Constructing a team around a superstar is the aim of every general manager, but with elite-level talent in short supply, front offices around the league need to be a bit more creative these days. And since the state of the center position isn't what it was 20 years ago, teams who have that anchor in the middle have a distinct edge over their peers.
There's increased talk about "positionless" lineups and other radical changes to how we define players, but the fact of the matter is that the center position is still vital in today's NBA. It's no secret that the highest percentage shots are those taken around the basket, so having an interior defender who serves as a deterrent in the middle is key. Those who lack that sort of presence will have to work that much harder on offense, while teams with quality centers—those perhaps a step or two below the level of Dwight Howard—have a solid base on which to build around. Finding perimeter players who can score is easy—locating a big man who is skilled on both ends of the floor is a true challenge.
Note: Statistics are accurate as of Dec. 6
The following is a warning to the rest of the NBA: Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond is going to be a problem.
The 6'10" Drummond just turned 20 in August, yet he's putting up remarkable numbers in his rookie season. Through the first few weeks of the 2012-13 campaign, Drummond is shooting nearly 57 percent from the field, and is averaging 13.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Drummond was somewhat underwhelming during his lone season at the University of Connecticut, but ever since he donned a Pistons uniform, he's displayed the potential that many expected to see while he was in Storrs. The Drummond/Greg Monroe tandem will be a thing of beauty a few years from now, and Drummond's development could help usher in a resurgence at the center position in the NBA.
It's a shame that Jonas Valanciunas plays for a team that doesn't get much coverage here in the States. With Toronto Raptors games so infrequently available on national TV, many basketball fans are missing out on one of the stars of the 2012-13 rookie class.
Quite simply, the four-year, $15.23 million deal that the Raptors signed Valanciunas to last summer is one of the league's biggest bargains. And while the comparisons to Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler may be a bit premature (and extreme), it's obvious that the 20-year-old Valanciunas has the chops to play at the NBA level (8.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG).
Valanciunas has ridiculous upside, and as his game evolves over the next several seasons, he's going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing centers every time he steps onto the court.
As Bleacher Report Assistant NBA Editor Ethan Norof points out, basketball fans by and large haven't exactly warmed up to Anderson Varejao. It's hard to hate on his numbers this season, however: Varejao has been nothing short of fantastic, averaging 15.0 points and 15.4 rebounds per game.
Thanks to the three years and very reasonable $27 million left on his deal, Varejao's name has been thrown around in trade rumors quite often this season. And if the Cleveland Cavaliers are serious about dealing their talented big man, they'll have a whole host of suitors eager to get their hands on one of the Association's most unique players.
Varejao's energy on the court is flat-out infectious, and just about every team in the league would be much improved with him patrolling the middle.
The two things that are preventing Enes Kanter from being one of the league's best centers go hand-in-hand: time and opportunity. And the 20-year-old big man isn't getting much of either this season due to the presence of Al Jefferson at the five spot for the Jazz.
Kanter clearly has the talent (per 36 minutes, he averages 13.7 points and 9.4 rebounds), and with consistent playing time, he's all but certain to blossom into a nice complementary option to Jazz power forward Derrick Favors. Mobile bigs who have a nice 18-foot jumper to go along with good touch around the rim are rare, so Kanter's skill set will be a valuable asset for the Jazz...once they figure out a way to get him more minutes.
This season, we are all witnesses to the continued evolution of DeAndre Jordan. Ever so slowly, the 24-year-old center is beginning to redefine his game as his Los Angeles Clippers team is emerging as a possible title contender.
Jordan's attempts come almost exclusively around the basket, but he is averaging more shots outside of the restricted area than he ever has before. A certain set of expectations came with that four-year, $43 million deal that he signed prior to last season, and it's clear that Jordan realizes that he needs to improve if he wants to be considered among the league's best big men.
It's scary to think how good Jordan can be once he adds a couple of low post moves to his arsenal. And if he ever develops a mid-range jump shot, a few nods to the All-Star Game wouldn't be out of the question either.
Tyson Chandler isn't the type of player you can feed 20-25 times per game in the post, but when he does receive the ball around the basket, good things happen. The 7'1" Chandler is shooting a league-high 71.2 percent from the floor this season, continuing to display the athleticism that has been his hallmark ever since he arrived in league 11 years ago.
The reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year knows (and is comfortable in) his role, and is relatively low-maintenance. His approach to the game is a welcome respite in a league loaded with those who often force their team's hands with unreasonable demands. So while Chandler may not be as polished as some of the game's best centers, his star shines just as bright.
In the absence of Andrew Bogut, David Lee has done a commendable job of holding down the center position for a Golden State team that is one of the league's biggest surprises this season.
Lee has many traits that a coach looks for in a big man: He's an extremely adept scorer (17.6 PPG this season), he's one of the NBA's best rebounders, and he's agile enough to run the floor on the fast break. But while the 29-year-old Lee has always been a solid player on offense, his improvement on the defensive end this year—Lee boasts a career-low 102 Defensive Rating this year—makes him a fine centerpiece on a Warriors squad loaded with perimeter talent.
Bogut isn't returning any time soon, but the Warriors are just fine without him thanks to Lee, who might be one of the most underrated big men in the Association.