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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