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Ranking The NBA’s Top 10 Centers

Basketball Insiders ranks the NBA’s top 10 centers entering the 2016-17 season.

Jonathan Concool

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This week, Basketball Insiders has been ranking the top 10 players at each position. To wrap up the series, we turn our attention to the league’s best centers. Although the modern NBA puts a heavier focus on perimeter talent, the league still features a number of talented big men who make their presence felt on both ends of the court.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our lists of the top 10 point guards, top 10 shooting guards, top 10 small forwards and top 10 power forwards. Without further ado, here are our top 10 centers entering the 2016-17 NBA season.

1. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

DeMarcus Cousins, who enters his seventh season with the Sacramento Kings, will be playing for his sixth different head coach. Despite playing in an unstable situation, Cousins has solidified himself as the best overall center in the NBA. Last season, Cousins averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds while finishing with the sixth-most double-doubles (47) among all players. Cousins is a tough guard for anybody because of his unbelievable strength, soft touch around the rim, solid shooting and ability to take the ball off the dribble. With his impressive ball-handling skills and underrated vision, Cousins occasionally acts as a playmaker for his team, which is why he averaged more than three assists per game last season.

Cousins is no slouch on defense either. Though he may not produce at the same level of big men like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside, Cousins is surprisingly mobile for his size, can situationally challenge players on the perimeter and alters a ton of shots in the paint. Cousins is well-rounded and capable of single-handedly taking over a game. Also, he’s only 26 years old, meaning he likely still has room to improve.

2. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

When DeAndre Jordan first entered the league as the No. 35 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, even his most diehard supporters likely would have hesitated to argue that Jordan would one day be a top center in the NBA. However, Jordan has steadily improved his game each season of his career and he put together his best overall campaign last season. When Blake Griffin went down with a hand and quad injury, Jordan stepped up in a big way. Jordan, who arguably should have been an All-Star last year, averaged 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He is simply a beast on the boards and he has led the league in rebounds per game for two of the past three years. Jordan also led the league in field goal percentage last season, shooting a very impressive 70.3 percent – which was just shy of the NBA record held by Wilt Chamberlain (72.7 percent). Jordan still isn’t a guy you can throw the ball to and ask him to get a bucket on his own, but he is still a big help on offense for the Clippers. He runs the court exceptionally well (often leading to alley-oop opportunities), creates a ton of gravity rolling to the basket off a pick-and-roll and has nearly perfected the art of handing the ball off to a curling J.J. Redick and screening his defender, opening him up consistently for a three-pointer.

Where Jordan is most effective on the court though is on the defensive end. Jordan’s 2.3 blocks per game ranked second in the league last season and he was selected to his second consecutive NBA All-Defensive First Team. With his 7’6 wingspan, mobility and leaping ability, Jordan is able to disrupt shots all over the court. Over the years, he has learned to not bite at every shot fake and is now able to anchor his team’s defense from the painted area. He’s coming off of a nice run with Team USA, which could help his confidence and development even further, so expect Jordan to continue producing at a high level in 2016-17.

3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Some people may think that this ranking is too high since Towns has only played a single year in the league, and perhaps those people have a point, but first give me a second to explain why Karl-Anthony Towns sits at number three on this list. Towns had a monster rookie season, showing off a complete game, sweeping the Rookie of the Month awards in the Western Conference and unanimously winning the Rookie of the Year award (which is just the fifth time that’s happened). Towns made an immediate impact with the Timberwolves, as he averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.7 blocks per game, while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three-point range. Just to add some perspective, Anthony Davis’ rookie season averages were 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, one assist and 1.8 blocks, while shooting 51.6 percent from the field. Towns posted a PER of 22.5, which was the fifth-highest PER by a rookie since the merger behind only Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan.

These are incredible numbers for a rookie center who had only one year of college experience. But beyond individual statistics, Towns was instrumental in helping the Timberwolves increase their total wins by 13 games last year. Beyond his incredibly well-rounded offensive game, Towns is also a very good defensive anchor. He can switch out to smaller players on the perimeter, make timely rotations, has good awareness as a weak side defender and is an effective rim protector. With Tom Thibodeau taking over as the team’s head coach, Towns will surely improve on this end of the court, which is a scary prospect for the rest of the league. In today’s NBA, Towns is the prototypical center and there’s no question that the 20-year-old is way ahead of the curve when it comes to his development.

4. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

If not for a season-ending injury, Marc Gasol might have found himself in the top three of this list. Prior to the injury, Gasol was averaging a solid line of 16.6 points, seven rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Gasol is the anchor of the Grizzlies and that became even more evident once he got injured, as the team started to fall in the standings. Offensively, Gasol is able to stretch the court with his shooting, post up on the block and turn and shoot over his shoulders. Also, he is one of the best passing big men in the league. This makes him one of the toughest defensive covers in the league.

Defensively, Gasol is one of the most intelligent big men in the NBA. Over the years, Gasol has managed to form a surprisingly effective defensive frontcourt with Zach Randolph and has established himself as one of the best overall rim protectors in the league. Having that sort of big man is what allows the Grizzlies to play such an aggressive brand of defense, which has been their signature for several years now.

5. Al Horford, Boston Celtics

This offseason, Al Horford decided to leave the Atlanta Hawks to sign with the Boston Celtics. Horford is a do-it-all type of center with no real weaknesses in his game. In his last season with the Hawks, he averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Horford is a four-time All-Star and now has the challenge of taking the Celtics to the next step in their development.

Horford should fit in quite nicely with the Celtics considering his skill set, intelligence and selflessness. Horford isn’t the best rim protector in the league, but he knows how to work within a team defense and always seems to be in the right position to contest a shot at the rim. On offense, his ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line will open up space for guys like Isaiah Thomas to drive and create for others. Signing Horford was a huge move for the Celtics and may have positioned them to be the biggest challengers to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

6. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Andre Drummond had a monster 2015-16 season and will look to do more of the same this year. Drummond made history early last season as he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to record three 20-point, 20-rebound games in the first six games of the season. The big man’s dominant season earned him a five-year, $130 million deal from the Pistons this summer.

Drummond averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game last season and led the league in double-doubles (66). Drummond helped carry the Pistons to their first playoff appearance in six years. Throughout the year, he put together several stand out games such as his 29-point, 27-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers and his 33-point, 21-rebound outing against the Chicago Bulls. Drummond still needs to improve his offensive game and, most importantly, his poor free throw shooting (as he shot an NBA-worst 35.5 percent from from the line last season). Nevertheless, coming off his first All-Star selection and being just 23 years old, the future sure looks bright for the Pistons big man.

7. Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT

Hassan Whiteside has been one of the best stories in the NBA over the last few years. Whiteside fell out of the NBA early in his career, spent some time overseas and in the D-League and then came back to the NBA in a big way in 2014. Whiteside’s impressive play last season earned him a four-year, $98 million dollar max-contract from the Miami HEAT in July.

Last season, Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. Whiteside’s breakout season included three monster triple-doubles in which he logged 10 blocks. Whiteside also became the fastest HEAT player to reach 300 blocks last season, as he was able to do it in just 94 games. Whiteside finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting (behind only Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green) and he was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team. It’s also worth noting that Whiteside had the eighth-best PER in the NBA last year (25.7), and ranked first among starting centers. This season, with Dwyane Wade gone and Chris Bosh no longer playing for Miami, Whiteside will be the team’s focal point and will likely be asked to take on a larger role offensively (while continuing to anchor the HEAT’s defense). From playing in Lebanon to becoming a max-contract player, Whiteside’s story is incredible, but it’s far from over.

8. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Gobert, the No. 27 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, has become a very effective center much quicker than anyone expected. The 24-year-old has emerged as one of the NBA’s best defensive centers, blocking 2.2 shots per game and altering many others. Opponents shot just 41 percent at the rim when challenged by Gobert, which was the best rim protection percentage in the NBA last season. At 7’1 with a 7’8 wingspan, Gobert is match-up nightmare for opposing big men. Last season, Gobert was on the verge of averaging a double-double – putting up 9.1 points, 11 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.2 blocks per game, while shooting 55.9 percent from the field. Although there is still a lot of room for Gobert to improve – particularly on the offensive end of the court – his defensive accomplishments still make him a top-10 center in today’s NBA. As he continues to develop, he could continue to climb these rankings.

9. Dwight Howard, Atlanta Hawks

It wasn’t long ago that Dwight Howard was the clear-cut No. 1 center in the NBA. He filled the stat sheet, led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals, won three-straight Defensive Player of the Year awards and made five-straight All-NBA First Teams. Well, quite a bit has changed since then. Howard has seen a steady decline in production in recent years, but he’s hoping a change of scenery will allow him to return to form. In July, the big man decided to leave the Houston Rockets to sign a three-year, $70.5 million deal. Although Howard’s numbers aren’t what they used to be, he is still a top center in the league. Last year, he averaged 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 62 percent from the field. He had 38 double-doubles, which ranked 10th in the NBA. Always known for his defense, Howard also averaged 1.6 blocks and one steal for Houston last year. It’ll be very interesting to see how the Hawks and head coach Mike Budenholzer use Howard in Atlanta. If he can stay healthy, we could see some vintage Howard performances. A number of Hawks players have already said that they expect Howard to be the leader of this team, so don’t be surprised if this is a big bounce-back year for the 30-year-old.

10. Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Steven Adams rounds out the top-10 list after a productive year that culminated in a strong postseason. Adams’ regular-season averages – eight points,  6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game – may not jump off the page. But keep in mind that he was playing just 25.2 minutes a night and doing a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. With that said, if you look at the last two months of the season and the playoffs, Adams’ averages were up to 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. And in 18 playoff games, Adams averaged 10.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and .8 blocks, while shooting 61.3 percent from the field. With a 12-point, 17-rebound performance in a win against San Antonio during the second round of the playoffs, and a 16-point, 12-rebound outing in a win against Golden State during the Western Conference Finals, Adams showed he’s not afraid of the big stage. He was a big part of Oklahoma City’s success and made huge strides in his third season. Adams just turned 23 years old in late July, so his best basketball is almost certainly ahead of him. And with Serge Ibaka now in Orlando and Kevin Durant leaving for Golden State, expect Adams to become a bigger part of OKC’s attack.

Jonathan Concool is an NBA writer based out of San Francisco, CA entering his third season with Basketball Insiders.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

David Yapkowitz breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and now it is time to pick the losers of the NBA Draft.

5.) Phoenix Suns

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft. They selected Deandre Ayton number one overall. The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but traded his rights to the Sixers for Mikal Bridges. The Suns in the second round selected Elie Okobo from France and then drafted George King from Colorado. The Suns did a great job by getting two players that will be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team. Ff not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

4.) Orlando Magic

The Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba and also drafted Melvin Frazier from Tulane in the second round. The Magic got a steal here, and I am surprised he fell to Orlando. The Magic got a player who can contribute right away and start as well. He is a great rebounder and a great defensive player. He will be changing the Magic defense just himself. The Magic now have two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba. This team can be very scary on the defensive end. The offensive end is still a work in progress, but they are in great shape with the defensive end of the floor. I am very excited to see what Bamba can do at the next level and if he can carry this Magic team to the next level that they need to be at.

3.) Atlanta Hawks

Despite the Hawks trading Luka Doncic, the Hawk drafted players that can help and contribute right away, plus Quavo from the Migos got his wish of Trae Young being selected. With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and they took Omari Spellman from Villanova with their third pick in the first round. The Hawks are starting to build themselves like the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with the Golden State Warriors before taking the job with the Hawks. They have the core for their future and I am really excited to see what Young can do in the NBA.

2.) Boston Celtics

The Celtics once again got a steal in Robert Williams from Texas A&M. They get another athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. I am pretty surprised he fell this far. He is another rim protector the Celtics can use. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in college. He will also provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in college. He is just a monster on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards. He would have been a lottery pick in last years draft, but he decided to stay in school another year, and I am sure the Celtics are happy about that.

1.) Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks have the best young backcourt duo in the NBA now in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. They also drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ younger brother, in the second round. I love the Mavs’ backcourt a lot. It is going to be very scary in a couple of years. It will take time and patience to develop them, but it will be worth it. This is going to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Mavs. The Mavs have set themselves up not only for the future, but also to compete and to try to get into the playoffs. It also depends if they can bring in a max player in free agency, but I love the core the Mavs are building. The Mavs should be a better defensive team next season, and will be a better offensive team next season with the weapons they have added to the team.

The Mavs are the clear cut winners of the 2018 NBA Draft.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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