Power Ranking Dwight Howard and Every NBA Team's Starting Center

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIAugust 24, 2012

Power Ranking Dwight Howard and Every NBA Team's Starting Center

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    The Dwight Howard trade shifted the placement of the great centers in the NBA. What this summer's developments surrounding Dwight Howard did not change is the standings among the top centers in the NBA.

    The trade gives both Howard and Andrew Bynum, by far the two best centers in the league, opportunities to do things that are a bit different. Howard could be entrusted with a different type of defensive leadership by Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown.

    Bynum will see more scoring opportunities in the Philadelphia 76ers offense.

    After Howard and Bynum, the next tier of centers is particular trio of solid, but not great, centers that includes Tyson Chandler, Al Jefferson and Marc Gasol.

    The next tier includes players who are pretty good all-around or simply impressive on one end of the floor. This collective includes such players as Roy Hibbert and Andrea Bargnani.

    Today's game doesn't include many great centers. Thus, the delineation between the top two, as well as the top five centers, and the rest of the starting men in the middle is strong. Accordingly, the general talent of the other good centers may be fairly close.

    Follow along for the full ranking of all 30 starting centers in the NBA.

30. Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat look to be in an interesting position because they're likely to start the season without an actual starting center. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Heat could start the season with Chris Bosh in the center slot.

    With the signing of Ray Allen, the Heat have such a glut of starting-caliber talent that they don't need to start an actual center. What team would need to if it had Allen, Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in the starting lineup?

    Especially when the actual centers on the roster are Dexter Pittman and Joel Anthony, neither of whom stiir any excitement in fans.

    The Heat will do just fine without a real starting center. They can play offense efficiently enough that they don't need that second big man patrolling the glass.

29. J.J. Hickson/Meyers Leonard

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    The Portland Trail Blazers look to have a dilemma at the center position. According to Hoopsworld, that's the one position where a starter has yet to be decided upon. The Trail Blazers have two possible starters: J.J. Hickson and Meyers Leonard.

    Hickson is a capable player. He averaged 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in 2010-11 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2011-12, he contributed a modest 8.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

    Meyers Leonard is a nice prospect entering his rookie year. The former Fighting Illini front man is a long 7'0" athlete. He needs work polishing his inside game, but the Trail Blazers are giving him a chance for the No. 1 spot.

    If Leonard can play strong in training camp and preseason, he may be able to grab the starting job.

28. Boris Diaw

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    Boris Diaw is entering his 10th NBA season at age 30. Already, he's looking like he's lost his touch. Diaw averaged 6.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season.

    He can pass and he can rebound just a little bit. But his overall skills don't give the Spurs anything extra for the lineup.

27. Gustavo Ayon/Nikola Vucevic

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    Jacque Vaughn has an intriguing scenario at center as he starts as the Orlando Magic head coach. After losing Dwight Howard, Vaughn is left with two possibilities at center, either burgeoning second-year player Gustavo Ayon or defensive specialist Nikola Vucevic.

    Ayon gained a fair amount of experience last season while with the New Orleans Hornets. He averaged 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, a steal and 0.9 blocks in 20.1 minutes per game. That comes out to 10.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He shot 53.6 percent from the field.

    Vucevic, who was also a rookie last year, averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 15.9 minutes per game for the Philadelphia 76ers. That equates to 12.5 points and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. He shot 45 percent from the field.

    Ayon appears to be the early favorite for the starting job. He played more in his rookie season. Both may be solid on defense, but Ayon seems more capable on offense.

26. Andre Drummond

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    The Detroit Pistons needed to draft Andre Drummond in order that they would have a true center. Last season, they deployed Greg Monroe at the position. Monroe did a decent job, but it just wasn't for him since he's undersized for the center position.

    Drummond has ideal size at 7'0" and 279 pounds. He has the chiseled frame to go with the body mass.

    Now, Drummond has to work some things out in order to become a successful NBA center. While he has the physical tools to be a fine center, he needs to improve upon how he uses those tools.

    Drummond needs to play tougher and show a willingness on every play to go in for blocks and rebounds against big, aggressive centers like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.

    Also, he'll have to use his quick feet more to make himself open in the post so that he can be more of a threat on offense.

    Drummond won't be a high-impact player in his rookie year because of how much he needs to improve.

    Fortunately, Drummond is only 19 years old. He has plenty of time to refine his game.

25. Anderson Varejao

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    Anderson Varejao is looking to return to the starting spot for the Cleveland Cavaliers, even though there appears to be an imminent threat of Tyler Zeller taking it from him.

    According to the News-Herald, Byron Scott has tabbed Varejao to start at center.

    This is perhaps a choice based on Varejao's experience. The Brazilian has been around for eight years. He's been a staple of the Cavs' defensive attack throughout his career.

    However, he's now just a shell of a player. He's battled injuries the last two seasons. Even though he's highly productive when healthy, Varejao has slowed down and likely won't be as effective this coming season.

    Cavs fans will have to prepare for a change in the middle this season.

24. Robin Lopez

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    The New Orleans Hornets found themselves without a real center after trading Emeka Okafor to the Washington Wizards in a deal that brought them Rashard Lewis for a bit. The solution was to deal for a center who hadn't filled many minutes as a starter.

    Robin Lopez has some starting experience. He started 31 of 51 games in 2009-10 for the Phoenix Suns and 56 of 67 games for the Suns in 2010-11 before taking the backseat full-time last season. Now, he only averaged 19.3 minutes per game in 2009-10 and 14.8 per game in 2010-11.

    Thus, one may reasonably believe that Lopez won't be expected to play 20 minutes per game. That would mean that Jason Smith, who isn't a natural center, but has played the position, would take a considerable amount of minutes.

    In the time that Lopez is on the floor, the Stanford product could drop a few buckets and pick up a few rebounds. His career average is 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

    It's not much, but this is what the Hornets have.

23. Omer Asik

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    The Houston Rockets are going to bet that Omer Asik's production can project into a starting role. Asik averaged a block and 5.3 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game last season for the Chicago Bulls. That comes out to 2.5 blocks and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes.

    Asik is a solid defender near the basket and is good at setting screens. Other than that, there's not much to speak of. He's not going to take many shots for the Rockets, since he only took a couple per game for the Bulls.

    In the best-case scenario, the Turk would become Houston's new Samuel Dalembert. They'll have to work closely with him and hope it comes true.

22. Andrew Bogut

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    Andrew Bogut will head into the new season in a new environment, but with the same creaky body. Bogut's ankle isn't fully healed, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and he may miss some preseason games.

    If Bogut's ankle injury persists further, it wouldn't be surprising. He's missed 16 games or more in four of his seven seasons. Last season was his second season in which he missed more than half the season.

    Sure, Bogut's a hot talent. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in 2009-10 and 2.6 per game in 2010-11. He averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in the three seasons before last.

    But if he can't stay healthy, then fans will simply be left wondering what could have been.

21. Nene Hilario

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    Nene Hilario could be a thrilling contributor for the Washington Wizards. He averaged 17.1 points and nine rebounds in 2010-11 while shooting a league-leading 61.5 percent from the field.

    In 2011-12, after signing a max contract with the Nuggets, he struggled through injury and was traded to the Wizards. He ended up with 17.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in 39 games.

    The Wizards are hopeful that the Brazilian center will be in good condition come October when they begin training camp, according to the Washington Post.

    If he is healthy, then the Wizards will have a spectacular contributor on both ends of the floor.

    If not, at least they have a good fallback option in Emeka Okafor.

20. Bismack Biyombo

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    Bismack Biyombo had a pretty nice rookie season last year for the Charlotte Bobcats. He showed great shot-blocking ability, placing eighth in blocks per game (1.8) and fifth in block percentage (5.9 percent).

    Biyombo also averaged 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game, which comes out to 8.2 points and a nice 9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.

    Biyombo still has to develop his shot, but he looks to move along to become a pretty good center.

19. Brook Lopez

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    Brook Lopez is optimistic about the coming season after being out of commission since March and missing all but five games of the 2011-12 season due to a broken foot.

    While making an appearance at a 3-on-3 tournament in the Philippines, he told the Philippine Star, "I'm probably about 90 percent okay, but I'm pretty sure I'll be back in full shape entering the NBA season."

    If he can come back strong, Lopez will be a strong asset for the Brooklyn Nets on offense. Lopez averaged 18.8 points per game on 49.9 percent shooting in 2009-10 and 20.4 per game on 49.2 percent shooting in 2010-11.

    He's also a solid shot-blocker, having averaged at least 1.5 blocks per game in his first three full seasons.

    What he isn't is a bright rebounder. The Stanford product averaged 8.6 rebounds per game in 2009-10 while averaging 8.4 per 36 minutes. He averaged just six per game in 2010-11.

    The Nets could be a terrifying scoring team if the lineup of Lopez, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries fits together well.

18. Jonas Valanciunas

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    A few rookie centers, such as Jonas Valanciunas, Tyler Zeller and Meyers Leonard, could be entrusted with big roles. Valanciunas is the only one who's sure to be in a starting role at this point.

    The No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft could make an impact for the Toronto Raptors this season. He's an entertaining scorer. He was an effective shooter for Rytas in the Eurocup, hitting 63 percent of his shots. He's also a good free-throw shooter.

    He did a good job on the boards, but it's hard to tell how that will translate in the tougher NBA inside game.

    At the very least, the Raptors will be looking to Valanciunas to connect on offense. He'll pair with Andrea Bargnani to form a truly versatile frontcourt scoring duo.

17. Samuel Dalembert

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    Samuel Dalembert is an irrepressible wonder on the defensive end.

    He's solid all-around on defense. He allowed 100 points per 100 possessions last season. He blocked 1.7 shots per game, the eighth time in the last nine seasons that he's had at least that average. He was sixth in block percentage (5.6 percent) last season.

    Nothing can sequester Dalembert on defense, except perhaps himself. Dalembert sometimes has mental lapses. He missed a walk-through last season, and then told the Houston Chronicle he didn't know there was one scheduled. On Feb. 6, he was benched for a lack of effort, per the Houston Chronicle.

    Then, there was the Jan. 25 game when he missed the first 2:33 of the second half because he was in the bathroom, according to the Houston Chronicle.

    Dalembert isn't much of a contributor on offense, averaging between five and eight shots per game each year. He shot just over 50 percent last season.

    He did knock down a career-high 79.6 percent at the line.

    As long as Dalembert commits himself, he has a couple more good years left in him.

16. JaVale McGee

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    JaVale McGee might not have his head on straight, but he's a spectacular talent. He puts in great effort on defense. McGee can make plays on offense.

    McGee blocks shots like no one's business. He was the No. 2 shot-blocker in the league the last two years. He was tops in block percentage in 2010-11 (6.7 percent) and second in 2011-12 (6.6 percent).

    He was fifth in field-goal percentage (55.6 percent) last season, although that was due to his voracious appetite for dunking.

    Indeed, one cannot discount his boneheaded plays. Conversations about McGee don't end before his misguided trip back on defense is mentioned. Another notable incident was his hanging on the rim after a dunk when he earned a triple-double for the Washington Wizards in a game against the Chicago Bulls.

    George Karl will have the joy of working with the 24-year-old for the next few years. Hopefully, Karl can maintain enough patience to help McGee expand his game and develop into the top-tier center he's capable of becoming.

15. Kendrick Perkins

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    Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka combine to form one of the most tenacious defending frontcourt duos. Ibaka is the big-time shot-blocker, but Perkins also makes his presence felt. The nine-year pro averaged 1.1 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game last season.

    Perkins is one of the few bright spots for the Oklahoma City Thunder on defense. He allowed 103 points per 100 possessions last season.

    What's more is that Perkins is the glue guy for the team. He does many of the little things to keep the team functioning well. He steps up to help others on defense.

14. Nikola Pekovic

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    In his second NBA season, Nikola Pekovic took a big step forward. He jumped from 5.5 points and three rebounds per game in his rookie year to 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. His field-goal percentage went from 51.7 percent to an outstanding 56.4 percent.

    Pekovic placed third in the league in field-goal percentage.

    He emerged as an excellent offensive rebounder, averaging 3.9 per game and posting a league-best rate of 15.8 percent.

    As the 6'11" up-and-comer from Montenegro develops, he could enter the top 10 of the ranks among centers.

13. Chris Kaman

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    Chris Kaman is a heartthrob for basketball junkies. He's big and strong at 7'0" and 268 pounds. He stays home in the post and bangs it home. Kaman is a 48.3 percent career field-goal shooter. After a rough first half in which he shot 41.4 percent from the field, Kaman rebounded to shoot 47.8 percent after the All-Star break.

    He was one of the more potent scorers for the New Orleans Hornets in the second half of the season, averaging 14.8 points per game. In 2010-11, Kaman averaged 12.4 points per game and 17.1 per 36 minutes.

    "The Caveman" will give the Dallas Mavericks the scoring they've lacked at center for the past decade.

    He's a solid rebounder. He averaged 7.7 rebounds per game and 9.6 per 36 minutes. Kaman has averaged at least 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in each of the last seven seasons.

    Kaman is also a keen shot-blocker. He's averaged at least 1.4 blocks per game in six of the last seven seasons. Last season, he blocked 1.6 blocks per game and was 10th in block percentage (4.7 percent).

    Going into his peak season at age 30, Kaman has a chance for at least one more solid year.

12. DeAndre Jordan

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    DeAndre Jordan is a solid defensive specialist who can do a bit of damage on the offensive end.

    Jordan is a lock-down defender on the inside. He blocked two shots per game last season, fourth in the NBA. He had the third best block percentage in the league at 6.3 percent. He had a promising defensive rating of 102 points allowed per 100 possessions.

    Jordan's rebounding is remarkable. He has averaged more than 10 rebounds per 36 minutes each of his four pro seasons. He was 10th in offensive rebounds (202) and eighth in offensive rebounding percentage (13.2 percent) last season.

    The Houston native is effective as a shooter at the rim. He shot 63.2 percent from the field last season. His basketball-reference.com shot chart for the season showed that 78.7 percent of his attempts came at the rim.

11. Joakim Noah

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    Joakim Noah is spastic and wild at times, but he's proven to be a capable player.

    Noah puts out so much energy on both ends of the floor that his teammates thrive off of it.

    He's rangy on defense. He averaged 1.4 blocks per game last season. Also, he allowed 95.7 points per 100 possessions, fourth in the league. He was sixth in defensive win shares with 4.2.

    Noah rebounds like few others do. He has been in the top six in offensive rebounding rate the last four seasons. He was 10th in rebounds per game (9.8) last season. He has averaged more than 11 rebounds per 36 minutes the last four seasons.

    Noah also makes a little bit of a dent on the offensive end. Last season, he averaged 10.2 points per game while shooting a nice 50.8 percent from the field. He dished out a decent 2.5 assists per game. That earned him fifth place in offensive rating with 120 points produced per 100 possessions.

10. Kevin Garnett

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    Kevin Garnett has still managed to be relevant well past his prime. His offense has been reasonable and his defense has remained solid.

    Defensively, Garnett still played like he was on the upper crust whenever he mustered the energy. He led the league in defensive rating, allowing 94 points per 100 possessions. He was fourth in defensive win shares with 4.3.

    That earned him a spot on the All-NBA Defensive Second Team.

    Garnett's offense has dropped off, but still remains relevant. He averaged 15.6 points per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the field, down 2.5 percent from the year before. He produced a reasonable 106 points per 100 possessions.

    The 17-year pro remains a serious free-throw shooter. He shot 85.7 percent from the line, which was tops among centers who played at least 50 games.

    Garnett might fade a little more, but he's still very much capable of holding his own on defense and contributing on offense.

9. Al Horford

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    Al Horford is expected to be in for a full season after missing most of last season due to injury.

    Horford should once again be a highly productive front man. In 2010-11, he averaged 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 55.7 percent from the field. He was fifth in field-goal percentage and ninth in total rebounds (718) en route to a spot on the All-NBA Third Team.

    He also showed some ability passing the ball, averaging 3.5 assists per game.

    Horford could blossom even more as he enters his sixth pro season. He could see greater shot-blocking and rebounding figures this year.

    The Florida product could be one to watch as he helps form a new core with Jeff Teague, Lou Williams and Josh Smith.

8. Marcin Gortat

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    Marcin Gortat is one player who crept up on fans. He gradually grew into a pretty good center. Gortat became a full-time starter at the right time last season and was truly impressive in his role.

    "The Polish Machine" produced like one every night for the Phoenix Suns. He averaged 15.4 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He had 31 double-doubles, tied for fourth among centers. His 55.5 percent field-goal percentage was sixth in the league.

    His rebounding was superb. He was eighth in rebounds per game and sixth in defensive rebounding rate (27.4 percent).

    As Gortat continues to grow, he'll keep improving his eye-popping production.

7. DeMarcus Cousins

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    DeMarcus Cousins is a cornstalk waiting to shoot its buds out. Fans saw last season how Cousins grew once he started getting his head in gear.

    Cousins' scoring average increased each month of the 2011-12 season (13 points per game in December, 15.5 per game in January, 19 per game in February, 19.76 per game in March and 19.78 in April).

    He shot 45.9 percent from the field after the All-Star break, compared to 43.6 percent before the break.

    The second-year player finished fifth among centers in scoring.

    Cousins' individual defense wasn't too bad. He allowed 104 points per 100 possessions. He collected 1.2 blocks ans 1.5 steals per game. Cousins was second among centers in steals behind Howard.

    His rebounding is terrific. Cousins averaged 11 rebounds per game, good for fourth in the NBA. He led the league in offensive rebounds (265) and pulled down 4.1 per game. His 4.9 offensive boards per 36 minutes were amazing.

    If he continues to gain focus and raise his overall game, Cousins could soon become a top-five center.

6. Roy Hibbert

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    Before this season, Roy Hibbert seemed like a far away figurine, someone who only vaguely seemed like a capable NBA center. At that time, Hibbert could compete a little on the boards and score a little.

    Suddenly, fans outside Indianapolis awoke to see that Hibbert had become a solid center. He's developed a spectacular hook shot. According to basketball-reference.com, Hibbert knocked down 62.2 percent of his hook shots in 2011-12.

    With 12.8 points per game and 15.5 per 36 minutes, Hibbert showed a nice scoring ability.

    He's one of the best shot-blockers in the league. He averaged two blocks per game—fifth in the NBA. He averaged 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes.

    His rebounding was terrific. He placed eighth in offensive rebounds (213). He averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds per game and four per 36 minutes. Hibbert averaged 8.8 rebounds per game and 10.6 per 36 minutes.

    By earning an All-Star appearance, Hibbert showed that he's starting to step up to the next level. What's to come will be a pleasure for all fans to see—not just Indiana Pacers fans.

5. Marc Gasol

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    Marc Gasol started to turn the corner in the 2011-12 season to become a premiere center. Gasol did a good job holding the fort on the inside for the Memphis Grizzlies with his post buddy, Zach Randolph, out for most of the season. Gasol furthered his ability to gain positioning inside. He exercised great strength going for rebounds.

    Gasol was a great presence on both ends of the floor. On defense, he was equally important to stopping guys inside to that of Tony Allen stopping guys on the perimeter. Gasol had a terrific defensive rating of 99 points allowed per 100 possessions. He placed seventh with 1.9 blocks per game. Also, he was eighth in defensive win shares with four.

    The Spaniard was quite productive on the boards. He was ninth in the NBA in defensive rebounds (459). He was 17th in rebounds per game (8.9).

    He did a nice job on offense, averaging 14.6 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting.

    The 27-year-old still needs to improve against tough competition.

    Nevertheless, he pushed his game high enough to earn an All-Star appearance in February.

4. Tyson Chandler

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    Tyson Chandler is by far the best defensive specialist among centers. He's a tenacious defensive stopper who is often tasked with making up for the lapses of his New York Knicks teammates. Chandler is a pretty good shot-blocker. He has averaged at least 1.1 blocks per game every season and at least 1.4 per 36 minutes in all but one season.

    Chandler tied for 14th in the NBA in defensive rating with 98.7 points allowed per 100 possessions.

    The former Chicago Bull is a premiere rebounder. He's seventh among active players and 12th all-time in total rebounding percentage (18.3 percent). Also, he's fourth among active players and 10th all-time in offensive rebounding percentage (12.6 percent).

    Chandler's ability to scour the offensive boards for putbacks is unparalleled. Because of this, he has the highest field-goal percentage among active players (57.8 percent) and fourth highest all-time.

    Due to his consistency putting back others' misses, offensive rebounding prowess and relatively few touches, Chandler has been No. 1 the last two years in offensive rating.

3. Al Jefferson

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    Al Jefferson has been somewhat underappreciated. He's always been immensely talented and productive, but has flown under the radar because he plays for a middling small-market Utah Jazz team.

    Jefferson has posted 18 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in four of the last five seasons.

    He's one of the more versatile centers in the league. Jefferson can ably knock down jumpers, as well as inside shots.

    Jefferson has been a top-notch competitor on the boards. The former Timberwolf finished 10th in defensive rebounds (455) and ninth in defensive rebounding percentage (25.3 percent) last season. He's 10th among active players and 16th all-time in defensive rebounding percentage (24.5 percent).

    The Monticello, Miss., native is also one of the most sure-handed players in the game. Jefferson committed just 1.1 turnovers per game in 2011-12. He's placed second in the league in turnover rate the last two seasons. Also, Jefferson is seventh among active active players in turnover rate (8.96 percent) and 13th in NBA history.

    Utah's center is one of its scant bright spots on defense. He averaged a nice 1.7 blocks per game in 2011-12, a year after placing ninth with 1.9 blocks per game. His defensive rating was a respectable 103 points allowed per 100 possessions. Jefferson shows energy on defense, making up for lapses made by his teammates.

2. Andrew Bynum

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    Andrew Bynum took big steps in the last two years to take his current place as one of the two elite centers in the NBA.

    In 2010-11, he showed what was to come by posting 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and two blocks in 27.6 minutes per game—that's 14.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. That he was able to place sixth when averaging 27.6 minutes per game was impressive.

    His 121.4 points produced per 100 possessions were ninth best in the league.

    Last season, he stepped up to earn a starting spot on the Western Conference All-Star team on his way to a spot on the All-NBA Second Team. The Metuchem, N.J., native was third in scoring among centers with 18.7 points per game, placing behind only Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard.

    He placed in the top five in field-goal percentage for the second straight year, knocking down 55.8 percent of his shots. Bynum again placed sixth in blocks per game.

    Bynum plays strong on defense. He has allowed 100 points per 100 possessions in the last two years.

    Bynum, who will turn 25 just before the start of the season, is upping his game quickly. His game is rapidly approaching Howard's level. He plays strong on both ends, is heady in the post and keeps his aggression high.

    If Howard struggles with back problems and Bynum pushes his scoring significantly, the debate could get interesting.

1. Dwight Howard

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    While Andrew Bynum is making a leap in ability, he has yet to reach Howard's superhuman level. Howard is scarily dominant on the glass. He has led the league in total rebounds in six of his eight pro seasons. He's had at least eight 20-rebound games in each of the last five seasons.

    His defensive play is unparalleled. Prior to 2011-12, he led the league in defensive rating for three straight years. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award in each of those seasons. The former Magic has made the All-NBA Defensive First Team four straight years.