With the NBA’s increased emphasis on 3-pointers, speed, and athleticism the center position definitely isn’t what it used to be. During the 90’s and midway through the 2000’s you had six centers average 20+ points, 10+ rebounds and a block and a half per game (Hakeem, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Shaq, and Yao). Since then the only guy to do it has been Dwight Howard, and even though he accomplished this four times, it’s unclear whether he will ever return to form. With that being said there definitely aren’t any centers in the league’s top five players and you’d be hard pressed even to put one in the top ten or fifteen.
That’s not to say there aren’t great players at the position. I’m just making the claim that the upper echelon guys are merely “great” and not “dominant”. They either excel at defense (Hibbert, Chandler type players) or offense (Brook Lopez) with very few who contribute consistently at both (Dwight, Marc Gasol). But here goes. My first annual Top 5 per position rankings, starting with the big fellas.
Best of the rest
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)- Ok he didn’t “barely” miss the cut, he wasn’t even considered. But as a rookie he put up some big games and brought a lot of excitement to an otherwise boring team. In the next few years I see him evolving into a Tyson Chandler type player, a guy who can protect the rim, grab rebounds in big numbers, and finish at the rim off lobs. His offensive game and overall ability to create his own shot is…lets say…unrefined. But he’s also only 19 years old. *fist pump*
Omer Asik (currently Houston Rockets but has asked to be traded)- A lot of people questioned the 3 year, 24 million dollar contract Houston gave Asik this past offseason considering he had never played more than 15 minutes per game with Chicago. But per usual, Houston GM Daryl Morey saw something us mortals didn’t as Asik finished third in the league in rebounding (11.7). But with such a limited sample size (one season) and an even more limited offensive production it’s hard to put him in the top five.
Nikola Pekovic (about to resign with the Timberwolves when this was posted)- Another guy who had a great season but needs to prove himself next year to crack the top five. Did he play great because Kevin Love missed so much time and Pek was in a contract year? Or is the gravity challenged bigman who looks like a Siberian serial killer a legitimate center in this league? He’s got the strength of a bulldozer and has terrifying tattoos, I’ll give him that. And he’s definitely going to get paid this offseason.
Barely Missed the Cut
Al Jefferson (Charlotte Bobcats)- For years, Jefferson has been guaranteed double double and a guy who constantly demands a double team. However, you can also chalk up his man for a double double and in constant need of a double team. There’s a reason his Minnesota and Utah teams have made the playoffs one with Jefferson as their frontman (a sweep in 2012), his defensive foot speed makes him hopeless against the pick and roll. At least Charlotte didn’t way over pay for him….eeekks.
Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks)- There might not be another guy in the league who so thoroughly accepts their role. Play defense and dunk, GO! But, as his 64% from the field can tell you, he’s good at it. However, this season he missed 16 games and was hampered in the playoffs which saw him lose minutes to Kenyon Martin. Actually that pretty much sums it up. You fell out of the top five because K-Mart stole your PT and it isn’t 2006. There I said it.
Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers)- This was the hardest person to leave out of the top five as we best remember him in beast mode during the entire Miami series but up until that point Hibbert hadn’t played that great for the majority of the season. He was forgettable in the New York and Atlanta series’ and was absolutely abysmal offensively during the regular season. Don’t get me wrong he was incredible in the playoffs (until the whole “no homo” thing but he seemed genuinely upset about that and, by most accounts, Hibs is known as a good guy) but his regular season was pretty rough at times. You can’t shoot 45% from the field when you’re seven feet tall. It’s selfish. Quit hogging all the height if you’re not going to make short shots. But I think that his early season struggles were mostly attributed to trying to do too much. He was coming off his first All-Star game and then a max contract and was trying to do too much. Early prediction: Hibbert wins Defensive Player of the Year next year. Even if he doesn’t he’s still number one on the Gatorade chugging list.
Finally the Top Five
5. Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls)- Everybody loves Joakim Noah except when you’re team plays him. He hustles on every play, he gets under people’s skin, he shoots a weird tornado spiral jump shot, he hates Cleveland. I’ve talked about how much I love Joakim on this blog before so I won’t get into it. I just want to see one season where he doesn’t get hurt though. But I doubt that will happen with Thibodeau playing him ridiculous minutes every year.
4. Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks)- Probably the most underrated player at the position. He averaged 17 and 10, had more double doubles than anyone else on the list except Dwight, and played more minutes per game than Noah (who I always harp on for playing TOO much). I’m curious to see how he plays without Josh Smith though. Those two have been the backbone of an underachieving Hawks team for years. They go together like lamb and tuna fish.
3. Brook Lopez (Brooklyn Nets)- Watching Brook Lopez play basketball is like watching the Brontasaurus eat in Jurassic Park. In fact, here’s my reaction when I saw him play last. Despite looking like he’s playing in slow motion at times, his length and, better yet, ability to use that length to separate his defender from the release point of the ball, make Lopez incredible effective. So effective that he finished the season fifth in PER which sandwiched him between Carmelo Anthony and Tim Duncan for perspective. Only problem with Lopez is his inability to grab rebounds. He’s seven feet tall and averaged less than 7 boards per game in each of his past two full seasons. I can’t tell if he is losing rebounds to Reggie Evans or if Reggie gets so many because he has to pick up the slack. Judging by the fact that Brooklyn actually starts that guy, a player with literally no offensive ability whatsoever and is average on defense, I’m guessing it’s the latter.
2. Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)- Defensive Player of the Year and brains of the vaunted Memphis Grizzlies defense. He’s not the most athletic guy (or 100th most if you’re counting) but he always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. And that great vision and awareness applies on the offensive side too. Even with Mike Conley on the team, Gasol might be the best passer on the team. Just watch number 4 and 7 on this top ten highlight reel. It’s beautiful. Plus he’s a throwback technician in the post with that running hook shot and flat footed jumper. He’s the thinking man’s big man.
1. Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets)- How many players play an entire season hampered by injuries and poor coaching, being berated by Kobe and the media, put up 17, 12 (led league by a large margin) and 2.4 blocks (2nd) and still….STILL….disappoint everyone in the league? I think we need to take a step back, realize that the guy was coming off back surgery…EARLY… and was only a step or two behind his usual form. Yes, he missed a lot of free throws, even at times when everyone in the arena knew he would be purposefully fouled, but he’s never been a good shooter. And he injured his labrum at one point in the year. You think your back and shoulder have anything to do with taking perfect and repeated jumpers from a standstill? Yes, the way he left Orlando was ____insert any negative adjective you want___ but that was also the first time he had ever been given the opportunity to make that type of decision in his life. In high school he played for the same school his dad served as AD for (so Dwight probably didn’t have much say in where he went), he skipped college (and thus never had to make a decision like that during recruiting) and played for Orlando his entire career up until The In-Decision. Pardon him for handling it like a __insert an insulting name of your choosing__. He has at least learned from his mistake. He reportedly called each suitor he had this past offseason and personally told them he would not be choosing them, then talked to Lakers’ upper management in person to inform them of his decision, before accepting his role in Houston. Good luck to him. I hope him and James Harden make the Rockets a force in the West next year.
Well that’s my top five (and then some)
tweet me @chris_barbee19 and let me know what you think.
 Dwight was a top five player when he was in Orlando but just hasn’t looked the same since his back injury. Just watch videos of his explosiveness in Orlando versus Los Angeles. He looks clunky now in comparison.
 I’m not counting two seasons ago when he missed all but five games with injury.
 See what I did there..