahoma City Thunder: Drafting centers is dicey

by Berry Tramel Modified: June 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm •  Published: June 27, 2013

Lots of talk about the Thunder going after a center in the NBA Draft and possibly trading up to do so. But does the Thunder need to trade up to do that? Doesn’t NBA history tell us that barring a transcendent player like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O’Neal, you’re as likely to find a quality center later in the draft as earlier?

Isn’t drafting a big men largely a big crapshoot, unless there’s a sure-fire all-star. Which we all can agree there is not in this 2013 draft.

I looked up the draft selection of all 30 starting centers in the NBA. The best centers weren’t all the higher picks.

Here are the starting centers in order of their draft pick overall:

No. 1: Andrew Bogut, Warriors.

No. 1: Dwight Howard, Lakers (current).

No. 2: Tyson Chandler, Knickerbockers.

No. 2: Emeka Okafor, Wizards.

No. 3: Al Horford, Hawks.

No. 4: Chris Bosh, Heat.

No. 5: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings.

No. 5: Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors.

No. 5: Kevin Garnett, Celtics.

No. 6: Chris Kaman, Mavericks.

No. 7: Greg Monroe, Pistons.

No. 9: Joakim Noah, Bulls.

No. 10: Brook Lopez, Netropolitans

No. 10: Andrew Bynum, 76ers (though admittedly, he never played for Philly).

No. 15: Larry Sanders, Bucks.

No. 15: Robin Lopez, Pelicans.

No. 15: Al Jefferson, Jazz.

No. 16: Nikola Vucevic, Magic.

No. 17: Roy Hibbert, Pacers.

No. 19: JJ Hickson, Blazers.

No. 23: Kosta Koufos, Nuggets.

No. 24: Byron Mullens, Bobcats.

No. 27: Kendrick Perkins, Thunder.

No. 28: Tiago Splitter, Spurs.

No. 31: Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers.

No. 31: Nikola Pekovic, Timberwolves.

No. 35: DeAndre Jordan, Clippers

No. 36: Omer Asik, Rockets.

No. 48: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies.

No. 58: Marcin Gortat, Suns.

Interesting, don’t you think? More NBA starting centers were picked 15th overall in the draft than were picked first.

Six were picked in the second round.

Ten were picked No. 23 or later.

And it’s not like all the studs were picked early. Al Jefferson went 15th. Roy Hibbert went 17th. Nikola Pekovic went 31st. Marc Gasol went 48th.

Here’s what we can learn from this data.

* Big men are hard to gauge.

* International big men are even harder to gauge. In 2007, Marc Gasol was the seventh center chosen, behind such players as Stanko Barac of Croatia, Kyrylo Fesneko of Ukraine and Spencer Hawes of the UnitedState.

The draft is full of big-man busts. Hasheem Thabeet, whom I wrote about for my Wednesday column in The Oklahoman, which you can read here. Eddy Curry. Kwame Brown. Darko Milicic. Michael Olowokandi.

And that’s not even counting high drafts who were derailed by injury, like Greg Oden.

The Thunder’s track record of drafting centers is not great. Cole Aldrich didn’t really work out. Mullens is starting for Charlotte but never played meaningful minutes for OKC. The only two effective starting centers in Thunder history are Nenad Krstic and Perkins. Sam Presti signed the former away from Europe as a free agent and traded for the other.

Thus if the Thunder really wants to draft a big man, it’s best bet is multiple picks. Like Jenni Carlson wrote about for the Thursday Oklahoman, the Thunder might should trade down. That would enable the Thunder to use multiple picks on a center, doubling its chances of finding a keeper.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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