NBA draft: Christian Koloko has mobile-big, rim-protecting centre potential

The Raptors have been rumoured to be interested in a few big-name NBA centres since the season ended. If they are looking to upgrade at the five spot through the draft, Christian Koloko could be the answer with Ismael Kamagate not far behind. Listen to the full episode on the best options for Toronto at No. 33 on the "Raptors Over Everything" podcast feed, or watch on YouTube.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: So we're going to move to some centers. And with the center position, I'm not even sure where I'm with the Raptors and centers because they got Precious Achiuwa, and I think they have a lot of faith in him. But do they?

You hear the rumors, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Ayton. All these things are coming up. Are they coming from the Raptors? Or are they coming from people who think that the Raptors need players like that? I don't even know if they do.

Defensively, both those guys that I mentioned, Gobert, Ayton, they're great, but they're also going to be a premium. And so maybe you can find players that are going to be able to do it a lot cheaper than those players, especially in the draft. That's a great way to do it.

You have so many players who are going to be very expensive in the coming years. So if you can get a center at a cheap price who's got some really high upside, it's not a bad idea. But looking at the players that they worked out, there haven't been that many centers, but there have been a lot of 6' 8" wings, you know? And there's been a lot of--

COREY TULABA: Yeah.

AMIT MANN: --and if they're not them, then it's going to be like a Dalen Terry, you know?

COREY TULABA: Right.

AMIT MANN: Or some other players that probably play 1 to 3. Maybe not 1 to 4, but they can do 1 to 3. So the centers, I'm not sure what the Raptors are thinking. But anyway, Christian Koloko.

COREY TULABA: Yeah, when I gave you his name, I almost was like, I don't even know if it's appropriate to give a center on this list because I went through the Raptor-- I opened the Yahoo Sports app, and I went through the roster.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: And I was like, the tallest player on the Raptors is listed at 6' 9".

AMIT MANN: Yes, and they're proud of it.

COREY TULABA: Right, are they going full tilt, pedal to the metal, all in on 6' 8", 6' 9" guys? Or does it make sense to have a center on the team, so when the situation does occur, you do have somebody at least with the size to kind of man the spot and match up with whatever the other team is using to their advantage? So what I like about Koloko in this range is that, while he's a little bit older as a college prospect, he's still very new to the game.

He grew up playing soccer. He's from the Cameroon. He's still got a lot of room to grow, whereas I think most people would look at a center, who's in their third year of college, as like, this is probably what they are I still think there's room for him.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: I think when you look at the soccer background, you see it in his footwork. Like, this dude has such good footwork. And the first thing I go to for centers is like, what are they like defensively? If you're just going to be Enes Kanter, or Enes Freedom, I don't need to really look at you much as a prospect.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: I got to see how you hold up on the defensive end. Are you going to be able to be played in the playoffs? Or are you going to be glued to the bench?

I love how he moves. He can guard out onto the perimeter. I think he does a sensational job of getting deep into a stance, sitting down, getting long, and staying stride for stride with smaller players.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: And that's really important in the NBA, where teams are going to look to take advantage on switches. So I love that positional versatility. Really great length, almost a 7' 6" wingspan, 7', 7' 5 and 1/2" wingspan, great shot blocker, good timing, all the things that you want out of that. I think that offensively a little raw still, but I see potential in the jumper. He killed it in the combine on the 3-point shooting drill, which doesn't mean--

AMIT MANN: Hmm.

COREY TULABA: It doesn't mean a lot because he was not a 3-point shooter in college, so I'm not going to project him as one in the NBA. It's a lot easier to shoot when no one's guarding you than it is on a basketball court with people that are closing out on you. But down the line, I think his form, even in the mid-range, which he was fine going to in college, it looks smooth enough that, like, a team-- I could see, three years from now, maybe he knocks down a couple a game. Or he puts up a couple of games just to stretch the defense.

But even without that, if he doesn't develop that, he's going to be a guy who you can run a pick and roll with, and throw the ball up, and lob it up. And he's going to dunk it. And that rim gravity, I think, is also an important thing, especially as the Raptors start adding more shooting--

AMIT MANN: Sure.

COREY TULABA: --around the floor. So those are the things that really intrigued me about Christian Koloko, just his background, the fact that he still has room to grow as a player because of how lady picked the game up. And the physical attributes are really impressive.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, no concerns defensively. He's already one of the best rim protectors like you said. And the footwork is something else that stood out to me. Just looking at some of the highlights is that you can see the potential as a player who can guard at the level against a lot of different body types, player types, point guards, forwards, whatever the case is.

It's kind of like any center that they bring in, they've got to be able to either shoot the 3, which I think may actually be, like, a necessity. They have to be able to at some point. Or they've got to be a rim runner. And they've got to be a true lob threat.

And yeah, could he be that guy? I mean, for sure. Does he have to drop maybe a few pounds so he's a bit more mobile? So he is able to get to the rim? That could be another thing that may have to happen. I'm not sure, but he's definitely got the potential.

And if the Raptors do decide to go the center route, he's a name that would definitely be up there. I wonder if the offensive side of the game could be a little bit too far behind at this moment. That's all.

COREY TULABA: Yeah, and that's a completely fair perspective because I think that he is raw. Like, he's not a guy who's going to make plays. He's not Bam Adebayo, where you're running DHOs, and he's hitting guys.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: You're not doing that with him. But he is a guy that can do all the little things, play a really simplistic game. And maybe that's a guy you want on your bench. Maybe for 20 minutes that's really valuable.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: And you mentioned guys have to play at the level of the screen. And if we're watching the Finals, Steph Curry, the level of the screen--

AMIT MANN: Ooh.

COREY TULABA: --is no longer at the 3-point line. Al Horford is playing drop at the 3-point line, which traditionally is pretty high to be playing a drop. And it is not high enough.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, no.

COREY TULABA: If you want to play at the level, you got to have somebody that can move. And I buy that from Koloko.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, OK.

COREY TULABA: So when I think of the playoff context, and for the Raptors, maybe they have Trey in the playoffs, right? Trey is going to stretch the floor.

AMIT MANN: Gotcha.

COREY TULABA: I think he could actually step out to the level, and still recover, and play the cat-and-mouse game, and get back to his man.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, Al Horford is going through a hell of a time right now dealing with Steph Curry. He's too old for this shit, I tell you. That's what he's thinking to himself.

[LAUGHTER]

Another center that could be really interesting for the Raptors at the center position, Ishmael Kamagate. Why do you think Koloko is a better option than him?

COREY TULABA: I think what it comes down to is-- for as raw as some of the things you see with Koloko, I think Kamagate is just way more raw as a prospect. Like, on the offensive side of the ball, he definitely has flashes where you're like, whoa.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: And that's not nothing. And he's big, and he does a lot of similar things to Koloko. And I think that it wouldn't shock me if he went first at all. He's a guy who-- I don't know if you're familiar with Victor Wembanyama, next year's projected number one pick.

AMIT MANN: Oh, yeah.

COREY TULABA: But he outplayed him in that league. And he he's had some really impressive games, but I just think his shot is further away. The form is OK, but I think the touch is iffy.

And I don't like his footwork as much as Koloko. I don't like how he sets screens. And it's something that Koloko needs to work on too. He opens up the opposite way on rolls.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: So it's just that extra half a second for him to turn around before he gets to the rim. Every second, every millisecond matters in the NBA. And I think he's just further away. But if the Raptors took him, it means that they actually think they could bring out the massive potential that he does have inside of him.

AMIT MANN: Sure.

COREY TULABA: So he's definitely a guy to keep tabs on for the next week.

AMIT MANN: Last name for you just to get your thoughts, Dom Barlow, another name that is a bit trendy these days.

COREY TULABA: Yes, yes, very trendy. Another guy who played in the Overtime Elite league with Jean Montero. This is a kid who, again, is a late developer, a late bloomer. He was found, I think, at a park in New Jersey by an AAU coach, who like-- like a year ago, like a year-and-a-half ago or something, it just happened where--

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: --and then he kind of blew up on the scene. And again, it's hard. I implore anybody who's curious about these guys to watch some of the Overtime Elite games because it's very loose there. But he's athletic.

He looks like he's going to be able to shoot it down the line. He plays hard. And I think that from what I've heard, he's interviewed very well.

AMIT MANN: Hm.

COREY TULABA: He's a guy with a lot of potential. I think that if he had maybe gotten an opportunity to go to college, that he'd be a guy who you'd be talking down the line as a potential top 20 pick. So he has that kind of potential. And again, he's the type of guy that Maasai values--

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

COREY TULABA: --with his physical attributes. So that's where some of the intrigue starts with him. But he's definitely not a knockdown shooter yet. He has to improve there. He's not a decision maker. He's not a guy that you're going to see making a ton of plays for other players.

He's going to run out in transition. He's going to set screens. He's going to try to knock down open shots, and he's going to try to defend multiple positions. But he's got a lot to learn just catching up to the speed of the game, and the intricacies, and different schemes. But he's loaded with potential.

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