Alex Kirk, 7-foot center, New Mexico: An in-state product, Kirk was the prized piece of a highly-successful Lobos recruiting class that included two other NBA prospects and current Bulls swingman Tony Snell. The big-bodied center was productive over the course of his career, providing a physical presence in the paint to go with a variety of skills. Still, with one year remaining of eligibility, it was somewhat surprising when Kirk declared for the draft, apparently banking on his present pro potential over another season in college that would have featured him as New Mexico’s focal point on both ends of the floor.
Career highlights: Kirk was a fairly well-regarded prep recruit, but didn’t make a huge impact as a freshman, as he came off the bench to average 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game before redshirting the following year after undergoing back surgery. He came back strong as a redshirt junior, starting in the middle and averaging 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, including nine double-double performances, to earn him second team all-Mountain West Conference honors and a spot on the league’s all-defensive team. Last season, Kirk was a difference-maker once again, posting averages of 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, en route to making third-team all-conference and his second straight berth on the Mountain West’s all-defensive team.
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Strengths: Kirk’s big frame and physical nature give him the requisite size and disposition needed to battle in the paint on the next level, but he’s more than just a body to clog up the lane. He also possesses solid post moves, a nice touch and the uncanny ability to step outside to knock down shots from three-point range. Defensively, Kirk is an active presence with the ability to block shots on and off the ball, and his rugged demeanor results in him being an effective rebounder, as well as a strong finisher.
Weaknesses: Not exactly fleet of foot, Kirk doesn’t run the floor hard consistently and struggles when he has to defend on the perimeter. He isn’t the most explosive player, so more athletic big men will create issues for him, particularly in the transition game. While he’s a capable low-post scorer, Kirk doesn’t command double teams on the block and though his outside shooting is intriguing, he didn’t connect on a high percentage of long-range shots in college, even if it appears that launching deep jumpers is a natural part of his game.
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Draft projection: Kirk is a prospect that teams will certainly take a long, hard look at in the second round, but with his injury history and still needing to work on his conditioning, there’s a definite possibility that he goes undrafted. Whether he’s selected or not, he will get an opportunity to showcase his game in summer league and likely training camp, and if he lands with a team in need of a big, physical presence and a potential offensive niche of being able to stretch the floor, he could stick, even if it means there will be a stint or two in the D-League. A career as a viable, short-minutes NBA backup center isn’t out of the question, but it also wouldn’t be a shock if Kirk had to begin his career overseas, where his skill set could be put to good use immediately.