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NBA's Greatest Centers of the 21st Century

Charles BennettSenior Analyst IJune 13, 2012

NBA's Greatest Centers of the 21st Century

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    In the 12-and-a-half years since the millennium began, there has been only one center who won an MVP—the fewest in any 12 or 13-year period in NBA history.  Only a handful of centers have played Hall of Fame-caliber ball.

    Nonetheless, here are the 15 greatest centers of the 21st century.

    Fifth and final in a series following “Greatest Point Guards,” “Greatest Shooting Guards,” “Greatest Small Forwards” and "Greatest Power Forwards"

Honorable Mentions

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    Here are seven centers that didn't quite make the grade:

    Nene: The man born Maybyner Hilario led the league in field goal percentage in 2010-11 and is third among active players in field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage, and true shooting percentage.

    Theo Ratliff: Ratliff is fourth among active players in blocks and led the league twice in shot-blocking. He's second all time in blocks per game.  He was also a one-time All-Star and made the All-Defensive Second Team in 2004. He might have made the list if he could have done something besides block and dunk.

    Chris Kaman: Kaman made the All-Star team back in 2010 and was ninth in rebounds in 2006. However, he only averaged 15 points per game twice while averaging more than two turnovers per game six times.

    Andrew Bogut: Though never an All-Star, Bogut made the All-NBA Third Team in 2010. However, many of his seasons have been plagued by injuries, as he only played 70 or more games in two of his seasons.

    Jamaal Magloire: Magloire was an All-Star back in 2004 and finished in the top ten in rebounds three times. However, of All-Star centers he has a very low total win shares (27.7) and an equally low number of win shares per 48 minutes (.091) 

    Marc Gasol: Pau's little brother is now in his fourth NBA season, and he made his first All-Star team last season while finishing fifth in blocks and ninth in defensive boards.

    Vlade Divac: As with most of the other players above, Divac was a one-time All-Star in 2001. After several decent seasons in Sacramento, where he was one of the most highly-rated defensive players in the league, Divac played a forgettable season for the Lakers in 2004-05 and then retired.

15. Al Horford, Hawks

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    The Hawks’ Horford is a two-time All-Star who made the All-NBA Third Team in 2011. He's twice finished in the top ten in rebounding, and is also a career .537 field-goal shooter with a double-digit scoring average.

14. Mehmet Okur, Pistons/Jazz/Nets

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    Mehmet Okur made the All-Star team back in 2007 while with the Jazz, and he was a bench player on the Pistons’ 2004 championship team. Like Nene, Okur is a center with more than 50 win shares this millennium.

    Okur is in the top 50 in rebounds among active players and is a career .375 three-point shooter. However, Okur has been tormented by injuries, having played a grand total of 30 games since 2010.

13. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats/Hornets

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    The 2004-05 Rookie of the Year, Okafor has been a pretty good big man on pretty bad teams. 

    Though he has never made an All-Star or All-NBA team, Okafor has thrice finished in the top six in rebounding and is fourth among active players in rebounds per game. He's also finished in the top ten in blocks in two seasons and is 20th among actives in shot blocking. 

    Furthermore, Okafor is a career .517 shooter.

12. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers/Heat

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    Surprisingly, Ilgauskas has scored the second-highest number of points of anyone in a Cavs uniform. He's also worn a Cavs logo in two All-Star Games.

    Ilgauskas lead the league in offensive boards in the 2004-05 season and is 42nd all time in offensive rebounds. He’s 43rd all time in blocks (36th in blocks per game) and has twice finished in the top ten in shot blocking.  

11. Brad Miller, Hornets/Bulls/Pacers/Kings/Rockets/Timberwolves

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    Brad Miller was a two-time All-Star, once with the Pacers and once with the Kings. He led the league in offense rating in the 2004-05 season, and he ranks among the top six centers in win shares since 2000.

    Miller is also 22nd among active players in career rebounds and 44th in career blocks.

10. David Robinson, Spurs

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    By the turn of the century, the three great centers of the 1990s (Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Patrick Ewing) were in the twilight of their careers. 

    In his final four seasons, Robinson made a pair of All-Star Games and a pair of All-NBA Third Teams. He also finished in the top ten in blocks in two of those seasons.

    Furthermore, Robinson didn't end his career on unholy ground. He retired in 2003 after winning a ring with the Spurs. 

9. Alonzo Mourning, Heat/Nets

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    Hard to believe it, but at the beginning of the millennium Alonzo Mourning was the second-best center in the NBA. 

    In the 1999-2000 season, Mourning would place 3rd in MVP Voting, be named Defensive Player of the Year and make the All-NBA Second Team. Mourning would be selected to two more All-Star teams in the 2000s.

    Mourning is the 34th most accurate field-goal shooter in NBA history, finishing twice in the top six in field-goal percentage. He’s also 11th all time in blocks, leading the league in 1999-2000. 

    By mid-decade, Mourning was a backup center.  In that role, he won a title with the Heat in 2006, then retired in 2008

8. Tyson Chandler, Bulls/Hornets/Bobcats/Mavericks/Knicks

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    This season, Tyson Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year award and made the All-NBA Third Team. Last season, he won a ring with the Dallas Mavericks.

    Chandler is 19th among active players in rebounding and finished in the top seven in rebounding thrice. He is also 18th among active players in blocks and 25th in defensive win shares. Furthermore, he is the active leader in career field-goal percentage.

7. Andrew Bynum, Lakers

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    Andrew Bynum was the starting center on two championship teams and was named an All-Star and named to the All-NBA Second Team this season.

    This season, Bynum was fourth in rebounds, sixth in blocks, and fourth in field goal percentage. Bynum is 37th in active players in blocks and has a solid win shares per 48 minutes at .174.

6. Marcus Camby, Knicks/Nuggets/Clippers/Blazers/Rockets

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    Camby has never been an All-Star, but he has made two All-Defensive First Teams and was the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year. 

    Camby is second among active players in blocks and first in blocks per game. He’s also fourth among active players in total rebounds and is third in win shares among centers since 2000 with 73.5.

5. Dikembe Mutombo, Hawks/76ers/Nets/Knicks/Rockets

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    Mutombo was perhaps the greatest defensive player of the earlier part of the 2000s. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2001, played in three All-Star Games and made one All-NBA Second Team and one All-NBA Third Team.

    Mutombo twice led the league in rebounds and is 19th all time in rebounds. He’s second all time in blocked shots and was a career .518 from the field. However, he only averaged more than ten points per game thrice in the ten seasons he played this millennium.

4. Yao Ming, Rockets

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    Though the Chinese-born behemoth was often hindered by injuries (only four seasons with 70 or more games), he was still one of the more talented big men of the 21st century. 

    Yao was a career 20-and-10 man, is in the top 40 all-time in field goal percentage and is in the top 25 in player efficiency rating. He finished in the top ten once in rebounds and twice in blocks. He has the fifth-highest win shares total of 21st century centers.

    Yao was voted a starter in eight All-Star Games, although he didn't deserve all of those spots. He also made five All-NBA Teams, including two All-NBA Second Teams.

3. Ben Wallace, Magic/Pistons/Bulls/Cavs

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    Ben Wallace played in four straight All-Star Games in the mid-2000s and also won four Defensive Player of the Year awards and a ring with the Detroit Pistons.  He made three All-NBA Second Teams and five All-Defensive First Teams.

    Wallace is the active leader in offensive rebounds and is third in total rebounds, leading the league in each stat twice.  He’s also ninth among active players in steals and seventh in blocks, having finished in the top two for blocks in three different seasons.

2. Dwight Howard, Magic

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    Howard has won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and has been named to the last five All-NBA First Teams, last four All-Defensive First Teams, and last six All-Star Teams.  He is eighth among active players in MVP award shares and 23rd in win shares.

    Howard is the active leader in rebounds per game, having won four rebounding crowns in the last five years.  He also lead the league in blocks in two seasons.  Howard is in the top 50 among active players in total points scored and is eighth in player efficiency rating.

1. Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers/Heat/Suns/Cavs/Celtics

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    Shaq is the only center since 2000 to win an MVP award, and he is the only one to win four titles and three Finals MVPs. In this millennium, O’Neal was selected to eight All-Star teams and seven All-NBA First Teams.

    Shaq is the all-time leader in field goal percentage with .582, leading the league in field goal percentage in seven seasons. O’Neal won a scoring title in 2000 and is sixth all time in points scored. He is seventh all time in blocks, 13th all time in rebounds, seventh all time in win shares and third all time in player efficiency rating.

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