When you think of basketball you think of huge guys much taller than the average man, it’s the nature of the sport. The average NBA player is 9 inches taller (6ft7) than the average man in the US (5ft10).
Throughout the history of the NBA, the position of the center has played a huge part in its development. Big men easily been the most dominant position since the sport’s creation in 1891. In most people's’ Top Ten lists there are at least 4 centers that make it in. Players like Kareem, Shaq, Wilt, Russell and Olajuwon all make regular appearances.
It’s a position with a lot of grandeur; you are the tallest of the tallest, the most gifted among us and in today’s NBA there is no exception. After a somewhat dwindling few years at the beginning of the decade the center position seems to be making a comeback and maybe soon we will have another rivalry to match that of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
There are many talented bigs playing right now, but these are the best of the bunch.
Al Horford - he plays at center but he’s really a power forward
Joel Embiid - only played 31 games last year
10. Myles Turner - Indiana Pacers
Sometimes your star player leaving town can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It can give your younger talent more room to prove itself and develop. Such is the case for the Indiana Pacers going into next season.
Paul George was traded to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Demontas Sabonis and Indiana was expectedly saddened. However Pacers fans should be extremely optimistic; there was no way that they were going to get to the Finals with their current squad, it just wasn’t good enough. The potential of that squad was also way too small for it to be a good idea to let it grow.
The departures of George and Jeff Teague mean that the stage is set for Myles Turner to become the Pacer’s franchise player. He’s only 21 years old, 6 foot 11 and he has a huge amount of promise to him. In only his second season he was 3rd in the NBA in blocks per game at 2.1 and was the 5th best rim protector out of players that played 60 or more games and defended 6 or more field goal attempts per game. His 7 foot 4 wingspan helps him out immensely in that department.
On offense, he is showing signs of being a real stud. As a third option last season he averaged 14.5 points a night and shot 51.1% from the field and also shot 34.8% from beyond the arc whilst shooting over once a game out there. He is showing that he is the complete package as he shot 71.5% at the rim and 42.9% from 16 feet outwards meaning he is a threat from everywhere on the floor. He also hit nearly 81% from the free throw line, an area where big men usually struggle.
I expect Turner’s numbers to take a huge jump next year as he shows that he is worthy of consideration as one of the top centers in the league and I predict he’ll be in big contention for the Most Improved Player award; a 20 and 10 season is well within his limits.
9. Brook Lopez - Los Angeles Lakers
Ever since they won their 2nd title in a row in 2010 the Los Angeles Lakers have seen a steady decline into mediocrity. They were bounced out of the playoffs in early rounds before becoming a perennial lottery team ‘highlighted’ by a lack of leadership and direction.
But now that has all changed.
The Lakers easily drafted the most talented prospect in Lonzo Ball who looks to seriously bring back Showtime to the Staples Center. His up tempo style will get everyone involved, including their new big man Mr. Brook Lopez.
Although he isn’t a great rebounder or defender on offense he’s a real stud. He averaged 20.5 points an outing last season and went from shooting 0.2 threes a game to 5.2 with a respectable 34.6% clip.
He has a great touch around the rim and he can shoot from midrange where he shot 46.8% from 10 to 16 feet last season. His addition to the Lakers gives them a sturdy inside scoring presence that can get them points when at the end of close games when the pace slows down immensely.
8. Andre Drummond - Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond is now at a bit of a crossroads in his career. He is extremely talented and even after 5 full seasons he still has a tonne of potential, but his time with the Detroit Pistons has had its ups and downs.
Last season he was expected to progress onwards from his first All-Star selection the year prior. The Pistons had made the Playoffs for the first time since 2009 and looked to be an up and coming team in the East.
Instead, they finished 37-45 and you could really sense a negative atmosphere at the Palace. Although their lack of success in mainly down to the absence of any decent shooters (the Pistons were 28th in 3P% last season) Drummond himself didn’t live up to the expectations of him.
He really needs to up his FT% to at least around 55%-60% (currently 38.6%). If he does this then the NBA had better watch out. Drummond is a true monster on the boards averaging 13.8 a night last season. He is so strong that he can box out anyone and he has great instincts when it comes to predicting where the ball will drop.
Next season will be a huge indicator as to what the career path for Drummond will be. Can he break out of his labels as ‘raw’ and ‘just a good athlete’? I think he will and I expect him to make the All-Star game again and show the world what he can do.
7. Nikola Jokic - Denver Nuggets
I get so impatient this time of year, a couple of months before the new season starts. I always have a list of players I want to keep a special eye on. These include the usual like LeBron, Steph, KD and such, but at the top of my list for next season is Nikola Jokic.
Passing in basketball for me is the most beautiful skill you can have. Not only is it amazing to see slick dimes but it also shows that you have a very high basketball IQ. You see the movement of the defense and your teammates and you can factor that in when you make the pass.
Jokic right now is the best passing big man in basketball.
The way he finds his teammates when they cut to the basketball truly stands him out as a savant on the offensive end. He also is a great threat to score; he shot 67.4% at the rim last season and a godly 55.2% from 16 feet to the 3 point line. This incredible mid range game only adds to his lethality, as it means that defenders have to stay close to him meaning he can find his teammates with his amazing vision or drive right by and finish strong at the hoop.
6. DeAndre Jordan - Los Angeles Clippers
Ever since Doc Rivers came to the Clippers in 2013 and gave Jordan more responsibility he has thrived in his new role. Since then he’s lead the league in field goal percentage every year and lead the league in rebounding twice.
Jordan is the most athletic center we’ve seen a Dwight Howard back in his Orlando Magic days. He formed a crucial part of ‘Lob City’ and he’s been terrific for the Clippers for a while now. He’s everything that a modern age center should be; athletic, doesn’t shoot much but is extremely efficient, rebounds like a machine and defends the rim with tenacity and bravery.
Jordan lead the NBA in offensive rating last year with 129.3. He only takes really efficient shots because he isn’t looking to create for himself, he finds his shots in amongst the work of his teammates. He is still a liability at the line, shooting only 48.2% last season but this is a significant upgrade from 43% the year before.
If he can continue this trend so that he shoots better than 50% next season then another All-NBA selection will be headed his way.
5. Marc Gasol - Memphis Grizzlies
One center that doesn’t struggle with free throws is Marc Gasol, the 7 foot 1 Spaniard down in Memphis. He hit over 83% of his free throws last year as he achieved his career-best in scoring (19.5) and assists (4.6).
Gasol, much like Jokic, is an amazing passer who will find open teammates before anyone else has even noticed. He’s spectacular from the top of the key where he is a true triple threat; he can drive, he can shoot and he can pass.
Gasol is on my watchlist of players I think will be traded this season. The Grizzlies aren’t going to make much noise this year and Gasol is too good to waste the rest of his prime there. A move elsewhere could give him the chance to play for a real contender and then we’d get to see him really show off his skills.
4. Hassan Whiteside - Miami Heat
Last year the Miami Heat were one of the best teams in the league after the All-Star break going 30-11 to end the regular season. Many were wondering how a team that started 11-30 could suddenly go on an unbelievable run, from near bottom of the NBA to almost earning a playoff spot.
A big reason was their defense.
Miami was 5th in the NBA in average opponent points per game with 102.1, 7th in opponent field goal percentage at 45% and 3rd in opponent 3P% at 34.3%. By far the biggest contributor to this defensive dominance was Hassan Whiteside.
Last season he was 4th in blocks per game (2.1), 1st in rebounding (14.1), first in defensive rebounding (10.1), 4th in defensive rating (99.9) and 4th in defensive field goal percentage at the rim out of players that played 60 or more games and attempted to defended 5 or more field goal attempts per game (51%).
He truly is the Wall of Whiteside and he also averaged a career high in points per game last year with 17 and shot 55.7% from the field. He is a pure defensive anchor, a guy which any franchise would be extremely happy to patrol their paint and sending shots into the 10th row.
3. Rudy Gobert - Utah Jazz
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Gobert is my guy if I’m building a starting five for my franchise right now. He’s not the most skilled center in the NBA, but I challenge anyone to find a more effective one.
Last year only 3 players were in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating. They were Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert. Out of those 3 Gobert had by far the biggest difference in ratings at 29.9.
This means that, on average, if Gobert played a number of full 48-minute games with his squad from last year then they would win by an average margin of 29.9 points per game based on his contributions.
I could go on and on and on about how much I love this guy and his playing style, but for your sake I’ll just mention the basics: He lead the league in blocks per game, was the second in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage at the rim, defended the most shot attempts per game with 6 feet of the rim at 7.7, was 2nd in the league in field goal percentage at 66.1% and 2nd behind James Harden for total win shares with 14.3.
Like I said if I’m choosing my starting 5 for a season this guy easily is my selection at center. Skill wise there are better guys than him, but his particular skillset is unbelievably effective.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns - Minnesota Timberwolves
According to Basketball Reference’s Player Season Finder, there are only two players in NBA history to have averaged more than 25 points and 12 rebounds a game before the age of 22. One is Shaquille O’Neal and the other is Karl-Anthony Towns.
Even before the start of his 3rd season Towns is already the second-best center in the league, and he could be at the top of this list by the end of the year. He is the complete package. He can score inside and out, he made over 100 3s last year and he hit 83.2% of his free throws, he rebounds really well, he can defend, he’s athletic, he works really hard and he’s a team player.
In a survey by the league’s GMs at the start of this season, they were all asked which player they would choose to start their franchise with. Number 1 on the list was Towns getting 48.3% of the vote.
He has MVP and Finals MVP potential and the fact that he’s already known for his supreme work ethic points to him fulfilling that potential. Next season with Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague the Wolves should easily make the Playoffs and then we get to see what Towns is really made off.
1. DeMarcus Cousins - New Orleans Pelicans
Thus far the career of DeMarcus Cousins has been a real rollercoaster. He came into the league after 1 year at Kentucky with a lot of hype. He averaged 14 points and 8.6 rebounds in his rookie season and looked to be a very promising prospect.
Over the next few years, he continued to show just how dominant he can be, becoming a double-double machine and earning his first All-Star nod in 2015. But despite his talent and his progression, he’s never made the Playoffs and he’s developed a reputation as a bad presence in the locker room.
He’s shown a little restraint on the floor and yells at the refs frequently. He’s got a lot of technical fouls so far and ejections to match, but Sacramento was a bad place to play when he was there. They had a very toxic environment which certainly made things worse.
During the All-Star break, Boogie was traded to New Orleans to go play with Anthony Davis, arguably the best power forward in the game. In the short time they had together they showed some promise and with a full training camp, they should be ready to roll over anyone they come up against next season.
Cousins is easily the most skilled big man in the game today. He can do everything both offensively and defensively. He’s incredibly strong and his face up game is just as good as his post game. The duo of Davis and Cousins is easily one of the most anticipated combos to watch next season and, with a bit of chemistry, nobody should be able to stop them.