Projected Center Rankings: 2013/14

DwightDwight Howard. Projected Ranking: First.  Current Ranking: Second.

This past season was a disaster for both Dwight Howard and the Lakers.  Howard’s reputation took a hit, the team floundered and rumours of Howard’s diva-esque attitude included demands for Mike ‘Antoni to be fired (Howard loves to request coaches get fired) and a request that the Lakers amnesty the best shooting guard in the league.  Neither happened, and so, Dwight headed to Houston.  Houston will no doubt try to appease Howard and get the most out of him.  Kevin McHale’s job is certainly not secure now and is contingent on both keeping Howard happy and the team successful (things that may be mutually exclusive).  Howard has wanted a bigger role on offense for years now.  He even questioned Stan Van Gundy’s coaching during the NBA finals a few years back, and some suggest that Howard has given up during games in which he doesn’t feel he was involved enough on offense.  He will demand a bigger role on offense in Houston and they will try to accommodate, but the bottom line is that Howard is simply not that good in the post on offense.  That said, he is an excellent pick-and-roll center when it comes to cutting to the basket and he is extremely efficient on offense when creating his own shots via offensive rebounds, so he can have an extremely positive impact on offense when he understands his limitations.   Outside of the offensive realm, when healthy (and Howard wasn’t last season), there is not a better defender in the paint than Howard, and there are few rebounders who can outperform Howard.  I expect Howard will rebound and defend as well as he ever has this season and that this, coupled with his increased role in offense, will put him numbers in a place where it will be impossible to argue any other player as the best center in the game.

brooklopezBrook Lopez.  Projected Ranking: Second.  Current Ranking: Third.

There is perhaps no center in the league who is better on offense than Brook Lopez.  His post moves are great, he has solid range and he can hit his free throws.  Lopez has been criticized for his lack of rebounding, but last season saw him post over 8 boards per36, which is a respectable number at least.  On defence Lopez has improved.  He averaged a career high 2.5 blocks per game and improved his blocks-to-fouls ratio.  His field-goal percentage was the highest it had been in the past four years and was well over .500, which is pretty good for a player with such high usage and a center who takes his fair share of jumpers.  People may continue to knock his rebounding, but he Lopez has shown improvement in that department, and his defense has improved as well (only four centers averaged more blocks per game than Lopez last season).  With the addition of Kevin Garnett, it seems that Lopez will have a great mentor in developing both his rebounding and defensive skills and defenses will be forced to stay with one-on-one coverage when it comes to Lopez given the number of efficient offensive weapons the Nets will have next season.  We may see a decrease in his personal averages due to the influx of talent that is coming in, but Lopez should be playing at his best next year.

alhorfordAl Horford.  Projected Ranking: Third. Current Ranking: Fourth.

Al Horford reminds me a lot of Duncan, not so much in his on-court game (though there are similarities there), but in his attitude and maturity level.  Horford is the kind of drama-free, team-first player a franchise longs to build around.  He is one of few centers who average over a steal and a block a game, and he is among the very best play makers at his position, handing out 3.2 assists a game last season.  He saw increased usage on offense last season, but his FG% dropped almost imperceptibly, and his fouls per36 were at a career low last season and his per game average was the second lowest of his career despite getting a career high 37.2 minutes per game.   The Hawks did not make much noise last season, and most of the attention regarding the team surrounded forward Josh Smith and trade rumours relating to him, but Horford quietly put together a career year and I expect he will build on that this season with Smith’s departure. 

timduncanTim Duncan.  Projected Ranking: Fourth.  Current Ranking: First

Last season there simply was not a better center than Tim Duncan.  He is ageless.  His effort, night in and night out, is beyond reproach.  His approach to the game is professional.  His basketball IQ is as high as any player in the league.  He is a double-digit rebounder.  His offensive game improves over the years (Duncan shot a career high from the free-throw line last season), and when it comes to defense, few centers are as complete as Duncan.  Whilst centers like Howard excel in the paint, Duncan has no issues stepping outside of the paint to defend centers with range, an art which few centers have mastered.  On top of all that, Duncan is the consummate professional whose first concern is the team.  If he doesn’t get the ball on offense, he’s not going to give up on the defensive end and complain in the media about how many touches he got after a loss.  Duncan accepts responsibility for his mistakes on the court, does whatever he can to improve, and helps his teammates to improve as well.  He is the ideal franchise player.  As ageless as Duncan is, his is going to be 37 next season, and with the Rockets planning on giving Howard a bigger role on offense, and Duncan’s minutes dwindling each season, it will be hard to make a case for Duncan being the best center in the league when his averages simply will not be where Howard’s are.  There is no doubt that Duncan is the more skilled player and has had a career filled with accomplishments that Howard will not be able to match, but not even Duncan can stay young forever.

aljeffersonAl Jefferson.  Projected Ranking: Fifth.  Current Ranking: Ninth.

When it comes to post play, few players can top or stop Al Jefferson.  Last season he had to share offensive post duties with the talented Paul Milsap, but Jefferson will be joining an offensively inept roster in desperate need of a legit first option.  He will likely average a career high in minutes, and could average a career high in scoring depending on the development of some of Charlotte’s younger players.  He is also a solid rebounder who has easily averaged over 10 boards per36 on his career.  At the ripe age of 29, and with increased minutes likely in his new situation, it seems like Jefferson may have a career year.  Defensively he is not as versatile or effective as the likes of Marc Gasol, but he is a better rebounder and a better scorer.  The Bobcats may not make much noise this season, but with an infusion of young players and an All-Star calibre center locked in for the next four years, the Bobcats have something to build around.

marcgasolMarc Gasol.  Projected Ranking: Sixth.  Current Ranking: Fifth.

As the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, there are few players who can defend the paint as well as Gasol (Howard, Chandler, Hibbert, Duncan and Noah are perhaps the only players in that category).  Just as Chandler did last season, Gasol failed to make the All-Defensive first team after winning DPOY, but it is clear there that Gasol is an elite defender.  He is also likely the best play-making center in the league (better even than Horford).  He posted 4 assists a game with a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  He posted a higher assist-per average than Horford with fewer turnover.  Great defenders are usually synonymous with great rebounders as well, but Gasol does seem to lag behind a little bit in that respect, posting rebounding numbers that are somewhere around the numbers Lopez is posting.  When it comes to shooting though, few big men have a better stroke than Gasol.  His FG% is just under .500, but he takes more jumpers than your average center and looking at his FT% it becomes clear that he has more of a shooters touch than better than 90% of the centers in the league.  An increased role on offense can be expect next season since Rudy Gay is no longer the first option on offense. 

Hibbert (left) posting up on Noah.

Hibbert (left) posting up on Noah.

Tyson Chandler/Roy Hibbert/Joakim Noah.  Project Ranking: Seventh (tied).  Current Ranking: Sixth (tied).

In looking at Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chander and Joakim Noah, I simply could not decide who the better center was among the group.  Chandler is certainly the least offensively skilled player of the group, but he is also aware of his limitations and so, they do not negatively impact his team’s performance as he only takes shots he should be taking.  As a result, he easily has the highest FG% among the three players (though he also has the lowest FT%).  Chandler also posts the highest rebounding average per36 among the three players.  Noah has the lowest personal fouls average and the best blocks-to-fouls ration, but Hibbert has the highest blocks-per-game average.  They are all elite defenders, all solid rebounders and all team-first players.  Hibbert had offensive woes last season, but I

Tyson Chandler is the defensive anchor of the Knicks.

Tyson Chandler is the defensive anchor of the Knicks.

expect his number to be back up to where they are supposed to be and he did manage to average about as many points per game as the other two despite getting far less minutes.  Noah was a huge part of the Bulls success this past season, which was especially impressive given that Derrick Rose was out all year.  Chandler almost single-handedly made the Knicks a good defensive team and Hibbert’s playoffs numbers make one forgive his slight regression on offense this past season.  If Hibbert plays as well in the regular season this year as he did in the post season, he will not only be the best player among these three, but he’ll likely make me look like a fool for ranking him as low as seventh.  Noah, though, is continuing to improve and is easily the best playmaker among these three (though he is not quite where Marc Gasol is). 

demarcus-cousinsDeMarcus Cousins.  Projected Ranking: Eight.  Current Ranking: Tenth.

The obvious question when it comes to DeMarcus Cousins is his maturity.  There is no doubting his talent, but he has tallied an unreasonable number of technical fouls, has had clashes with coaches, and has poor shot selection as well (his ego encourages him to take shots he shouldn’t be taking).  The thing is, he is immensely talented.  He is a great rebounder, he has the potential to be a great play maker (he’s assists are higher than most centers, but he needs to bring his turnovers down).  He is a good offensive player who has room to grow.  If Cousins simply takes better care of the ball and becomes more careful in his shot selection, he could be the best center in the league next season.  Those two elements are dependent on his maturity though.  There is hope.  Cousin’s FG% has improved each season, his personal fouls have decreased each season and his turnovers were less last season than they were during his rookie season.  These are good indicators, but building a team around such a volatile and reactionary player can be problematic and Cousins may find his way to the trading block if he doesn’t mature.  That said, if Cousins were to suddenly have the maturity of Duncan or Horford transplanted into him, he would easily be the best center in the league.   

Monroe+DrummondGreg Monroe/Andre Drummond.  Projected Ranking: Ninth.  Current Ranking: Ninth/Unranked.

It is unclear as to what positions these two will be playing.  I expect Monroe to split his minutes at center and power forward and Drummond to play exclusively at center, but it is clear that these two are immensely talented players.  Monroe is among the best offensive rebounders in the game and was in the top ten for total rebounds last season.  His offensive game is more polished than Drummond and he is among the best passing big men in the league (after Gasol, he is in the conversation with Horford and Noah).  Defensively, Monroe holds his own.  He averages better than a steal a game and nearly a block a game, but Drummond has the potential to be a DPOY.  With only 20 minutes a game, Drummond averaged over 1 steal and 1 block per game (and averaged 2.8 blocks per36).  Drummond’s fouls were a little high, but that is to be expected of rookies.  His turnovers though were reasonable for a center, especially one in his rookie year.  His FG% was exceptional, despite his unpolished offensive game.  Drummond has the self-realization to know what shots he should be taking, and what shots he shouldn’t be taking.  In two years, I expect Drummond to clearly be the better player of the two, but next season, I expect that Monroe will still be the more polished player, and Drummond’s poor free-throw shooting is going to limit his minutes.  The future is bright for the Pistons though, who have two of the best rebounders in the league under contract.  

pekovic_i_vucevicNikola Vucevic/Nikola Pekovic.  Projected Ranking: Tenth.  Current Ranking: Unranked.

European big men are more common than ever.  The T-Wovles have just signed Pekovic to an extension and likely hope that they can continue to pair Kevin Love with Pekovic.  Pekovic seems to be a more rounded scorer than is Vucevic at this point, but it seems clear that Vucevic is already the better rebounder of the two and likely the better playmaker of the two.  Defensively, it is hard to differentiate the players at this point in their careers.  They are both good on defence, each getting around 1 steal and 1 block per36 with a slight edge going in Vucevic’s favour, but Pekovic get less fouls.  Considering Vucevic’s age though (22 years last season), he may have more room to grow than Pekovic (27 last season).  This year, both players should perform well, but Pekovic’s contributions may get more recognition due to the fact he will likely be playing on a playoff team. 

Honourable Mention

chris boshChris Bosh:  As a power forward, I likely would have ranked Bosh in the top ten, but as a center, he just doesn’t make the grade.  A great center needs to be a great rebounder and defender, and Bosh does neither as well as the guys on this list.  There are ways to compensate for such short comings, but when it comes to playmaking, Bosh is not even in the top ten at his position in assist per36 or assist per game and he gets less assists than turnovers.  When it comes to scoring, few centers put the ball in the basket more than Bosh last season, and Bosh’s FG% is a very respectable .535, but such high numbers should be expected when defences are scrambling to double-team LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  There is no doubt that Bosh is an All-Star calibre player and that he is among the best front court players in the league, but his style of game just doesn’t translate well to the center position.

Andrew-BynumAndrew Bynum: If healthy, Bynum will be among the best centers in the game.  Certainly top four.  I have not ranked him, however, as I have no reason to expect him to play a single game.  After missing an entire season, even if healthy, Bynum will be extremely rusty.  It will take him a while to get his game back to where it needs to be.  If that progress is quick, then he will be among the best post players and rebounders in the game and a respectable defender, but he will also be competing for minutes against Anderson Varejao, who is both a better defender and a better rebounder.

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 6Anderson Varejao: Another career year was derailed by injury this past season.  Varejao was putting up the best rebounding number I had seen since Dennis Rodman.  Though limited on offense, Varejao is aware of those limitations and makes his shot selections accordingly.  Nobody was rebounding the ball better when he went down with a season-ending injury.  This year his numbers will take a hit if both he and Bynum are healthy, as he will be competing with Bynum for minutes.  If Bynum plays well, I expect Varejao to be moved to the trade block, but the more likely scenario is that Bynum and Varejao will serve mutually as insurance policies for the other since both are oft injured.

 

valanciunas-jonasJonas Valanciunas:  I’m not sure what to make of Valanciunas.  He was a solid scorer last season with a respectable FG% and a great blocks per36 average.  His rebounds were solid for a rookie, especially a European big man, but his personal fouls were a little high.  I expect those to come down this season, and for his minutes to increase as a result.  The Raptors don’t have much to build around and Valanciunas is clearly the most promising young talent they have on their roster.  If DeRozen and Gay don’t form the kind of tandem that could make the Raptors a playoff team, I expect everybody save Valanciunas to be on the trading block and for the Raptors to try and bring in some draft picks.

javale-mcgeejpgJaVale McGee:  Though a frequent star of Shaqtin-a-fool, McGee is a very talented player, even if his basketball IQ isn’t as high as some centers in the league.  He averaged almost 4 blocks per36 last year, and also averaged nearly 20/10 per36 as well.  George Karl though, with a deep roster, didn’t even start McGee and gave him fewer than 20 minutes a game.  Brian Shaw will likely be eager to see what McGee can do with starting minutes and so McGee may find his role increased.  Shaw may turn out to be more of a mentor than Karl was and offer tutelage rather than eye rolls, but I expect that Karl’s eye rolls were more than justified.  McGee’s potential is so great, and Denver will be desperate to make up for the departure of Andre Iguodala.  McGee will almost certainly have an opportunity to have a career year.

larry-sandersLarry Sanders:  Like McGee, Sanders is full of potentials.  He also averaged nearly 4 blocks per36 last season, and a baker’s dozen on the glass, but there are other aspect of his game that are troubling, not the least of which is his tendency to pick up technical fouls.  The Bucks ownership seem confident in Sanders though and rewarded him with a nice extension this offseason.  The departure of Samuel Dalembert will open Sanders up to more minutes, but if he doesn’t want to get into foul trouble, he will have to reduce his personal fouls.  Like many other dominant rebounders and defenders, Sanders’ offensive game is limited, but he keeps his FG% over .500, so that shouldn’t be a problem. 

andrew-bogutAndrew Bogut: The former All-Star got sparing minutes last season after coming back from injury, but his passing was as crisp as ever, as was his shot blocking and rebounding.  With a partial season under his belt and his first training camp with the Warriors coming up, Bogut should return to form.  With a very talented roster, it is unlikely that Bogut will post the kind of numbers he did with the Bucks, but his impact on the game will be greater than his numbers suggest. 

Dalembert will be taking over for Kaman in Dallas whilst Kaman takes over for Dwight in LA.

Dalembert will be taking over for Kaman in Dallas whilst Kaman takes over for Dwight in LA.

Chris Kaman:  Kaman will have the duty of replacing Dwight Howard in LA’s line-up.  This sounds like a tall order, but with Gasol likely taking on a bigger role, it shouldn’t be too hard.  Kaman is a former All-Star and a solid rebounder and post scorer.  He is not the defender than Dwight was, but he is a better post scorer than Dwight.  With the appropriate minutes, Kaman can be a great center, but I expect the Lakers likely brought him in as a stop-gap and don’t have very high expectations. 

Samuel Dalembert:  Last season the Mavericks signed Kaman as a temporary center with the hopes of keeping their cap space available for Dwight Howard.  That didn’t work out, and Kaman bolted for the Lakers.  The Mavericks have brought in Dalembert to replace Kaman and couldn’t have found a better replacement at the price they got.  Dalembert remain an elite rebounder in the league and a solid shot blocker.  With a thin bench in Dallas, Dalembert may have his best season yet. 

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