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NBA Draft 2016: NCAA Big Men Targets for the Clippers to Consider (Part 1)

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The Clippers' range of the draft is full of centers who could be possible depth selections with either pick 25 or 33.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the draft, we're going to look at a ton of possible selections.  Today: the first of three groupings of NCAA big men.  With Cole Aldrich prone to leave in free agency, and the Clippers lacking center depth aside from D-League call-ups, this could be a great opportunity for them to find a short-term band-aid or long-term project at backup C.  Please note that analysis of these players is largely secondhand after reading and watching scout video from a variety of sources (mainly those listed in the tables), and then compiling and summarizing.

Damian Jones

Projections:
Source Draft Express Mock Draft Express Big Board Bodner USAT Mock Kevin O'Connor Big Board Kevin O'Connor Mock Tankathon.com Mock
Ranking 21 22 Not 1st Round 43 Not 1st Round 28

Jones is DraftExpress' favorite center of the draft, but O'Connor clearly doesn't feel the same, listing him below players like Stephen Zimmerman, Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, and Prince Ibex, who DraftExpress all projects as second-rounders.  It can be hard to distinguish between a lot of the big bodies available in this range, and some are sure to surprise while others disappoint, leaving front offices and fanbases in anguish.  Jones is a big 7-footer from Vanderbilt, looking to jump pro after his junior year.  He averaged 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in 26 minutes last season, and earned All-SEC First Team for the second year in a row.

He's a stellar physical specimen: athletic, quick, and strong.  O'Connor also notes his potential as a versatile and strong defender, although offensively he won't bring much except for dirty work scoring.  One real worry is Jones' relative lack of improvement in his time at Vanderbilt--he probably isn't NBA-ready, so he'll have to make developmental strides, and we can't be sure that he's capable of it.  It's very, very hard for me to distinguish Jones from some of the other big-body types in the draft.  I'd guess that if the Clippers are going to go this direction with a rookie center, their opinion of Jones will depend a lot on pre-draft workouts.

Cheick Diallo

Projections:
Source Draft Express Mock Draft Express Big Board Bodner USAT Mock Kevin O'Connor Big Board Kevin O'Connor Mock Tankathon.com Mock
Ranking 25 25 29 32 Not 1st Round 30

Presently DraftExpress' choice for the Clippers (although they don't take team needs into account at this stage), Diallo is a very scary-intriguing prospect--he was a really, really high-profile recruit who didn't do much in his freshman year at Kansas, and is now attempting an early NBA jump.  He played only 7.5 minutes a game at Kansas, but DraftExpress reports that after a good combine showing, he's firmly in the first-round conversation.

At just 6'9" in shoes, he's pretty small for a C, but his athleticism and 7'4" wingspan make him an effective rim protector and versatile defender who can switch screens.  He's active and energetic in transition and around the basket, earning dirty work points, but his offensive game is very, very raw.  Diallo doesn't do much on that end, and O'Connor notes that he struggles with simple fundamentals: catching and throwing passes, setting screens, shooting free throws.  Diallo seems to be a big project, and his fit is questionable on the Clippers because his 6'9" size doesn't encourage confidence as the sole backup big a year removed from the Josh Smith experiment.  I could see him working next to Blake Griffin, but just as an all-around worse DeAndre Jordan.  And, due to his offensive limitations, he'd be essentially unplayable at the 4 next to DJ.

Brice Johnson

Projections:
Source Draft Express Mock Draft Express Big Board Bodner USAT Mock Kevin O'Connor Big Board Kevin O'Connor Mock Tankathon.com Mock
Ranking 29 30 20 29 Not 1st Round 29

Johnson is 6'10.5" in shoes, giving him versatility at both big man positions in the modern NBA.  He's an effective big man, averaging 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds as a senior for the UNC Tar Heels, where he was considered the best player on one of the best NCAA teams in the country.  He has effective quickness to defend pick-and-rolls, and his rebounding should translate.

With players like Diallo, the debate is all about what kind of player he could be.  With Johnson, it's about the player that he is, but I wouldn't be too quick to fall into the trap of thinking a college senior and 22-year-old can't improve.  If his jumpshot continues to come along and he makes strides with his defensive IQ, he could be a very effective PF in big lineups and C in small lineups.  Also, given his four years of high-level experience, it's possible that he'd be better prepared for an NBA role than the other bigs that the Clippers are sure to consider.

I wouldn't mind Johnson at 25 if the Clippers feel confident in his ability to contribute, but I have other prospects that I prefer.  At 33, he'd be a very good get should the Clippers draft a non-big at 25.  Of course, there's the Duke-UNC issue with Austin Rivers and J.J. Redick, which would be a fun subplot.