By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The role of the big man has changed in the NBA, and that’s evident in the way teams pick centers and post players entering Thursday’s draft.
The style of play favors versatile players who can space the floor, or play inside and out. And that means players who spend more time in the post — such as Gonzaga’s Zach Collins or Wake Forest’s John Collins — have become harder to project for the NBA and lack the top-of-the-lottery value as in years past.
Still, both players offer plenty of potential when it comes to interior scoring and rebounding, and they headline this year’s crop of post players and centers:
The 7-footer was Gonzaga’s first McDonald’s All-American and was a key reserve during the Bulldogs’ run to the NCAA championship game.
STRENGTHS: The freshman averaged 10 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting a conference-best 65 percent, showing nice touch around the paint, mobility and athleticism . He’s a possible lottery pick.
CONCERNS: Collins has a small sample size for teams to evaluate. He’s also had issues with foul trouble.
The 6-10 sophomore made a rapid rise to become a candidate for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year with his efficient offensive game.
STRENGTHS: Collins is a good athlete with a soft shooting touch (62 percent). He often proved nearly unstoppable in the post (19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds) with the ability to finish at the rim or elevate over defenders, making him a first-round prospect.
CONCERNS: Collins battled foul trouble at times during his two-year Wake Forest career. He also needs to improve defensively, particularly with footwork and post positioning.
The 6-10 one-and-done from Duke is a prospect with massive potential — if he can stay healthy.
STRENGTHS: Giles was projected by many as the nation’s top high school recruit and even a possible No. 1 overall pick before suffering a serious knee injury in high school. He’s an active player who can run the floor, has good athleticism and boasts a 7-3 wingspan.
CONCERNS: He missed his senior season of high school after tearing ligaments in his right knee, then had preseason arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue from a previous injury and was limited throughout much of last year. If healthy, he could be a steal in the middle of the first round or later.
Creighton’s 7-foot redshirt freshman displayed a soft touch and flashed an efficient offensive game.
STRENGTHS: Patton averaged 12.9 points while shooting nearly 68 percent from the field (second nationally). He also averaged 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks to become the Big East freshman of the year, drawing attention from scouts for a variety of post moves and his ability to run the floor to become a possible first-round prospect .
CONCERNS: The 20-year-old weighs 230 pounds, so he’ll need to get stronger and refine his game. He’ll also need to improve at the line after making just 52 percent of his free throws at Creighton.
The 6-11 freshman showed potential in his one season with Texas.
STRENGTHS: Allen averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, and showed off some of his athleticism in a 22-point, 19-rebound effort against Kansas in January. He showed good mobility and a soft shooting touch (57 percent from the floor) to go with a 7-5 wingspan, making him a possible first-round prospect.
CONCERNS: Allen needs to improve at the line after making just 56 percent of his free throws. The 19-year-old will also need time to develop his game, cut down on mistakes (2.5 turnovers per game) and add bulk to a 235-pound frame.
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
— BAM ADEBAYO: The 6-10 freshman from Kentucky offers a physical presence in the paint and rebounding. He’s a possible first-rounder.
— IKE ANIGBOGU: The 6-10 freshman from UCLA didn’t make a huge impact in his one college season, though he could be a first-round pick with his 7-6 wingspan and his physical presence.
— TONY BRADLEY: The 6-11 freshman entered the draft after being a key reserve on North Carolina’s NCAA championship run. He’s a possible first-round pick.
— ISAIAH HARTENSTEIN: The 7-1 center from Germany has appeared in the late first round in some mock drafts.
— ANZEJS PASECNIKS: The 7-2 big man from Latvia is an intriguing international prospect but needs to get stronger. He’s appeared in the first round of some mock drafts.
— CALEB SWANIGAN: Purdue’s 6-9, 250-pound sophomore led the country in double-doubles (28) and was second in rebounding (12.5). He could be a late first-rounder and provide a rugged physical presence.
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