College basketball is a guard's game, or so they say until they need a rebound or someone to clog up the middle and block shots. You cannot win at a high level without good guards, but you also cannot win at a high level without quality play in the post. Look at the Final Four teams and NCAA champions of the past. Can you name the teams in that elite group that did not have high-quality frontcourts? Yeah, neither can I.
Based upon performance in college, and with a nod to pro potential, here are my top 10 big men in the country this season:
Davis is the best defender in the country, and it has taken him only 20 games to prove it. With his freakishly long arms, great feet, athleticism, timing and feel, Davis leads the nation in blocked shots and has already set a Kentucky season record for rejections. Davis covers up the basket from 10 feet and in and can block shots in the paint and jump shots outside of the paint. As an offensive player, Davis has great tools. He has the best pair of hands in college basketball and very good touch. While he may be slight of build, Davis is no pushover and is plenty tough. Perhaps best of all, he does not need the ball to play. He is averaging 13 points per game on only eight shot attempts, 10 rebounds and almost five blocked shots while shooting 63 percent from the floor and 71 percent from the line. Davis will continue to get better and better.
I love Sullinger as a college player, but I am one of those who has a few questions about him as a pro. Don't get me wrong: He will have a long and productive pro career. But is he the type of player who will be truly dominant in the NBA? Sullinger is not simply a quality big man; he is a basketball player who just happens to be big. He's incredibly efficient, averaging more than 17 points and nine rebounds in only 27 minutes per game. He uses his body well, wedges and leverages for position, and plays angles better than any other low post big man in the country. Sullinger does his work below the rim, and the only real question mark has to do with his ability to elevate in traffic. Can he score over the length and athleticism that he will see every night in the NBA? Does he run the floor well enough to impact the game at the next level? Can he guard in the post and block and change shots? He averages less than one block per game in college. I think he will be good. I am just a bit concerned about just how good. In college, he is the best big man, and Davis is only rated ahead of him due to his defensive prowess.
No big man has had a better season than Robinson. Clearly he is a high level athlete with an NBA body. And he has a tremendous motor that keeps revving at a high level game after game. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in college basketball, averaging nine defensive rebounds per game and more than 12 rebounds overall. He can run the floor, and he has the strength and lift to block shots around the rim. He is not a natural scorer but can step away and hit to 18 feet, and he can also put it on the floor and drive it some. Robinson is averaging more than 17 points per game on 54 percent shooting, and he gets to the free throw line six times per game but shoots only 64 percent from the line. His activity level is what makes him special, and he will help a team win without having to be the focal point.
Henson is second in defensive prowess only to Kentucky's Davis. With similar length and shot blocking ability, Henson totally changes the game. Roy Williams can put him on the ball in baseline out of bounds situations, and he will make it difficult to get the ball in. He blocks more than three shots per game and changes many more. Henson is not as fluid an athlete as is Davis, but he runs the floor well and his offensive game has come along in the past year. He is not the type of player to get and hold position in the low post, but he can catch it a step off the lane and take a turnaround jumper. While he takes some questionable shots, that is easily remedied. Henson rebounds at a high rate but is a poor free throw shooter, making a little more than 40 percent of his charity tosses.
Leonard has the complete package physically. He is an outstanding athlete who can really run and get off his feet. He is mobile with a strong frame, a long wingspan and a great touch around the goal. He can step away and knock down a face-up jumper, and he is still improving. As Leonard gets older and more mature, he should develop into an All-America caliber big man and a reliable pro. After a very nondescript freshman year, Leonard took a big jump this season and is averaging 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and better than 70 percent from the free throw line. Leonard has tremendous potential and could wind up being the second-best big man on this list.
6. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Zeller runs the floor better than any big man in the country. While he may not become a great pro, he will play for a dozen years because he will run, rebound and play hard every night. Zeller has good hands and can hit a trail jumper, but he is not a dominant low post player. He has a jump hook and a turnaround jumper, but he is not the type of player that will get low post position and power it up to score or get fouled. His hands are terrific, but this season he has been getting the ball knocked away more than I can recall in the past. Zeller averages more than 14 points and nine rebounds per game, makes his free throws, and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. He is an excellent help defender, getting charges and deflections by breaking contact and getting around in the post.
Drummond is a physical specimen and athlete like few others in college or the NBA. He has some Dwight Howard in him, and he can dunk everything, even when you think he may be a bit too far out. But he is unskilled and does not yet know how to play. Realizing he is just a freshman who expected to be in prep school this year, Drummond does not yet know how to play hard. Over time, he should improve and become an outstanding player who can rebound, block shots and finish around the rim. If his offense comes along, that is all the better. While he can and will be a high pick, based upon college production and effectiveness, I rank him at No. 7, although I would draft him higher than that based upon his tremendous potential. He has tools that many of these other big men cannot develop. For that alone, it is worth looking past current production.
Plumlee is an outstanding athlete with great mobility. He can run the floor, explode off it, and is getting much stronger and better at getting and maintaining low post position. Plumlee is good in pick and roll situations, although he will always roll because he is not a proficient shooter. As a free throw shooter, Plumlee is a liability. He makes only 44 percent from the line and is not a threat to do anything other than drive it when facing the basket. He rebounds at a high rate and is a very good finisher. Plumlee is a good shot blocker, and he has gotten much stronger. At a true 6-foot-11 with athleticism, Plumlee impacts the game best on the glass and finishing around the rim. Older brother Miles is an even better athlete and will also find a place in the NBA because of his athleticism and ability to play backup minutes in the post.
Ratliffe is undersized, but his efficiency is off the charts. He is shooting better than 77 percent from the floor, which would break a 30-year-old record set by Oregon State's Steve Johnson in 1981. Ratliffe has great upper body and lower body strength and plays very effectively off Missouri's four-guard offense. He plays angles very well and has power moves and a legit jump hook. However, he does not have a vast array of moves in the post. He is small for a power forward, but he has long arms and is an improved rebounder, although not great in pursuit of the ball. Ratliffe is not an above-the-rim player or a shot blocker, but with his efficiency, he absolutely belongs on the list of best big men.
One of the most pleasant surprises in college basketball this season has been the play of the UTEP transfer. Moultrie is a true 6-11 with a long wingspan and outstanding athleticism. He runs well, can finish plays around the basket and makes his free throws at a very high rate, shooting better than 80 percent from the line. Although he is not a great shot blocker, Moultrie is a very good finisher and does a great job on the offensive glass. He is averaging more than four offensive rebounds, which is outstanding and provides Mississippi State with extra possessions and a high percentage second shots. Moultrie does not have a refined post game yet but has the tools to get better. He is averaging more than 16 points, 11 rebounds, four offensive rebounds, one steal and one block per game while shooting better than 56 percent from the floor.