Complete teams are built from the inside out in the NBA. It's almost impossible to win a title without a dominant presence in the paint.
Posting up, drawing the double team, denying the lane, blocking out, collecting key rebounds, and shot blocking are all things that NBA big men do night in and night out. Without that on your team it's not possible to compete in the playoffs, and throughout the season.
You have to go all the way back to the '97-'98 Chicago Bulls with center Luc Longley and forward Toni Kukoc to find a championship team without a dominant big man—and oh-by-the-way they had a player named Michael Jordan.
The last 10 years of champions have been highlighted by players named Duncan and Robinson, Shaq, Duncan again, Big Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, Duncan, Shaq, Duncan then last year with the Big Three being held down by Defensive Player of the Year, Kevin Garnett.
In case you were wondering, in between the Jordan and the Bulls three-year runs it was Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde "The Glide" Drexler teamed with a young Robert Horry. So you see, dominance down low is a key ingredient. It is what Emeril Lagasse would spice a team up with, and "BAM" you have a champion.
This year in the Association it has been one tower after the other falling, and not just for a few games, but for the whole year. Players who are key for their teams' sauces. Just look at the Washington Wizards—no Brendan Haywood and no respect in the league.
Haywood is not a household name, but he is if you are a Washington Wizards fan. The Wiz are last in the East with only 13 wins, when last year they were the fifth seed in the playoffs. I know you are saying, "Well they don't have Agent Zero!" I know this, and they didn't have him for all of last year either, and still made the playoffs.
This year without Haywood, they are already 27-and-a-half games back of the division—the same division in which they finished second to the Magic last year.
Brand was supposed to be the knight in shining armor for the 76ers young team. Alongside Samuel Dalembert, they were going to clean up the glass better than Windex ever dreamed. Sorry Philli, but Elton came down with the Big Man bug, and ruined that for you.
Although you are still sitting in a playoff spot, it's going to be hard to get passed a Dwight Howard or a Kevin Garnet this year. Brand is a career 20 and 10 big man with just over two blocks a game.
With stats like that, any team would miss Brand, but the 76ers don't seem to mind. They are playing above .500 without him. I guess the real test will be in the playoffs against a team that can hold down the paint.
Jefferson is probably the worst loss for any team this year who has suffered from the Big Man bug. Considering the Wolves are still trying hard to figure out what they are all about, and seem to have a number of pieces together to build around, losing Jefferson is just something they cannot deal with.
Since coming to Minnesota, Jefferson has averaged over 21 a game and over 11 boards per game. Jefferson is the Wolves' go-to scorer and scorer that they go to when they need a bucket. Which pretty much means he touches the ball every time they are on offense. By far the worst loss for any team this year.
Bogut is another key loss to his team. Although the Bucks have had experience playing without him—because he is very injury prone—they still rely on him to do all the intangibles that an all star caliber center should do. With career numbers just under 12 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, he is not a dominant force down low. That is, until you actually watch a game and steer away from the box scores.
Bogut is a player that the Bucks need this year, and with Michael Redd out and Milwaukee sitting on the playoff bubble, this is a major loss.
Bynum is the future of the Lakers, the future of the NBA, and an overall top 50 player in the league. This would be devastating to any team, but not the L.A. Lakers.
Don't get me wrong this definitely makes it harder for them to get home court throughout the playoffs, but with Kobe, Pau, and a charging Odom I don't think this is the most devastating loss for a team.
It's crazy to think that losing 14 points per game and eight rebounds with a chance for 30 every night is not a big loss, but for the Lakers it's not. He will be back come playoff time, and L.A. won't even remember he was gone.
Stoudemire came off a 42-point, 11-rebound performance trying his best to prove to the Suns that they should not trade him. Then comes the news that he has to have detached retina surgery and will be out for the next eight weeks. This is a huge loss.
Amare not only gives you energy and stats, but provides Shaq with the ability to take nights off, gives Nash a comfortable person to lob ally-oops to, and is the backbone of this run-and-gun team. He can actually run the floor with Nash, and post up whenever on whoever.
With the Suns sitting just outside the playoff picture, I can't see how they are going to get it together especially if Utah (who is half up on the Suns) gets Carlos Boozer back soon.
Other key injuries to the frontcourt of teams that has been paralyzing are players like Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks, who missed almost the whole month of January.
The Hawks went 5-7 without him. For a team that is looking to catch up with the Big Three teams in the East, that really hurt their chances.
The L.A. Clippers were a team at the beginning with Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman—and the addition of Zach Randolph—that surely would not have trouble down low.
But with injuries to all of them—Camby missing 12 games, Kaman 40 games, and Randolf just getting back from injury, then getting suspended for throwing a punch at Suns forward Louis Amundson—this has left the Clippers with no depth down low after starting with possibly the most depth in the big man game.
Carlos Boozer, Yao Ming, and Greg Oden are all playing for playoff caliber teams in the dominant Western Conference, but have been riddled with injuries. Boozer has been out since mid-November and is expecting to return to a Utah team who is currently the eighth seed.
Yao has played in 52 games already this year, but after playing in only 55 last year and 48 the year before. After coming up limp on his leg last night against Dallas, there is no way I could leave him off this list.
Greg Oden is another player that has been over-hyped and due to injury has crushed his early career. When he plays he performs, but no one can perform while injured. Oden is currently nursing a sore left knee and it is looking less and less likely that he will finish the year. Just keep a close eye on him and where he lands coming down from the basket.
Other bigs that I couldn't leave off this list are recently traded Brad Miller who is averaging 12 and eight this year and Tyson Chandler who couldn't be moved due an injury in his toe. Although Chandler has played 32 games this year, he is having a rough year averaging only eight points and eight rebounds per contest.
Jermaine O'Neal missed half of January and some of November, but is on a new team alongside Dwayne Wade playing on American soil once again. Look for him to try his best to stay away from injury talk for the rest of the year.
Drew Gooden, another big who has been out a lot, has missed the last 11 games and just got traded from Chicago to the Kings. Although the Kings are awful, he will still rehab and get back on the floor to try to get a contract while being a free agent this summer.
The New York Knicks are always on lists that have to deal with the negative and I can't leave them off this one. From throwing stupid money to "Starbury," don't forget that they have overpaid overweight center Eddie Curry. Curry has played in one game this year due to a sore left knee, and only played in 59 last year.
Kevin Garnett just recently came up limp after missing a lob dunk against the Utah Jazz. According to the Boston Globe he will miss the remainder of the West Coast trip and some sources even think he will be out two to four weeks. This is a terrible loss for a team trying to keep home court. Garnett is easily the heart and soul of the Celtics and defensively they cannot afford to be without him.
Finally, with all the negative you must have a few positives, and for the NBA's big men, that positive is Nene Hilario. He is coming off only playing exactly 81 games in the last three years, and he has not missed a game. Nene is averaging just under 15 a game and is pulling down eight rebounds. He is also currently first in the league in field goal percentage with a crazy .611 percent.
Don't think that the addition of Chauncey Billups is the only thing that elevated the Nuggets this year.