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Bulls may follow NBA trend by choosing smaller mobile center

The Bulls may be in an ideal position to take a place at the center of the future in Thursday’s NBA draft.

The two starting centers in the NBA Finals were Robert Williams of Boston, who was selected 27th overall in 2018, and Kevon Looney of Golden State, who was selected 30th overall in 2015. Head back to the conference finals and you’ll find Bam Adebayo of Miami on the 14th. choose in 2017.

The bulls are next door to the 18th pick in the first round. They have no choice in the second round. They also have uncertainty about the center position as Nikola Vucevic approaches the last year of his contract.

A low first-round pick starting in the Finals was discussed in a recent article about why Utah’s Rudy Gobert is not a good fit for the Bulls lineup. There seem to be two lessons here:



Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III (R) is defended by Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins in the first half of Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 13, 2022 in San Francisco.  Mobile enough to play defensively on the perimeter and switch to defenders when needed, the undersized Williams could be the new prototype for the center position.

Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III (R) is defended by Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins in the first half of Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 13, 2022 in San Francisco. Mobile enough to play defensively on the perimeter and switch to defenders when needed, the undersized Williams could be the new prototype for the center position.
– Associated Press

Despite centers Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid being the top two players in this year’s MVP voting, the NBA is still run by perimeter players. Not only has 3-point shooting skyrocketed in popularity, but big men rarely make game-playing shots because it’s easier for the defense to operate in two teams.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

This trend also shows the value of having a center who is mobile enough to play defensively on the perimeter and switch to defenders when needed.

Williams could be the new prototype for the position, someone who’s shorter at 6’8 but can block shots and defend time, and switch to smaller players near the three-point line.

So are there any centers in this draft who could have the same impact on the Bulls? Well, there are several full size hubs that might be available.

One of them is Duke’s Mark Williams, who is 7ft 2in in shoes with a 7-6 wingspan. He has a higher reach than Gobert or Mo Bamba from Orlando. Williams averaged 11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks during his second season. In most dummy drafts, he doesn’t beat center Charlotte, which is ranked 13th and 15th.



Duke center Mark Williams celebrates his dunk against North Carolina during the Final Four round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament on April 2, 2022 in New Orleans.  Williams will have a big impact on the Bulls, but he's unlikely to last long in the draft.

Duke center Mark Williams celebrates his dunk against North Carolina during the Final Four round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament on April 2, 2022 in New Orleans. Williams will have a big impact on the Bulls, but he’s unlikely to last long in the draft.
– Associated Press

Auburn’s Walker Kessler averaged a whopping 4.6 quarters as a sophomore after spending his freshman year in North Carolina. Kessler had 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in a 7-1 win last season.

Another seven-footer likely to be eliminated when the Bulls draft Memphis’ Jalen Duren, who averaged 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

When it comes to a player who could follow in the footsteps of Robert Williams, last month’s NBA draft in Chicago featured an intriguing candidate.

EJ Liddell of Ohio State only scored 6-7 in the running shoes but performed well in the agility tests. He had the best vertical standing jump of anyone at draft camp at 35.5 inches, added an impressive 38-inch maximum vertical height, and performed well in lane and shuttle agility. The Belleville, Illinois native averaged 2.6 blocks for the Buckeyes last season, along with 19.4 points and 7.9 rebounds. He was also a decent 3-point shooter with 37.4%.

At the draft camp, Liddell told reporters that he was using Golden State’s Draymond Green as one of his role models.

“My explosion is really good,” he said. “Just putting in tons and tons of effort. I’m older (21) than most of the guys in this draft. I just feel like the effort and heart that I’ve always made will help me.”

Unfortunately, there is no record of either Williams or Looney taking agility tests at draft camp. Many players who consider themselves the best skip them. Mark Williams and Kessler did not participate this year, and Düren was not even measured.

Adebayo tested at the 2017 camp. Liddell had better results in agility and shuttle running than Adebayo. Other categories were similar, with Adebayo posting a maximum vertical width of 38.5 inches.

Liddell is no doubt short and won’t be able to score on the stand as often as he did in college, but he’s good at perimeter defense, which is a huge part of the NBA’s success. The Bulls can certainly dream of him and Patrick Williams being the next version of Green and Looney or Robert Williams and Al Horford.

A pair of other Big Ten players — Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Purdue’s Trevion Williams — had the lowest lane agility scores in pre-draft camp, along with Milwaukee’s Patrick Baldwin Jr. This is probably not what NBA teams are looking for in defense.

Cockburn did measure 7 feet in shoes with a 7-4 wingspan. Michigan freshman Moussa Diabate posted the fourth fastest shuttle time in draft camp, so maybe the team will see defensive potential there.

Some other centers that may be late in the first round are Fresno State’s Orlando Robinson, Arizona’s Christian Koloko, and Arkansas’ Jaylene Williams.

@McGrawDHSports

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