Ranking the Dallas Mavericks' Chris Kaman Among the West's 10 Best Centers
Chris Kaman made offseason headlines as "the best offensive center" in Dallas Mavericks team history, and he hasn't even laced up his shoes or played in a meaningful game yet.
How does he fare against the rest of the Western Conference?
Kaman has always been a force on the offensive end, but his injury history and lack of dominating defense have left him somewhat off the radar of the elite players at the position.
Don't forget, he was an All-Star just three seasons ago (2010), and he's an underrated defender, averaging 1.5 blocks per game in his career.
Across the board, the West has tons of talent that wasn't there in 2011-12. Three centers that made the list are formerly of the Eastern Conference, and one is a rookie.
For clarification, names like DeAndre Jordan, Kendrick Perkins and Omer Asik just missed the cut of the top 10. Here's a look at the 10 best centers in the West right now, with a look at where Kaman currently stands and what he can do to climb up the ladder during his tenure in the upcoming season with the Mavs.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
Nick Laham/Getty Images
It's hard to put a guy without any experience this high on a list, but Davis proved his worth on the world's biggest stage: the Olympic Games.
After Blake Griffin went down with a knee injury in the qualifying stages of making the roster, Davis was the choice above some other big names, including a man higher on this list: DeMarcus Cousins.
But Davis played the Christian Laettner role well for the Americans, playing solid basketball when he was on the court, whether the game was out of hand or not.
Davis takes over for Kaman in New Orleans, and he'll have a solid frontcourt mate in Ryan Anderson to help take the scoring pressure off immediately. But make no mistake, this guy wasn't a No. 1 overall pick for nothing. Teenager or not, Davis will compete right away and continue to get better during his rookie season.
While listed as both a PF and C going forward, I think Davis' best lineup will be with Anderson at the 4 while he is manning the center position.
10. Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves
Harry How/Getty Images
The bust that was the 2010-11 season turned out to be just the rookie blues for Nikola Pekovic, who emerged as a true post option and defensive presence in Minnesota last season.
After averaging 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds on over 50 percent shooting, he became a threat and helped take pressure off of emerging NBA superstar Kevin Love, forcing teams to defend both big men on any given possession.
Pekovic could very well creep higher up the list with another solid season, but for right now, he emerges as one of the West's best centers. I firmly believe that Minnesota will be a playoff contender this year, and for that to happen, Pekovic has to have another great season.
9. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
McGee is the first center on this list to be imported in from the East. Although he was acquired midseason from the Washington Wizards, it took some time for him to get used to the Nuggets, and this will be his first season as the true starter.
There's no doubt he has the talent to succeed. He wasn't even a center in high school or college, despite his seven-foot frame. When he was recruited to play at Nevada, he was to be a small forward, not a center.
His 1.8 blocks per game are actually low for his skill level, and that number should increase to 2.5 or higher if he can stop goaltending balls when he should just play straight up.
Despite the boneheaded plays and the mental lapses from time to time, McGee is still in his mid-20s and could be an explosive player if he ever figures it out. He isn't quite elite, but he's darn sure in the mix to be there during the course of his next four years in Denver.
8. Chris Kaman, Dallas Mavericks
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Chris Kaman is already living up to his injury history in Dallas, hurting his back on the first day of training camp. While the injury is not thought to be serious and Kaman is just getting the swing of things in his new city, it's certainly a concern and something to keep a close eye on before the Mavs begin their international preseason road trip.
However, should Kaman regain his form and stay healthy for at least 60 to 70 of the team's games this season, he'll play his way right up there into contention with the rest of the West.
Kaman's style isn't flashy, and he's penalized for being a below-average on-ball defender. But his post-moves are Grade A, really only matched by Al Jefferson and Marc Gasol.
Despite all the trade talk and injury problems in New Orleans last season, he was still able to produce 13 points and seven rebounds per game; respectable numbers that should stay the course in Dallas.
With Dirk Nowitzki eating into his offensive production, you might not see Kaman's impact in the box score. But teams will not be able to send weak-side double teams from the interior anymore, giving Dirk even more room to make decisions with the ball in his hands.
7. Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Marcin Gortat bids farewell to Steve Nash and hello to Goran Dragic, so will his production drop off from the 15-point, 10-rebound double-double average we saw him post in 2011-12?
My answer is no. The Polish hammer is proving he could start on any team in the NBA, and he does it game-in and game-out. Only three players on this list average more minutes per game than Gortat, and he brings the pain on every possession.
Watch a Phoenix Suns game this year if you get a chance. Gortat is active around the rim on both ends and is a terrific screener in the pick-and-roll game.
Another double-double-type season will help bridge the gap with Nash gone to L.A., and it could also earn him consideration to the All-Star game, depending on how fast of a start he gets off to with new responsibilities in Phoenix.
6. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jefferson is getting into Zach Randolph territory, and that might be a good thing. After several seasons of being the punching bag for his team's lack of success, Jefferson helped the Utah Jazz reach the playoffs in 2012, although they were swept by top seed San Antonio.
So why the comparison to Randolph?
Well, Jefferson, after taking all that negative weight of being a bad teammate and a ball hog, seems to have it figured out in Utah.
He's got a solid running mate in Paul Millsap, two young guys who are well above-average players in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, and he's still got the keys to this Utah offense now that Mo Williams will try to manage.
Utah has some nice pieces, but their best player is Jefferson, who continues to flirt with averaging a double-double, year in and year out. His post moves are phenomenal, and if Jefferson can help this Jazz team be a contender, he'll continue to finish in the top five of similar lists.
5. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
Photo Credit: BustaSports.com
Golden State Warriors, the playoff team? It's certainly achievable with the pieces in place, and this might be the first time in recent memory that Golden State fans will be truly disappointed if their team doesn't make it to the postseason.
A key piece to that is their center, Andrew Bogut, who looks to play a full season for the first time since his rookie year of 2005-06. The former No. 1 overall pick is a testament to how valuable a center can be. Milwaukee was thought to be a playoff team in 2011-12—after Bogut went down, the Bucks slowly drifted into a place where they felt comfortable trading him for Monta Ellis.
His career averages of 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds don't jump off the page, but his 2.4 blocks per game over the last three seasons certainly do. He has a chance to come into his own with this Golden State team, which has a very realistic shot to make the postseason this year.
Playing with David Lee will be fun, and Bogut will be the best Golden State has had at protecting the rim in the last decade. This should be a big year for the Australian, as well as for a team with legit playoff hopes.
4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Duncan is the ultimate pro, and will go down in history as the greatest power forward in the game. But he's playing the center position now, much like Kevin Garnett in Boston, and doing so with the same efficiency and defensive intensity as KG.
He's on the West's most consistent team, and Duncan is the model of consistency over the course of his career. He's not on the decline just yet, but father time is making his way towards the Spurs, and Duncan is the target.
I'll take Duncan in one game over any player on this list, but overall, his skill set is not as defined as the rest of the people on this list, at least not like it used to be.
3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
If the Kings really are planning on moving out of town, they'll take one of the NBA's budding stars with them when they go.
DeMarcus Cousins, for all the mantra about being an "NBA Bad Boy" and immature, has looked downright dominant during portions of two NBA seasons. After averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds last year, he looks to expand on that and help the Kings shred the loser label they've held since the middle of the 2000s.
If you're a Cousins fan or a basketball fan, Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick has a wonderful interview with Cousins that was just posted on their website and gives a little bit of insight.
Can he really take that next leap into stardom? There's no doubt he's got the talent and drive to be the best, but with big-namers ahead of him and a young Sacramento squad counting on him, how will he respond?
Reports out of Team USA camp this summer were that he didn't have the right attitude to join the Olympic squad. Cousins answers questions about that and more in the Amick interview, and after you hear his own words, it might give a little more peace of mind to why so many expect Cousins to be the league's best center this season.
2. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The younger brother of Pau doesn't have the outside touch or overall talent of the Lakers power forward. But he plays the game with an amount of passion and emotion that the people in Memphis truly feed off of, making them one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph feed off each other in the low post, too, making up one of the league's best frontcourts. Gasol is an excellent on-ball defender and was integral in helping Spain make the Olympic gold-medal game at the 2012 London Games.
Without him, the Grizzlies are very average in the post, and teams are able to double-team Randolph and virtually destroy the low-post game.
Gasol, while not athletic and certainly not capable of putting up 20 points per game, is a fundamental player who lets his emotion push his play over the top. His reign at the top of this list is dwindling, but he's as solid as they come and deserves some love for Memphis' resurgence.
1. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
Harry How/Getty Images
Is it just me, or does Dwight Howard look even more demeaning after the recent Lakers photo shoot? He doesn't quite leave a presence like Shaquille O'Neal, but looking at him in purple and gold is downright scary.
The league's best center and perennial top-five player has landed with the Lakers, and he and Kobe Bryant will look to create the league's next super team—for as long as Bryant's knees allow.
With career averages of 18 points and 13 boards, D12 is easily at the top of this list as he enters the Western Conference in place of Andrew Bynum. The scary thing is Howard still has no dominate post move, and he's not the world's best pick-and-roll player, either.
That should change under the tutelage of Steve Nash, Bryant and Pau Gasol, who all know different ways to score the ball that should help Howard become the league's most dominant player.
If that wasn't enough, he'll get all kinds of help from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lakers faithful, and Howard could extend his place in league history very early in his L.A. career. With Nash sure to find him multiple times per game, this could be a special year for the league's best defender and center.