In the final 2022 NBA Draft player preview article of the pre-draft season here at Mile High Sports, it’s time to take a look at some big man prospects.

While the Denver Nuggets have a pretty decent starting center in Nikola Jokić, the backup situation is still a question mark. Mid-season signing DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent, and after the trade of JaMychal Green to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Nuggets are left with just Jeff Green (player option, more of a forward) and Zeke Nnaji (more of a forward) as reasonable options.

The Nuggets will attempt to solidify their backup center position this off-season. While free agency and trade acquisition both feel more likely, the Nuggets could always select someone in the NBA Draft instead. After picking up an extra first round pick, Nuggets fans should be prepared for everything heading into Thursday’s festivities.

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With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some centers the Nuggets may take a look at in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Mark Williams | Big | Duke

Draft Age: 20, Height: 7’2″, Weight: 242 lbs, Wingspan: 7’6.5″

2021-22 per game stats: 23.6 minutes, 11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 3.3 steals + blocks, 72.3 two-point %, 0.0 three-point %, 72.7 free throw %

Expected Draft Range: Late Lottery, middle first round

What happened last season: After a freshman season that saw Mark Williams average 15 minutes per game, Williams became the permanent starter in the middle of the Duke defense as a sophomore, using every bit of his 7’2″ frame to grab rebounds, protect the paint, and catch some lobs. Williams isn’t the best athlete at the center position, but he has a wide catch radius with an unbelievable 9’9″ standing reach, longer than Bol Bol and Mo Bamba. Williams had a strong NCAA tourney run until Armando Bacot of North Carolina out-rebounded him 21 to 4 in the semi-final game.

Expected NBA role: Williams is set to be a traditional screen and dive roll man at the NBA level. Size translates well, and Williams will continue to be impactful as a rim protector and paint scorer. There’s only so high that his ceiling can go without a more well-rounded scoring or passing profile though. He’s not the best perimeter switch defender in this class at the center position, but it’s also possible that he improves in that area as he learns.

Swing skill: If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Deandre Ayton at the NBA level, it’s that it doesn’t take an amazing array of post moves to be an elite center. Ayton finishes paint shots in the restricted area at an incredible level, and with the amount of drop coverage he’s set to see, Williams will benefit from the same. It only takes a couple of simple turnaround hooks, shot fakes, and one-dribble moves to create space for Williams to become a matchup nightmare for bigger but slower centers.

Is Williams a good fit? The Nuggets don’t need a backup center in the draft, a first round pick especially. If Williams were to fall to 21 though, he deserves some major consideration. The Nuggets are hoping to become more defensive and more athletic this off-season, and Williams checks both boxes. Is he going to be a guy who plays next to Nikola Jokić consistently? Definitely not. Will he solidify the backup minutes during the regular season and help make things easier as a roll man and drop defender? Absolutely. There’s real value in that.

Walker Kessler | Big | Auburn

Draft Age: 20, Height: 7’1″, Weight: 256 lbs, Wingspan: 7’4.25″

2021-22 per game stats: 25.6 minutes, 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 5.7 steals + blocks, 70.2 two-point %, 20.0 three-point %, 59.6 free throw %

Expected Draft Range: Middle to late first round

What happened last season: Walker Kessler played his freshman year at North Carolina before transferring to Auburn and playing with top prospect Jabari Smith. He immediately went from nine minutes a game as a bench option to over 25 per game as a starter, putting up historic block numbers along the way. 4.6 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game is unheard of, and Kessler won SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a result. Auburn made the NCAA tournament as a 2 seed before being upset by University of Miami. Kessler played just 13 minutes in that game, going 0/6 from the field and making little impact defensively against Miami’s 5-out offense.

Expected NBA role: Kessler, like Mark Williams, is mostly going to be a pick and roll big man who excels in drop coverage against teams that want to attack the rim. There’s no doubt that if left to patrol the paint, Kessler can certainly make an impact. He isn’t as mobile as Williams though, and that lack of mobility will probably limit his defensive versatility. Him getting switched onto perimeter players is seen as a major mismatch.

Swing skill: Unlike Mark Williams, Kessler explored his outside shooting touch at the college level, attempting 50 three-pointers in 34 games. He only hit 20%, but there are some that believe he can extend his range. Given that he’s a career 57.7% free throw shooter though, I have my doubts. Kessler struggles hitting some of the touch shots outside the restricted area as well, and I have genuine concerns about his shooting touch. If he could shoot, there would be some interesting Brook Lopez comparisons to be made.

Is Kessler a good fit? There’s very little chance that Jokić and Kessler share the floor in any meaningful way, perhaps a lower chance than that of Mark Williams. The Nuggets do have a need to stabilize backup center behind Jokić, but Kessler doesn’t seem like the right fit. Michael Malone has spoken about utilizing more switching in lineups that don’t feature Jokić going forward, and that’s just not Kessler’s game at all. he could be a solid rim protector for a team, but probably not for the Nuggets.

Christian Koloko | Big | Arizona

Draft Age: 22, Height: 7’0″, Weight: 221 lbs, Wingspan: 7’5.25″

2021-22 per game stats: 25.4 minutes, 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 3.6 steals + blocks, 64.2 two-point %, 0.0 three-point %, 73.5 free throw %

Expected Draft Range: Late first round, early second round

What happened last season: Christian Koloko returned to Arizona for his junior season, his second as the program’s starting center. His role within the offense grew as he improved his scoring around the rim with his true shooting moving from 46.7% as a freshman, to 55.0% as a sophomore, to 66.1% as a junior. He won several awards, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and 1st team All-Pac-12. His final game was an upset loss against Houston in the Sweet 16 where he had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.

Expected NBA role: Koloko is a bit older than the other centers in this range, but his impressive leap as a junior has some talking about him as a future starting center. His combination of lengthy wingspan and impressive mobility for a seven-footer gives him some potential to be utilized in different defensive schemes. It’s unclear exactly how good he can be on the offensive end, but he has some solid mobility and fluidity on his rim runs and baseline cuts. He’s not going to stretch the floor on his rookie contract though, that much is certain.

Swing skill: For Koloko, he has everything a modern rim running center needs except for a reliable jump hook. He hits the shot on occasion, but he clearly doesn’t have the touch necessary to hit it at an efficient clip against the best defenses. Even without developing much as a passer or shooter, Koloko can be an exceptionally valuable center if he just hits that jump hook against a rotating defense. He doesn’t have it yet, but a could developmental team will help him get there.

Is Koloko a good fit? Of the centers discussed so far, Koloko is probably the best fit of them all. At 220 pounds and pretty impressive mobility, there’s a chance that Denver could run some two big lineups with him and Jokić together. As a bench center, Koloko also doesn’t negate Denver from running some more switching schemes, though he certainly needs to improve there. Drafting a center at 21 probably isn’t the right move, but if Koloko is on the board at 30, he could help solidify Denver’s backup center spot for the next few years.

Ismael Kamagate | Big | Paris Basketball

Draft Age: 21, Height: 6’11”, Weight: 230 lbs, Wingspan: 7’3″

2021-22 per game stats: 27.1 minutes, 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 2.3 steals + blocks, 64.3 two-point %, 0.0 three-point %, 64.3 free throw %

Expected Draft Range: Late first round, early second round

What happened last season: Ismael Kamagate is the only center playing internationally on this list, but that didn’t stop him from making an impression for his team in the French LNB Pro A league. Petr Cornelie came from this league, but he put up worse numbers than Kamagate just did at 20/21 years old. Kamagate was voted as the best defender in the entire league, and though his team wasn’t the most successful, he clearly turned some heads.

Expected NBA role: Kamagate strikes me as a player that will spend some time at power forward due to some shooting skill, but his best position will be at center as his frame continues to fill out. It’s unclear just how high his ceiling can reach, but the combination of length, mobility, and dexterity is somewhat rare. Centers may not be en vogue right now, but it’s surprising that Kamagate hasn’t received more buzz. He has some genuine quality starter potential, perhaps more.

Swing skill: Can he be a player that faces up against bigger guys and posts up against switches? He shows some good coordination in the post, showed he could hit some outside jumpers (though not to three-point range), and he also showed some passing chops. Depending on how much a team is willing to invest in his development as a scorer, he probably has more juice as a scorer than some of the other centers here.

Is Kamagate a good fit? Funny story: Kyle O’Quinn played on Kamagate’s Paris team this past year, and there are several clips of O’Quinn facilitating offense as a roller or post man with Kamagate finishing at the rim for emphatic dunks. He has some experience playing in a two big setup, and perhaps Kamagate could do some similar things with Jokić in Denver.

Kamagate is definitely more of a project even as a 21-year-old, but he’s a strong defender, has some offensive skills, and already plays a style of basketball similar to Denver’s. Perhaps the transition will be easier for him, and as long as he commits to the defensive end, the Nuggets can definitely work with that.

Jaylin Williams | Big | Arkansas

Draft Age: 20, Height: 6’10”, Weight: 237 lbs, Wingspan: 7’1″

2021-22 per game stats: 31.6 minutes, 10.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.4 steals + blocks, 52.7 two-point %, 23.9 three-point %, 72.9 free throw %

Expected Draft Range: Early to middle second round

What happened last season: Jaylin Williams returned to Arkansas for his sophomore season and went from backup to starting center. He was a bit undersized for the position in comparison to some of these other centers, but he made up for it with high IQ play on both ends and some shooting touch on his outside jumper. Williams’ numbers were relatively pedestrian, but he made a high level of impact as the fulcrum for Arkansas on both ends of the floor. The Razorbacks ultimately lost to Duke right before the Final Four in their last game, though Williams was potentially the most impactful player on the floor in that game against Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams, AJ Griffin, and Wendell Moore.

Expected NBA role: Jaylin Williams reminds me a lot of Al Horford’s playing style. He’s not as strong of an athlete as Horford, but the way he operates at the top of the key and at the elbows as a dribble handoff specialist is reminiscent of the former Florida big man. Williams will likely be used in much of the same way at the NBA level, spacing the floor as a center in a five-out style of offense. Though he’s not a traditional rim protector, Williams is excellent at taking charges, and he’s willing to sell out to make defensive plays in that way. It’s not as impactful as a traditional rim protector, but it helps make up the difference. He also gets his hands in passing lanes for steals much the same way that Jokić does.

Swing skill: The swing skill could easily be the jumper, but I feel confident Williams will be around a 35% three-point shooter in the NBA. The passing is what intrigues me most. He only averaged 2.6 assists per game, but he clearly sees the floor well spatially and can read and react on the fly. It’s not quite Jokić level spectacular, but there’s enough to make me believe he could become a top five passing big man in the NBA during his prime years.

Is Williams a good fit? There are always two schools of thought when evaluating players in the Jokić mold. On one hand, it’s great to replicate what Jokić does with the second unit, because it makes the style of offense and defense easier for players to transition from one guy to the other. On the other hand, the Nuggets might need their center to be a bit more of a rim runner and rim protector on the second unit anyway.

Williams strikes me as a player with enough versatility that he could do more than just play Jokić style offense and defense though. He can defend switches reasonably well for a center, and he might be able to slide to power forward depending on the matchup. Drafting Williams is certainly a commitment to playing a certain way with the second unit, but it’s not necessarily a bad one.