On April 20th, All-American center Kofi Cockburn of the University of Illinois declared for the 2022 NBA Draft. Cockburn hired an agent and said he was “100% in now,” so there is no chance the standout will return to college.
Cockburn is a two-time All-American and was one of the best college players in the country for the last two seasons, but he is projected to be a second-round pickup at best, with many experts suggesting he will not be drafted at all.
How does one go from being a 20-point, ten rebound machine to perhaps saying goodbye to American professional basketball? The NBA is changing, and paint dominating centers are no longer the franchise cornerstone teams build around. The NBA doesn’t really have a place for those kinds of players. Luka Garza was the 2021 Player of the Year, and he is barely hanging on in the G League for the Motor City Cruise. He was a similar player in college, except he could get outside and knock down a 3-pointer.
Cockburn is everything the NBA has tried to move away from. He cannot shoot, he cannot guard anyone on the perimeter, but he can absolutely dominate the paint on both sides of the ball. He is the most physically intimidating player since Shaq and has a frame that looks a lot like David Robinson. He is the prototypical center of the early 2000s. He can post up and swat shots away, but don’t expect him to be dishing the ball like Jokic or shooting from deep like Brook Lopez.
The San Antonio Spurs could actually be the only team that could fit him on the roster. He is a bigger and stronger version of Jakob Poeltl, but it doesn’t make sense to have two slow centers on the roster. If San Antonio trades Poeltl, this adds a starting-caliber center to the roster and allows either Zach Collins or Jock Landale to shoot the ball. Kofi Cockburn could be the second-round project the organization takes a gamble on.
The upside is quite clear: a more offensively gifted Rudy Gobert whose sheer strength looks like Joel Embiid. Of course, that’s probably wishful thinking, and if he doesn’t show any upside within two seasons, then he will probably catch a flight to play in Europe.
There is some middle ground. With his speed limitations and lack of an outside shot, he could wind up like Enes Kanter Freedom, who played 10 seasons in the NBA, albeit forgettable ones. With a second-round pick, it’s hard to pass up a seven-footer who would immediately be one of the heaviest and strongest players in the league.
It’s a total crapshoot with relatively low risk but a very high reward. The chances of a relic of the NBA past fitting in today? Not the best, but if any team is a good fit for him, it would be San Antonio.