NBA Question of the Day: Who are the Top 5 centers?
Who are the Top 5 centers?
From now until NBA camps begin, we’ll be asking a question about the league and the upcoming season. Today: Who are the Top 5 centers in the NBA?
BOSTON – For so many years the NBA was a league dominated by the biggest, strongest, most athletic players.
And for those who want to see those games again, NBA classics on YouTube is your best bet.
Because in this day and age, it’s the basketball Goliaths trying to slay the David and not the other way around.
The NBA’s league MVP each of the past two seasons was Golden State’s Stephen Curry, a sharp-shooting, skinny-as-a-toothpick scoring assassin whose game has become what so many young folks big and small, try to emulate.
This shift in power is particularly noticeable when you talk about NBA centers, who, for many teams, are actually throwback power forwards.
But there are still some teams that aren’t quite ready to toss their big, burly bangers to the end of the bench but instead utilize their many talents that lately tend to get passed over for ‘stretch bigs’ who can shoot 3s.
For those who still like their big men to be well, big men in every sense of the word, here’s a look at the top five old-school centers who, for the most part, do their best work around the rim.
Marc Gasol, Memphis
A former league Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, this 7-foot-1, 255-pound mound of massiveness would be a lot higher on this list if he hadn’t missed so much of last season with a foot injury.
Gasol played in a career-low 52 games last season, but he still did enough to remind anyone watching that he was a physical presence around the rim who could at times score from the perimeter if you sag off him too much.
He has a career rebounding average of 7.8 per game, but grabbed a career-low 7.0 last season.
What you like about Gasol is that while the game has changed as far as how centers play, his game remains steady as ever.
He likes to get the ball in the post and orchestrate the offense, whether that means looking to score for himself or waiting for the double-team and finding a teammate for a good look at the basket.
Gasol has averaged 3.1 assists throughout his career, and tallied 3.8 per game last season.
Like the rest of the Grizzlies who finished with the seventh best record in the West last season, Gasol is eager to do more than just play better but lead the Grizzlies back to a favorable playoff position and personally, returning to the All-Star Game.
Andre Drummond, Detroit
Drummond is a power player, all day, all the time when he’s on the floor. He led the NBA last season in double-doubles with 66 (that included a league-best 14.8 rebounds per game) which speaks to the work he puts in around the rim.
His 343 put-back attempts also led the NBA as did his 370 total points off of put-backs this past season.
But like most big men, often what is a blessing for them as a player is also a burden.
Because Drummond has pretty much no game of significance outside of the paint, it to some degree limits his effectiveness.
And while his size is certainly a positive for the Pistons in terms of defense, a player with his physical tools should be a more dominant team defender.
According to NBA.com/stats, players shot 52.6 percent at the rim against Drummond which was next-to-last in the NBA among centers who logged at least 2,000 minutes played last season.
Tack on the fact that he is such a horrible free throw shooter and it adds up to a really good center who isn’t quite on the same level as the top two or three at his respective position.
Marcin Gortat, Washington
He doesn’t get as much hype as some of the NBA’s other traditional centers, but Gortat is a load to deal with on the floor.
His strength is certainly a major factor in his success.
But for those who have had to play against him, they quickly find out that the 6-11, 240-pound center moves really well without the ball when he’s trying to get to the rim.
Last season, Gortat was in fact one of the league’s best players when it came to getting to the rim.
He had 307 possessions on cuts to the rim last season which was tops in the NBA.
In addition, the 32-year-old also led the league in points off cuts (348), field goals made (150) and attempted (260) on cuts to the basket.
So, while others have a solid case for being among the best centers, an argument can be made for Gortat being viewed as a cut – pun totally intended – above most.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
If we’re talking talent alone, there isn’t a team in the NBA that would not want to have Cousins on their roster. But as we all know, there’s more to Cousins’ game than what happens on the court.
At 6-10, Cousins is a bit of an oddity: a big man with the talent to take over games single-handedly.
Last season, he had 209 possessions of isolation basketball, tops among NBA centers and ahead of more heralded guards known for their isolation scoring such as Golden State’s Stephen Curry (201), Washington’s John Wall (200) and his Sacramento teammate (for now at least) Rudy Gay (193).
But what makes Cousins so special is that he can do more than score in iso situations around the rim. He can also score from long range which makes him such a nightmare to defend.
Not only do you have to worry about him scoring in the paint via back-downs or over-the-shoulder action, but you also have to be concerned about his ability to score off the dribble and from long range.
But defensively, Cousins isn’t where he should be in order to position himself to be the best center in the NBA.
Like any center, the most important part of his defense has to be having an ability to successfully defend at the rim.
According to NBA.com/stats, opponents shot 50.4 percent from the field at the rim against Cousins.
Despite his struggles defensively, Cousins is such a dominant offensive force that on many nights that serves as more than enough to win his matchup. But if he is to take that next step as a player and lead his team to more victories, it has to be done with better defense. Because right now, that’s the only part of his game that’s in need of a significant upgrade.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
He doesn’t score as much as DeMarcus Cousins and he’s not nearly as dominant an inside force as Andre Drummond, but Jordan has really distinguished himself the past couple of seasons as one of the league’s better centers.
Jordan is known for his lob dunks in transition, his lob dunks on defenders (sorry Brandon Knight, I couldn’t resist) in addition to swatting a few shots a few rows back from time to time.
But when you start to look at Jordan’s game, it’s clear that he does so much more for the Clippers, which is among the many reasons why ex-Celtics head coach Doc Rivers probably lobbies harder for Jordan to get annual accolades than any player he has coached previously.
A lot of what Jordan does that directly impacts winning, isn’t the sexiest parts of the game.
He blocks a good amount of shots, but he also does an excellent job contesting them, too. Last season, opponents shot just 46.4 percent at the rim against him which put him among the NBA’s leaders at the center position.
And while he has been given a ton of grief about not being very good offensively, he still manages to be a major contributor to the team’s scoring and often it comes about without a play being called for him or for that matter, him touching the ball.
With the Clippers, Jordan is surrounded by some of the better shooters/scorers in the game like J.J. Redick and point guard Chris Paul.
They know how to find Jordan for lobs, but he also knows how to free them up for the kind of shots that they want to take which is evident by him racking up a league-best 6.7 player screen assists per game last season.
Simply put, he knows how to set screens with the best of them so that his teammates can be free to shoot wide open to lightly contested shots.
So, while there are certainly centers who can score the ball better than Jordan, his ability to be an elite defender while contributing significantly to the Clippers’ cause either with his own scoring or the freeing up of his teammates, are just some of the reasons why Jordan is the top center in the game right now.