Ranking the NBA's Top Centers of 2012-13
Dwight Howard might still be the biggest name among NBA centers, but did he have the most game in 2012-13? Now that the season has come to an end, let's take a look at the top 30 campaigns at the 5 spot over the course of the regular season.
A few notes on the rankings: They reflect every aspect of productivity over the course of the season, so games and minutes played factor heavily into each decision, as does efficiency. I also tried to include some unquantifiable factors, such as how heavily his team depends on him to create offense for himself or the rest of the team, or if he's the only defensive presence on an otherwise weak defensive team, thus hurting his defensive efficiency but making him all the more valuable (hello, Omer Asik).
Feel free to comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts and respond with my own. Let's dive in.
Nos. 30 to 26
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30. Enes Kanter: Size, agility, skill. All the tools are there for the 20-year-old former third overall pick. Now it's a matter of getting playing time and putting it all together. With the contracts of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap up in Utah, he should get that chance next year.
29. Jonas Valanciunas: Fortunately for Raptors fans, The Big V showed a lot of promise during his rookie season. Unfortunately, the better he plays, the more it hurts the "Fire Bryan Colangelo" campaign.
28. Marcin Gortat: It was an odd season for The Polish Hammer, who saw his scoring drop by more than four points per game during a season in which the Suns needed (a ton) more scoring.
27. Emeka Okafor: Remember the old "Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor" draft debate? Me neither. The usual tough defense is there, but thanks to his increasing age and his feet's distaste for getting off the floor, scoring has become tougher for him than pronouncing his real name is for me.
26. Brandan Wright: Unfairly (perhaps) labeled a dud after outsized expectations coming out of UNC-Chapel Hill, Wright's fashioned himself a career as an efficient reserve big, making a habit of swatting opposing second-stringers' shots and finishing on putbacks and nice feeds.
Nos. 25 to 21
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25. Spencer Hawes: There's a lot to like about Hawes' game, making himself most useful when he's knocking down from deep and dealing pretty passes. Sadly the aesthetic beauty doesn't carry over to his Captain-America-at-Coachella look.
24. Kosta Koufos: A five-year veteran at the age of 23, Koufos' career is ready to turn a corner if he learns to defend without fouling.
23. DeAndre Jordan: If he can become a mediocre free-throw shooter—and that "if" is bigger than his man-sized slam on the valiant Brendan Knight—not only will his efficiency increase, but he'll be able to stay on the floor longer to accrue the countable stats.
22. Andre Drummond: Super efficient and hyper active, Drummond's ceiling is already higher than DeAndre's. But if he can't straighten himself out from the free-throw line, it could cost him being a top-five center in the league.
21. JaVale McGee: Anyone who thinks JaVale and his high-flying shot-swatting sideshow should be ranked higher should be reminded that the last time he was a regular starter, his name was more synonymous with "punchline" than "star."
Nos. 20 to 16
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20. J.J. Hickson: Hickson finally seems to have picked up the pieces after losing out on being LeBron's running mate three years ago. Who wouldn't play their heart out after just a year and a half in the black hole that is Sacramento? He can rebound, run the floor and finish, but the defense leaves a lot to be desired.
19. Robin Lopez: The "other" Lopez isn't as talented as many of the players below him on this list, but he's shown up every night and carried an otherwise weak defensive Hornets team on that end for stretches.
18. Andray Blatche: After flaming out in D.C. as its high-paid small forward, Blatche seems to have landed in the best possible situation. Sporting the third-highest PER of anyone on this list and backing up Brook Lopez (and occasionally playing alongside him), Blatche uses his strong ballhandling skills and creative post game to dizzy opponents when he's not nauseating his coaches with questionable shots.
17. Roy Hibbert: The bad: Hibbert shot a measly 41.3 percent from the field through the first 41 games. The good? He managed to stay consistent as an interior defensive presence throughout the season and notched a respectable 48 percent from the field after that rough start.
16. Omer Asik: The numbers, like his game, aren't always pretty, but Asik is invaluable to Houston's success considering he's more than a big part of its defensive presence—he is its defensive presence.
Nos. 15 to 11
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15. Kevin Garnett: Once the man who led his 2002-03 Minnesota squad in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, Garnett has reinvented himself as a center by focusing on the things he can still do very well: Shut down post players, rebound, score efficiently and find the open man.
14. Larry Sanders: A favorite for the season's Most Improved Player Award, Sanders' secret to success has been figuring out when and when not to shoot, allowing him to convert over 50 percent of his field goals for the first time in his career, in turn keeping him on the floor long enough for his usual spectacular defense to shine.
13. Nikola Vucevic: Trading one coach killer for another? Don't think that Vucevic's inspired play in an expanded role—combined with only three total minutes for the 76ers in the playoffs last season—didn't contribute to Doug Collins' recent job change in Philadelphia.
12. Nikola Pekovic: The unofficial captain of the "my strength is my strength" all-stars, Pekovic is more than a brawny, bruising menace in the middle. He combines that muscle with uncommon guile and a deft touch around the rim to be one of the more effective low-post scorers in the league.
11. DeMarcus Cousins: Known for inducing as many headaches for his opponents as he does his coaching staff, DeMarcus Cousins is as polarizing today as he was before being drafted three seasons ago. He shows that there is a big difference between being a smart basketball player and being a good decision maker. Seeing the floor as well as any big man in the game, he definitely represents the former, but is not at all the latter. At least not yet.
Nos. 10 to 6
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10. Greg Monroe: Another skilled passer out of the pivot, Monroe is one of the more dynamic offensive players on this list. While protecting the paint isn't really his bag, he won't be relied upon to do much more of that once Andre Drummond's playing time becomes consistent.
9. Chris Bosh: If this were a list ranking each player's ability, Bosh might be much higher. Yes, his numbers have taken a dip because he's playing out of position. But what's concerning is that after sliding from power forward to center, his rebounding numbers have nosedived when they should have gone the other way.
8. Al Jefferson: Jefferson suffers from being so under-appreciated that he might now be over-appreciated. Not a defensive stalwart, there are few centers as reliable as Jeff on the offensive end of the floor. Case in point: Jefferson finished third in the league in turnover percentage behind catch-and-shooters Steve Novak and Dante Cunningham.
7. Tyson Chandler: As the defensive leader on the East's second-best team, Chandler continues to be a field-goal percentage wonder as the premier pick-and-roll finisher of the NBA. It's hard to quantify his value, but it's safe to say that the threat of him slamming a lob into the opposition's basket is a big reason Knicks three-point shooters are always so open.
6. Joakim Noah: Guys love playing with guys they hate playing against. And that's Noah. Possessing the uncommon combination of shot-blocking, rebound and passing (2.1, 11.1 and 4.0 per game, respectively), the wild man from New York City does everything—other than score—at an elite level.
Nos. 5 to 1
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5. Al Horford: Like Noah—his former frontline running mate at Florida—Horford excels in every facet of the game, but with less hair and more individual offense. I'm not sure if it's because he plays in Atlanta or because he's so solid and consistent that people forget he's there, but how underrated Horford is never ceases to amaze and infuriate me.
4. Dwight Howard: Visibly affected by his back all season, Howard is still a premiere rebounder and shot-blocker. But free throws and turnovers do count, and a mark of 3.0 per game in the latter category—particularly for a coach who admittedly hates post-up plays—is a dark crimson flag. There are players on this list with much higher usage percentages who turn the ball over half as much.
3. Marc Gasol: Marc Gasol is one of my favorite players to watch in the league. And it's definitely not the prospect of Marc jumping over his defender to slam home a lob or rebound that keeps me glued to the tube. Instead, Gasol blends unmatched mass and enormous, soft hands with a cerebral game, good court vision and sneaky-good quickness. His ability to assess what his team needs in a given game at a given moment is uncanny, whether it's facilitating the offense from the high post, scoring down low or shutting down opposing bigs. Bonus points for being the player who most looks like his team's mascot.
2. Brook Lopez: You know the case for Brook: Fifth in the league in PER (first among centers), he's the offensive focal point for the No. 4 seed in the East, averaging more points per game than anyone else on this list while playing fewer minutes per game than eight of the next nine leading scorers (that lone holdout is next). He's also taken a big leap defensively, placing sixth in blocks and blocks per game among centers and acting as the only shot-blocking threat on an otherwise grounded Nets frontline.
And you know the case against Brook: In a word, rebounding. However, in Lopez's defense, over his first two seasons he averaged a very respectable 8.4 rebounds per game. It's not a surprise that his career drop in rebounding coincided with the addition of boarding machine Kris Humphries and later Reggie Evans. Second, because his backup is also an effective player (and to combat injury), he only plays about 30 minutes a game. This year he's averaging 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, more than Gasol.
1. Tim Duncan: Like I wrote about Garnett, Tim Duncan has reinvented himself as a center by focusing on the things he can still do very well. But for Duncan, unlike Garnett, that means still doing just about everything he always did. Though his age has had the expected effect on his mobility and forced him to stay closer to the paint, The Big Fundamental still delivers in every aspect: He scores, rebounds, passes and defends at an elite level.
Credit him for slimming down during the offseason so as not to exert himself too much by simply carrying his seven-foot frame up and down the floor. It's paid off. Duncan is second only to Lopez in PER among centers, and he's blocking shots at the highest rate of his career. Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding this selection is whether or not Duncan deserves to be on this list at all. Is he a center or a power forward? While I'm firmly in "Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time" camp, he's played more 5 in the past few years than he has at 4.
I kicked the idea around for days, and when I couldn't come to a conclusion, I did what I spend entirely too much of my life doing: I referred to basketball-reference.com, where, for this season at least, Duncan is listed as a center and Splitter a power forward (hence his not being on this list despite his own productive season). So if you've got a qualm regarding Duncan's being on this list, take it up with the fine people of one of my favorite websites.
Bryan Brandom is a former contributing editor for Bleacher Report. He's now a contributing editor at BallerMindFrame.com and writes his own blog, TheOffGuard.net, under the pseudonym Earl Lee Mourning.
He is also the owner of a shiny new Twitter account, be one of the first to follow him (or don't): @TheOffGuard