Evolve, or die. College basketball big guys, beware.
on Sunday Minnesota Timberwolves agreed with Naz Reed on a new three-year, $42 million contract that will keep the center in Minneapolis for some more time. At first glance, an NBA team having a 23-year-old, 6-foot-9-inch, 264-pound backup who just had his best season ever — 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds — isn’t newsworthy. But it’s pretty coincidental that it happened just days after the NBA Draft, which proved that the league now prefers big guys like Reid instead of traditional college centers, who didn’t hear his name last week.
Drew Timme was a three-time All-American at Gonzaga, averaging 21.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in his senior year. Adama Sanogo was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament for UConn. Oscar Tshibwe was the Naismith Player of the Year in 2021 at Kentucky. None of these college basketball legions were drafted.
Like Reed, all three went undrafted. But, unlike Reed, all three don’t have the kind of game that would translate into the NBA like the former LSU star, who left school after his freshman year to sign a two-way deal with Minnesota.
Reed’s mobility, lateral quickness, and shooting allow him to be a floor spacer – at times – on the offensive end, while still being able to protect the rim and perimeter in pick-and-roll action. Being big and tall is no longer enough to make it to the NBA. To think that your favorite college center will be successful at the next level just because he’s a good rebounder and has some post moves is a pipe dream. If they can’t defend 1-through-5 then they’re ripe, which is why Timme, Sanogo and Tshibwe are in their current positions.
A few years ago, Luca Garza was also in the same position. after being named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021, and First-time winner of Sporting News Player of the Year since Michael Jordan, the 6-foot-10, 243-pound center out of Iowa was eight picks away from not being selected in the 2021 NBA Draft. Since then, he’s been bouncing around off the bench for the Detroit Pistons and Timberwolves — or working on his game in the G League. Garza was foreshadowing the path Timme, Sanogo and Tshibwe’s careers could take, while also hinting that North Carolina’s Armando Becot is next to follow in their unfortunate footsteps.
When the Philadelphia 76ers took Jahlil Okafor with the No. 3 pick in 2015, it made sense because the Duke center was arguably the best player in college basketball during his freshman year as he was coming off a national championship. Okafor proved to be a relic, as his low-post game – along with some other things – He is no longer valued in the league, making him a clear example that a big change has come.
Basketball is still basketball because it will always be a sport in which being tall is important. But the value of “big man” has changed. And as we’ve seen over the past few days, the “big guys” have two choices: adapt or become a collegiate memory.