by Ryan Sterling
With the league turning to small ball line-ups the traditional center position was taken over by hybrid big men, who keep the floor spaced for slashing wings.
These ten players are the exception to this new style of basketball. They must have the ability to defend the rim, play with their back to the basket, and rebound both offensively and defensively. Here are the final rankings:
1 – Dwight Howard
With the media circus Howard creates and the expectations fans of the NBA have for him was a disappointment for Howard in many respects, but he still the best center in the league. He still put up 17.1 ppg and grabbed 12.4 rpg, which was the best in the NBA. He blocked 2.2 shots per game which was the third best average in the league. Howard did all of this with a bum shoulder and if I am thinking correctly the shoulder is huge part of playing basketball. Howard takes criticism for some of his behavior, but the fact of the matter is he can play and is a difference maker on both sides of the floor.
The Rockets will be better with Howard in the middle, but I do not believe they are championship level just yet. Howard can sway people’s opinion of him this year by playing MVP level basketball and taking the Rockets deep into playoffs. He needs to put in work at the free throw line and become more of a dominate force on the offensive side, but as far as centers go in the NBA Howard has the throne.
2 – Brook Lopez
Lopez has all the tools to be the best big man in the game. The Nets would be wise to make him the vocal point of their offensive game plan. Lopez has the offensive game that can dominate opponents. Lopez also was seventh in the NBA in blocked shots (2.08) and his blocked shot per foul was second best in the NBA, so not only does Lopez block shots, but he does so without fouling. Lopez averaged 19.4 ppg last season, which is best among centers in the league (espn.com has him behind Aldridge, but I have Aldridge as a PF). The only place where Lopez needs to improve is on the glass. His rebounding numbers throughout his career are pretty terrible. If Lopez can get those numbers up he has a slight chance to pass up Howard.
With the new additions to the Nets roster Lopez will have more room to roam on the offensive side. Having shooters such as Paul Pierce and Jason Terry and a big man the quality of Kevin Garnett around him will only serve to help Lopez get one-on-one match-ups and very few in the NBA can handle that defensively.
3 – Roy Hibbert
Hibbert showed fans around the league just how good he can be during the Pacers playoff run. I understand that his regular season numbers left something to be desired. He struggled to put the ball in the hole, but Hibbert has claimed he was playing with an injured wrist and I tend to believe him. Hibbert has shot nearly 50 percent from the field in every other season except last year and his shooting percentage from inside ten feet was atrocious.
As he showed later in the season and in the playoffs those numbers did not reflect the real product. During the regular season Hibbert averaged 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds, not premiere big man numbers. But in the playoffs Hibbert put up 17 points, 9.9 rebounds, and blocked two shots. Those blocks do not count the number of shots he affected. Hibbert leads a Pacer defense that is the best in the NBA in a number of categories and with a full season of consistent offensive play look for Hibbert to get back in the All-Star game.
4 – Marc Gasol
Gasol could go as high as number two on this list, but I have him at four becasue I do not think he can dominate a game on the offensive side of the ball like the top three on list. Do not get me wrong, I think Gasol is a fantastic player with a skill set very few big men have. He can handle the ball, he sees the floor well, and he was the defensive player of the year.
The only thing I see lacking in his game is the ability for the Grizzlies to throw him the ball and have him dominate. Hibbert showed he could do it against the Heat, Howard led his team to an NBA Finals where the second best player was either Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, or Rashard Lewis, and Lopez has done it in the regular season for a Nets team that has in the past been terrible. I love Gasol’s game and he is one of the best big men in the world, but I cannot see him moving up this list without a dominate playoff run. This could be that year.
5 – Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe will be the best center in the NBA in five years. Each season his numbers have gotten better and better and he is only 23 years old. Monroe scores (16.0 ppg), he boards (9.6 rpg) and he can pass (3.5 apg). His offensive game is well rounded as the stats prove. Defensively Monroe needs to improve. He does not block shots at the rate of the centers above him and as a young player he needs to refine his positioning. In his defense Andre Drummond is playing with him and Drummond averages 1.6 blocks per game, so that number probably will not go up without Drummond getting hurt.
The signing of Josh Smith will hurt Monroe’s growth in terms of numbers. I think Monroe is a twenty and ten type guy, but with Smith on the roster I do not believe his numbers will match the skill. His current numbers stack up with every center in the league and with a few more years of NBA coaching and experience Monroe will be a force to be reckoned with.
6 – Joakim Noah
Noah is a player fans everywhere love to hate, except for Bulls fans. Noah is a double-double nearly every night and without Derrick Rose this past season Noah upped his assist numbers from 2.5 per game to 4 per game. Impressive for a player going into his seventh season in the league. Noah is not an offensive presence by any stretch and his jumper is the most hideous looking thing this side of Shaun Marion, but for he lacks on the offensive end he makes up for on defense. Noah led the Bulls last year in rebounds (11.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (2.1). Noah was third in the NBA in offensive rebounding with 3.7 per game. So lets take a look at the stat line:
ppg – 11.9 rpg – 11.1 apg – 4.0 spg – 1.2 bpg – 2.1 off rpg – 3.7
These are the numbers of a man who plays the game with reckless abandon and will do anything to help his team win, despite his downfalls as an offensive player. His numbers dipped in this year’s playoffs, but Noah was playing through plantar fasciitis. Look for typical Noah-like numbers this season and with the return of Derrick Rose, I see a career year coming.
7 – Al Horford
Another big man who I really like, but has some struggles offensively. Last season was Horford’s best in terms of numbers. He put up 17.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, and dished out 3.2 apg. For his career Horford is a 54 percent shooter from the field, but his jumper outside of fifteen feet is not good. He lives off of slashing guards dumping the ball of to him in places he can score. If Horford can develop a mid-range game he will jump up this list. Horford also blocks 1.1 shots per game and grabs 1.1 steals per game.
The block numbers will go up because of the absence of Josh Smith’s 1.8 blocks per game. Look for Horford to have an even better year statically this season with Josh Smith moving on and the addition of Paul Milsap. Horford will be relied upon to put up numbers on the inside. Horford needs a playoff run to get higher on this list. His game matches up well with the other players on this list; unfortunately, he has not been able to show a national audience.
8 – Al Jefferson
This is a prime example of a one-way center. Offensively Jefferson might be the best big man in the league. He can score from anywhere on the floor and is capable of putting up 40 in any given game. He has had two seasons of 20 and 10 and with a Bobcats team that will depend on him to play outstanding basketball he should be in line for a few more seasons. Jefferson averaged 17.8 ppg last year and unfortunately has seen his scoring numbers fall since he was traded from Minnesota.
The only thing keeping Jefferson out of the top three on this list is his defense, which is not good. He struggles to handle one-on-one match-ups in the post and is ineffective as a rim protector. Hopefully with the addition of a shot blocker in Cody Zeller, Jefferson will not be asked to block shots or play one-on-one in the post. If Jefferson can improve defensively he hop far up this list. Remember Jefferson is only 28 years old and there is room for improvement.
9 – DeMarcus Cousins
If Demarcus Cousins can get his head on straight he will be a premiere big man in the NBA. Seventeen technicals and four ejections are too many for a key player. Take a look at the numbers from Cousins compared to Jefferson, who is only spot ahead of him:
- Jefferson ppg – 17.8 rpg – 9.2 apg – 2.1 bpg – 1.1 fg% – .494
- Cousins ppg – 17.1 rpg – 9.9 apg – 2.7 bpg – 0.7 fg% – .465
Those are similar numbers from two players who play have the same game. The only difference is Cousins is 23. Cousins needs a veteran to come in and show him what it means to be a professional basketball player. Consistent effort night in and night out is necessary and if Cousins can pair that effort with his skill set he will be unstoppable. Unfortunately for Cousins it does not look like Sacramento is a place where many veterans are looking to end their career so Cousins will have to figure out the mental aspect of the game through his own experience. As stated above with Jefferson, if Cousins can complete his game on the defensive side and get his head on right he will shoot up this list.
10 – David Lee
David Lee can play. He is not normally what you think of as an NBA center, but in the absence of Andrew Bogut, Lee stepped in and gave the Warriors a boost at the five. Lee has been a 20 and 10 guy in the past and while those days are probably over with the emergence of Stephen Curry, Lee can still bring it and be effective. Lee was right behind Lopez at third in scoring among NBA centers (18.5) and he was tied for fourth in the NBA with 11.2 rpg.
The one area where Lee cannot stack up is he is not a rim protector. He has averaged less than half a block per game for his career and it does not appear as though he will be upping those numbers anytime soon. Lee has a nice mid-range game and can play back-to-the-basket, which makes him a great offense weapon at the center position. Look for Lee’s numbers to drop off a little due to the style of play the Warriors will be playing, but Lee is still a top center in the league.