With the NBA playoffs right around the corner, basketball fans have many things to be excited about. High quality playoff basketball, the draft and free agency are just a few. This year doesn't have the superstar free agent names as last year, but plenty of high end players will be available. More importantly, plenty of top-notch centers will be free agents this summer.
There is no arguing that having a viable center is an extremely important part of basketball. Without one, opponents are able to rebound easier, drive to the hoop, put up uncontested shots and generally feel more comfortable against you.
Case-and-point is the Miami Heat. Even with all their talent they have had big problems without a true inside presence.
As far as centers go, this year's class could be one of the best ones in recent memory. Whether you're looking for a scorer, shot blocker, defender, paint-clogger, "glue" guy or all around presence down low, this years class has it all.
Without further adieu, here are the top 10 free agent centers in 2011.
Height/Weight: 7'0", 240 lbs.
Experience: Five years
Breakdown: Ryan Hollins is one of the best pure shot blockers in the NBA. Hollins is long, athletic and moves around well for a seven footer.
Hollins uses his long wingspan and good instincts to block and disrupt shots. Hollins is very light on his feet as well. In college, Hollins was a high jump champion in the Pac-10.
His offensive game is extremely limited, however. He has no jump shot whatsoever and can only score buckets within a few feet. The majority of his points come off offensive rebounds, most of which are put-back dunks.
At 26-years old, the ship hasn't sailed yet on Hollins. His game is still raw with plenty of room to grow. Even though he has minimal polish on the offensive end, his ability to impact the game on defense makes him a threat.
Hollins will never be a big time starter in the NBA, but his shot blocking skills make him a viable backup for almost any team.
Height/Weight: 7'0", 240 lbs.
Experience: Seven years
Breakdown: Kristic is one of the more well-rounded centers in the NBA. He can shoot, score, take charges, make free throws and defend well.
Kristic’s best asset comes on the offensive end. He is a good pick-and-pop player, able to hit 17-foot jumpers all day long. His jump shot ability makes him very valuable to a team like the Celtics. Kristic can draw big centers away from the bucket, which helps his teammates get involved on the interior.
The Yugoslavian big man can be a liability on defense. Kristic routinely gets dominated by premier centers with his lack of post defense.
When signing Kristic, teams have to be willing to accept the good with the bad. As much as he helps you on offense, he can hurt you that bad on the defensive end.
Height/Weight: 7'1", 245 lbs.
Experience: 11 years
Breakdown: Joel Przybilla is a player teams will want for his defense. He is an outstanding post defender, able to take on nearly anyone in the NBA. His mixture of strength, basketball IQ and ability to keep his man where he wants is unprecedented.
Pryzybilla is a good shot blocker, able to use his smarts to read where the opponent is going with the ball. With his wide frame and long arms, the veteran from Minnesota can outsmart most of the players he guards in the post.
Joel Przybilla is also a sure-handed rebounder. He establishes his position, then uses his big body and glue-like hands to grab every rebound around him.
Przybilla does have his fair share of weaknesses. He can’t shoot, pass or dribble. Against fast break teams Przybilla is often left behind due to his lack of speed, which creates a serious mismatch depending on who his team is playing.
Teams with lack of interior defense will certainly want Przybilla. He won’t ever be a starter again in the NBA, but Przybilla can play a solid 10-25 minutes per night.
Height/Weight: 7'0", 280 lbs.
Experience: Two years (never finished one)
Breakdown: When viewing the breakdown of Greg Oden, really emphasize the word “breakdown” in your mind. The former number one pick has been a huge bust so far, all because he can’t stay healthy.
Season after season, Oden has let down the Blazers' long term plans. The big man from Ohio State has had three major knee surgeries, which is incredibly sad considering how good he could have been. Coming out of the draft Oden was viewed as a “franchise-changing” center, one who would anchor down the paint for years.
However, we have all seen what Oden can do while healthy. He was extremely athletic, strong, quick and explosive. His skill levels were decent but definitely improving. Oden was a great shot blocker, rebounder, finisher and had developing post moves.
For Oden it will all come down to staying healthy. There is no doubt he can dominate and be extremely effective when healthy. Just a few games before his second season-ending surgery, Oden was a double-double machine and was really coming into his comfort zone.
Plenty of teams will want to take a chance on Oden, as there is simply too much talent and hunger left inside him.
Height/Weight: 6'11", 215 lbs
Experience: Nine years
Breakdown: Samuel Dalembert is your stereotypical “garbage man.” The Haitian big man does tons of dirty work and rarely gets credit for it.
One of Dalembert’s biggest strengths is his athleticism. He is quick and long; a good leaper who uses his instincts to block shots. Dalembert is underrated in transition as well, where he usually beats his man down the floor for inside position or easy bucket.
Dalembert does everything NBA teams want him to do on defense, especially when it comes to guarding his man. He can hang with big men down low, or step out to guard quicker players.
The Haiti native makes his living in the NBA by rebounding, blocking shots and playing defense. He uses his super long arms to reject shot after shot. At 25-30 minutes a game, Dalembert is more than capable of pulling down eight rebounds and blocking two shots.
However, Dalembert has few offensive skills, meaning his points come off offensive rebounds or alley-oop passes. He has almost no jump shot and can’t find an open teammate to save his life.
Height/Weight: 7'1", 235 lbs.
Experience: 10 years
Breakdown: Tyson Chandler is the definition of a “late bloomer” in the NBA. After being selected second overall in the 2001 draft, Chandler was a bona-fide bust until 2006.
Pairing up with Chris Paul in New Orleans, Chandler was able to hone in on his game. Chandler snatched rebounds, blocked shots and threw down vicious alley-oop dunks all year long.
After a few seasons with New Orleans, the lanky seven footer went to Charlotte before landing in Dallas this season. Dallas has been a great fit for Chandler, who continues to dominate like he did with Team USA this summer.
Chandler is extremely active down low, using his athleticism and quickness to make his presence felt. Chandler uses his competitiveness and passion for the game to beat out opponents on a regular basis.
The big man’s trademark is rebounding. With his mixture of length, foot speed and energy he is able to grab rebounds by the boat load. In 28 minutes per game this year, Chandler is pulling down an astounding 9.3 boards per night.
Chandler has been on a tear the past few seasons, which will drive up his buying price considerably.
Height/Weight: 7'1", 265 lbs.
Experience: Three years
Breakdown: Like most European players, Marc Gasol is a high finesse player.
Gasol can pass, dribble, take outside shots and has a soft touch around the rim. His overall soundness to his game is really what makes him so good.
Gasol, the younger brother to Lakers big man Pau Gasol, had a break out year last season. The Spain native averaged 14.6 points to go along with 9.3 rebounds. He also shot over 58 percent from the field, dished out 2.5 dimes and blocked over 1.5 shots per outing.
However, this year has been a different case. Gasol is less assertive and seems frustrated after his slow start. He has always been a “team player,” but his 11.6 points per game is uncharacteristic of him.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will be free agents this off season, putting Memphis in a very uncomfortable spot. Don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies elect to resign Randolph and let Gasol go his own way.
Height/Weight: 7'6", 310 lbs.
Experience: Seven years
Breakdown: Like Greg Oden, Houston center Yao Ming has been on breakdown mode the past few seasons. Yao has had major foot problems lately, having not played nearly a full season since 2008. At 7’6”, these types of injuries were assumed to come at some point.
When healthy, Yao is one of the most dominant big men in the game. At his height he did many things people didn’t believe he was capable of.
The big man had great shooting skills, able to drain 15- to 17-footers without hesitation. Yao was also a sound passer, defender and rebounder. With his size he was always at such an advantage on the defensive end.
However, the risk might outweigh the reward for several NBA teams. Foot problems are a serious concern for men of his stature and risking all that money is probably not worth it.
It will be very interesting to see who takes a chance on Yao. After all, he still has tons of rehab and conditioning to do before he even sees a basketball court.
Height/Weight: 6'11", 255 lbs.
Experience: Nine years
Breakdown: Nene has been one of the most consistent and under-appreciated big men in the NBA the past few seasons. Playing alongside Carmelo Anthony is probably a big reason for his under-appreciation. Anthony is viewed as a "ball hog" and loves to take tons of shots on offense.
Nene has an opt-out clause in his contract he can execute after this year. At 28-years old he will probably be looking for one last mega deal. Since Denver has no sensible backup, the Nuggets will be forced to pay the Brazilian big man. If they elect not to, Denver will be in a major hole for years.
Nene is having a career shooting year. He is posting career highs in points, field goal and free throw percentage.
With his big, bruising body, Nene is able to push around whoever he wants in the post. On top of his strength, Nene has an array of post moves that make him a threat from anywhere inside 15 feet. Nene is deceptively quick, able to beat his man to a loose ball or a rebound with ease.
There is no doubt Nene is looking for the most money out there, and whoever shells it out will certainly land the big man.
Height/Weight: 6'11", 255 lbs.
Experience: 14 years
Breakdown: Tim Duncan, aka “Mr. Fundamental,” is still anchoring the interior for San Antonio. Crazy enough as it sounds, Duncan actually has the option of leaving the Spurs after this season. Duncan has an opt-out clause in his contract that would let him see free agency for the first time.
As a big NBA fan, I personally can’t envision Duncan in any other jersey besides the black and silver.
There isn’t anything Duncan does that can be complained about. He scores, defends, passes and makes great decision after great decision. After all, you don’t get the nickname “Mr. Fundamental” for not doing something right.
Duncan is now 34 years old and playing a career low in minutes per game. Adding to the sad part of his 2011 campaign, Duncan is averaging less than 10 boards and 18 points for the first time as well.
However, it’s still Tim Duncan and the guy flat out gets it done. His low minute totals can be attributed to San Antonio’s great record, which gives Greg Popovich a chance to rest Duncan frequently.
Duncan will likely play 30-35 minutes a game during the playoffs, proving that he still has quality basketball left in him.
Duncan has the chance to shock the entire NBA by opting out of his deal. If he does, you can only imagine how many teams will be salivating at the thought of acquiring him.