B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Top Centers of 2013-14 Season
Who says all the good centers are gone from the NBA?
Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, DeMarcus Cousins and quite a few more players would beg to differ, though it's true that the dominant back-to-the-basket guys are a bit fewer and farther between than they were in the 1980s and '90s. Then again, don't tell that to Al Jefferson.
But which center is the best of the bunch? Some young guns are threatening the established regime of top centers, showcasing immense athleticism, shot-blocking prowess and all-around excellence. Did any of them make it to the pole position, though?
The NBA 200 metric identifies the players who performed the best during the 2013-14 season. Potential doesn't matter, and neither does reputation. It's all about what happened this season—and this season only.
All positions are graded using the same criteria (though rim protection was added into the equation for bigger positions), but the categories are weighted differently in order to reflect changing roles, with max scores in parentheses:
- Scoring (20)
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating (5) and Off-Ball Offense (10)
- Defense: On-Ball (10), Off-Ball (15) and Rim Protection (15)
- Rebounding (15)
- Intangibles: Conduct (5) and Durability (5)
For a full explanation of how these scores were determined, go here. And do note that these aren't your father's classification schemes for each position. Players' spots were determined not by playing style but rather by how much time they spent at each position throughout the season, largely based upon data from 82games.com. We're also expanding the traditional five spots on the floor to include four combo positions.
In the case of ties, the order is determined in subjective fashion by ranking the more coveted player in the higher spot. That was done by a voting committee comprised of myself, NBA Lead Writer D.J. Foster, National NBA Featured Columnist Grant Hughes, NBA Lead Writer Josh Martin and Associate NBA Editor Ethan Norof.
Below you can find the publication schedule for the rest of the NBA 200 series. Remember that we're not using traditional positions but rather subdividing them in order to account for the positionless schemes used by many NBA teams:
- Combo forwards: Friday, May 16
- Top 200 Players: Monday, May 19
Don't forget to check back, but in the meantime feel free to discuss any or all of these rankings with me on Twitter: @fromal09
Notable Injury: Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez's future is in serious jeopardy after his latest major injury—a broken right foot that he suffered on Dec. 20 against the Philadelphia 76ers. He's broken the same fifth metatarsal before, and the stress he puts on that foot thanks to his massive 7'0", 260-pound frame makes for a tough healing process.
Once he's fully recovered from surgery, Lopez might have to change how he walks and runs. He may have to completely shift the way he plays basketball, which obviously would have far-reaching ramifications on his future.
But this article is about the 2013-14 season, and Lopez had shown flashes of breaking into the truly elite group of centers before going down once again. His rebounding numbers were still putrid, but he was dominant as a scorer and finally figured out the whole defense thing.
After 17 games, Lopez was averaging 20.7 points per game on 56.3 percent shooting. In the last decade, Dwight Howard, LeBron James (twice), Shaquille O'Neal (twice) and Amar'e Stoudemire are the only players to meet or exceed those numbers, per Basketball-Reference.com. Hell, only 49 seasons have ever been recorded with those marks, a combined 22 of which belong to Shaq and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Lopez's offense was dominant, and his defense was finally improving, especially when it came to protecting the rim. If he'd stayed healthy and maintained his performance, it would've been impossible to keep him outside of the top five on this list.
Remember, Lopez was injured before the Brooklyn Nets figured things out on offense. Their entire strategy seemed to revolve around feeding him the ball in the post and then hoping he made the shot, which he usually did.
29. Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets
Although Andray Blatche doesn't have as much range as he believes, his offensive game is just a joy to watch. He's filled with confidence, which manifests itself in turnaround jumpers galore. Blatche is one of the rare centers who isn't afraid to create offense for himself outside of the paint on a regular basis.
Blatche's jumper and penchant for having a quick trigger makes him the constant subject of defensive attention when he's on the court, but he's unable to pair his threatening off-ball nature with standout passing skills. Bad passes and lost balls tend to negate any impact he makes through his distribution.
Sometimes you just have to sit back and wonder if Blatche is aware that he's actually supposed to be playing defense for the Brooklyn Nets. It's one of the main reasons his role was diminished at the end of the regular season. He can provide a few stops out on the perimeter, but that's about it.
Blatche won't ever swing a contest with his rebounding, but the big man can usually hold his own on the boards—nothing less, nothing more. If he wants to improve, the best way to do so would be to crash the offensive glass more frequently instead of hanging out on the perimeter.
Though he hasn't caused as many headaches as he did with the Washington Wizards, Blatche can sometimes have a poor attitude on the court, jacking up shots with reckless abandon and showing a bit of indifference. It hasn't been particularly problematic this season on such a veteran team, but the concern is always there.
If Blatche's career is a roller coaster, it most certainly didn't peak during the 2013-14 season. Those high points came in 2010-11—and at times during last season—but the positive, feel-good story didn't resurface all that often during the most recent go-round. He remains an offensive stud, but he's too much of a liability in other areas to gain all that much playing time on a competitive team.
28. Henry Sims, Philadelphia 76ers
Henry Sims was an offensive non-factor while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he started putting up points once the Philadelphia 76ers picked him up in a mid-February trade and gave him a chance to start. He averaged nearly a dozen points per game, doing so while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.
Though the 24-year-old big man thrives when he's able to rack up easy attempts right around the basket, he does have enough of a jumper that he can keep defenses nervous when he's spotting up outside the paint—maybe not scared, but definitely nervous.
Sims is developing as a defender. After all, he's only in his second season with an NBA team and is just starting to play featured minutes. The Georgetown product is already fairly decent when he's defending someone away from the basket, but he's far too undisciplined with his jumps and rotations to make an impact at the rim.
With a 6'10" frame and 7'4" wingspan, Sims should be able to thrive on the glass, but he's pushed aside a bit too easily. While he's able to gain proper positioning for plenty of missed shots, he doesn't exactly pull down a high percentage of them, thereby rendering his per-game and per-minute numbers slightly misleading.
This is exactly the type of player who acts thrilled to be receiving an opportunity, both on and off the court. Sims has stayed healthy throughout his semi-breakout season, and he's obviously had no complaints about the Sixers giving him big minutes and a starting gig.
It's hard to tell what Sims' future looks like, even if he's enjoyed a decent present. While his numbers look good and he grades well in the scouting criteria, he's also the product of opportunity, as no other team in the NBA would have realistically given him this many minutes during his second season. And with Nerlens Noel set to return next year, everything is up in the air.
27. Samuel Dalembert, Dallas Mavericks
Samuel Dalembert wore a different uniform this season, but he remained a carbon copy of the offensive player he's been for years. Rarely does he create his own offense, instead providing the occasional contribution after rolling to the hoop, cutting off the ball or going back up after grabbing an offensive rebound.
You can count on your fingers and toes how many times Dalembert took a spot-up jumper. He was a complete non-factor without the ball in his hands (or with it in his hands, for that matter), relying on his screen-setting abilities to affect the offensive proceedings.
There's only so much you can do to clean up for the mistakes of Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Dirk Nowitzki. Dalembert did his best, but a growing lack of mobility prevented him from excelling as an on-ball defender or an off-ball stopper. The responsibilities also took their toll on the former standout, as he wasn't able to keep opponents from shooting under 50 percent at the rim.
Between his great instincts and his tendency to remain right next to the basket, Dalembert excelled as an offensive rebounder during his first season with the Dallas Mavericks while remaining strong on the defensive glass as well. Though he doesn't put up gaudy numbers, the veteran center is a reliable crasher of the boards.
The 32-year-old is a stoic leader who tends to set a good example for the rest of his troops. That he filled that role was unsurprising; that he did so while remaining almost completely healthy was a bit more shocking.
Dalembert wasn't a glamorous addition for the Mavericks during the 2013 offseason, but he definitely proved to be a worthwhile signing. The center is by no means a star, but his consistent contributions on both ends of the court, both before and after a shot went up, paid dividends.
26. Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets
Every so often this season, Timofey Mozgov would decide he was a bona fide scorer by throwing up a few mid-range jumpers and trying to take over the game for the Denver Nuggets. But most of the time he remained content as an efficient, albeit limited, pick-and-roll and post-up specialist whose footwork and touch developed rather nicely during his fourth go-round in the NBA.
Despite his vast improvements, Mozgov remained an afterthought for the Nuggets. He'd explode every once in a while, but defenses didn't need to key in on him until it was clear that he was really feeling it during a single outing. Additionally, it was rare to see him pass, much less generate an assist.
As a defender, the Russian big man is at his best when asked to protect the basket from constant assault. Not only does he do a nice job of holding opponents to a low shooting percentage, but he's consistently involved and challenges virtually everything. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, his defensive ability doesn't extend more than an arm's length from the rim.
Though Mozgov regressed to the mean on the offensive glass, he progressed to it when seeking defensive boards. The big man remained a quality contributor on both ends of the court—even recording 29 rebounds in one game, the highest number produced by any player in the NBA this season—but he was too prone to lackluster performances to emerge as an elite player in this aspect of the game.
Wouldn't you be thrilled to go from being a Blake Griffin-related punchline to a key rotation member for a decent team? Mozgov certainly acted like he was. Plus, he was one of the few players in the Mile High City to remain healthy throughout the year.
"Mozgoving" used to mean being dunked on with ridiculous force from so far away from the basket that hand-to-rim contact wasn't quite possible. It still does, but perhaps we should expand the definition to include quality play on both ends of the court. Mozgov is still only 27 years old and has started to showcase far better offensive skills while remaining a big presence on the boards and at the rim.
25. Chris Andersen, Miami Heat
Chris Andersen isn't often going to produce points from outside the paint, but he's quite efficient at what he does. By remaining in those boxes along the baseline, Birdman is able to pick and choose his opportunities, throwing down plenty of dunks and making nearly 65 percent of his attempts from the field. He might not have the volume aspect down, but he certainly thrives from an efficiency standpoint.
Even though he's a limited scorer and can't pass, Anderson is a valuable offensive player because he sets brutal screens and is a tremendous finisher after he makes contact away from the basket. Defenses have to roll with him and compress themselves, or else he'll make them pay with a highlight-reel jam.
The 35 years under his belt are starting to clip his wings a bit. Birdman still remained active around the rim—and he was a solid on- and off-ball defender as well—but he was unable to fly high enough to contest every shot. His block percentage actually rose from last year, but his overall impact around the rim declined.
Andersen could stand to be more active on the boards, especially since he plays for a team that doesn't have many great rebounders in the frontcourt. He tends to collect the missed shots he goes for, but he also sits back and watches from his roost a bit too often.
A passionate, energy-filled player, Andersen is going to give 100 percent whenever he's out on the court. He might not flap his wings as often as he did in his prime, but Birdman still plays with the youthful exuberance that an aging Miami Heat roster sorely needs.
The midseason signing from 2012-13 is still paying off for the Heat. Andersen knows his role, and he thrives in it, wreaking havoc on defense and making the occasional offensive contribution without ever overstepping his bounds. He may be a role player, but he's a valuable one.
24. Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz
Although Enes Kanter struggled at times with his increased scoring responsibility, he still showed off quite a few fancy skills. Apparently, he spent the first few years of his NBA career watching Al Jefferson closely, because his footwork was superb and his post-up opportunities tended to result in buckets. Kanter was 21 years old throughout the 2013-14 season, and it's becoming increasingly clear that he'll be a scoring threat throughout his time in the Association.
Kanter still isn't much of an off-ball threat. His spot-up jumper is just about broken, he's often slow rolling to the basket, and he has trouble catching and turning when he cuts to the basket. Still, he's big and skilled enough to demand defensive attention and isn't bad at setting screens to free his backcourt teammates.
Maybe he'll develop into a quality defender at some point in his NBA career—he certainly has the physical tools to do so—but 2013-14 was not that point. He was routinely tortured at the rim by post-up players, in isolation and by spot-up shooters. His only saving grace was strong work against roll men.
Among players who recorded at least five rebounds per game, only Ryan Anderson (small-sample-size fluke), Robin Lopez and Kanter grabbed as many contested boards as they did those of the uncontested variety. Kanter's rebounding volume might not stand out, but the quality of his work on the boards certainly should.
Not only did Kanter stay out of the tabloids, but he remained healthy for the vast majority of the 2013-14 season. A right ankle sprain in the early portion of the season was the most notable malady, but he was able to play right through the pain.
Kanter's first foray into a bigger role for the Utah Jazz was an adventure. He didn't stick in the starting five, as it was quite clear he had some significant developing to do on both ends of the court, particularly when he was playing defense. Fortunately, though, the potential is still there in spades.
23. Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns
Miles Plumlee rarely ventured outside the paint before lofting up an attempt, but he was efficient when he did choose to pull the trigger. An athletic alley-oop threat, Plumlee displayed particularly impressive chemistry with Eric Bledsoe, rolling to the basket and finishing plays like it was nothing. He was by no means a top option for the Phoenix Suns, but he was a self-aware scorer.
As a rolling threat who can easily finish above the rim, Plumlee stands out. But that's about all he can do without the ball in his hands, and his passing is just atrocious. It's almost impressive to record nearly as many bad-pass turnovers as assists while starting and playing sizable minutes.
Though he was too immobile and lacked the instincts to close out on jump-shooters, Plumlee thrived when faced with one-on-one opportunities and when asked to protect the rim. He was never afraid to challenge anything, which meant his field-goal percentage allowed wasn't particularly impressive. However, he was always involved in the play.
Just like he's always involved contesting shots at the rim, Plumlee always tries to go for defensive boards. That allows him to corral quite a few, but he does so at a low percentage, and the effort often hinders his ability to run the court in transition. Experience should help him be pickier, but he has all the tools necessary to be dominant on the boards.
Not only did Plumlee revel in the surprising success of the Suns, but he also stayed almost completely healthy while doing so. A right knee sprain hindered him in early March, but he still played in nearly every game during Phoenix's captivating season.
Plumlee could probably look even better in a role that features him more on the offensive end, but he was perfectly content to go from an afterthought with the Indiana Pacers to playing valuable basketball with the Suns. Without his consistent presence at the 5, the frontcourt would've been far weaker in the desert.
22. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
Tyson Chandler was largely the same type of scorer he's been throughout his prime, though he wasn't as effective while functioning in the role. His rolls to the basket were less violent, and he couldn't elevate quite as well. The New York Knicks suffered accordingly. For the first time since joining the team, he wasn't able to average double-digit points or shoot above 60 percent from the field, though he came relatively close on both fronts.
When Chandler is less effective rolling to the hoop, there's not much else he brings to the table. He's virtually never going to take a spot-up jumper, and his passing isn't anything special. At times, Chandler can be so uninvolved that it's almost as if New York is playing four-on-five.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Knicks' season-long struggle was the defensive decline of Chandler. He could no longer pick up the slack for his lackluster teammates, as he struggled to defend the rim and was routinely abused in on-ball situations. All things considered, he still had a good defensive year, just not by Tyson standards.
Although Chandler's offensive rebounding slipped, he remained one of the best players in the Association when it came to cleaning the defensive glass. Only 10 players posted better defensive-rebounding percentages, as Chandler was able to hold position and pull down contested boards quite well from start to finish.
The Knicks were a dysfunctional bunch in 2013-14, and Chandler was by no means exempt. Whether he was calling out Mike Woodson's defensive schemes or bashing his teammates, he wasn't exactly a stoic leader, and it's not like he stayed healthy either.
Chandler regressed rather significantly during his latest season, which can be blamed on age, health and the overall futility of the pieces supporting him. Though he remained a viable starting center, he slipped into the lower end of those players, and it's hard to see a big turnaround coming in the near future. It'll be rather difficult for him to live up to his $14.6 million salary in 2014-15.
21. J.J. Hickson, Denver Nuggets
Though J.J. Hickson thrives when he's a roll man and finishes plays at the rim, he's not limited to that type of activity. The undersized but athletic center can take his 6'9" frame outside the paint and shoot jumpers—though not all that effectively—and he's more than capable of using post moves to create offense for himself.
Not only was Hickson a devastating pick-and-roll threat who seemed to seek out posters, which kept defenses honest for much of the time he was on the court, but he was a willing passer. Not a good one by any means, but one willing to kick the ball out when met with a situation that probably wouldn't result in points.
When Hickson is allowed to defend a back-to-the-basket player or is met with an isolation set, he looks like an adequate defender. But when he's trying to protect the rim, chasing a player around the half-court set or attempting to jump passing lanes, he doesn't seem so adequate.
Despite being only 6'9", Hickson grabs quite a few rebounds whenever he's given significant playing time for the Denver Nuggets. Offensively and defensively, he shows off good tools, whether he's holding a box-out against another player or trying to dash around a player who has already established position.
Some members of the Nuggets fought back against Brian Shaw early in the season, but Hickson wasn't one of them. Only health works against him here, as an ACL tear ended his year prematurely.
Before the unfortunate end to his season, Hickson was in the process of establishing himself as a nice bargain in the Mile High City. Though defense wasn't exactly his forte, the big man was a nice asset on the boards and a quality contributor offensively, one who created quite a few highlight plays with his athletic and brutal dunks.
20. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs
You can't accuse Tiago Splitter of trying to overextend himself. The San Antonio Spurs big man almost never ventures outside the paint, but he's an efficient and limited scorer when he receives opportunities right around the basket. Improving footwork has allowed him to create more looks for himself, and he continued to excel as a roll man.
The Brazilian big man might not have a spot-up jumper, but he's good at split(ter)ing defenses with rolls to the basket. It's not advisable to forget about him, especially because he's a decent passer when he gets the ball in open space. That finesse part of Splitter's game often goes overlooked.
Splitter isn't half-bad as a rim-protector. He's not heavily involved for the San Antonio Spurs, especially when he spends time on the court with Tim Duncan, but he holds opponents to a very low percentage when they challenge him right at the tin. The rest of his defense is rather lackluster, but a few of the deficiencies are hidden by the system put in place by Gregg Popovich, as help is always provided. Once Splitter is the unit's centerpiece (i.e. when Duncan retires), his defense will be able to stand out on a consistent basis.
The 6'11" big man improved on the offensive boards during his fourth season in the Association, posting a double-digit offensive rebounding percentage for the first time since his rookie go-round with the Spurs. Though there's still work to be done on both ends, he's more than just an average rebounder.
Unfortunately, Splitter wasn't able to remain healthy throughout the 2013-14 season. Calf injuries and a shoulder sprain severely limited his ability to spend time on the court, much less to spend time on the court at full strength, and an ankle sprain did damage as well.
Apparently, Splitter's career didn't take a nosedive after he was brutally stuffed at the rim by LeBron James during the 2013 NBA Finals. The Brazilian big man's season was inhibited by his ability to stay healthy, but he did show improvement in virtually every facet of the game. He won't turn 30 until 2015, so there's still a bit of time before he starts losing the athleticism he currently possesses.
19. Jermaine O'Neal, Golden State Warriors
Jermaine O'Neal might not have dominated in the scoring column, but the 35-year-old provided some glimpses of the man who once thrived with the Indiana Pacers. It was tough to stop the savvy veteran from posting efficient numbers in the paint, especially when he settled in and went to work with his back to the basket.
Though he doesn't have the mobility he possessed in his prime, O'Neal is still a tough off-ball threat to cover. He can set hard, physical screens and either remain in place, thus trapping a defender, or roll to the hoop and finish the play for himself. That said, the lack of range on his jumper and the complete dearth of passing skills are severely detrimental.
O'Neal has been a paint presence for a while now, and his first season with the Golden State Warriors was no exception. His rotations are picture perfect, and he's become an extremely disciplined defender who usually manages to pick the right angles and recover in time to contest shots at the hoop.
Though his work on the defensive glass declined rather significantly, O'Neal partially made up for the slippage with his improved offensive rebounding. His single season in the desert appeared to let the Phoenix Suns training staff magically revitalize his legs. Ever since, he's been more mobile after a missed shot than in years past.
O'Neal is a great veteran leader, but he had to spend far too much time exhibiting leadership skills off the bench while wearing street clothes. A wrist injury that led to surgery kept him out for a significant portion of the 2013-14 season, which is only par for the course in recent years.
When he was healthy, O'Neal proved to be an impactful member of the Dubs' frontcourt. He was a consistent source of mediocre offensive production and stellar defense, while his single-game explosions tended to spark the team on rare occasions. A 23-point, 13-rebound outing against the Brooklyn Nets in late February was perhaps the best example.
18. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Jonas Valanciunas was a solid though unspectacular scorer during his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors and failed to make many strides during the follow-up campaign. Though he scored more both from a per-minute and per-game standpoint, his efficiency regressed, and he created fewer opportunities for himself. Until he develops a jumper, he'll be left too reliant on his impressive post-up and roll game.
The second-year big man has a nice jumper from the left baseline and can knock down shots from the free-throw line, but those are his only hot spots outside the paint. Until defenses are forced to respect him more, they can key in on his more talented offensive teammates free of worry. Becoming a passing threat would help as well.
This was the biggest area of improvement for Valanciunas, who flashed some serious upside as a frontcourt defender. He was particularly effective on the ball, where he could shut down post players and break up rolls to the basket, and his rim protection was worth noting as well. Now he just needs to get those rotations down.
Another improved facet of Valanciunas' game, rebounding was no longer a weakness for the young big man. He was dramatically better on both the offensive and defensive glass, finally putting his 6'11", 231-pound frame to good use. Strengthening his hands so that he can hold onto the ball in traffic would help, though.
You never heard negative stories about Valanciunas, particularly during a season in which not much was expected and a lot was achieved. Additionally, the Lithuanian big man stayed almost completely healthy from opening day until the end of the regular season.
At times during the 2013-14 campaign, it looked as though Valanciunas was going to be a draft bust. At other times, he looked like a future All-Star. The overall product leans more toward the latter than the former, but it's quite clear he's a bit behind his expected developmental curve.
17. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Jared Sullinger received a chance to be a high-priority scoring option for the Boston Celtics, but the results were rather mixed. He was able to post solid box-score numbers, but his efficiency wasn't anything to write home about, as he was too reliant on a jumper that's only developing and by no means established.
The ability to hit a three-pointer every once in a while keeps defenses honest when Sullinger is on the court. He's not a deadly enough shooter to truly scare them, but he's moving toward gaining status as a stretch player in the frontcourt. Plus, Sully is a competent passer who can keep the ball moving for the C's even if he doesn't rack up assists.
It's hard for an undersized (6'9", 280 pounds), athletically limited big man to thrive when he's asked to spend time playing defense at the center position. Therefore it should be no surprise that rim protection was the area in which Sullinger struggled the most, which is significant seeing as he struggled across the board.
Sullinger was never a completely dominant rebounder during his career at Ohio State, topping out at 10.2 boards per game during his freshman season. That trend has continued during his first truly featured campaign in Beantown, particularly on the offensive glass.
For a player with medical red flags coming into the NBA—remember the bad reviews his back got?—Sullinger did a nice job staying healthy throughout the 2013-14 season. A concussion and some knee soreness (both in November and April) kept him out of the lineup for short stretches, but the combined total was just low enough to avoid having me drop a point.
Is Sullinger a keeper in the Boston frontcourt? There's not a definitive answer to that question yet, but the progression he showed throughout his sophomore season should have Danny Ainge leaning toward a positive reply. He has quite a long way to go on defense, but his ability to put up points and stretch the court is something sorely needed by the Celtics.
16. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Though Nikola Vucevic thrives when he's given time to work in the post, he doesn't spend enough time establishing position on the blocks. Once he learns to use his big frame—he's listed at 6'10", but that feels like an underestimate—to get closer to the basket instead of settling for mid-range looks, he'll become a more potent scorer than he already is.
Vucevic actually shot over 40 percent from the field when he was more than 16 feet away from the hoop, and he made half of his mid-range attempts between 10 and 16 feet. That's enough of a threat for defenses to take notice, which made the USC product one of the more underrated court-spacing centers in the game.
A ground-bound center can often have trouble protecting the rim, and this particularly big man was no exception to the rule. Remember, this is a guy who recorded one of the worst verticals of any player in recent draft history. It shouldn't be surprising that opponents shot over 56 percent at the rim against Vucevic.
If Vucevic hopes to earn the coveted perfect score as a rebounder, he needs to exert just a little more energy on the boards. Even though he was content to sit back and watch rebounds that he probably could've gotten to with some additional hustle, the big man still consistently recorded numbers that leave him within sniffing distance of the elite.
A sprained left ankle. Soreness in the joint a month later. A concussion shortly after that. A left Achilles injury at the end of the season. Everything added up for Vucevic, who proved that last season's clean bill of health may have been a bit fluky.
Still only 23 years old, Vucevic has plenty of time to live up to his lofty potential, but it's potential that is clearly limited by a lack of athleticism and an unwillingness to bang around down low as often as necessary. If he beefs up just a bit more, more mentally than physically, the extra toughness would pay large dividends.
15. Spencer Hawes, Cleveland Cavaliers
You might be surprised by Spencer Hawes only receiving a 12 in this category, given his penchant for knocking down triples that boost his point totals and his efficiency metrics. That'll aid him in the next category rather significantly, but the inability to work out of the post holds him back because he creates such a low percentage of his looks for himself. Remember, reliance on teammates to create your looks is detrimental here.
Hawes finished his time with the Philadelphia 76ers shooting just shy of 40 percent from beyond the arc and got even better once he moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Leaving him open was just a terrible idea, rendering defenses rather stretched out when he caught fire. If only his cutting skills, screens and passing were as impressive.
Though the big man could be abused by individual players, particularly when he was left alone and asked to guard an isolation set or someone in the post, he actually did a surprisingly adequate job protecting the rim. It was still smart for athletic players to challenge him, but he was willing to put himself in their path and do everything possible to deter their shot attempts.
Hawes has been reamed for his toughness (or lack thereof) in the past, which shows up when he attacks the glass. Well, "attacks" might be a bit strong there, because the 7-footer usually has rebounds fall into his outstretched arms due to good positioning and excessive height.
The most significant injury Hawes suffered during the 2013-14 season was a sore knee in late November that kept him out for just two games. Maybe some went unreported, but they were all minor enough aches and pains that he could just keep playing.
Hawes is perhaps the best example of a stretch 5 that we have in the NBA. Unfortunately though, he's a bit too specialized, as he's not the most impressive player when his shot isn't falling. The 26-year-old probably won't break out at any point in the near or distant future, but his three-point stroke will continue to make him valuable.
14. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
Anderson Varejao posted the best scoring season of his career in 2012-13, but the combination of age, injury and declining opportunity plagued him throughout the follow-up campaign. Even though his mid-range game was on point, Varejao ceded too many opportunities to his teammates and struggled immensely whenever he worked from the blocks.
Though he doesn't have as much range as the fellow big man who arrived in mid-February, Varejao was dangerous both as a spot-up shooter and a roll man. That, combined with his impressive distributing skills, worked out quite nicely for him.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers were quite a bit better at preventing points when Varejao was on the court, that's not really saying much. By his standards, the long-haired center had a lackluster defensive campaign, struggling in particular against post-up players. At least he closed out nicely when faced with catch-and-shoot situations.
Rebounding has always been a strong point for Varejao, but the Brazilian big man failed to make as much of an impact on the offensive glass as he typically does. Overall, a surprisingly low percentage of his rebounds were of the contested variety, which is presumably due to his inability to remain at full strength.
Between a right shoulder injury and a sore back, Varejao missed more than a handful of games during the 2013-14 season. All the while, he stayed out of the Cleveland dysfunction, leaving that to the younger, less-experienced players.
Varejao will make $9.7 million next season before he hits the open market in the summer of 2015, and some clarity will be needed before the latter event. Was a disappointing 2013-14 season the result of injuries and a lack of opportunities, or was it the start of a permanent decline? It's impossible to be sure just yet.
13. Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers
Robin Lopez was slightly less involved in the Portland Trail Blazers' offense than he was in the New Orleans Hornets' sets, so he made up for the decline in output by shooting an even higher percentage from the field and connecting on more of his shots from the charity stripe. The big man isn't the most proficient jump-shooter, but he thrives on finishing pick-and-roll sets and following up missed shots with an offensive rebound and ensuing putback attempt.
Never afraid to throw his body around, Lopez sets quality screens and makes aggressive cuts to the hoop. That keeps a defense's eyes open at all times, because teams can't afford to give up easy looks to the 7-footer when the rest of the Rip City offense is already so potent. Only one player in the Association fared better when rolling to the basket.
Lopez's defense allowed the Blazers to focus on shutting down the perimeter. It exposed him in the middle and made his individual numbers decline, but the strategy was only utilized because he was such a standout defender that he could hold his own, especially when greeted with a pick-and-roll and asked to drop down rather than hedge, show or push a ball-handler back out to the perimeter. He was also dominant as a rim-protector, as Roy Hibbert was the only player in the NBA 200 who graded higher.
This was by far the best rebounding season of Lopez's career, largely because he was asked to hang back and monitor the interior of defensive sets, which left him closer to the basket when shots were fired up. For a 7-footer, he's still scarily unable to pull down contested rebounds, but he's a strong, physical player who can hold his position when he establishes it with time to set his feet.
Players this tall aren't supposed to remain this healthy, but Lopez hasn't missed a game since he suited up for the Phoenix Suns during the 2011-12 season. Seriously, he's lined up 82 times in each of the past two campaigns.
Lopez is by no means a glamorous player, but he gets the job done for Portland. When he's on the court, Rip City can count on solid rebounding numbers, having a defensive presence on the interior and getting offense from an efficient source who won't try to do too much. He's a great example of a player who's maximizing his physical gifts.
12. Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
Why do you think they call him "The Polish Hammer"? The adjective is easy, considering his birthplace, but the noun is because Marcin Gortat loves throwing down vigorous dunks after rolling to the basket in a pick-and-roll set. He's a limited offensive player, but he's fantastic at finishing through contact.
That rolling ability helps, but so too does Gortat's passing. He doesn't often get credit for being a decent distributor, but the big man can hold his own with the ball in his hands, finding the open man and making easy passes. He won't flash great assist skills by creating openings that most players can't see, but that's also not his role in the Washington Wizards offense.
Gortat is decent at on-ball defense and is a good but not great rim-protecting center. However, he thrives when he's able to bounce around the interior of the Wizards' sets and use his wingspan to disrupt the plays of the opposition. Gortat excels when closing out on spot-up shooters, and the Wizards were over seven points per 100 possessions better on defense when he played.
Although he spends a lot of time pursuing rebounds and putting himself in position to corral the loose ball, Gortat doesn't always come away with it. For a 6'11" player who thrives more on physicality than finesse, he's not an impressive contested rebounder, which prevents his totals from gaining elite status.
Even though he wants fighting to be acceptable in the NBA, Gortat has exhibited exemplary conduct. He immediately meshed with his teammates in the nation's capital and remained healthy all the while.
Gortat was a big difference-maker for the Wizards after he was acquired in a trade right before the start of the season. His defensive presence and ability to connect on efficient looks around the rim both gave the team new elements, helping to steer it into the playoffs for the first time since Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were leading the Wiz in 2007-08.
11. Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves
Nikola Pekovic is strong. Really, really strong. When he's given the ball on the blocks with room to work and time to back down a defender, he's quite adept at finding the bottom of the net. Pek creates a surprising amount of his own offense, which only enhances his value as a frontcourt scorer.
Although Pek never spots up for a jumper, he's a dangerous roll man who prevents defenses from hedging too hard on pick-and-rolls, which is especially useful when Kevin Love is the one handling the ball. On top of that, he's arguably the best in the business at setting bruising screens that, while legal, leave the opposition dazed and confused. Too bad he's a black hole without anything even resembling skill as a passer.
The Montenegrin center stands 6'11", 285 pounds, but he's not able to protect the rim. He shied away from contests, and opponents shot over 55 percent against him in that area, which isn't exactly a stellar number. For a team that desperately needed someone to serve as the last line of defense, this was especially problematic.
Pekovic might shy away from contact on defense but seeks it out on the boards. Nearly half of his successful rebounds were contested, and it was rare to find an instance in which he gained proper box-out position when a shot went up and still got beat on the glass.
Ever since entering the NBA in 2010, Pek has never managed to stay healthy. The primary culprits this season were his ankles, as they plagued him throughout the year, healed slowly, led to walking boots and limited his time on the court.
Even though the Minnesota Timberwolves gave Pekovic a big contract (five years, $60 million) this past offseason, it's tough to see him remaining a crucial part of their plans so long as Kevin Love is on the team as well. The T-Wolves can't afford to have two rim-protecting liabilities on the floor, so either Pekovic gets better or someone else will take his place and attempt to replicate his physicality and offensive prowess.
10. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
Andrew Bogut might shoot one of the highest percentages in basketball, but only because he's a true speciality scorer who rarely takes an attempt that isn't right at the bucket. If you watched a game and saw him shoot both a spot-up jumper and go to work with a post attempt, you should immediately run and buy a lottery ticket. It's just one of those days.
Good screens and cuts to the basket are Bogut's bread and butter. It's enough for defenses to pay attention to him but not truly fear him, especially because his passing skills are limited as well. He can make the right plays, but he has trouble passing out of double-teams and rarely creates anything for his teammates unless it's a play any NBA big man could make.
Had Bogut remained healthy throughout the 2013-14 season, he likely would've found himself in the thick of the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Better post defenders are tough to find, and Bogut is also intelligent and quick with his rotations. His only real weakness is that he sometimes mistimes his jumps around the rim, allowing opponents to sneak in a few more makes than they should.
Bogut might've competed for the league lead in rebounds if he'd spent more time on the court, though he likely would have fallen just short of DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. He's that good on both ends, especially when you look at his stellar percentages.
Is Bogut ever going to stay healthy? The Golden State Warriors limited his run throughout the year, seemingly in an effort to keep him in working condition, and it still didn't work. Even before a broken rib ended up dangerously close to his lung at the end of the regular season, knee and shoulder injuries flared up.
When Bogut actually works, he's a dominant defensive force who sucks in rebounds like a vacuum cleaner and provides limited offensive contributions. Unfortunately for the Dubs, though, he doesn't always work. He hasn't played anything even resembling a full campaign since the 2007-08 season, his third in the Association.
9. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
A 7'2" center should be better at scoring, but sometimes it seems like Roy Hibbert couldn't throw the ball in the basket if the rim were replaced with an oversized hula hoop made for Hagrid. He does tend to create a high percentage of the shots he makes for himself, but the inefficiency and lack of output is shocking for a man with so many physical blessings.
Even though Hibbert shoots a low percentage, defenses can't just forget about him. He's big enough that he can just dunk if he's left alone, after all. On top of that, Hibbert is a willing screener whose big body makes it tough for defenders to get around him quickly.
Hibbert seemed like a Defensive Player of the Year lock early in the season, but his candidacy slipped when he was exposed during the second half of the campaign. He's as good as it gets guarding the rim—seriously, not one player in the NBA 200 received a higher rim-protection score—and his on-ball defense is superb. However, he gets in trouble when asked to stray away from the paint, as his lack of mobility is problematic.
While he does manage to come away with a respectable number of rebounds—respectable for a power forward who isn't elite on the glass—Hibbert's numbers look worse when compared to his aforementioned height. It's almost inconceivable that a player who towers over everyone on the court and spends much of his time right around the basket can routinely struggle to crack double digits.
Hibbert might gripe about his role in the offense, but he generally does so when the team is struggling. Most of his complaints are timed in a way that they're intended to get the Indiana Pacers off the schneid. So while I don't support his actions all the time, they're at least understandable and not worth losing points over.
It was a confusing season for the 27-year-old big man, who emerged as a serious award candidate early in the year while sparking a historically excellent Indiana defense. But as the year progressed, he regressed on both ends of the court, emerging as an overrated center who couldn't score, rebound or defend more versatile players. The average is—obviously—somewhere in between, but the truth likely lies closer to the early-season version of Hibbert.
8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
It's not easy to shoot above 60 percent from the field, but Andre Drummond did so for the second consecutive season. Except this time he upped his scoring output—both in terms of per-game and per-minute numbers—while creating a lot more offense for himself. The 20-year-old big man's reputation has him as a pick-and-roll finisher, but unless you tortured yourself watching the Detroit Pistons on a consistent basis, you might not have realized that he improved dramatically in the post.
Drummond still can't pass to save his life, but defenses have to respect him when he moves toward the hoop and sets screens. An athletic player with massive ups and a soft pair of hands, Drummond is a constant threat to finish alley-oop plays so high above the rim that jaws hit the floor.
Although he has all the tools to be an NBA All-Defensive Team player, Drummond is a young big man still trying to figure things out. His rotations are weak, his anticipations sometimes come too soon and he generally plays an undisciplined brand of defense. Once his off-ball work catches up to what he can do in simple man-on-man situations, the world will be his oyster.
Drummond may have lost the rebounding crown to DeAndre Jordan, but he was the best player in the league on the boards in 2013-14. He barely missed out on the per-game title despite spending less time on the court, and a significantly higher percentage of his rebounds were of the contested variety. He's No. 1 in my book.
Gone is the indifference and lack of enthusiasm Drummond showed during his one collegiate season at Connecticut. The center may only be 20 years old, but he's already displaying leadership traits while remaining healthy.
There are quite a few teams who probably regret letting Drummond pass them by in the 2012 NBA draft. It was an understandable decision at the time, given the lack of improvement he showed at UConn, his indifference and the raw nature of his game, but it sure looks bad in hindsight. He's already developing into a top-tier center, one who will get even better with age.
7. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Al Horford is quite adept at scoring from the blocks and the elbows, where his mid-range jumper is one of the more underrated options the NBA has to offer. Versatility is the name of the game for this particular Florida product, who excelled as the No. 1 scoring option for the Atlanta Hawks, although he did have to rely a bit too much on the passes of teammates to generate offense.
The only thing holding Horfod back in this category was an aberration of a shortened season that saw his passing skills decline. He wasn't able to rack up assists as often, despite the ball-movement-heavy nature of the Atlanta offense, and he turned the ball over more than in the past, which negated some of the incredible work he did stretching out defenses with his jumper.
Horford is a solid defender who understands plays before they develop, which helps him anticipate action off the ball with time to spare. He's also a quality on-ball defender who can use his size to his advantage, but he struggles protecting the rim. Despite not being incredibly involved in the at-rim proceedings, Horford barely kept opponents below 50 percent.
A good rebounder, Horford doesn't put up enough monstrous games to be considered a great one. Though he only had 29 opportunities to rack up numbers in 2013-14, he topped out at 16 but only managed to get past 11 four times in those 29 attempts. On the flip side, he failed to record even seven boards on eight separate occasions.
It's all about health here, as Horford tore his pectoral muscle for the second time in three years. That's a strange injury, one that isn't exactly common among NBA players, but it's a painful blow that is the equivalent of a season-ending malady.
Had Horford remained healthy, the Hawks would've had a far more successful season. Sure, they snuck into the postseason with the No. 8 seed and a losing record, but this team was poised to claim the No. 3 seed before the center was injured. He's a dominant individual whose versatility helps everyone on the court. Well, everyone except the opposition.
6. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Does DeAndre Jordan score a lot for the Los Angeles Clippers? Not at all. Does he ever create his own offense? Nope, not really. Is he efficient? It's hard to argue he isn't, seeing as he led all qualified players in field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage during the 2013-14 season.
An awful passer, Jordan still holds some value on the offensive end because he can set solid screens and is a constant threat to finish the play with a thunderous alley-oop slam. If you don't believe me, you're more than welcome to ask Brandon Knight what he thinks.
Doc Rivers sure did a nice job turning the uber-athletic big man into a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and it only took one season. Though he can still be beaten out on the perimeter by more versatile centers who are capable of handling the ball, he did an excellent job playing help defense and protecting the rim at all times. Few players were more defensively involved than Jordan.
Did you actually expect the league leader in rebounds per game to receive anything less than a perfect score in this category?
Jordan's body must be made of something other than typical human material. The 6'11" center puts even more stress on his joints than most big men because of his high-flying habits but still hasn't missed even a single game over the past three seasons.
One of the most improved players throughout the NBA, Jordan became so much more than a shot-blocking alley-oop finisher during the 2013-14 season. His offensive game remained quite limited, though it was certainly efficient, but his rebounding productivity skyrocketed while he became a much smarter defender capable of making an impact without swatting a shot.
5. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol doesn't stand out in any one way as a scorer. He doesn't dazzle in the post, his mid-range game doesn't leave him among the elite group of big men and he's not athletic enough to finish plays above the rim on a regular basis. However, the versatility and combined impact from all facets of his scoring game makes for an impressive overall product.
Sometimes Gasol looks like a point guard trapped in a 7-footer's body. The passes he makes are just ridiculous, ones that almost no other frontcourt player in the league would think to attempt. Whether he's getting caught in the air and whipping the ball to a corner, dishing out behind-the-back dimes to backdoor cutters or leading a man on a charge down the lane with a perfectly timed bounce pass, he's remarkably entertaining as a distributor.
Even though Gasol received top marks for on-ball defense, excelled as an off-ball defender and was adequate protecting the rim, he's normally more effective. David Joerger's system eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies' instinctive understanding of positioning and rotations at the beginning of the year, which was the foundation of Gasol's excellence. Then he had to recover from an MCL injury. The 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year is better than this grade—which has to be based solely on the 2013-14 season—would indicate.
Here's Gasol's biggest weakness. Despite his size, the Spanish big man elects to pursue mostly rebounds he knows he can grab, showing relative indifference to 50/50 balls and boards that might require an inordinate amount of contact.
Only durability works against Gasol here, as the MCL sprain kept him out for a significant portion of the 2013-14 season. The Memphis big man does all the little things well and is more than content playing winning basketball at the expense of individual statistics.
Unfortunately for Gasol, the 2013-14 season didn't treat him too kindly. Adjustments to Joerger's system made for a rough opening salvo, and an MCL sprain derailed his campaign right after that. But he rebounded nevertheless, reasserting himself as a truly elite center. Had he stayed healthy, it's easy to think he would've ranked significantly higher in the final rankings.
4. Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats
If Al Jefferson gets the ball on the left block, opposing defenses should just forget about trying to prevent him from scoring. He's just that unstoppable. Jefferson's scoring has carried an otherwise lackluster group of Charlotte Bobcats, though he still doesn't create enough offense from areas other than that aforementioned block to get the coveted perfect score.
At times it seems as though entire defensive schemes are built around preventing Jefferson from touching the ball in his sweet spot. That's when you know you're affecting the opposition even without putting the ball through the hoop. But as for his passing, it still leaves something to be desired—namely more assists.
Viewed as a defensive liability in the past, Big Al has been much better under the tutelage of Steve Clifford. Most of the improvement has come as an on-ball defender, where he's significantly more disciplined, but unfortunately it nearly ends there. He still has plenty of work to do when not guarding the man with the ball, and his rim-protecting is lackluster on a good day.
Jefferson has always been a good rebounder, but this is the first season he's bordered on great. His per-minute numbers are better than ever thanks to a huge improvement on the defensive glass that more than offsets his decline on the offensive boards. He could stand to grab more contested rebounds, though.
It took a while for Jefferson to settle into his new digs, largely because of a sprained ankle he suffered at the start of the season. Then for good measure, he aggravated it at the end of the month, which destroyed any chance he had of earning a perfect durability score.
Jefferson's exclusion from the All-Star team didn't look particularly egregious at the time of the midseason festivities, but it looks like a crying shame after Big Al flat-out dominated during the second half of the campaign. An offensive stalwart, Jefferson did everything he could to justify the surprising contract he signed this past offseason. And given the fact that Charlotte made the playoffs for the first time since 2010, he surely did.
3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
So much for DeMarcus Cousins being an inefficient volume scorer. He improved his field-goal percentage this year, just as he's done every season of his professional career, while handling even more of a scoring responsibility for the Sacramento Kings. The combination of his physicality and finesse is simply unsurpassed at the center position.
Cousins' passing excellence is mitigated by his desire to squeeze the ball into tight spaces and pass it into nothingness. Once he's more turnover-averse, he'll look even better as a distributor. But for now, his primary non-scoring contributions on offense come from the constant attention defenses must pay him thanks to his improved jump-shooting and roll threats.
His defense was much maligned in the past, but Boogie actually played great on the ball in 2013-14. It was incredibly difficult to score on him in isolation, and he performed quite well against back-to-the-basket players and when trying to slow down roll men. He still has plenty of work left before he can become more than a competent overall defender, though.
No player in the NBA was better at defensive rebounding this year, as Boogie paced the league in defensive rebounding percentage despite spending quite a bit of time on the court. The combination of strength and reading ability when the ball caromed in an unexpected direction served Cousins well throughout his fourth professional season.
This goes beyond the ankle injuries and hip flexor that affected him for short bursts this year. Cousins racked up technical fouls for stupid reasons, was thrown off his game by bad calls and intentionally frustrating play from the opposition, complained excessively and showed off his immaturity by doing things like refusing to shake hands with the other team after a close loss. His head seemed to be screwed on tighter this year, but a few more swivels are necessary.
Cousins moved into the realm of superstardom during the 2013-14 season, improving quite significantly on both ends of the court. Just imagine the amount of offensive damage he'll be able to do if and when he develops a three-point stroke. And then think about the defense he'll be able to play when he figures out how to use his physical gifts in a more advantageous manner. This campaign lent credence to the belief that Boogie could develop into the game's best center sooner rather than later.
2. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard's post moves may be ugly, but at least they're moderately effective. That said, it's rolling to the basket after a screen, cutting to the hoop, running in transition, putting back a missed shot and converting broken-down plays where he excels. D12 ranks in the top 10 in points per possession for all of those offensive aspects save the last one, where he's "only" 46th.
Defenses don't want to make the mistake of forgetting about Howard, because he's ridiculously good moving without the ball. A big, athletic threat, the Houston Rockets center has soft hands and the ability to elevate above the outstretched arms of defenders before finishing the play, which affects how much the other team is forced to compress and leave shooters open.
There aren't too many weaknesses in D12's defensive game, though he wasn't quite in peak form when protecting the rim. He also struggled to involve himself with help defense as often as he has in the past, which is somewhat surprising since the perimeter defense of the Rockets can be quite porous at times. That said, Howard is an elite defender who makes post-up players look silly and defends roll men as well as anyone.
Howard is one of the best at capitalizing upon the rebounding opportunities he receives. Though many of the boards he gets are of the uncontested variety, he has a great grasp for positioning and has the lower-body strength to hold any box-out that makes contact with a prospective offensive rebounder.
Howard's conduct can be considered detrimental during the offseason, but not when games actually matter. Though he hasn't regained the popularity he once owned back with the Orlando Magic, he's been a good teammate in Houston, one who stayed mostly healthy throughout the 2013-14 season. Only the missed games hurt him here.
When D12 left the Magic, he was villainized, especially because of his indecision. When he spurned the Los Angeles Lakers and joined the Rockets, a process that came to be known as a second "Dwightmare," he didn't exactly help his case. But while everyone was busy forgetting about him, Howard quietly submitted an excellent campaign that saw him regain his top-notch form on both sides of the court.
1. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah's offense is severely limited by his inefficient jumper, one that he takes from mid-range zones but doesn't often make. He does most of his scoring in tight spots around the basket, which allows him to seek out contact and fight through it. It may seem strange for the man on top of the center rankings not to be a dominant scorer, but just remember the rest of Noah's game.
How many centers would you trust taking the ball up the court? Only a handful of names ring out, but Noah's leads the bunch because he can run the show and function as a point center. His passing skills are off the charts to the point that I was tempted to give him more than a perfect score in the distributing category. Other than his lack of court-spacing abilities, there are no complaints in this section.
There was no better defensive player during the 2013-14 season. No one in the NBA is perfect in all three aspects of the less-glamorous end of the court (on-ball defense, off-ball defense and rim protection), but Noah is pretty darn close. Only two things work against him: a non-elite percentage allowed at the rim—largely because he's too busy doing other things—and occasional struggles against spot-up shooters.
Noah is juuuuust shy of the cutoff for a perfect score in rebounds per game, falling short because his per-game numbers are largely influenced by the massive minutes he spends on the court. As a result, his per-minute ones aren't quite as impressive, though he does a nice job on both ends.
He's come a long way since being benched by his teammates during his rookie season for a clash with the coaching staff. Noah is unarguably one of the most passionate players in basketball, and his never-say-die attitude is contagious in the Windy City. He was the force that wouldn't let the season dissolve into nothingness after both the Derrick Rose injury and the Luol Deng trade.
Among NBA centers, Noah set the curve for defense and non-traditional offense. Many things about him are unorthodox, from the ball-handling to the side-spinning free throws to the ponytail, but there's an old-school flair to his passion, defensive exuberance and flat-out hatred for his bitter rivals in the Eastern Conference. The combination resulted in the best season by a true center in 2013-14.