By AARON BEARD – AP Basketball Writer
Memphis’ Jalen Duren, Duke’s Mark Williams and Auburn’s Walker Kessler are the headlining big men in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Each is an agile big man with the ability to land over the edge, with Duren and Williams as potential lottery picks, along with Kessler as a first-round prospect.
Here’s a look at the top bigs in the draft:
The 6-11, 250-pound freshman is only 18 years old but has impressive athleticism and strength.
STRENGTHS: Duren has the solid frame to bat for position and the athleticism to finish lobs over the rim, making him ESPN’s #10 overall draft contender. He averaged 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds and proved effective at attacking the rim and running across the floor.
Duren also showed flashes of relentless rebounding ability, throwing in 20 rebounds against UCF in the American Athletic Conference Tournament and 19 against Western Kentucky in November. And he averaged 2.1 blocks.
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“I’ve gotten better, my body has gotten better,” Duren said. “And honestly, I’m trying to progress during my rookie year and become one of the younger draftees.”
CONCERNS: He has not shot well in any of the team’s NCAA tournament games, including a 3-for-11 performance against Gonzaga’s potential No. 1 overall draft contender Chet Holmgren while limited by foul problems. His offensive game is still developing past the rim running lobs and it’s unclear what kind of reach he will have. He also shot just 62.5% from the foul line.
The 7-2, 242-pound Sophomore is an elite rim protector with mobility and an improving offensive game.
STRENGTHS: Williams offers incredible length, from a standing reach of 9-9 to a span of more than 7-6. That helped him rank 12th in Division I at 2.82 blocks per game while changing far more shots, so much so that Mike Krzyzewski, the now-retired Hall of Fame coach, used him during the NCAA tournament compared to a hockey goalie.
Krzyzewski had also noted that Williams — ranked No. 14 overall draft by ESPN — had improved his lateral movement, giving him a better chance of dealing with switches and ballscreens.
On the offensive end, he averaged 11.2 points with the ability to go up and lob for easy finishes.
“I would say I would take anywhere I would go to just be that live threat: instant rim protection, floor walking, playing hard, stuff like that,” Williams said. “I think I’ll bring that with me.”
NOTE: The 20-year-old’s offensive play is still evolving. Last year he showed more improvement in the back-to-basket, but there is still room for growth. He’s also improved as a rebounder, having averaged 7.4 boards with double-digit outputs in just 12 of 39 games despite his size.
The 7-1, 256-pound sophomore is another elite shot blocker and top defender with mobility.
STRENGTHS: ESPN’s No. 26 overall draft was named National Defensive Player of the Year by Naismith and the National Association of Basketball Coaches after finishing second in Division I by blocking 4.56 shots per game, including nine games with at least seven blocks.
Kessler offers length (9-5 stance range, better than 7-4 span) and has shown agility for chasing the ball and changing perimeters.
Offensively, he averaged 11.4 points while shooting 60.8% from the field to go with 8.1 rebounds while playing alongside potential No. 1 overall pick Jabari Smith.
CONCERNS: Kessler’s shooting touch didn’t show up in two college seasons, the first coming in North Carolina. Kessler shot just 57.7% from the foul line in two seasons and hit just 10 of 50 (20%) with 3 points last season with the Tigers.
“If Walker returns to Auburn next year, he’ll look a lot more like Jabari Smith when it comes to being so aggressive on those shots,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said Tuesday. “I hope that’s going to happen to him at that next level as he comes into the NBA and transitions.”
—JAYLIN WILLIAMS: The 6-10, 237-pound sophomore helped Arkansas reach an NCAA regional finals by playing with energy and an all-around ability to score, pass, make attacks and block shots . He had 16 double-doubles last season and could sneak into the first round as ESPN’s No. 36 overall draft.
— CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: The 7-foot-tall, 221-pound Arizona junior is an athletic tall man who can walk the ground and block shots. He averaged 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while improving his free-throw taker from 35% as a freshman to 73.5% this year. He’s ESPN’s No. 43 draft pick, making him a likely second-round pick.
— TREVION WILLIAMS: The 6-8, 265-pound senior helped Purdue earn its first No. 1 spot in The Associated Press’s Top 25. Williams averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, but also made a name for himself with his passing ability (3.0 assists). . He’s ESPN’s No. 56 overall and could be a second-round pick.
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