The NBA is widely considered to be a league dominated by point guards and shooters, but a crop of talented, diverse big men has revitalized the center position in recent years.
Classically considered the game's most important position, the role of the center continues to change as teams implement smaller lineups that are more adept at running the floor and shooting the three.
With the new year on the horizon, it's time to rank the NBA's centers.
Note: All stats accurate as of Sunday, December 30.
Still just 20 years old, Bismack Biyombo has time to catch up to his peers at the center position.
Selected No. 7 overall in the 2011 NBA draft, Biyombo was about as raw as they come, entering the league as a defensive specialist, a capable rebounder and shot-blocker with good length.
Unfortunately, Biyombo's shot-blocking (1.8 per game for his career) has been the only constant in his otherwise limited game.
This season, Biyombo is converting on just 50 percent of his field-goal attempts in the restricted area, which is unfortunate because that's where 76.9 percent of his total shots are coming from, per NBA.com.
With practically no range and few veterans on the Bobcats to mentor him, Biyombo may have a rough go of it in Charlotte.
It's been all downhill for Emeka Okafor since his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004-05.
That year, Okafor averaged a career-high 15.1 points per game and a solid 10.9 rebounds en route to the league's Rookie of the Year award.
Now on his third team in nine years, Okafor is struggling to find the consistency that he enjoyed as a rookie.
With the Washington Wizards, Okafor is logging a career-low 23.3 minutes per game, while his scoring average has plummeted into single digits (7.6 points per night).
Okafor's shooting average has also dropped nearly six points from his career average this season while the Washington big man is converting on just 35 percent from mid-range, per NBA.com.
It's tough to pinpoint where Jonas Valanciunas is in his development as an NBA-caliber center, because 28 games into his rookie season he suffered a broken finger that will set him back more than a month.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Lithuanian big, the Toronto Raptors selected Valanciunas at No. 5 overall in the 2011 NBA draft, but he only recently made his debut for his current employer.
Valanciunas still has work to do as far as fundamentals go, but he's a big body who can bang down low.
Although his frontcourt sidekick, Andrea Bargnani, has fallen out of favor with Raptors fans, the two could actually make for a nice inside-outside combo if they can stay healthy.
A change of scenery appears to be working wonders for Robin Lopez's game, as he's averaging more points, rebounds and minutes than he did throughout the first four years of his career.
So far this season, Lopez is posting a line of 12 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 26.6 minutes per game, which are all easily career highs.
Constantly compared to his brother Brook, Robin appears to be coming into his own, and a big part of that may be decreased pressure thanks to the attention that teammates Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson receive from defenses on a nightly basis.
Kendrick Perkins may not be the most well-rounded center in the NBA, but he's a critical piece of the Oklahoma City Thunder frontcourt.
With limited depth at the center position (backups include Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton), getting 20-plus strong minutes out of Perkins can be a huge lift to Scott Brooks' squad on any given night.
Although Perkins doesn't have anything flashy to offer when the Thunder are on offense, he's a quality post defender and a great locker room presence for a young team.
In 24.9 minutes per game this season, Perkins is averaging 4.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a night.
On an inconsistent Dallas Mavericks team, Chris Kaman has been one of the team's few constants.
Signed to a one-year deal this summer, Kaman was brought in along with Elton Brand to provide some veteran leadership to the Mavs' frontcourt, and Kaman has held up his end of the deal thus far.
Good moving with and without the ball, Kaman has been steady, shooting 51.5 percent from the field en route to 13.7 points per game.
Playing on a prove-it deal with the Mavs, Kaman is showing teams around the NBA that he still has what it takes to be a quality starting center.
Despite being the punchline to many a joke made by Stephen A. Smith, Tiago Splitter is actually a serviceable center for the San Antonio Spurs.
To play (and start) for Gregg Popovich, you must be a fundamentally sound player who puts the team before himself, and Splitter recognizes that.
Splitter has a competent offensive game around the basket and is particularly strong when it comes to rolling to the basket off of high-low pick-and-pop action.
He may not be a flashy name, but Tiago Splitter is proving to have value to the Spurs.
Nikola Vucevic was underused in his one year with the Philadelphia 76ers, so it's nice to see that he's getting starting opportunities with the Orlando Magic.
The seven-footer out of USC has what many would consider a classic international game for a big man, as he can stretch defenses out to 15 feet while also getting points down on the blocks when asked to.
In his first year as a full-time starter, Vucevic is averaging a near double-double, posting a line of 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Vucevic has an outstanding opportunity to grow alongside his young teammates, and with their skilled big man in the center, the Magic appear to have a bright future ahead of them.
After a brief stint with the Sacramento Kings, it appears as if J.J. Hickson has found a long-term home in Portland.
Hickson has assumed a starting role with the Trail Blazers, and despite standing just 6'9'', has used his athleticism and explosiveness to make an impact in the middle for Portland.
Paired up with LaMarcus Aldridge, Hickson has been the Blazers' strongest man on the boards, grabbing 11 rebounds per game, which ranks fifth in the entire NBA.
While Hickson doesn't take on a prominent role in the Blazers offense, he's been a serviceable offensive big man, converting on 56 percent of his shots from the field, including 57 percent from mid-range, per NBA.com.
It's a shame that Marcin Gortat's best years are being spent in Phoenix, where his talent is wasting away on a lowly Suns team.
Dwight Howard's former backup has made a name for himself with some steady production in the Southwest, although not many people have taken notice.
In 2011-12, Gortat averaged career highs of 15.2 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 32 minutes of work per night, although those numbers have dipped slightly in 2012.
So far this season, the Polish big man is averaging just 11.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, although he's increased his production in the blocks department, up to 1.9 per game.
Was there anyone who thought Larry Sanders would be leading the NBA in blocks through the first two months of the season?
After two quiet seasons to start his career in Milwaukee, Sanders has emerged as the Bucks' starting center, and a good one at that.
Although he's not much other than a solid defender, it's nice that the Bucks are finally getting production out of the man they spent a first-round pick on in 2010.
Averaging 3.04 blocks per game, Sanders sits atop the NBA in rejections, with Serge Ibaka looming in second place (three blocks per game).
DeMarcus Cousins is insanely talented, but he's also, well, insane. When he's in the right state of mind, Cousins can be as dominant as any NBA big man, but his temper seems to get the best of him more times than not.
Between suspensions and inconsistent play, you can never count on Cousins to produce in a big moment.
Were Cousins to be dealt to another, more stable NBA franchise, perhaps he would flourish, but so long as he's stuck in Sacramento, his future appears bleak.
Cousins is averaging a solid 16.5 points per game this season, but he is shooting a miserable 41.2 percent from the field.
When he's not busy making hysterical plays in transition, JaVale McGee can be found flaunting his athleticism, making defenders' lives miserable.
McGee represents a sort of hybrid between classic forwards and centers, standing 7'0'' with a wingspan of 7'6''.
It's still unknown just how effective McGee and his massive wingspan can be, because he's yet to see a large workload under head coach George Karl.
Playing just 19 minutes per game this season, McGee has had to battle with Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov for playing time in the middle, and it may be a few more years until we see a coach trust McGee enough to take on a starting role.
In his limited playing time, McGee is averaging 10.7 points per game on an efficient 58.6 percent shooting.
Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut has been sidelined for practically all of the 2012 season, appearing in just four games due to a bum ankle.
Acquired last spring in a trade for guard Monta Ellis, Bogut has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, and his future in the Bay Area is starting to look cloudy.
The good news for the Warriors is that they've gotten enough production out of bigs David Lee, Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli to make up for Bogut's absence.
The hope is that Bogut will make a return at some point this season and help propel the Warriors into postseason relevancy once again.
DeAndre Jordan is revered by casual fans for his highlight-reel dunks, but the fact remains that Jordan still has plenty of work to do in order to become one of the league's best centers.
A part of Lob City, Jordan is averaging 9.3 points per game this season on 59.4 percent shooting, and his post game could use some refining.
Not only that, but the 24-year-old big would also be wise to put in some time in the gym working on his free throws, as he's converting on a ghastly 41.7 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe this season.
Jordan possesses as much promise as any young NBA center, and with a few new moves in his arsenal, he could become a force in no time.
If this were a ranking of the NBA's best defensive centers, Omer Asik would crack the top five with ease.
Since signing a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets last summer, Asik has taken on a starring role for the first time in his career.
Asik's minutes have doubled from where they were a season ago in Chicago, as the Turkish seven-footer is playing a shade under 31 minutes per game on the Rockets' front line.
Averaging a double-double (10.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game), Asik is establishing himself as one of the league's hardest working centers who still has room to grow at the age of 26.
Al Jefferson doesn't receive much praise on a national scale, but he's the glue that holds the Utah Jazz together.
Averaging a team-high 14.9 field-goal attempts per game, the Jazz's success is contingent on production from their 6'10'', 290-pound center, who is scoring at a rate of 16.5 points per game.
In the final year of his contract, Jefferson will be a popular name discussed at the trade deadline, although it's still unclear how much interest the Jazz have in dealing him.
With teammate Paul Millsap's deal also expiring, the Jazz will have some tough decisions to make in the coming months regarding the future of their talented frontcourt.
Greg Monroe's numbers are down from where they were one year ago, but his potential and overall talent are undeniable.
On a lowly Detroit Pistons club, Monroe leads his team in points (15.1 per game), rebounds (8.8 per game) and steals (1.4 per game), while staying just one assist off the pace for the team lead.
Monroe does it all thanks to a 6'11'', 250-pound frame, using a clean mid-range jumper and improved footwork to pour in buckets from nearly anywhere on the floor.
A capable dribbler off of the bounce, Monroe has also shown an ability to take his man to the rim from as far out as 12 to 15 feet.
It wasn't all that long ago that Roy Hibbert was considered one of the five best centers in the NBA.
A 2011-12 campaign that saw Hibbert post a line of 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks per game feels like years ago, as the Indiana Pacers' big piece has looked particularly out of sorts this season.
While Hibbert still anchors the league's second-best defense (allowing 90.5 points per game), his effectiveness on the other end of the floor has been detrimental to the Pacers' progress this season.
Already without leading scorer Danny Granger, Hibbert's inability to score the ball at a high rate this year has put head coach Frank Vogel in a bind.
Hibbert only recently cracked the 40 percent mark in terms of field-goal percentage, and he's shooting a ghastly 47 percent from the restricted area, and an even worse 31 percent from the paint, per NBA.com.
The best center in the NBA that casual fans haven't heard of? That would be Nikola Pekovic of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Pekovic is an absolute load at 6'11'', 290 pounds, but he has surprising quickness for a man of his stature. More than just a classic post-up big man, Pekovic is very good at finding open spaces in the paint and moving without the ball off of the pick-and-roll.
Averaging 16.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, Pekovic is making a strong case for a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team.
Pekovic has earned a bump in playing time this year (up six minutes from 2011-12), and is putting those extra minutes to use, shooting 50.3 percent from the field, including 61 percent from the restricted area, per NBA.com.
Brook Lopez's ascent into the upper echelon of NBA centers has been a rapid one aided by the Brooklyn Nets' time in the spotlight.
On a Nets team that has gone through its fair share of turmoil in 2012, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 18.7 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting from the field.
Lopez is also averaging career highs in rebounds (7.4 per game) and blocks (2.3 per game), as his defense has improved markedly since the Nets moved into their new home in Brooklyn.
Although his game could still use some polishing on the defensive end, Lopez is on the fast track to becoming one of the league's most well-rounded big men.
Andrew Bynum has yet to step on the floor this year for the Philadelphia 76ers, so it's tough to peg where he should fall on this list.
Given that we don't know how Bynum will look when he returns from injury, and the overall quality of centers in the NBA, a ranking at No. 9 seems fair.
The 2011-12 season represented a sort of renaissance for Bynum, as he averaged 18.7 points on 55.8 percent shooting last season (including 69.2 percent shooting from the free-throw line).
Bynum has skills down on the blocks that all centers desire, and at a massive 7'0'', 285 pounds, can handle opponents by simply overpowering them.
However, Bynum's strength is supplemented by a surprisingly soft touch, as his post moves have developed enough in recent years, giving him the complete offensive package.
If the season ended today, many would say that Anderson Varejao deserves to be handed the league's Most Improved Player award.
While Varejao has made quite a strong case, it's unlikely he will capture the hardware, because he's already 30 years old.
Nonetheless, the early stages of the 2012 season have indicated that Varejao is an elite rebounder and a competent offensive big man who can stretch the floor and wreak havoc in the post.
Leading the NBA in rebounds with 14.4 per game, Varejao has been a dominant presence on the boards for the Cleveland Cavaliers, playing a career-high 36 minutes per game.
What's even more impressive is that of those 14.4 rebounds per game, 5.5 of them are coming on the offensive glass, also a league high.
Kevin Garnett is a warrior, plain and simple. Although he's faded out of his prime in recent years, Garnett has been an invaluable piece of several lengthy Boston Celtic playoff runs.
Although the Celtics failed to reach the NBA Finals last season, Garnett's reemergence as an offensive centerpiece was a key reason why Boston was able to stretch its Eastern Conference finals duel with the Miami Heat to seven games.
Garnett seems to be at his best when the lights shine brightest, using the regular season as a tune up, and his numbers over the last few years lend credence to that observation.
Throughout the 2011-12 regular season, Garnett averaged 15.8 points in 31.1 minutes a night, but those numbers ballooned in the playoffs to 19.2 points in 36.9 minutes.
While he may not possess the explosiveness of his youth, Garnett's meticulous approach to perfecting his craft has kept him among the league's elite centers at 36 years old.
The focus in Atlanta over the last few seasons has been on forward Josh Smith, whose erratic yet captivating style of play attracts the attention of fans far and wide.
So, with Smith emerging as the big draw down South, center Al Horford has quietly flown under the radar.
In his sixth season with the Hawks, Horford is taking on his largest offensive role yet, hoisting a shade over 13 shots per game, which ranks second only to Smith (15.7 attempts per game).
Horford is also seeing the most playing time of his career, receiving 37.1 minutes of run per night for Larry Drew's squad.
While Horford has never been the sexiest scorer or defender, he's a clear difference-maker, scoring 15.8 points and pulling down 9.7 boards per game, all while shooting 53.3 percent from the field.
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah doesn't seem to receive much respect nationally, but the brash and cocky big man out of the University of Florida has worked tirelessly to hone his game at the professional level.
Noah's shot is hardly easy on the eyes, but guess what, it finds its way to the bottom of the cup more often than not.
A steady free-throw shooter, Noah is converting on 81 percent of his looks from the stripe this season, as well as 48 percent of his shots from the field.
Noah rarely requires sets to be run for him, as he's established himself as one of the league's best at creating second chances for his team, grabbing rebounds and deferring to teammates when possible.
In fact, a quick look at the NBA's assist leaders reveals that Noah is the only center in the top 40, averaging 4.5 dimes per game.
Averaging 13.1 points, 10.6 points and 2.1 blocks (eighth in the NBA) per night, Noah has done a fantastic job of ramping up his offensive production in Derrick Rose's absence.
It's been a quiet start to the 2012-13 season for Chris Bosh, but that's not to say that it hasn't been a successful one.
Although Bosh was never considered a center until Erik Spoelstra and the Heat remade their lineup to feature a smaller, quicker group, he's taken well to his new position in the middle of Miami's dynamic offense.
Bosh isn't one to look to the post as his primary means of scoring, and why would he, when his mid-range jumper has been on point this season.
Taking a plurality of his shots from mid-range (40.5 percent), Bosh has had success, hitting on 53 percent of his attempts, per NBA.com.
He's not a conventional center, but Chris Bosh is finding ways to redefine the position with his potent jumper and raw athleticism.
Tyson Chandler is as one-dimensional as they come on the offensive end of the floor. However, a lack of diversity doesn't necessarily mean decreased effectiveness for the New York Knicks center.
Chandler is attempting 90 percent of his field goals this season within the confines of the restricted area, but is converting on 72 percent of his looks in close, per NBA.com.
To put things in perspective, Chandler has only attempted 21 shots outside of the restricted area to date.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year currently ranks eighth in the NBA in rebounds (10.2 per game), but he has fallen all the way to 40th when it comes to blocks, averaging just 0.93 swats a game.
A title not many would associate with the defensive-minded center, Chandler is on his way to leading the NBA in field-goal percentage for the second consecutive season, as he currently sits at a 68.9 percent conversion rate, up a full point from his 2011-12 average.
If we were handing out an award to the NBA's most versatile center, Marc Gasol would take home the hardware.
Gasol may be the most talented big in the world of basketball, passing as well as he scores, but he doesn't possess the raw physical attributes that are so widely coveted in today's NBA.
A capable shooter out to 15 feet, Gasol is shooting at a rate of 40 percent or better from mid-range (44 percent), the paint (40 percent) and the restricted area (69 percent), per NBA.com.
Gasol is one of the league's most knowledgeable pick-and-roll passers, and his game complements frontcourt mate Zach Randolph's beautifully.
With Randolph known as more of a banger down on the blocks, Gasol has adapted his game to the point where he makes as much of an impact away from the basket as he does in the paint.
Dwight Howard may not make a complete return to form this season, which is what makes his production at less than 100 percent so impressive.
Recovery from offseason back surgery has hindered Howard's trademark explosiveness a bit this season, but the fact that he's still posting double-double averages as a second offensive option speaks volumes about the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
And while Howard may not be the most talented center in the NBA, he's easily the most dominant.
Averaging 17.6 points on just 10.8 field-goal attempts per game, Howard has been true on 57 percent of his shots, although he needs to improve his numbers from the free-throw line, where he's converting at a lowly 51 percent.
Howard's biggest contributions for the Los Angeles Lakers have come on the defensive end, where his 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks (fourth in the NBA) per game have been as good as advertised.