As I dive deeper into the NBA draft world and gain years of experience in seeing outcomes from the talent I evaluate, I've shifted perspectives on many of the hard-line philosophical guidelines I created for myself. Chief among those is the notion that, unless a five-tool multi-use alpha center, a big man shouldn't be drafted inside the top-15 or top-20.
âSuch a theory was rooted in good faith. The league was trending smaller and more skilled at the 4. Over the last 15 years, the amount of interior players has been cut in half as the 4 moves to a fully perimeter-oriented spot. Replacement value at the 5 has risen as a result, to the point where overpaying for non-elite big men can saddle a team's cap situation when the same level of production might be available near the minimum. The Indiana Pacers hamstring themselves with the Myles Turner deal, the Memphis Grizzlies with Jonas Valanciunas do the same, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are about to tether themselves to Jarrett Allen. Are those guys for $15 million a year that much better than taking a Richaun Holmes for $7 million, or Daniel Gafford on a rookie deal?
I do still firmly believe that a franchise tying themselves down to a league-average big for multiple years can be the death knell for their roster flexibility. What I'm starting to change my tune on is how that relates to the draft. Now, I don't necessarily think the fear of getting stuck with a mid-tier big is an excuse not to swing on one who has the potential to be better.
Part of that is looking at the top bigs in the NBA right now. By my measure, the top five are a clear tier of their own: Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Bam Adebayo, Karl-Anthony Towns. No two are the same in their playing style, which has fueled my belief that there isn't one pathway to being an All-Star big. Four of them are on playoff teams and legitimate title contenders. If you re-draft any of their years in hindsight, every single guy goes in the top-five of their class.
That leads us to Alperen Sengun, the 18-year-old MVP of the Turkish League who has an interesting case for sliding up draft boards. No, he's not the hyperathletic big man like James Wiseman, Evan Mobley or DeAndre Ayton of the last few years. But let's not focus on who or what he is not. Sengun is wildly productive, shows flashes in so many different areas and is already productive at a professional level. Our goal here isn't to compare him within the positional confines of what it means to be a center. It's to figure out how good of a basketball player he is and can be.
If we truly believe that any type of player can become an All-NBA performer at the center position, then let's only focus on the type of impact Sengun could have.