Who Are Some Potential Back-Up Center Free Agent Options for the Jazz?

June 5th, 2015 | by David J Smith
Former Jazzman Kosta Koufos might be a good fit behind Rudy Gobert. (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Jazzman Kosta Koufos might be a good fit behind Rudy Gobert. (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

When the Utah Jazz consummated that Enes Kanter trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in February, it left just Rudy Gobert as the lone true center on the roster. That was okay, as Gobert was obviously more than ready for full-time duty. Not only did he excel, but he became one of the great stories in the NBA. He was a revelation for the Jazz and showed his potential to be one of the franchise’s cornerstones for years to come.

Undoubtedly, Gobert will be the man in the middle for Utah from day one — something that will understandably be quite exciting for the team’s fan base. Even so, the Jazz will probably need a back-up center — a capable big who can offer some quality minutes behind Gobert, with enough ability to step in if injuries or foul trouble rear their ugly heads.

One easy solution would be to have Derrick Favors play the five when Gobert is out of the game. After all, Favors spent his first full season as a NBA starter at the center position. That could be the route to go, especially if Utah adds a stretch four to the mix, or to give Trevor Booker quality playing time. Even so, having another big who can be a contributor off the pine is valuable.

Should Ante Tomic indeed picture himself in an NBA uniform, that might solve things. With his vast international experience, ability to score inside and his elite passing prowess, Tomic would fit right in. Whether or not the dream of Tomic in a Jazz uniform ever comes to fruition is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps a more plausible scenario would entail Tomic’s teammate, Tibor Pleiss, coming to Utah. Obtained via the Kanter trade, Pleiss is another player with some tantalizing ability. From our own Andy Larsen:

By some accounts, Pleiss has definite NBA aspirations. Perhaps something happens next month on this front.

Should neither Tomic nor Pleiss materialize, Utah could find a reserve center through a trade or in the draft. With that in mind, there are also some interesting names available in free agency. Here are a few to consider:

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets, RFA, 4.8 PPG (.543 FG%), 6.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG in 19.4 MPG

While Biyombo has never lived up to the expectations associated with being the seventh pick in the 2011 Draft, he has quietly become a solid big man who has both started and come off the bench for the Hornets. Yes, his offense can be lacking at times, but he finishes well enough inside1. His bread and butter is his defense. Biyombo holds his own on that end, sporting an impressive 6.3 BLK%. As a back-up, he would help Utah’s second unit maintain a defensive persona. He also crashes the offensive boards. Biyombo does only stand 6-9.

Amar’e Stoudamire, Dallas Mavericks, UFA, 11.5 PPG (.557 FG%) , 5.6 RPG, 0.6 BPG in 21.1 MPG

It feels like eons ago that Stoudamire was easily one of the league’s premier talents. Injuries have ravished his body, and while his production the past few years did not match his monstrous salary, he has evolved into a very efficient reserve who could function in this role for many years to come. Stoudamire was stellar after joining up with Dallas, averaging 10.8 PPG and 3.7 RPG in a mere 16.5 MPG2. He may not display the incredible athleticism that made him such a tough cover for years, but possesses a litany of moves inside that brings scoring to any bench. His defense is good enough for a reserve role. Stoudamire may opt to sign with a more traditional contender, but if not, he could be a nice offensively-minded option for the Jazz.

Kosta Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies, UFA, 5.2 PPG (.508 FG%), 5.3 RPG, 0.8 BPG in 16.6 MPG

While there are a lot of former Jazzmen on many fans’ wish lists3, one that does not get mentioned much is former first-round draft pick, Kosta Koufos. The Greek center spent two seasons with Utah, eventually being traded in the deal that brought in Al Jefferson.  He was certainly raw early on, but through hard work and good coaching, has developed into a very good NBA player. He found himself starting in Denver and became valuable insurance behind Marc Gasol in Memphis the past two years. He loves to rebound and was a vital cog to the Grizzlies defensive identity. Koufos is surprisingly nimble inside. Despite having seven years of NBA experience, he is still just 26. Should he return to Salt Lake City, the Jazz would be getting a much improved player in Koufos.

Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans Pelicans, UFA, 6.5 PPG (.550 FG%, .818 FT%), 4.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG in 14.1 MPG

Ajinca is a sneaky good player that is not on many basketball fans’ radars, but should be. He is an advanced stat darling4. Simply put, he can play. The Frenchman played well behind Anthony Davis, while doing a fine job filling in for him when needed. Ajinca has great size, is mobile and plays with some attitude.  He also can hit the mid-range jumper. A big man who can hit free throws is worth his weight in gold. Ajinca could be a nice, low-cost back-up for his fellow countryman.

Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks, UFA, 5.5 PPG (.478 FG%), 5.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG in 16.0 MPG

Back in the day, there were some Jazz fans pining for him in the 2010 Draft. For his first four seasons, Aldrich was merely a garbage time player who bounced around from team to team. There were not many highlights in New York’s abysmal, nightmare of a season, but Aldrich’s emergence was one. Someone had to play and he took advantage of his opportunity. The bruising center showed some skill as a rebounder and shot-blocker5. Aldrich was a shockingly good passer. He will not wow anyone, but may have found his niche in the NBA.

Henry Sims, Philadelphia 76ers, RFA, 8.0 PPG (.474 FG%, .774 FT%), 4.9 RPG in 19.2 MPG

The agents for fringe players had to love the Philadelphia experiment the past few years. While putting out a horrible product, it allowed guys like Sims to show what they can do. Sims is not a defensive player, but does enough to warrant attention on the other end. It is always risky when you bet on a guy who puts up numbers on a bad team, but as a bench player, the risk is minimized.

Aron Baynes, San Antonio Spurs, RFA, 6.6 PPG (.566 FG%, .865 FT%), 4.5 RPG in 16.0 MPG

Baynes is the latest in a long line of relatively unknown bigs who have thrived alongside Tim Duncan and in Gregg Popovich’s system. After two seasons where he played sparingly, Baynes was inserted into the San Antonio line-up when Tiago Splitter encountered some injury trouble and he did a fine job. Sure, he got posterized in the Playoffs. He still showed good touch around the basket, a decent jump shot and some physicality inside. Plus, Dennis Lindsey is familiar with the 28-year old center.

Kevin Seraphin, Washington Wizards, UFA, 6.6 PPG (.513 FG%), 3.6 RPG, 0.7 BPG in 15.6 MPG

Although he would never be described as spectacular, Seraphin has been solid for a playoff team. He, too, has the ability to shoot a bit. Two seasons ago, he put up 9.1 PPG off the bench. His rebounding is lacking a bit, but as a back-up center, would be just fine.

Of course, there are a bevy of other options, although most of these names won’t do much: Kendrick Perkins, Ekpe Udoh, Nazr Mohammed, Elton Brand, Justin Hamilton, Joel Anthony, Greg Smith, Shayne Whittington, Bernard James, Jerome Jordan, Jeff Withey, Earl Barron, Joel Freeland, Ryan Hollins, and Greg Stiemsma are among them.

Should Utah look to free agency for some center help, keep these names in mind.

 

David J Smith

David J Smith

Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News and has written for the Utah Jazz website and Hoopsworld.com (now Basketball Insiders). He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. He and his incredibly patient wife have five amazing children--four girls and a boy named Stockton (yes, really).
David J Smith
David J Smith

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14 Comments

  1. DanielT says:

    Good article. One name I would add would be Kyle O’Quinn who is a RFA from Orlando. He can play both PF and C but has statistically played better at center. He is only 25, solid defensive RPM, underrated passer, decent mid range. He saw his playing time decrease towards the end of last year. Could be had.

    • David says:

      Much appreciated, Daniel! He’s a name that intrigues me, too. I had him on a different list of bigs who primarily play power forward, but could play center in a smaller line-up (guys like Ed Davis). Why O’Quinn did not play more in ORL confuses me.

  2. robin says:

    Great article and list of potential FA bigs. Biyombo and Ajinca would be my picks from these. I know Jazz fans have an emotional attachment to Booker, and rightly so, but he was a low efficiency offensive player and an extremely bad defensive player who hurt us when on the court – so if we keep him his minutes need to stay low.

    • Scottie Kramer says:

      Booker’s defence is not appreciated enough here. He’s undersized so it looks like he’s really bad vs some matchups but most of the time he’s a + defender and even when overmatched he generally makes up for it with hustle. I don’t think we can afford to lose Booker if we get a big in FA who is not known for his defence. That said, I also like Biyombo and Ajinca the most out of these options. Biz still has upside, and Ajinca would just be so demoralizing for opposing teams to see Rudy go out just to have another giant come in the game.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      I think Ajinca is poised to have a break-out season in the NBA. It might as well be for the Jazz, especially is the Jazz could sign him to a reasonable contract ($6 mil. per year or less). He appears to be much better on offense than on defense, but is not too bad on defense.

      • David says:

        Thanks for the good thoughts, Robin, Scottie and Paul. Ajinca is really the guy that intrigues me the most on this list.

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    Although most fans would probably view Brandon Wright and Ed Davis as power forwards, they both played a lot of backup center last year, and did a pretty nice job, especially on defense. Another player that could be a third big in the rotation is Andrea Bargnani, who is also primarily a PF, but is 7’0″ tall, and is a legitimate stretch-big, because of his shooting ability (but not so great on defense and rebounding). Bargnani could play the PF position for the Jazz, with either of Favors or Gobert playing the C position (same with Brandon Wright and Ed Davis). So, I think you could add those three names to your list.

    Right now the Jazz’s primary backup center is still Derrick Favors, and may continue to be. As long as the third big has good size and length (such as Wright, Davis or Bargnani), Favors could continue to play the backup center position, with the third big primarily playing the PF position. It does not work as well to play Favors as the backup center when playing Booker at the PF position, because Booker is undersized as a PF–giving the Jazz both an undersized center (Favors) and an undersized PF (Booker) when those two players are in the lineup together.

  4. Mewko says:

    I wish I could combine Frank Kaminsky’s awareness and basketball I.Q, with Myles Turner’s defense, with Trey Lyles’s offensive finesse, with Rudy Gobert’s body.

    • David says:

      I’d be okay with that equation! I always felt that a combination of Korver’s shooting and Ronnie Brewer’s athleticism would’ve been the ideal shooting guard for the Jazz back then.

  5. B.J. Rassam says:

    David, you’ve put together a rather decent list of options, most, if not all of them, would be a good addition for the Jazz.

  6. Grandpa John says:

    Comprehensive and good article. I would go with Basmack Biyomba or Alexis Ajinca; as someone else mentioned also; but prefer Basmack because \of his younger age. I would also bring in Jordan Bachyunski from the D League into summer league or veterans camp and see how he competes agains Basmack; and consider the possibility of keeping him as a 3rd option as a rim protector..

  7. cptAndrus says:

    Ajinca is the headliner of the list, but KK return could make since, but pleiss is the intriguing. Tomac would be second, but we have all been there before. Don’t think he will come. My money is on Pleiss come to fill the backup roll. But if the make a free agent move the Jazz should go forAjinca but I do not think he will be available, and then there is always coolage who could stay around for another year.

  8. Chris says:

    Another guy I think they could look at is Jason Smith. You’d have to wash the Knick stink off him with a fire hose, but I thought he was pretty good when he played alongside Anthony Davis in NOLA. He’s not great at anything but he’s tough on defense and can shoot it a little bit on the other end. Only made $3MM this year and is a UFA at 29 years old. I think he fits the bill as a reasonably skilled backup 5 that can play reserve minutes with either Favors or Booker.

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