Blazers thinking big for draft night?

Elite 7-footers made many stops for Portland pre-draft workouts

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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Like the proliferation of cat memes on the Internet, big men overrun this year's NBA Draft.

By far, the Portland Trail Blazers evaluated more elite 7-footers during their pre-draft workouts than any other variety of prospects. Thus, these indicators could point to the Blazers' desire to snag a center or power forward with the 10th pick on Thursday night.If the Blazers indeed go big, then let's take a look at the top 10 post players who could become the team's next top dog.

1. Steven Adams, 7-0 center, Pittsburgh

The Blazers need a legitimate man in the middle. Although J.J. Hickson tried valiantly to serve as the starting center, at 6-foot-9 he was even smaller than power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and provided little protection at the rim. Instead of giving Hickson one more chance, and another contract, the Blazers could solve these defensive inadequacies by drafting Adams, the 19-year-old from New Zealand.

Adams' numbers in college were not dominant (7.2 points and a team-leading 6.3 rebounds per game) but he has risen steadily in projections. Adams has displayed more offensive skills during his NBA workouts than he ever did at Pitt.Although he's a young player from overseas, Adams has the potential to excel as the best pure center of this draft. Adams plays with his back to the basket, defends aggressively (2.0 blocks per game), and very well could be off the board before the Blazers take their first pick.

2. Cody Zeller, 7-0 power forward, Indiana

Last summer, the Blazers passed on Zeller's older brother, Tyler, and instead selected 7-footer Meyers Leonard with the 11th pick. So what makes the other Zeller more attractive this time around? For one, Cody Zeller performs as a more competent offensive threat -- even more advanced than Leonard who will be entering his second year in the league.

As a sophomore, Zeller played for a team that climbed to No. 1 in the country and led Indiana in scoring (16.5), rebounding (8.1) and blocked shots (1.3). On June 7, the Blazers gave Zeller a long, serious look with an individual workout and the prospect wanted to impress the team with his unnoticed shooting range.

"It's tough to tell sometimes in games what you could do just because I had so many talented players around me in Indiana," Zeller said. "That was definitely one of the things I wanted to show. I've been able to shoot my whole life, in high school, in AAU and growing up in Indiana you always grow up shooting the basketball in the driveway. So it was definitely one of the things I wanted to show."

Zeller desires to be a facsimile of the skilled power forwards who work from the mid-post like Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas).

3. Alex Len, 7-1 center, Maryland

Seven-footers don't grow on trees. So, that's why NBA teams will bend over backwards to nab one — even if that means playing the waiting game for one as he heals from ankle surgery.

Although Len appeared to have butterflies through his college career, averaging a lowly 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds as a sophomore, he's still considered a high lottery pick. Also, Len did not participate in a single pre-draft combine or workout due to his ankle injury and yet he proclaims to be the top center in this year's crop.

Why? Because he's 7-1 and although the league trend favors smaller lineups, the sight of a true big man will always entice NBA executives. It's the reason why Greg Oden can still get a job somewhere and Andrew Bynum may still command a max contract this summer after sitting out the entire 2012-2013 due to knee problems. Len may be hindered now, but one team will still boldly invest in him and hope for the best.

4. Kelly Olynyk, 7-0 power forward, Gonzaga

A former football player in high school, Olynyk still has the shoulder scar to prove his toughness. However at the NBA level, Olynyk would rather space the floor than bang inside with the centers.

Like Zeller, Olynyk wants to play the power forward position but feels his 7-foot size will give him the edge in match ups whenever he decides to enter the post.Olynyk averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior and also has international experience as a member of the Team Canada in the 2010 FIBA World Championships.

5. Tony Mitchell, 6-9 power forward, North Texas

The question following Mitchell will be: is he worth the risk? Mitchell, a talented yet inconsistent prospect, has admitted that he did not always give his all during his short stint in college. While Mitchell's honesty is admirable, how many teams willingly want to toss millions at a young player who has a reputation for slacking off?

"I think I've changed because this is a business more than anything," Mitchell said after his workout with the Blazers. "You have to work hard each and every day because somebody is trying to take your job as well."

Mitchell compares himself to one of the hardest workers in the league, Kenneth Faried of Denver. Though he has a similar muscular frame as 'The Manimal,' Mitchell must prove that he also has the motor to match Faried. Mitchell may be a dangerous gamble, but worth it for his athleticism and untapped potential.

6. Rudy Gobert, 7-1 center, Cholet (France)

Gobert may want to fire the guy who set up his pre-draft workouts. The slight 7-foot-1 prospect did not catch a break as he competed in several workouts against the bigger, more physical Adams. The pair matched up together at least three times, including when the Blazers brought both players in for evaluations. Since Adams outweighs Gobert by nearly 20 pounds, those head-to-head matchups favored the powerful Kiwi.

Still, the Frenchman should keep the faith. Gobert has the most impressive wingspan (7-9) and his standing reach is only three inches from the rim. These freakish attributes make Gobert a natural shot blocker — which just so happens to fill a need for the Blazers."

Everybody projects him as a rim protector," ESPN's Chad Ford said on Tuesday, "but the issue is, he's not skilled offensively, needs strength and doesn't have a high motor."

7. Mason Plumlee, 6-10 power forward, Duke

Four years at Duke as a dunker and rebounder (7.7 career average) portray the 23-year-old Plumlee as an incomplete player with a low ceiling. These perceived limitations have caused Plumlee to float in the projections as high as a lottery pick at 14 or as low as a selection in the 20s. Even so, Plumlee still has a big body and that will make him decent option as a backup center.

8. Mike Muscala, 6-11 power forward, Bucknell

Muscala finished his four-year college career as arguably the best player to come out of Bucknell.

The program centered around Muscala, who ranks first all-time in school history in scoring with 2,036 points and second in rebounds (1,093) and blocked shots (271).

Though his size automatically made Muscala a center in college, he believes he would be a better fit as an NBA power forward. This aversion to physical play could plummet his stock to the second round but Muscala's soft touch as a career 50 percent field-goal shooter fits in with the stretch-four phenomenon in the NBA.

9. Jackie Carmichael, 6-9 power forward, Illinois State

Carmichael improved his stock after his showing at the all-senior Portsmouth Invitational this spring. Mitchell is not alone in his attempts to fashion himself as the next Kenneth Faried. Carmichael, as well, welcomes comparisons to the high-energy, no-quit rebounder. As a senior, Carmichael led the Missouri Valley Conference with 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots and also averaged 17.4 points per game.

10. Colton Iverson, 7-0 center, Colorado State

During his only year at Colorado State as a senior, Iverson played as the invincible force that led the Rams to an NCAA Tournament upset over Missouri. And good news for the Save The Center contingent — Iverson (14.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) knows he's a big man and plays like one.

"I'm a traditional post player, back to the basket, just physical, big body," Iverson said after his June 17 workout with the Blazers. "I always had a jump shot (but) I led the conference in field-goal percentage and that's basically because I was pounding it inside."

Nevertheless, ESPN's Chad Ford said on Tuesday that NBA teams have referred to Iverson as "Five Fouls," — a suggestion that the big man will only do the dirty work at the next level.

"That's how people are evaluating him," Ford said.