Durham, Williams, Kessler top NBA draft big men

FILE - Auburn's Walker Kessler blocks Jacksonville State's Demarie King during the second half of an NCAA Tournament first-round NCAA college basketball game Friday, March 18, 2022 in Greenville, SC Kessler is this One of the top big men in the NBA draft of the year.  (AP Photo/Bryn Anderson, file)

FILE – Auburn’s Walker Kessler blocks Jacksonville State’s Demarie King during the second half of an NCAA Tournament first-round NCAA college basketball game Friday, March 18, 2022 in Greenville, SC Kessler is this One of the top big men in the NBA draft of the year. (AP Photo/Bryn Anderson, file)

Associated Press

Memphis’ Jaren Durham, Duke’s Mark Williams and Auburn’s Walker Kessler were the big men in Thursday’s NBA draft headlines.

Each is a moving big man with the ability to finish at the rim, Durham and Williams are potential lottery picks, and Kessler is a first-rounder.

Here are the top bigs in the draft:

Du Ren

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound freshman is just 18 years old but has impressive athleticism and strength.

Strengths: Durham has the solid frame to grab positions and the athleticism to finish lobs above the rim, making him ESPN’s No. 10 draft prospect. He averaged 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, proving that he’s effective in attacking the rim and running.

Durham also showed a relentless rebounding ability, racking up 20 rebounds against UCF in the USA Track and Field Championships and 19 against Western Kentucky in November. He averaged 2.1 blocks per game.

“I got better and my body got better,” Durham said. “Honestly, I hope to continue to develop in my rookie season and be one of the young rookies.”

Concern: He didn’t shoot very well in the team’s two NCAA tournament games, including 11 in a game against potential No. 1 pick Gonzaga’s potential pick Chet Holmgren while limited by foul trouble 3 in. His offensive game is still developing, going beyond lobs to the rim, and it’s unclear what kind of range he’ll have. He also shot just 62.5 percent from the free throw line.

Williams

The 7-foot-2, 242-pound sophomore is an excellent rim protector with mobility and an evolving offense.

Strengths: Williams offers incredible length, from a 9-9 stance to better than 7-6 wingspan. That helped him rank 12th in blocks per game at 2.82 while changing so many shots that now-retired Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski likened him to a hockey goalie during the NCAA tournament.

Krzyzewski also noted that Williams, who was listed as the No. 14 overall pick by ESPN, improved his lateral movement, giving him better opportunities to handle switches and ball screens.

On offense, he averaged 11.2 points per game and was able to shoot from highs with ease.

“I would say I’ll take anywhere I go and just be that kind of living threat: protecting the rim right away, running on the floor, playing hard, that sort of thing,” Williams said. “I think I’ll bring it in right away.”

Concerns: The 20-year-old offensive player is still developing. He showed more of a return to the basket last year, but there’s still room for growth. Despite his size, he can improve his rebounding ability after averaging 7.4 rebounds and double-digit output in just 12 of 39 games.

Kessler

The 7-foot-1, 256-pound sophomore is another excellent shot-blocker and most mobile defender.

Strengths: ESPN’s No. 26 overall draft prospect, named National Defensive Player of the Year by Naismith and the National Basketball Coaches Association, ranks second in Division I with 4.56 blocks per game, including nine games with at least seven blocks .

Kessler provides length (9-5 standing distance, better than 7-4 wingspan), and shows mobility in chasing the ball and switching outside.

Offensively, he’s averaging 11.4 points on 60.8 percent shooting and 8.1 rebounds while playing alongside potential No. 1 pick Jabari Smith.

Concerns: Kessler’s shooting touch didn’t show up in two seasons in college, the first at North Carolina. Kessler shot just 57.7 percent from the free-throw line in two seasons and was just 10-for-50 (20 percent) from 3-point range with the Tigers last season.

“If Walker returns to Auburn next year, he’ll look more like Jabari Smith, from a (is) aggressive shooting standpoint,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said Tuesday. “I hope that as he gets into the NBA and transitions into the NBA, that’s what’s going to happen to him at the next level as well.”

other viewing

— JAYLIN WILLIAMS: The 6-foot-10, 237-pound sophomore who helped Arkansas reach the NCAA regional finals is dynamic and has the ability to score, pass, handle and block shots. He had 16 double-doubles last season and could sneak into the first round as ESPN’s 36th overall draft prospect.

— CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: From Arizona, 7-foot-221 pounds, an athletic big man who can run and block shots. He averaged 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while shooting 73.5 percent from the free throw line this year, up from 35 percent as a freshman. He was ESPN’s 43rd overall pick, making him a possible second-round pick.

— TREVION WILLIAMS: The 6-foot-8, 265-pound senior helped Purdue take No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time. Williams is averaging 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but his passing ability is also excellent (3.0 assists). He’s ESPN’s No. 56 overall prospect and likely a second-round pick.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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