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NBA Draft 2016: International Centers in the Clippers' Range

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The Clippers own picks 25 and 33, and there are three intriguing international centers projected in range of those picks.

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In the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft, we'll be looking at tons of possible selections.  Today, we're going to look at three international centers who should be available at least into the mid-20s.  Even if one goes early, whichever two are leftover will almost definitely be available to the Clippers at 25, and have a shot of being on the board when they pick again at 33.  If Cole Aldrich leaves this summer, the Clippers could really use help down low, as they'll likely be trotting out a minimum-salary veteran behind DeAndre Jodan.  A big man with the potential to play right away is very attractive, but even if Cole stays the team could look for long-term projects or draft-and-stash options down low.  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.  Scouting is a precarious game, and it's most volatile with international players, even for the experts.  I'm going to do my best, but this is my acknowledgement that these projections could end up being WAY off once these players do (or don't) reach the NBA.

Ivica Zubac

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 22 20 Not 1st Round 44 Not 1st Round 25

DraftExpress likes Zubac.  O'Connor does not.  This is just another case of a volatile big man in the mid-range of the draft that could seemingly go anywhere.  He's a 7'1" 19-year old with very, very limited experience.  Zubac possesses solid inside skills that O'Connor admits gives him upside as a rotational NBA player, as he finishes well inside and is a good interior defender.  That said, he doesn't do much outside of those traditional center skills, and it's becoming harder and harder to get by on that alone in the modern NBA.  Even "inside" big men are evolving to become like DeAndre Jordan--players athletic enough to defend perimeter pick and rolls.  Otherwise, he'll have to develop a perimeter jumpshot.

The size and basic skills are there for Zubac, and there will always be a place for decent giants in the NBA, even if they're marginalized in today's evolving game.  That said, if he isn't ready to play right away on an NBA team, or is seen as a draft-and-stash option, it might make more sense for the Clippers to seek out a more versatile player in the first round.  On top of that, O'Connor notes Zubac's injury history: a stress fracture in his foot in 2014 and a knee injury in 2015.  Those are troubling signs for a very young, very big player.

Ante Zizic

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 23 23 23 36 Not 1st Round Not 1st Round

While DraftExpress and O'Connor still don't agree on Zizic, at least they're closer.  In both cases, he's a reasonable prospect to scout for both the 25 and 33 selections.  For whatever it's worth, DraftExpress has Zubac just one slot ahead, making the two almost interchangeable, while O'Connor has a significantly higher opinion of Zizic.  Ante Zizic is also just 19 years old and he's averaging 14.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 27.7 minutes a game in Europe.  He has a big body and is considered a solid athlete and energetic player on both ends and in transition.

O'Connor marks his ceiling as a solid role player, setting screens, rolling to the rim, and defending energetically.  DraftExpress seems to think that a mid-range game and some more polished offensive skills could come down the road.  Zizic is a solid free throw shooter (70%), which might be an indicator that a shot is possible in the future.  Either way, I think the injury flags surrounding Zubac make Zizic the better prospect for pick 25, but I'm still not sold.  He'd likely be a draft-and-stash guy, admitting to DraftExpress in February that he needs "more experience to play at a higher level like the NBA".

Zhou Qi

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 26 28 28 30 26 Not 1st Round

The Chinese center, who was the sole prospect on this list to attend the NBA combine (both Zubac and Zizic are still playing in their European seasons), measured at an impressive 7'1.25" without shoes and 7'2.25" in shoes, with a 7'7.75" wingspan and a 9'4.5" standing reach--only 4.9% body fat and a 32" vertical... /drools.  Oh, and yeah, he's a shooter.  Qi averaged 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in China this year, which are good numbers that have to be contextualized: he played in a league where even fringe NBA guys put up unreal stats.  He won't turn 21 until next January.

DraftExpress reports that Qi's 3.4 blocks per game in China this year led former NBA players such as Samuel Dalembert and Greg Oden, and he's a mobile offensive threat who can finish in transition.  The biggest drawback on his game is strength: he weighs just 218 pounds, which isn't much for that massive frame, and he will really struggle to rebound, screen, and be effective down low in the NBA unless he can get much stronger.  Similarly, his shot could easily not translate immediately in a faster, more physical game with taller defenders.

As far as coming to the NBA is concerned, DraftExpress reports that his representatives hope to get him out of the CBA and into the NBA in the "near future", but it's unclear what that means.  As reports come in regarding his contract status and if he'd be available immediately, or if he'd have to stay for a certain number of years, his draft stock could fluctuate.  For now, he's a very exciting prospect at 25 who could still be available at 33--but the short-term fit is really, really questionable for the Clippers as I anticipate him struggling in the NBA until he has time to both adjust to the NBA game and gain some muscle.

With all three of these prospects, the same question has to be asked: are the Clippers ready to spend their first-round pick this year on one of these international centers who likely either won't come over next year, or won't be able contribute right away?  Probably not--so they should hope that these guys go ahead of them, facilitating other prospects' slips to 25.