Even though the NBA is full of superstar players, very few of them play at the center position. So much attention is focused on the speedy guards and dominating wing players, but there isn’t a lot of talk about centers who are lighting it up on a nightly basis. With players like Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah as the league’s biggest-named centers, it’s easy to overlook the centers that don’t make SportsCenter’s highlights.
The NBA recently voted to change the All-Star ballot format, opting to include three forward spots and discontinuing a center position. It may seem like the NBA is trying to kill the center position, but these five players (in no particular order) are keeping it very much alive.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks – Without arguably their best player, the Atlanta Hawks were still able to make the playoffs last season. Horford went down with a torn pectoral muscle in late December and would go on to miss the rest of the season, a total of 53 games. Playing without Horford, the eighth-seeded Hawks snuck into the playoffs and gave the top-seeded Indiana Pacers all that they could handle before being eliminated in seven games.
A Hawks team with a healthy Horford could really be something, especially in the Eastern Conference, this season. The key component to that equation is Horford has to remain healthy. We’ve seen what the Hawks can do without him, now it’s time to see what they can do with him. In 29 games, Horford was averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting a blistering 57 percent from the field before going down with that injury. With all of the talk about centers squarely on players like Howard and Noah, Horford is another player not getting nearly enough praise. Horford has been plagued by injuries before and it will likely take him playing a full season injury-free in order to get himself mentioned in the same breath as the other elite big men. With a healthy Horford, the Hawks might find themselves competing with the HEAT, Wizards and Hornets for the Southeast Division crown.
Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors – Bogut is one of the most underrated centers in the league, mainly due to his health issues. Bogut hasn’t played in over 70 regular season games since 2008, when he played in 78 games for the Milwaukee Bucks. Last season, Bogut appeared to be healthier as he played in 67 games after playing in just 32 games the season before.
Bogut is said to be healthy heading into training camp and the start of this season, which means the Warriors will be looking to improve on last season’s 51-31 record. While Bogut contributed largely to the Warriors locking in the sixth seed last year, he missed the entire seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers and his absence was huge. Without Bogut, the Warriors leaned on David Lee and Jermaine O’Neal to guard DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, which was a less-than-ideal matchup. Bogut is a guy that the Warriors can count on to provide great interior defense and he has shown the ability to score when necessary. Last season Bogut averaged 1.8 blocks, which is far lower than what he’s capable of as he blocked 2.6 shots per game back in 2011, but he still remains a threat in the post on defense.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets – Jefferson has been in the league for 10 seasons, and it’s fair to say that he has been underrated for at least six of those seasons. Last season, Jefferson scored the second-most points per game of his career at 21.8 while adding 10.8 rebounds a game for the up-and-coming Bobcats (now the Hornets). With much higher expectations being placed on those Hornets with the arrival of Lance Stephenson, the team is finally in a place to compete and they have a legitimate chance of making some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Jefferson’s 21.8 points a game last season were largely in part to his superb offensive post moves due to being able to finish with both hands. While his offense has been a huge part of his game, defense wasn’t always one of his strong suits. Since arriving in Charlotte, Jefferson’s defense has improved largely thanks to head coach Steve Clifford’s defensive schemes. As pointed out by Dylan Murphy of Bleacher Report, Jefferson benefits by having a supporting cast of quick guards to defend the perimeter, which allows Jefferson to focus on the post where he can use his size and strength to clog the lane. The Hornets will continue to rely heavily on Jefferson this season and he’ll help them compete with the top teams in the East.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – At just 23 years old, Vucevic is anchoring the Magic’s young, promising core of players. Last season, Vucevic averaged 14.2 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the floor. For a team that will be looking for a leading scorer this season, Vucevic will be a top candidate to fill that role in Orlando.
Vucevic separates himself from most centers with his ability to shoot the mid-range shot, very reminiscent to Tim Duncan. In just two seasons in Orlando, Vucevic has had six games where he’s contributed at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, including two 30-20 games. Vucevic is always a threat for a double-double, as he recorded 36 double-doubles last season in 57 games. His lack of athleticism may prevent him from becoming an elite defender but he holds his own on most nights. He still has room to improve as he’ll begin his fourth season come October and that’s what has the future so bright in Orlando.
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves – The future for the Timberwolves just got a whole lot brighter over the summer with the additions of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett. While the Wolves added those players for the future, they still have players on the team that are making an immediate impact right now and one of those players is Nikola Pekovic. The 6’11, 285-pound big man is 28 years old, but has only been in the league for four seasons and has shown he is very capable of being a scoring threat each night. Pekovic averaged 17.4 points on 54 percent shooting and 8.7 rebounds last season. With the emergence of Gorgui Dieng in Minnesota, Pekovic may become expendable in the next season or two and could provide a contending team a lot of help if the ‘Wolves decide to move him.
Which centers do you think should be included as most underrated in the NBA? Let us know below!
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.