Pau Gasol (left) guarding Kevin Love
For over half a century, basketball has been a game of big men. Many of the great NBA and Olympic championship teams were anchored by solid play at the power forward or center positions.
Coincidentally, many of the teams vying for gold in London this year have strong arguments in the front court.
Here are the ten best big men playing in London later this month.
Here are five decent players who didn't make the top 10:
- David Andersen, Australia: The Danish-Australian Andersen has been a bit of a journeyman, bouncing around the Euroleague and the benches of the NBA for a number of seasons. Despite being a center, Andersen has a decent outside shot, can score in the double digits and finished in the top 10 in rebounding at the 2010 World Championships.
- Timofey Mozgov, Russia: Mozgov is playing in his first Olympics after representing Russia at the last Worlds (where he was fourth in blocks) and the last two Eurobaskets. He landed the starting center gig with the Denver Nuggets late into last season. Though an accurate shooter, he doesn't score a lot of points.
- Ronny Turiaf, France: With Joakim Noah bowing out, France's frontcourt is anchored by the NBA journeyman from Martinique. Turiaf doesn't get much playing time in the NBA (career 17.9 MPG) and has so-so per 48 numbers in points (13.8) and rebounds (10), but is quite effective at blocking shots.
- Yi Jianlian, China: The seven-foot-tall Yi (pictured) was the rebounds leader at the 2010 Worlds, and has played in two Olympics, two Worlds and two Asian Championships. Though he was a 20-10 man with Guangdong in China and started his NBA career off strong, his last two seasons have been a bit of a disappointment, including a stint in the D-League earlier this season.
- Ike Diogu, Nigeria: Nigeria surprised everyone by fighting their way into the 12th and final spot in the tournament. And it was Diogu, more than anyone else, who got Nigeria there. Diogu finished in the top 10 in scoring and top five in rebounding for the qualifying tournament. He is also a former All-American who has bounced around the benches of the NBA and other leagues.
In most of his eight NBA seasons, the Brazilian forward-center Anderson Varejao has averaged about 10 points and six or seven boards a game on better than 50 percent shooting. Varejao made the All-Defensive second team in 2010.
Though he has the international experience of playing in three World Championships, Varejao has one thing missing from the traditional repertoire of an international big: he has no outside shot whatsoever.
He would have been seventh or eighth on this list if not for the wrist injury he suffered last season.
The man born Maybyner Rodney Hilario has been a halfway decent center in the NBA for a decade and is third among active players with a career field-goal percentage of 56.1 percent.
There are several things that give me pause about putting him higher than No. 9, however. One is that he's never been a consistent 20 point, 10 rebound man; last year his player efficiency rating dipped below 20. Another is that he's often injured, only playing in 39 games last season. A third is his relative lack of big-time international experience.
Tiago Splitter, a veteran of three World Championships, had a decent career in the Euroleague (three All-Euroleague appearances) before coming stateside in 2010.
Last year he had a breakout year as a role player for the Spurs, averaging 23.4 points and 13 rebounds per 48 minutes and a 20.5 player efficiency rating.
Blake Griffin is one of the 10 or 15 most effective and the 10 or 15 most exciting players in the NBA right now. He is a consistent 20-10 threat, shoots over 50 percent from the field and made the All-NBA Second Team last year.
So why is he down at No. 7? Well, he doesn't have any international experience, nor does he have the mid or long-range game common among international 4's and 5's.
That and the fact that I don't expect him to get a lot of time in Team USA's rotation.
The 32-year-old Luis Scola has been the MVP of the last three FIBA Americas Championships and made the 2010 FIBA World Championship All-Tournament Team. He has played in almost every major tournament the Argentinean senior squad has qualified for this millennium.
In the NBA, Scola has averaged 15 or more points per game in each of the last three seasons, and nine or more rebounds in four of the last five.
Serge Ibaka is one of the great defensive big men in the tournament. He led the NBA in blocks last season and made the All-Defensive First Team. He also shot over 53 percent from the field.
There are some drawbacks to Ibaka, though. He's only 22, commits a lot of fouls and isn't a consistent scoring threat.
Coming in at No. 4 is the younger and taller of the Gasol brothers. A true center, Marc Gasol finished in the top 10 in blocks, defensive rebounds, defensive rating and field goal percentage last season.
He also finished in the top 10 in fouls. And though he does often score in the double digits, he's never averaged 20 points per game over the course of a season.
The reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA Third Team selection clocks in at No. 3 on this list.
Tyson Chandler has international experience from the 2010 Worlds and also won an NBA title. He is the only true center on Team USA's roster.
Chandler has finished in the top 10 in rebounding in five different seasons, including the last two. Last season he was fifth in the NBA in win shares, and finished in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive rating. He is the active NBA leader in field goal percentage.
However, he doesn't consistently score in double digits and often gets in foul trouble.
Pau Gasol is very experienced in international play having played in five Eurobaskets, two Olympics and two World Championships prior to his appearance on the Spanish roster this summer. He has both a World Championship MVP and a Eurobasket MVP under his belt.
Gasol has also been solid stateside, with four All-Star appearance and three All-NBA appearances. He has finished in the top 10 in win shares in each of the last four seasons and in the top 10 in rebounds in three of the last four.
The fact is, Kevin Love is the best power forward or center in the world right now. He's been in the top two in rebounding in each of the last two seasons and was also fourth in points per game while shooting 37 percent from downtown.
Love played in the last two All-Star Games, and was sixth in MVP voting in 2012. Sabermetrically, in the last two seasons he's finished in the top five in player efficiency rating and the top 10 in win shares.
Love was a force to be reckoned with during the limited minutes he got at the 2010 Worlds. And I can't stress enough how much Kevin Love is made for the international game. He is just the right height for an international big, plays well with his back to the basket and can hit shots from anywhere on the floor.