Carlton Bragg: Junior Primer

Almost everyone understands at this point the importance of a 6-9 player being able to face the basket, and Bragg has taken that imperative to heart.

Readers old enough to remember the 1980s Chicago Bulls might recall Brad Sellers. The rail thin seven-footer drew widespread ridicule from fans and media alike for his perimeter-oriented game, regularly attracting the ire of a young Michael Jordan as well.

Who would have guessed Sellers would become a revolutionary?

The spindly big man from Ohio State — and the now the mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, his hometown — played a finesse, perimeter game that emphasized shooting and ball-handling over interior grunt work. Though not the first player in the Reagan-era NBA to play offbeat, he clearly was an oddity.

Sellers drew the "soft" label (and worse) before suiting up for a single NBA contest, but he actually resembles today's modern big man more closely than the most heralded frontcourt players of his time. To paraphrase a famous Rick Pitino quote, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish aren't walking through that door. And even if they did in prime form, they'd constitute an antiquated frontcourt in today's league.

Players like Carlton Bragg are the new norm. The 6-9 forward carries a reasonably sized frame and in prior decades would be grooming himself as a polished post scorer, but his evolution as a prospect is tracking toward the perimeter.

Bragg caught colleague Brian Snow's attention as a rising sophomore in the 2012 summer. He already stood 6-8 (now 6-9) and impressed with his mobility. West Virginia admired his game so much that the Mountaineers offered a scholarship prior to the 2012-13 campaign.

He hit the road last spring and summer and stamped out ground for himself in the national top 15. Though still not a complete product, at times he dominated the action on both ends of the court due to his size and natural physical gifts.

I watched him extensively for the first time at the Pangos All-American Camp and agreed with that widespread assessment. His skill level surprised me favorably that week, and by the end of summer he had drawn additional offers from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, Kansas, Michigan and others.

Earlier this month he received the opportunity to tangle against two elite seniors: Cliff Alexander and Trey Lyles. Matched against more physically mature opponents — Alexander might be the meanest player in the Class of 2014 — Bragg proved that he'll stick his nose amid the most contentious action and answered a formidable challenge. He rebounded fiercely and demonstrated greater offensive balance than he has at times in the past.

Balance is the key word. Bragg's less impressive performances typically occur when he settles for too many long jump shots. He does possess deep range but must avoid the temptation to become overly perimeter oriented. When he's very good, which is most of the time, he incorporates more traditional post-ups along with alert movement without the ball and cleanup after grabbing an offensive rebound.

Over time, as he rises in competitive level, Bragg will need more of those jumpers. But for now, I prefer him as a power forward with range rather than Kevin Durant clone. His performances versus Alexander and Lyles served as a highly encouraging sign that he might be ready to take the next step and challenge for the national top five by the end of summer.

His recruitment remains frenetic, as now Kentucky, Arizona and Louisville have stepped forward with offers to join the other high-major programs on his list. His skill level and good athleticism at 6-9 make him almost a sure thing for college, and with continued development and clean health he should prosper for many years at the professional level as well.

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