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For Robin Lopez, left, and brother Brook, the days of playing side by side likely are over. Brook is expected to go within the first 10 picks in the upcoming draft with Robin not too far behind.
 EnlargeBy Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
For Robin Lopez, left, and brother Brook, the days of playing side by side likely are over. Brook is expected to go within the first 10 picks in the upcoming draft with Robin not too far behind.
Florida's Marreese Speights should be able to hold his own down low if he can silence questions about his work ethic and conditioning.
 EnlargeBy Charles Small, US Presswire
Florida's Marreese Speights should be able to hold his own down low if he can silence questions about his work ethic and conditioning.

From George Mikan to Shaquille O'Neal, centers have long dominated the NBA. But with so many big, athletic players today, it's harder for centers to impact a game as they once did.

There is no dominant big man in this year's draft, but that's nothing new. Since 1997, the year the San Antonio Spurs selected Tim Duncan first overall, only Dwight Howard (2004) has evolved into a true game-changing force at center. Yao Ming's injuries the past two years have slowed his progress, and Greg Oden's foot injury cost him his entire rookie season (2007-08) and prevented the Portland Trail Blazers from assessing the No. 1 overall pick's value.

That doesn't make centers any less desirable in this year's draft, however. Nearly half the teams in the league could use an upgrade at the position.

The Chicago Bulls have the top pick and have a glaring need at center, but there isn't one worthy of the top pick. They're expected to take either Memphis point guard Derrick Rose or Kansas State forward Michael Beasley. Miami, picking second, could use a center, too; veteran Mark Blount is 32 and averaged 8.4 points and 3.8 rebounds last year. But the Heat will likely take Rose or Beasley, whichever is left after the Bulls pick.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, picking third, would love to move Al Jefferson to power forward. But, again, no center is worthy of being picked that high.

Other teams looking to improve at center: the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Seattle SuperSonics.

By Chris Colston, USA TODAY

Sizing up the crop of centers for Thursday's NBA draft
Updated  | Comment  | Recommend E-mail | Print |
USA TODAY previews the NBA draft (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN) this week, looking at the center position today. On Tuesday: guards; and on Wednesday: forwards.



For someone whose parents both played professional basketball, Nevada center JaVale McGee remains an unfamiliar name to much of the public. And that's the way he likes it.

"I definitely think (being under the radar) is an advantage," says McGee, 20, whose quiet demeanor and mid-major college team have kept him mostly out of the nation's eye. "People underestimate me, but when they see what I have to offer, they're amazed."

Nicknamed "The Big Secret" by his mother Pam, who played and coached in the WNBA, McGee averaged 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a game as a sophomore last season. More important, his rare speed for a big man and a freakish 7-6½ wingspan grabbed the attention of NBA scouts.

MORE PROSPECTS: Other centers of note

McGee said he talked to his family after the season and determined that "it would be a mistake" to return to school. After all, his parents should know: McGee's father, George Montgomery, was a second-round draft pick in 1985, and Pam McGee won two national titles at Southern California (1983, 1984).

McGee's parents taught him the value of hard work from a young age, he said — a lesson he learned again his freshman year when he played just 10 minutes a game behind All-American Nick Fazekas. Sitting on the bench, the Michigan native says he never imagined being a potential lottery pick a year later. But it was from Fazekas that he learned a player can only get so far on sheer size and athleticism. Developing a high "basketball IQ" was just as important.

Since that lesson, McGee dramatically improved his ballhandling skills and extended his shooting range to NBA three-point territory. Defensively, he believes his long arms and agility will allow him to be an immediate shot-blocking presence in the NBA.

Still, most scouts view the forward/center as a project — someone who has the tools and potential to be a contributor but will need a few years to develop. Grueling workouts with his agent, former NFL player Roosevelt Barnes, have helped, but many question McGee's conditioning and think he is still raw. However, his physical attributes and flashes of playmaking skills will likely be enough to get him drafted in the mid to late first round.

McGee said he would prefer to be drafted by a team that plays an up-tempo style, but added he would be happy just being drafted in the first round. And despite being "anxious" for draft night, he claims not to pay attention to what experts say about his draft stock. After all, the most important part of the process has yet to occur. "People go by the last thing they see, so I know I have to finish strong," he says.



Brook and Robin Lopez have played a lot of basketball in their lives.

What the identical twins haven't done much of is play basketball on different teams.

"Just some camps and stuff in high school," Brook says of their experience playing separately.

But unless a team makes an unlikely move to keep them together, Brook and Robin Lopez will become Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez after Thursday's NBA draft.

MORE PROSPECTS: Other centers of note

The 20-year olds downplay the significance of their impending separation.

"It was going to happen eventually," says Brook, who adds that he looks forward to playing against his brother in the NBA.

"Our chemistry on the court is the same that any two players develop if they play together for a while," Robin says.

The two are identical genetically, but their playing styles are noticeably different. Both are 7-feet and about 260 pounds (Robin weighs 5 to 10 pounds less), but Brook is a prototypical center with polished footwork, big-time scoring prowess and shot-blocking ability.

Robin makes his biggest impact with his defensive intensity and rebounding.

During their two years at Stanford, the duo worked in tandem to dominate the paint. Brook — who is one minute older — shouldered most of the scoring load with his more developed offensive game.

Despite testing poorly in agility tests recently, Brook is expected to be taken among the draft's first 10 picks; Robin will likely be selected within the first 20.

The discrepancy is not a source of contention between the two, and Robin is quick to point out that he is better than Brook at other things.

"Besides, who's to say he's a better basketball player?" Robin says.

Their mother, Debbie Ledford, who admits to not being the most objective analyst, says, "If anyone tries to tell me one is better, well what's better, an apple or an orange?"

Ledford, who recently retired from teaching after 33 years to help ease Brook's and Robin's transition to the NBA, has always been closely involved in her sons' lives, and the pre-draft process has been no exception.

After Stanford's loss to Texas in the Sweet 16, Brook and Robin sat down with their family to discuss their futures, ultimately deciding the time to make the leap was now.

"The twins' situation was such that with their basketball talents it was simply the right time to enter the draft," Ledford says.

"Players' draft stock tends to fall after they stay, for whatever reason. There's only a limited amount of time to play basketball; they can get their degrees any time."

But for all the talk about being different people and different players, the Lopez twins did little to establish their individuality when asked separately how they felt about fulfilling their lifelong NBA dream.

"It's surreal," they both said.



Roy Hibbert, 7-2, 275, Georgetown: A known commodity — and that might be his biggest problem. After four productive years in college, he has a relatively low upside. He's fundamentally sound in the paint and is a good, physical defender, but he is not very agile. He will never put up huge scoring numbers. He disappointed during his senior year by not taking another leap forward and dominating the Big East.

DeAndre Jordan, 7-0, 255, Texas A&M: A freak athlete like Dwight Howard, but he is not as strong or skilled as Howard and relies almost exclusively on his athleticism on both ends of the floor. He also has a reputation for not being a hard worker and seemed to wear down as the season progresses. As a result, his stock has fallen significantly. Despite those concerns, he has the size, and his upside is enormous.

Marreese Speights, 6-10, 245, Florida: Got a chance to show what he could do this season after Joakim Noah and Al Horford vacated Florida's frontcourt. He is a big, strong and tough post player who still manages to be light on his feet. He will not get pushed around and will be able to rebound and defend against athletic power forwards and smaller centers. Some scouts question his work ethic and commitment to conditioning.

Kosta Koufos, 7-0, 265, Ohio State: Big, fluid and skilled offensively. In the post, he has well-developed footwork and moves that allow him to get easy baskets against inferior defenders. He does not have much experience and is not especially athletic or explosive. There are also concerns that he is soft, as he tends to lose confidence easily when he is pushed around by more physical players.

Ante Tomic, 7-2, 237, Croatia: Impressively skilled for his size. Like most European big men, he can shoot, dribble and pass with proficiency and can get up and down the floor. His biggest problem has been and continues to be his lack of strength, which prevents him from making an impact down low. He will likely stay in Europe at least another year to bulk up.

Alexis Ajinca, 7-1, 225, France: Athletic and smooth for his size. He is still inexperienced, but his unheard-of 7-8 wingspan has scouts drooling about his defensive potential. He has a good spot-up jumper and hook shot; he will need to add bulk and gain experience before he can be a contributor on an NBA team.

Jason Thompson, 6-11, 250, Rider: His biggest asset is his big, strong body and his mobility. He averaged 20.4 points and 12.1 rebounds during his senior year at Rider, but he played against inferior competition and often got frustrated when facing better players. Scouts have not been overly impressed by his game at either end of the court.

DeVon Hardin, 6-11, 250, California: There's no doubt he has an NBA body, but his offensive game of power dunks is less than overwhelming. His post moves are inconsistent, and any impact he will make in the NBA will be from using his strength and quickness on defense. He's an average rebounder at best.

Nikola Pekovic, 6-11, 243, Serbia: Played very well in the Euroleague, the highest level of pro competition besides the NBA. He is a powerful player who uses his aggressiveness and strength to get easy baskets around the hoop. Scouts question his fundamentals, and general managers are not sure he will ever leave Europe for the NBA.

Omer Asik, 6-11, 230, Turkey: Has impressed in his limited workout time, displaying a strong body, good athleticism and competitiveness. His offensive game is limited by his inexperience, but given time, he has the tools to be a good player.

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Nevada's JaVale McGee has big expectations, just like his parents, who were both professional basketball players themselves.
By Matt York, AP
Nevada's JaVale McGee has big expectations, just like his parents, who were both professional basketball players themselves.
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