NBA: Ranking the Top 10 Centers
In the first of my series of positional rankings, I'll be taking a look at the Top 10 Centers in the NBA. Furthermore, I will acknowledge the next class of great centers, as well as the class who has yet to put it together on both ends of the floor.
To make this list, it was admittedly difficult. In years past, the center position was rather shallow. Once you got outside of the top three or four players, it was hard to find any other noteworthy competition. Now, it seems as if every team has a center worthy of making this list.
Fortunately, I was able to confine this to a few Honorable Mentions and a Top 10. Enjoy.
Honorable Mention: The Next Class
Highlighted by DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings, Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons and Javale McGee of the Washington Wizards, there is a new class of young centers making their mark on the NBA. While it's too early in their careers to merit consideration for the Top 10, they are players to keep an eye on.
Honorable Mention: The Defensive Class
This class includes Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Emeka Okafor of the New Orleans Hornets. These are guys who are amongst the elite on the defensive end of the floor, but have yet to develop a reliable offensive game. Soon enough, they'll crack the list.
Honorable Mention: Almost There...
While Chris Kaman of the New Orleans Hornets, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and Nene Hilario of the Denver Nuggets are three of the league's premier centers, they couldn't crack the Top 10. They each contribute something to their respective teams, they remain a step below the players on the forthcoming list.
10. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
Brook Lopez has been a symbol of consistency for a weak New Jersey franchise. He's an excellent scorer down low, and although his rebounding took a major hit in 2011, Kris Humphries' emergence played a significant role in that.
Lopez has seen an increase in points per game in each of his first three seasons. Last year, he topped 20 points per game for the first time. He's an efficient scorer, a stout defender and a reliable shot blocker, posting better than 1.5 per game in all three seasons played.
Unfortunately, Lopez went down with a foot injury to start 2012, but he returned to the Nets' lineup last Sunday.
9. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
Until you actually watch Tyson Chandler play, you really have no idea how important he is to a team.
While Chandler isn't the best offensive player, he's solid in transition and only takes the smart shot. His powerful dunks, short-range hook shots and contact-drawing drives make him a valuable player. His career-high 11.9 points per game on 70.7% shooting this season is evidence of that.
On defense, he's elite. Chandler blocks shots, rebounds and defends the ball with the best of them, never backing down from a challenge. Tyson Chandler is the complete package.
8. Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns
Dwight Howard's former backup isn't doing too bad for himself.
Steve Nash's No. 1 option has quietly put together two great seasons, finishing 2011 averaging 13.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Thus far in 2012, he's topped all of that, upping his averages to 15.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Even his steals are up from 0.5 to 0.8.
Gortat isn't the best, but he's right up there.
7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Pau's little brother has made quite a name for himself out in Memphis. In fact, it was Marc who made the All-Star team this year, not Pau.
Guess the Grizzlies didn't make that dumb of a trade after all, did they?
Gasol is averaging 15 points per game, along with 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. His player efficiency rating is at 19.22, and his steals are up to 1.0 per game. All in all, Marc Gasol is everything you could ask for in a center.
6. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Roy Hibbert is going to his first All-Star Game this year and it's his ability to do everything that got him there.
Hibbert is a dominant defender, using his large frame to bully players out of the paint. His 1.7 blocks per game are good for 10th in the NBA, and his 9.6 rebounds are Top 15 in the NBA. What makes him better than the rest, then? His dominance on the offensive end of the floor.
Hibbert is posting 13.4 points per game while shooting greater than 50% from the field. That's good for second-best on a 19-12 team. He's also the team's leading shot blocker and rebounder.Roy Hibbert is one of the driving forces behind a major playoff push.
5. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
Before you look at his sub-10 rebound numbers, remember that he's playing alongside two great rebounders in Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors. Nevertheless, the Jazz's big man has managed to post greater than 9 rebounds a game, all while scoring better than 18 points a night.
Paul Millsap has begun to draw attention for his elevated level of play but Al Jefferson has been doing this for the past six years.
Jefferson broke out for the Celtics in 2007 posting huge numbers of 16.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Boston then sent him to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Garnett trade. With the Timberwolves, Jefferson kept improving, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds in two of his three seasons with the team.
Al Jefferson has consistently dominated and it doesn't seem like he'll stop any time soon
4. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks
It truly is a shame how injury-plagued the Aussie center has been, as he is a spectacle to watch. Career averages of 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks hardly tell the story.
Over the past two seasons, not including his injury-shortened 2012, Bogut has averaged 14.3 points per game, as well as 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. He's shot 51% from the field, pulled down 3.0 offensive rebounds per game and dished out nearly two assists per game as well.
Bogut is as well-rounded as any center in the NBA, and if he could just stay healthy, there's no reason he can't make a few All-Star games before he retires.
3. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
After suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle earlier this season, it appears people have forgotten just how good Al Horford really is. His mix of low-post and mid-range game is enough for consideration. Once you acknowledge his rebounding and shot blocking prowess, however, it's clear that Horford is one of the best centers in the NBA.
Horford has been called one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA by many, including John Krolik of NBC Sports. When he hits the low-post, he's equally as efficient, utilizing his quickness and athleticism to either blow by or rise above defenders for an easy two. On defense, he uses those same physical gifts to put up career averages of 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Horford is one of the best, and once he returns, that will be on full display.
2. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers
I'm right there with the rest of the NBA community who pairs Andrew Bynum with Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, Bynum has missed far too many games due to injury and suspension for me to be able to truly compare the two.
Nevertheless, Bynum is without a doubt the second-best center in the NBA. He's as old school as they come, utilizing strength and physicality to pummel his defenders on the block. When he has them in position, Bynum utilizes one of the better baby hooks in the NBA to get two points.
That's the best case scenario as he's also capable of punishing defenders with one or two handed slams. Pick your poison.
On the defensive end, it doesn't get much better. If you want to shoot over Bynum, he's going to send it back in your face. He's averaging a career-best 2.1 blocks per game in 2012, as well as career-highs of 16.3 points and 12.7 rebounds.
He's elite, end of discussion.
1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Did you really expect to see a different name here?
One of the most physically dominant players in the history of the NBA, Dwight Howard has placed himself in the upper echelon of active players. At the center position, it's hard to find anyone who can even claim they're in his class.
Howard utilizes a combination of strength and athletic ability to dominate the low post, posting career averages of 13.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. In 2012, he's averaging 15.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He's legitimately unstoppable.
On the offensive end, Howard has yet to develop a true post game. Nevertheless, he's averaging 20.3 points per game. One of the main reasons is his 3.6 offensive rebounds per game.
Howard will need to improve his technique heading forward, but for as long as he has the physical gifts he currently possesses, there isn't anyone better.