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2019 Draft Prospects: Potential Big Man Candidates

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Colgate v Tennessee Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Grant Williams

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Williams is one of the more interesting prospects in 2019. If this were a few years ago he may be well lower on people’s draft boards than he is now. Williams is 6’7.5” with a plus 2 wingspan at forward, which is the definition of a “tweener” in the classic sense. However in the last few years “tweener” has moved away from being a negative connotation for a guy who plays either forward spot (think Derrick Williams). It has become more of a real position where someone can interchange between forward spots as well as playing as a small center. If you’re smart and have some basic ability and athleticism, being that size isn’t a bad thing anymore in today’s NBA.

One thing noted by most every scout on Williams is that he’s a smart player. He might not be the best at any one thing but he is very good at a lot of things. He knows where he’s supposed to be and what he’s supposed to be doing at all times on both sides of the ball. He’s got excellent court vision from the post:

He’s also a solid screen setter (credit to NBA Draft Junkies for all three offensive clips):

He’s just as smart on defense. Note how he positions himself correctly and is able to help off his man to get the block on the driving offensive player (credit to Vaskos on YouTube for the clip):

From a statistical standpoint, he’s sufficiently good in many areas without many weaknesses, per Tankathon:

All of this would make it seem Williams was a top tier prospect, but there are drawbacks. As seen above, he doesn’t rebound well for a big man and also doesn’t have the length to block shots well. His athleticism, while passable, is on the lower end, grading out in the 38th percentile since 2000 per (though notably drawing a comparison to Draymond Green’s combine numbers). From Sam Vecenie’s recent column, some information also leans toward him being quite passable athletically.

Rather, the real worry for teams is whether or not he has the lateral quickness to slide his feet on the perimeter. Does he have the baseline skill to keep in front of opposing players and stop them from just blowing by him and not even allowing his strength to matter? At P3 , they believe the answer will likely be yes based off of their training with him, even if he’s not necessarily a standout there. In terms of lateral agility, he was about average within their database of NBA players, and has already made real strides since arriving.

Williams is also a bit passive in shooting from the perimeter. That could deter a team like the Thunder who desperately need a perimeter threat. While Williams is a good passer, he doesn’t create much of his own offense off the dribble.

Rebounding issues aside, the Thunder could probably use whatever talent they can get if they keep the selection. While rebounding may not be a strong suit for Williams, it’s not a huge weakness either. His intelligence and passing are skills that could prove useful. He’s also projected as a 34% NBA 3 point shooter, which would likely gain some respect from defenders. A perfect fit may not exist for the Thunder’s roster at a big position so taking a shot on Williams’s intelligence and will to improve himself seems worthwhile.

Luka Samanic

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Another big man who has risen up draft boards after the combine, Samanic is a potential stretch big from Croatia, though he’s yet to hit threes consistently. He’s played three seasons in Europe and most recently shot just under 34% in multiple leagues in 2018-2019. At 6’11” he is still somewhat thin, however he’s still young enough to fill out if an organization has a bit of patience.

Coming into the season he was seen as a possible mid-first round pick, but his stock fell as he started slowly. According to reports, Samanic put on a lot of strength over the past year to the point where he was one of the most talked about prospects at the NBA Draft Combine. He was reportedly the best player on the court during 5-on-5 drills and looks like he’s risen back up toward the middle-to-late first round again. Samanic is still slight and not notably athletic (21st percentile per but his lower marks were mostly in physical measurements like reach and weight, not in his actual speed/agility drills.

Samanic is a somewhat skilled big man who’s shown the ability to score off the dribble (credit to JustNBA!’s video):

He’s also a reportedly decent playmaker who sees the floor well, and has enough length for slower perimeter players and mobility defensively to recover for blocks (credit to Eurospects):

The bigger questions for Samanic remain consistency and fit. Though he’s a decent passer, his assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t great and he’s not fast enough to guard quicker players outside. Fit is more a question for a team like the Thunder because ideally they could find a player who could contribute sooner rather than later. There’s definitely a chance Samanic turns into a very good role player at some point down the road, but given OKC’s timeline he may not work quite so well. Given his recent improvements in strength and his age however, this type of projection sounds in some ways like big men the Thunder taken in the past (specifically Ibaka and Adams).

Mfiondu Kabengele

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Kabengele is another late draft riser. He had some questions regarding his health (he wore knee pads to reportedly alleviate pain) but checked out fine according to workouts. Kabengele is the nephew of Dikembe Mutombo. At 6’10” with an approximately plus 5 wingspan, he draws some comparisons to Serge Ibaka. He’s a surprisingly good shooter (37% from three and 76% from the free throw stripe) and an excellent shot blocker. so the comparison feels somewhat apt.

He’s an energetic player who scores his fair share of putback dunks and senses well where to be to get a pass or rebound for a quick dunk. His shooting form looks fine, which could mean he isn’t just a fluky shooter but actually solid (credit to Sasha Bjelic):

He’s even got the 3 google celebration down.

Kabengele could well be a solid option for a backup big man as soon as the next season or two. He tested in the 70th percentile per among players since 2000. Two of his top five comparisons are Karl-Anthony Towns and Andre Drummond. He also played as a sixth man at Florida State, so a bench role isn’t unfamiliar territory.

His flaws, however make him a little more of a question.

Kabengele is not a passer. At all. He had a total of 21 assists in 71 career games in college. He also averaged about 5 fouls per 40 minutes. This could be an even bigger issue as rookies are noted to be more foul prone their first couple of pro seasons. According to scouts he’s also probably not a player who can keep with perimeter guys on a pick-and-roll which could affect some defensive coverages.

Ultimately if the goal is a bench big man who can clean up the boards, block some shots, and maybe help spacing just a touch Kabengele could fit the bill.