Bulls

20 in 20: The NBA's top 10 men in the middle

20 in 20: The NBA's top 10 men in the middle

Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010
7:45 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
12. Who are the top 10 centers in the league?

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2009-10 season averages: 18.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 61.2 field-goal percentage in 82 games): The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, last season's league leader in rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal percentage, a freak athlete, almost as durable as Cal Ripken and still not even 25 years old--scary.

2. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2009-10 season averages: 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 52.0 field-goal percentage in 69 games): Before a gruesome injury ended his season prior to the postseason, Bogut, perhaps motivated by an All-Star snub, was the biggest factor in Milwaukee's surprising surge, and with an upgraded supporting cast around him, the Aussie and former top overall draft pick's strong all-around game should no longer fly under the radar.

3. Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers (2009-10 season averages: 18.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 49.0 field-goal percentage in 76 games): The next few players on this list could almost be placed in any particular order, but Kaman's underrated consistency gives him the nod, as he possesses terrific versatility on offense and is a big factor on the boards.

4. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers (2009-10 season averages: 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 57.0 field-goal percentage in 65 games): Bynum's injury concerns continue to be a persistent issue, but when the 22-year-old is healthy, his defensive presence, size and ever-improving offense make him one of the more effective true big men in the game, especially paired with teammate Pau Gasol.

5. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls (2009-10 season averages: 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 50.4 field-goal percentage in 64 games): His abilities have been covered in this space enough, but look for him to make a move up this list by the end of the season, assuming he can stay healthy and his offseason offensive work pays off as expected.

6. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets (2009-10 season averages: 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 49.9 field-goal percentage in 82 games): One of the lone bright spots in the Nets' dismal campaign last season, Lopez is one of the best young bigs in the league, and with the additions of veteran Troy Murphy and rookie Derrick Favors, he should receive less defensive attention, freeing him up to better utilize his polished offensive game.

7. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks (2009-10 season averages: 14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 55.1 field-goal percentage in 81 games): It may seem strange to see Horford, coming off his first All-Star berth, so far down this list, but that's a credit to the much-improved recent play of NBA centers, as the undersized Hawks' high-energy game, consistent work on the glass and developing offense are key to Atlanta's success, even if he might be better suited to play power forward.

8. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2008-09 season averages: 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 54.8 field-goal percentage in 77 games; missed entire 2009-10 season with injury): Obviously Yao would be at or near the top of the heap if he wasn't coming off such a major injury, but even with the pre-imposed half-game minutes-limitation set by the Rockets before the season, expect to see flashes of his old abilities on occasion.

9. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (2009-10 season averages: 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 58.1 field-goal percentage in 69 games): If there were more touches available on the Grizzlies or he was in a situation where he wasn't paired with another low-post scorer (Zach Randolph), the "other" Gasol would be higher on this list, as his fundamentally-sound (albeit ground-bound) offensive game, surprising finesse and tough rebounding are weapons the majority of teams in the league would love to have.

10. Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers (2009-10 season averages: 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 60.5 field-goal percentage in 21 games): Considered a bust by those who don't observe him closely, before he was hurt last season, Oden figured out a niche for himself--on a team that only requires that he play a limited role in the first place--as a dominant defensive presence, efficient in-close scorer and effective rebounder.

Next 10 (in alphabetical order):

Marcus Camby, Portland Trailblazers: Assuming Oden is healthy all season--a big if--the seemingly ageless Camby will be a backup, but regardless of his role, he continues to be one of the league's more effective defenders and rebounders year after year.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: Cousins possesses the versatility to also play forward, but since his size will likely dictate center being his long-term position, it's easier to project him there, where his combination of power and finesse should make an immediate impact.
Samuel Dalembert, Sacramento Kings: Although the aforementioned Cousins will see minutes in the pivot, Dalembert was acquired to contribute his solid shot-blocking and rebounding abilities to the present, not future version of the young and talented Kings.

Brendan Haywood, Dallas Mavericks: Haywood, projected to begin the season as Dallas' starter after signing an offseason extension--the brittle nature of probable backup and FIBA World Championships gold medalist Tyson Chandler prevents him from making the cut--was regarded as an underachiever early in his career, but has settled into a niche as a big-bodied, solid rebounding presence, with more than adequate abilities on both ends.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: The Georgetown product continues to make progress each season and while his team's misfortunes have kept him off the radar, he's quietly developing into a quite promising young big man.

JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards: A Chicago native, the still-raw and freaky-athletic McGee has as much potential as any center in the league.

Nene, Denver Nuggets: Vastly underrated by many, the Brazilian big man is tough in all facets of the game, but nagging injuries have kept him from taking the next step.

Emeka Okafor, New Orleans Hornets: The former Rookie of the Year, coming off the worst season of his career, may not be dominant, but when free from health concerns, is more than serviceable at his position, if undersized.
Mehmet Okur, Utah Jazz: Okur--who surely would have helped the Turkish national team this summer--will be sidelined for at least the early portion of the season, and while new Jazz acquisition Al Jefferson will cut into his minutes, his uncanny outside range makes him an offensive mismatch.

Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics: Another player who will miss time to begin the season--the veteran O'Neals, Jermaine and Shaquille, will attempt to hold down the fort in his absence--Perkins isn't flashy or incredibly gifted offensively, but his physicality, rebounding presence and defensive acumen are a big part of why the aging Celtics have maintained their level of excellence.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen held scoreless in 2nd half in loss vs Sixers

bulls_outsiders_podcast_website_listen_now.jpg
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen held scoreless in 2nd half in loss vs Sixers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 100-89 loss to Philadelphia.

1:00 - On Lauri Markkanen going scoreless in the second half

3:50 - Viewer comment on Lauri needs to be traded

6:10 - On Kornet vs Markkanen’s production

6:55 - On Zach LaVine and 0 for 7 from three

10:05 - Viewer comment on Markkanen struggling

11:25 - Viewer comment wanting Joakim Noah back

13:00 - Viewer comment saying Lauri needs to demand the ball

15:45 - Viewer comment on Sabine’s outfit

16:50 - On the national perspective of this Bulls team

19:05 - Matt Peck rant on Denzel Valentine getting another DNP

21:00 - More viewer comments on Sabine’s outfit

22:05 - Viewer comment on the system and Markkanen

23:30 - Lauri tweets the correct way to pronounce his name

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

For the Bulls' rebuild to succeed, Lauri Markkanen must produce consistently

For the Bulls' rebuild to succeed, Lauri Markkanen must produce consistently

PHILADELPHIA — Above all else, Lauri Markkanen is a team-first player.

The Bulls need Lauri Markkanen to produce more.

Markkanen doesn’t like to force shots.

The Bulls need the third-year forward to shoot more.

Therein lies the at times contradictory dynamic that is helping sink the Bulls’ season. That’s not overdramatizing matters either, which is why this issue has been written about often this season—and again Friday night after the Bulls dropped to 1-17 against winning teams following their 100-89 loss to the 76ers.

At halftime, all seemed well. The Bulls took advantage of a 76ers team playing without Joel Embiid to lead by one with Markkanen scoring 12 points on seven shots.

In the second half, the 76ers ran away and hid with Furkan Korkmaz scoring a career-high 24 points, double Markkanen’s output.

Yes, the player the Bulls anointed as one ready for a breakout season failed to score in the second half. Worse, he took just two shots. Luke Kornet attempted more shots than Markkanen in the game.

“I know I can probably attack the rim a little bit more often and be more aggressive and obviously try to get to my spots. But I didn’t feel that I had the opportunities where I could really attack the closeout. So I just tried to play the system and find the open man,” Markkanen said. “I probably have to be [more selfish]. Obviously, I have to get the ball and get to those spots I can take those shots. I’m a team-first guy. So I’m going to do whatever we need to do. But obviously a big part of it is me playing at my own level.

“I got a couple looks in the second half that I could’ve probably launched. But they were deep 3s. And without touching the ball for 5 minutes, I didn’t feel like shooting at that point. It was pretty contested. So I just moved the ball.”

There’s so much to parse from this quote that it may take 10 minutes, 38 seconds to break it all down.

That’s the amount of time Markkanen sat from exiting with 5:29 left in the first quarter—after throwing down two dunks—until returning in the second. He promptly added another dunk and a 3-pointer.

“Obviously the first time you touch the basketball feels a little different after that period of [rest] time,” Markkanen said. “But other than that, I don’t think it affects me. I’m still young. I’m pretty warm even after that kind of stretch. I don’t really feel it.”

When Markkanen averaged 26 points and 12.2 points in 11 February games last season, he averaged 36.3 minutes and took 18.1 shots. He's averaging 30 minutes this season on 12 shots per game.

He attempted 12.7 shots per game his rookie season. To clarify: Kornet taking more shots than Markkanen in a game and Markkanen attempting fewer shots than his rookie season are not good developments.

“We do have to get him going more. Some of it is on him. Some of it is on me,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I just want him to be aggressive. He handles the ball in transition. He rebounds the ball. Offensive rebounds, he had a couple opportunities there. He slashed to the basket in the first half and got a couple great dunks and plays. Gotta keep your energy up and we have to get him involved.

“I just think it’s a learning and growing thing. There have been times he has been very aggressive and he has got himself involved. There are times where I have to get him involved.”

Part of that, obviously, would be playing Markkanen more. He logged 28:48 against the 76ers.

“That’s what it’s been my whole career, right?” Markkanen asked reporters.

Told that he averaged 32.2 minutes last season, including that even busier February stretch, Markkanen alluded to the need to get Thad Young playing time.

“Thad is a key player for us,” Markkanen said.

But this was sold as Markkanen’s breakout season. When the Bulls signed Young in free agency, management and Boylen publicly painted the move as a complementary one to benefit Markkanen.

Instead, the same storyline keeps repeating itself.

It’s not Markkanen’s rolled left ankle. He was able to joke about getting dunked on by Ben Simmons when asked about it.

“I can tell I rolled it a week or so ago. But it’s definitely getting better,” he said. “I still don’t have too much pop on it. But the pain is going away. That’s probably why I got dunked on.”

Markkanen said he feels he has a strong enough relationship with Boylen to ask him to play more if he needed to. But, again, he’s a team-first guy and knows Young is a valuable piece.

“He goes with how the game is going and who is rolling and who is on the floor from there. That’s his decision,” Markkanen said of Boylen determining playing time. “I’m ready whenever my name is called.

“I feel like we have a good relationship. I don’t mind talking to him. We have conversations pretty often. We haven’t talked about [playing time] too much because we know the situation and that’s the way we’re going to run.”

The situation is Markkanen needs to produce more if the Bulls’ rebuild is going to succeed. It’s as simple as that.

“I’ve had my good moments. I think I’m getting my rhythm back on my shots. Obviously, I can be more aggressive,” Markkanen said. “It’s a different system that we’re running and different kind of spots that my shots are coming from. So it’s a little different. But obviously, I can do more.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.