How Final Four stars Zach Edey and Donovan Clingan project as NBA big men

Purdue's 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey is the most dominant player in college basketball and led his team to the Final Four with a career-high 40 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Tennessee. UConn's 7-2 sophomore center Donovan Clingan is playing his best basketball of the season as the Huskies have steamrolled through the tournament, hoping to become back-to-back national champions. This is the time of the year when many NBA scouts and executives are watching players closely to see how they play under pressure and on the biggest stage in college basketball.

The NCAA tournament has catapulted both players to another level, leaving many to wonder where each player could possibly be drafted by NBA teams in June. The 2024 NBA Draft is considered a weaker draft with a dip in talent this year, possibly leaving room for both Clingan and Edey to be drafted higher than they would in any other draft year.

"With how wide open this class is, it's definitely helped both Clingan and Edey," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "They both were so dominant this year, and I think the edge goes to Clingan with his mobility. The downside is there are some matchups in the NBA where I don't think either one of them could stay on the court for any amount of time, and that's concerning when you're considering a player in the lottery."

Most mock drafts have Clingan in the lottery with how well he's been playing after recovering from a December foot injury. Opinions widely differ when projecting where Edey will be selected, ranging from the back half of the lottery to mid-second round.

"If this were 20 years ago, he [Edey] would be the No. 1 pick, but the game has changed and not many teams are playing with traditional bigs anymore," another scout said.

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports Illustration)
(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports Illustration)

Victor Wembanyama at 7-4 and Chet Holmgren at 7-1 are changing the way the center position is played in the NBA. Denver Nuggets star center Nikola Jokić is leading his team with nine assists per game and is a walking example of positionless basketball. It's hard to imagine Edey and Clingan being asked to guard any one of those players at the next level with the way they can extend the defense and take players off the dribble. More and more NBA teams have transitioned away from traditional centers and are investing in mobile bigs who can be a threat off the block.

"For any team to draft Edey, they would have to change the way they play," one Western conference scout said. "Not necessarily to play around him, but he would become a secondary center off the bench to bring in rim protection and size. Is that worth a look in the first round? In this draft? Maybe."

Edey went through the NBA Draft process last spring and received feedback from teams. He returned for his senior year and was in better shape and improved his footwork. Considering how strong and tough he is, he's towered over his competition all season long, averaging 25 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.

Clingan runs the floor better than Edey and is more mobile laterally when guarding the switch off the pick-and-roll. He had his best game of the season in the Elite Eight win over Illinois, recording 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.

"After [Alex] Sarr, I think Clingan, when healthy, has proven he's the next-best big in this draft class," one scout said.

No one is ignoring how elite both players have been at the collegiate level, but in an NBA game where teams are attacking the 3-point line and spacing the floor for ball movement, traditional centers haven't translated well from college to the pros.

There have been similar players to Edey and Clingan who dominated at the college level, but who have not panned out in the NBA. Iowa's Luka Garza was named the National Player of the Year before being drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 52nd pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He's now on a two-way contract and averaging under five minutes per game. Drew Timme led Gonzaga to the title game his junior season and finished his college career with 2,307 points and 896 rebounds and was named the WCC Player of the Year in 2023. He went undrafted last June and is currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks' G League team.

"The more teams elect to play with big players allows Edey and Clingan to play in the NBA because now they have someone to matchup with," another scout said. "That's not the way the game is being played right now and that's not the direction teams are going, so I'm not sure how much playing time either one will see."

With so much uncertainty in this draft class, the more minutes both Edey and Clingan play can only add clarity for NBA teams that are considering adding some size next season. Some teams might feel more comfortable drafting a player like Edey or Clingan where they know exactly what they're getting instead of taking a swing on a player with potential and upside. There is a chance fans and scouts will get to see Clingan and Edey square off in the championship game Monday night if both UConn and Purdue can advance past the Final Four on Saturday, setting up a monster showdown in a battle of the bigs.