Centers are considered a dying breed in today’s NBA. More teams are playing small ball than ever before with a focus on pushing the tempo and improving floor spacing. Heck, the league even removed the center position from the All-Star ballot in 2012.
However, as you will see by the depth in our center rankings and the names not on the list, the demise of the position is a premature misconception.
You won’t find two former All-Stars and Defensive Player of the Year winners – Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler – on this list.
Last season, Noah was limited 67 games by injuries and held back by a minute restriction, which resulted in decreased numbers across the board.
Chandler signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Suns over the summer, but he is past his prime at 33.
Rejection has become a common theme for Jefferson. Despite career averages of 17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds, he has never made an All-Star team. Jefferson has reached the playoffs three times but has failed to advance past the first round in each trip.
Last season, Mozgov became a full-time starter for the first time in his career. In the Finals, he posted three double-doubles against the Warriors. However, he had his right knee scoped over the summer and it still bothers him at times, according to a report.
Monroe received one of the top pay raises this offseason by signing with the Bucks. However, while he is a talented post scorer, he leaves more to be desired as a rim protector.
Similar to Monroe, Vucevic can light up the scoreboard as he showed last season and actually had more double-doubles than Anthony Davis. But he gives it right back on the defensive end.
Lopez got a four-year, $54 million deal from the Knicks thanks to his shot-blocking ability, but his scoring and rebounding left more to be desired.
Valanciunas was one of several 2012 draftees to sign a contract extension this summer. At 23, Toronto hopes he will justify his four-year, $64 million deal over time – and make his way into our top 10 rankings.
In the summer of 2016, Jefferson, Mozgov and Noah will be some of the top 25 unrestricted free agents on the market with a rising salary cap.
For a position supposedly nearly extinct, that is noteworthy depth at the position.
As a result, we at SheridanHoops created a checklist to help evaluate the best centers in the league.
Is the featured center playing at an All-Star level? Can he score with his back to the basket or facing up? Is he effective in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets? Can he find a backdoor cutter with a pass from the elbow? Will he be able to guard a perimeter player while switching on defense? Can he block a shot? Does he know when to provide help defense from the weak side? Does he make the pass out of the double-team? Will he grab a rebound in traffic after a defensive stand? Can he get out on the fast break as a trailing big man?
Finally, if you wanted to win the title this season, which center would you take tomorrow?
With that in mind, we assembled a list of the top 10 centers heading into this season.
1. DeMarcus Cousins, 6-11, 270 pounds, 5 years, Kings: Last season, Cousins posted career highs in points (24.1), rebounds (12.7), assists (3.6), steals (1.5) and blocks (1.7). He also shot career bests of .250 from the arc and .782 from the line. The first-time All-Star and All-NBA Second Team member ranked second in defensive rebound percentage (30.6), third in double-doubles (47), rebounds (12.7), usage percentage (34.1), free throws made (423) and attempts (541), fourth in total rebound percentage (21.1), fifth in points (24.1), sixth in 2-point field goals made (591), seventh in defensive rebounds (562) and PER (25.2), eighth in total rebounds (747) and 10th in defensive box plus/minus (3.3). At 24, the only person that can stop Cousins is himself. His talent is jaw-dropping, but so are his meltdowns at times.
2. Marc Gasol, 7-1, 255, 7 years, Grizzlies: Gasol re-signed with the Grizzlies over the summer with a whopping five-year, $113 million deal. The two-time All-Star received 65.5 percent of votes among GMs in the annual NBA.com poll for best center. Gasol is coming off career highs in points (17.4), PER (21.7) and usage percentage (24.6) on his way to earning All-NBA First Team honors. Last season, Gasol finished third in defensive win shares (4.7), seventh in 2-point field goals (527), eighth in defensive box plus/minus (3.5) and value over replacement player (4.6) and 10th in blocks (131) and defensive rating (99.6). The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year also is one of the league’s top passing centers. Looking ahead to this season, Gasol and the Grizzlies hope to move past the Western Conference semifinals with Mike Conley, a top-10 point guard, and Jeff Green entering contract seasons.
3. Dwight Howard, 6-11, 265, 11 years, Rockets: Despite career lows in games (41), minutes (29.8), steals (0.7) and blocks (1.3), I expect Howard to rebound dramatically in a contract season. During Houston’s 17 playoff games, Howard remained a defensive force, averaging 14.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Next summer, Howard has a $23.3 million player option. Before his injury-marred season, Howard made eight consecutive All-Star appearances. While he may not be Superman anymore, he remains one of the top centers in the league when healthy. If Houston is going to make a Finals run, Howard and James Harden – the top shooting guard in the league – will both have to carry their weight.
4. Tim Duncan, 6-11, 250, 18 years, Spurs: San Antonio still runs on Duncan after 18 seasons. The Big Fundamental became an All-Star for the 15th time last season and earned All-NBA Third Team honors, which means he is still one of the top 15 players in the league. Duncan ranked third in defensive rating (96.9) and defensive box plus/minus (4.7), fourth in defensive win shares (4.7), sixth in total blocks (151) and blocks per game (2.0), seventh in block percentage (5.1), eighth in defensive rebound percentage (26.7), ninth in win shares per 48 minutes (.207) and box plus/minus (5.5) and 10th in defensive rebounds (534). If you thought that was impressive, he averaged 17.9 points on nearly 59 percent shooting with 11.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and a 24.2 PER during the postseason while playing nearly 36 minutes. At 39, how much does arguably the greatest power forward have left in the tank? With LaMarcus Aldridge by his side, Duncan’s career comes full circle as he shifts into the David Robinson role.
5. DeAndre Jordan, 6-11, 265, 7 years, Clippers: Jordan starred in the love triangle of the summer between the Mavericks and Clippers before ultimately re-signing with Los Angeles on a four-year, $87 million deal. At 27, he is coming off a career season in which he earned All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Third Team honors. On defense, Jordan led the league in total rebound percentage (24.5), defensive rebound percentage (32.4), defensive rebounds (829), total rebounds (1,226), rebounds per game (15.0) and defensive win shares (5.4). On offense, he led the league in field goal percentage (.710) and effective field goal percentage (.711) for the third consecutive season and ranked second in offensive rating (126.1). Jordan has also developed into an iron man, playing in every regular season game over the past four seasons. Last season, he ranked seventh in minutes (2,820). If Jordan had any offensive post moves and could shoot free throws at an acceptable rate, he would easily be the best center in the league. However, it is tough to imagine him being as productive on offense without Chris Paul feeding him.
6. Al Horford, 6-10, 245, 8 years, Hawks: Horford is fresh off his third All-Star campaign, ranking sixth in field goal percentage (.538) and ninth in 2-point field goals (508). Despite posting his second highest PER (21.4) and usage percentage (22.2), Horford could be in for a reduced role or see more minutes at power forward after the acquisition of center Tiago Splitter. At 29, Horford is in the final year of his contract and could potentially be dangled as trade bait should the team not meet expectations. If the team is clicking, Horford, Splitter and Millsap, a top-10 power forward, will form one of the top frontcourts in the league. Next summer, Horford will be one of the top 10 free agents to hit the market.
7. Brook Lopez, 7-0, 275, 7 years, Nets: Last season, Lopez spent time in coach Lionel Hollins’ doghouse behind Mason Plumlee before starting 44 games and averaging 18.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in those starts. He ranked 10th in 2-point field goals (505), blocks per game (1.8) and PER (22.7). With Plumlee dealt to Portland, Lopez won’t be looking over his shoulder. On the other hand, Plumlee was a vital insurance policy since Lopez has undergone multiple foot surgeries. The offense will run through Lopez in every halfcourt set, and Brooklyn hopes Lopez’s expanded game can take it back to the playoffs. If there was ever a year for Lopez to fulfill his potential and average 20 points and 10 rebounds (his career-high boards per game is 8.6), this would be it. The longest tenured Net is now the franchise player after signing a three-year, $63 million contract.
8. Andre Drummond, 6-11, 279, 3 years, Pistons: At 22, Drummond is a physical beast reminiscent of a young Dwight Howard. Similar to Howard, Drummond is a rim protector, patrolling the paint like a fly swatter and hungry for rebounds. Also similar to Howard, Drummond is an atrocious foul shooter (.389). The next step for Drummond to become an elite center is to develop a hook shot or another post move and improve his foul shooting. If he does that, he will be closer to the top of this list in no time. Drummond led the league in offensive rebounds (437) and offensive rebound percentage (18.3). He ranked second in total rebounds (1,104), rebounds per game (13.5) and total rebound percentage (24.0), third in defensive rebounds (667) and defensive rebound percentage (30.1), fifth in blocks (153), eighth in defensive win shares (4.3), ninth in blocks per game (1.9) and 10th in block percentage (4.8). It will be interesting to see what a full season of running pick-and-rolls with Reggie Jackson will do for his offensive production. Looking ahead to the summer, Drummond will be a top restricted free agent.
9. Rudy Gobert, 7-1, 245, 2 years, Jazz: Gobert transformed Utah into a lockdown defensive unit with his presence as a rim protector. When Gobert was on the floor, opponents had a 101.9 offensive rating vs. a 109.1 rating with him off the court. Last season, Utah’s opponents averaged 94.9 points, the lowest in the league. After the All-Star break, Gobert broke out, averaging 11.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 34.4 minutes. During that span, he shot nearly 58 percent and had a defensive rating of 93.0. Overall, Gobert ranked first in block percentage (7.0), second in blocks (189) and defensive box plus/minus (5.1), third in blocks per game (2.3), fifth in defensive rating (98.0), offensive rebound percentage (14.3) and total rebound percentage (20.7), sixth in offensive rebounds (265), total rebounds (775) and true shooting percentage (.627), seventh in defensive rebound percentage (27.2), eighth in offensive rating (122.1) and box plus/minus (5.8), ninth in defensive win shares (4.3) and 10th in win shares per 48 minutes (.206). The next step for Gobert is to develop a go-to offensive move and improve his 60 percent career rate at the foul line. If he does that, Utah could be a playoff team – even in the loaded Western Conference.
10. Hassan Whiteside, 7-0, 265, 3 years, Heat: Is Whiteside a one-hit wonder like Vanilla Ice? That’s what several GMs are wondering before considering a potential maximum contract offer next summer. Whiteside enters the season as a potential top-10 free agent. After playing just 19 games in his first two NBA seasons and developing a reputation as a head case, he spent time in the D-League, Lebanon and China before resurfacing last season in Miami. Last season, he was one of only 12 players to average a double-double at 11.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in a minuscule 23.8 minutes. He finished second in the league in blocks per game (2.6) and shot an efficient 63 percent from the field. In 32 starts, his numbers increased to 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 27.7 minutes. As an Early Bird free agent, it could be difficult for Miami to retain him for the long haul if he sustains his production.