The NBA may still be a perimeter oriented game, but coaches and general managers still yearn for a dominant center to reside in the post with his back to the basket. However, just as seven-footers are rare in the general population, quality big men are an exciting find in the game of professional basketball. There appears to be a great influx of these giants developing their game in the pros now. The future is bright for fans of these old school basketball players, but the fact that they are developing now beckons the question: who are the best now?
The following is a list of the ten best centers right now. They may play in different offensive systems, but there quality is evident nonetheless. At seven feet tall and over 250 pounds it is difficult for these players to hide when they screw up or are making a big difference.
My requirements are pretty simple: the player must play in the post (no players like David Lee that are really power forwards simply playing in a system that does not really use a center) and must play more than 30 minutes a game. I look at the traditional stats (points, rebounds, and blocks) because despite their simplicity they are truly the best numbers to use to see if the player can score and dominate the paint.
Number 1: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Height: 6-11 Weight: 265 Age: 24
Points: 17.9 Rebounds: 13.0 Blocks: 2.33
Howard’s points are down, but he is playing with a few more scorers than in years’ past (Re: Vince Carter) and has been willing to become part of the team system. He is simply an amazing athlete that has begun to learn the nuances of the post position that go beyond timing the jump for the alley-oop and muscling out everyone for the rebound. He leads the league in rebounding and is dangerous enough in the post to require double teams. Howard is a deft enough passer out of the post to make teams pay for double teams. He is everything a coach wants out of a post player.
Number 2: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Height: 6-11 Weight: 260 Age: 33
Points: 20.0 Rebounds: 10.8 Blocks: 2.14
Tim Duncan has finally been accepted as a center league-wide after years of most folks holding on to the fallacy that he is a power forward. It took a few years after David Robinson’s retirement, but Duncan became the Spurs center a while ago. He may take the ball at the elbow, but that is because he has a great mid-range shot and is an excellent passer. He can still muscle the ball in and solid post presence that does not receive nearly enough recognition for his ability to block shots and rebounds.
Number 3: Brooks Lopez, New Jersey Nets
Height: 7-0 Weight: 265 Age: 21
Points: 19.5 Rebounds: 9.6 Blocks: 2.00
The New Jersey Nets may be the worst team in the NBA, but the silver lining is that Brooks Lopez is taking advantage of this time to become a great NBA center. He is athletic and already being double teamed as the focus of the Nets offense in just his second season. He has responded by averaging nearly 20 points and 10 boards a game. Lopez can even shoot the ball out to the three point line. He is scary good.
Number 4: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Height: 7-1 Weight: 265 Age: 24
Points: 14.5 Rebounds: 10.0 Blocks: 1.44
Marc replaces his brother Pau as the Grizzlies center after the trade a couple of seasons ago. He has flourished in the role (as Pau has been able to flourish as a power forward, his natural position). Gasol can score in the post, hit a mid-range jumper, block shots, block out, and pass out of the block. He is the everything-man that needs to be recognized in Memphis.
Number 5: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Height: 6-10 Weight: 245 Age: 23
Points: 13.3 Rebounds: 9.5 Blocks: 1.31
He may seem a little small, but he is center that has a wide bottom that can clear out space for boards. He also has a mid-range jumper that punishes defenders that do not come out and put a hand in his face. Horford is simply a quality big man without a flash. On a Hawks team blessed with athletic forwards this is actually a good thing.
Number 6: Al Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves
Height: 6-10 Weight: 265 Age: 24
Points: 16.9 Rebounds: 9.2 Blocks: .88
Al Jefferson will never be a blocks leader. He simply operates too low to the ground, but he operates so very well down there. He has an array of post moves that take advantage of his big butt and his long arms that neutralize the many more athletic defenders in the NBA. He is also the focus of the offense on a Timberwolves team that does not have enough talent to surround him with much help. Kevin Love is still adjusting to the physical demands of NBA basketball, so when he finally gets there this could be the most dangerous/least athletic tandem in the game.
Number 7: Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks
Height: 7-0 Weight: 260 Age: 25
Points: 15.2 Rebounds: 9.6 Blocks: 1.90
Bogut is a center that came into the league with great skill but limited athleticism. He is one of those rare players that have made great strides in his quickness. This is evident by his block totals. He came into the league and averaged .80 blocks a game and now he is up to a very respectable 1.90. He still is not going to jump out of the gym, but he is going to make the precision pass on the backdoor cut, fake a defender with an up and under, and hit a jumper from 15 feet out. He is sure to be the butt of jokes when he tries to play outside of his athletic ability, but just about every team will wish they had him on their roster.
Number 8: Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers
Height: 7-0 Weight: 265, Age: 27
Points: 19.3 Rebounds: 8.8 Blocks: 1.38
Kaman’s biggest problem is consistency. He is actually a pretty decent athlete, but has had injury problems his entire career. He also plays for the Clippers so he is easy to forget. People some how remember the poor hair choices more so than a string of double-doubles. He can score with his back to the basket and will occasionally post a 20-rebound game (even with Marcus Camby on the floor). Unfortunately, he may follow that up with a 6 point/ 4 rebound game.
Number 9: Nene Hilario, Denver Nuggets
Height: 6-11 Weight: 250 Age: 27
Points: 13.4 Rebounds: 8.6 Blocks: 1.11
Nene is the defensive glue that holds the Nuggets together. He is a wide body that roams the lane. His numbers suffer because he is the one defender in the Nuggets starting five (Kenyon Martin has never been recognized for his defensive contributions for a reason).
Number 10: Jermaine O’Neal, Miami Heat
Height: 6-11 Weight: 255 Age: 31
Points: 13.6 Rebounds: 7.3 Blocks: 1.14
Jermaine O’Neal has managed to settle into the center position as he has gotten older. He still has the skills that made him an exciting power forward, but his quickness has evaded him and now the extra weight he has put on make him a decent player in the post. He still has the passing vision and the jump shot to be a weapon as a third option on the floor. Injuries have taken away that quickness along with age, hurting his ability to go after the rebound and send shots back, but he remains a quality (if overpaid) basketball player.