The NBA’s Most Underrated Centers

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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!