Wembanyama, Jackson-Davis among top bigs in NBA draft

Victor Wembanyama has long been earmarked to be the No. 1 overall selection in the NBA draft, a player so unique that he defies traditional categorization.

He headlines The Associated Press’ list of big men in the draft with a 7-foot-3 frame that could eventually help him dominate inside to go with his perimeter skills.

The AP previously noted the top guard prospects in the draft, along with forwards and international players to watch. Here’s a look at the top big men likely to hear their names called Thursday night:

Victor Wembanyama, France

STRENGTHS: An incomparable combination of skills and size have made the French star a generational prospect with can’t-miss expectations unseen since LeBron James. He can roam the perimeter, handle the ball and shoot off the dribble like a guard, but his length helps him score over defenders inside along with racking up blocks and deflections. And with San Antonio holding the top pick, he’ll soon be under the tutelage of a five-time NBA champion in Gregg Popovich.

Among his countless highlights, one play from April stands out: the sight of Wembanyama missing an off-the-dribble stepback 3-pointer — only to fly in and tip dunk his own miss.

CONCERNS: Essentially none. The 19-year-old could probably stand to add strength to handle physical defenders.

Dereck Lively II, Duke

STRENGTHS: The lean 7-foot-1 freshman arrived at Duke as 247sports’ No. 2-ranked national recruit and came on in the season’s second half as a strong rim protector nimble enough to defend in open space. He ranked ninth nationally in blocked shots (2.41). The highlight came in a February win against rival North Carolina, when the first-round prospect dominated while scoring just four points thanks to 14 rebounds and eight blocks.

“I’ve seen him really change high school games or AAU games with doing the same thing,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said afterward. “Usually bigs are so hungry to score. That’s not necessarily the most efficient play or the best play for him.”

CONCERNS: The 19-year-old wasn’t a dominant rebounder despite his length (5.4 average, six double-digit outings in 34 games). His offensive game was limited beyond putbacks and alley-oops, including a scoreless game with no shot attempts in 36 minutes against a physical Tennessee team as Duke fell in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. Adding bulk to a 230-pound frame could help both areas.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

STRENGTHS: The Center Grove graduate and 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball was an Associated Press All-America first-team pick mixing reliability, versatility and athleticism. He ranked sixth in Division I in rebounding (10.8) and eighth in double-doubles (18) while also ranking in the top 20 in scoring (20.9) with multiple post moves. And he stepped up his production heading into the March spotlight, averaging 24.7 points on 61.5% shooting in his final six games.

Defensively, he ranked fourth nationally in blocked shots (2.88) with a 7-1 wingspan, making him a well-rounded interior presence who could hear his name called in the back half of the first round.

CONCERNS: He’s a bit undersized (6-8, 240) for an interior-focused player who has shown little outside of 15 feet. He’s a career 67.6% shooter at the foul line who never hit 70% in a season, and his 3-point history consists entirely of going 0 for 3 as a junior. He also is one of the oldest prospects at 23 years old.

Others of note

Noah Clowney: The 6-10, 210-pound freshman became an every-game starter for an Alabama team that was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAAs. Turning 19 next month, Clowney averaged 9.9 points and offers potential as a rebounder (8.0) with the ability to step outside (eight games with multiple made 3s). That could help him land in the late first round.

James Nnaji: The center from Nigeria turns 19 in August and has been playing in Spain, where his team lists him as 6-11 and 249 pounds. He offers intrigue as a raw developmental prospect with a 7-5 wingspan and defensive potential. Some mock drafts have him sneaking into the first round.

Adama Sanogo: The junior powered Connecticut to a fifth NCAA championship as the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. He’s a bit undersized for a big (roughly 6-7 without shoes at the NBA combine) and is a second-round prospect, but he has a strong frame (roughly 255 pounds) and added a step-outside element to his game last year by making 19 of 52 3-pointers (36.5%). His nearly 7-3 wingspan measured fifth-best at the combine.

Oscar Tshiebwe: The senior from Kentucky rode a relentless-rebounding mindset into being named as AP men’s national player of the year in 2022 and a second-team All-American in 2023. It’s unclear whether the 23-year-old — measuring roughly 6-7 and 255 pounds with a a better than 7-3 wingspan at the NBA combine — will be drafted. But he averaged national bests of 15.1 rebounds in 2022 and 13.7 in 2023 while racking up 48 double-doubles, so his motor might intrigue a team to take a flier.