We conclude our ‘Top of the Class’ series with a look at the league’s best centers as we head into the 2015-16 regular season. As a reminder, we broke down the league’s top point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards throughout the week as well.
Some may say the position is no longer necessary at this stage, and while the game has certainly shifted, today’s list will hopefully prove plenty of talent remains in and around the pivot.
#6 – Chris Bosh – Miami HEAT
Although Miami’s Hassan Whiteside appears to be the starting center as the team moves forward, Bosh was the starting center for the HEAT when we last saw him in action. He’ll likely play at the power forward position alongside Whiteside upon returning, but when Bosh last graced the court he was clearly still a top-6 center. In fact, don’t be surpised to see Bosh slide back to the center position in the event of foul trouble and in cases where the matchup requires someone with a bit more defensive versatility. We’ll let Coach Spoelstra “worry” over the details of his rotation, but more than anything we’re all just happy to see Bosh return to action following a blood clot that caused him to miss the final 38 games of last season.
#5 – Al Horford – Atlanta Hawks
Horford’s name may often be left off lists of this nature, but let’s not allow the fact that he plays for a team some may not pay much attention to prior to last season get in the way of the facts. While his numbers and productivity may have declined due to Atlanta’s “all-hands-on-deck” mentality when it comes to spreading the wealth on the offensive end, Horford still tends to shine when the moment calls for it. The 76 games Horford played in 2014-15 were the most he’s suited up for in four seasons, and we can’t help but think the reduction in responsibility and a slight decrease of minutes played had to at least play a small role in his durability last year.
#4 – Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets
Say what you will about Howard, but he’s played remarkably well for the Rockets when he’s been healthy. In fact, a strong argument could be made that while James Harden carried the bulk of the load throughout the regular season, Howard has actually been their best player for the past two postseasons. The trouble for Howard is his body appears to be showing signs of wear and tear after 11 seasons or grinding in the post. If his most recent playoff performance (16.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG in 17 games) is an indicator of how well his knee and shoulder have healed, then the baller formerly known as “Superman…2” should return to being the dominant defensive presence that he’s been throughout his career.
#3 – DeAndre Jordan – Los Angeles Clippers
Folks may be tired of discussing Jordan due to the ‘backtrack’ heard ’round the world,’ but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Jordan is still the athletic freak and defense-oriented talent that had several teams falling over backwards to acquire his services. Still a flawed offensive player, Jordan is able to offset many of his weaknesses by protecting the rim and perhaps being the perfect big for the uptempo game the Clippers seem to prefer. Jordan may not be the reincarnation of Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal the Dallas Mavericks were hyperbolically calling him while courting him during free agency, but he did show an ability to act as a viable post option over several stretches (16 PPG, 17.2 RPG in February) last season. The Clippers can only hope all the positive vibes and unity that appeared to come from the re-recruitment process this summer can carry over into the regular season.
#2 – DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings
Should he stay or will he go? While the rumors, tweets and public declarations have seemed to slow for now, the question over whether the Kings will eventually have to decide between their head coach (George Karl) or a budding 24-year-old that put up 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game last season remains. Not an ideal situation to say the least, but whichever team Cousins is ultimately on should have a player with all the motivation in the world to disprove any that may still have doubts about whether he is good enough to warrant having a franchise centered around him. Perhaps, even motivated enough to eclipse all others and earn the top spot in next year’s list.
#1 – Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies
Gasol may not do anything flashy enough for the casual fan to see why he should still be considered the best all-around player in the post, but those that look beyond the box score understand just why he is. In 2014-15, Gasol shot 49.4 percent from the field, 79.5 from the free throw line (excellent for a center) and still managed to snag 7.8 RPG in a frontcourt shared with Zach Randolph (10.5 RPG). Gasol is an excellent team defender that will also protect the rim. Balancing great footwork with an strong game from both inside and out, Gasol is also regularly amongst the leaders in assists from the center position (3.8 APG last season).
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – Vucevic has continued to evolve into one of the better offensive weapons at the position. His 19.3 PPG, 52.3 field goal percentage and 2.0 APG were each career high averages for the 24-year-old center.
Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns – Health has always been the key for Chandler, but we anticipate him putting forth another stellar effort as he splits time with Alex Len and benefits from the Suns’ renowned training/medical staff.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – Drummond may possess somewhat of a “no frills” game, but that’s (likely) entirely acceptable for Coach Van Gundy. Just so long as he continues to feast on the backboards (13.5 RPG last season) and protect the rim (1.9 BPG last season). Drummond could be in for a bit of a breakout year (offensively) with Greg Monroe and Josh Smith (traded away last season) out of the mix.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets – When healthy, Lopez is a top-5 offensive big man. That problematic foot remains a concern, but Lopez should still be expected to get the job done in Brooklyn in the meantime.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz – Gobert’s numbers may not jump off the screen (8.4 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG last season), but there was a significant improvement from his rookie season to the end of his second year once he was placed into the main rotation. Look for him to take yet another step under Coach Snyder next season.
Others Within Range:
Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls), Roy Hibbert ( Los Angeles Lakers), Al Jefferson (Charlotte Hornets)
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