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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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NBA Daily: Khris Middleton Should Be The Bucks’ Closer

Bobby Krivitsky breaks down Khirs Middleton’s season and explains how the Milwaukee Bucks second star has earned more opportunities in crunch time.

Bobby Krivitsky

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For the Milwaukee Bucks, being one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams doesn’t mean much. In each of the last two seasons, the players and their fans have enjoyed this movie’s rising action but, as winning the title is the ultimate goal, left the theatre disappointed.

In order to get that satisfying conclusion, Milwaukee must make some changes. And, to start the 2020-21 season, they’ve tried to do just that. As expected, Mike Budenholzer is more flexible in his approach this season than in year’s past. They’ve reshaped their five-out offense, which now features someone, often Giannis Antetokounmpo, occupying the dunker spot. Those are the two areas just outside the paint along the baseline, where a player can catch the ball, take one or two steps, and dunk.

The Bucks are also pursuing their missed shots far more aggressively than they used to; two seasons ago, Budenholzer’s first at the helm, Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage, last year, they ranked 28th. But, through the first 16 games of this season, they’re snatching up 29.2 percent of their misses, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.

Another meaningful difference, arguably the most meaningful, is how the team has allowed Khris Middleton to initiate the offense far more frequently at the end of games. In the final three minutes of games within five points, Middleton’s usage rate has spiked from 30.1 percent in 2019-20 to 40 percent this season.

Once again, Middleton has put together a fantastic season that’s receiving little fanfare. After he averaged a career-high 20.9 points per game last season, he’s improved to 21.8 points through the Bucks’ first 16 games. Middleton is also taking 5.9 three-point attempts per game (knocking them down at a 42.6 percent clip, the second-best mark of his career) and has increased the amount of two-point field goals he’s attempting to 9.8 per contest, making 58 percent of them. 

That combination has produced an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent. Additionally, Middleton has shot 92 percent from the foul line on an average of 3.1 free-throw attempts per game, giving him a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent. Those shooting percentages mean Middleton has a legitimate chance to join the 50-40-90 club; only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Middleton’s also gone from averaging 4.3 assists per game the last two years to dishing out 5.8 dimes this season and has grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game. 

Add it all up and you have a two-time All-Star that ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive win shares, fifth in total win shares and has delivered a compelling opening statement as to why he should make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.

While it may not seem so noteworthy that one of the best wings in the NBA is off to a hot start, the way Middleton has responded to shouldering more responsibility in crunch time should serve as an ingredient to the elixir that can cure the postseason issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Out of every player that has made more than one appearance in crunch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game within five points, the sharpshooting Middleton is eighth in points per game. He’s also yet to turn the ball over in that span.

 

As the pressure mounts and the clock counts down, Middleton’s approach doesn’t change from how he’s played the game’s previous 43 minutes. Whether he’s attacking off a screen from Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez, shooting off the catch, or using a jab step to create the necessary space for him to rise and fire, Middleton knocks down his shots with the same ruthless efficiency.

That said, he could stand to be a bit more assertive in the game’s waning moments. Yes, his usage rate has jumped in the fourth quarter, but there have been instances where Middleton has taken a backseat; in Milwaukee’s recent 112-109 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Middleton managed just two shots in the entire fourth quarter, back-to-back threes that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead the Bucks never relinquished.

Of course, there’s a balancing act that Budenholzer must work out between Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Late in the game, Budenholzer can’t simply take the ball away from Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, and Holiday, a fantastic player in his own right, needs opportunities to have an impact.

But Middleton has done more than enough to show he’s deserving of even more opportunities than what he’s taken for himself this season. And, if the Bucks want to win a title in the near future, it may be in their best interest if Middleton’s the player primarily in charge of initiating their late-game offense.

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NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte

No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.

Chad Smith

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Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.

Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.

But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.

While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.

With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.

Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.

The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.

Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.

Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.

As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.

The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.

It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.

Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.

The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.

He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.

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NBA

NBA Standout Player Watch – Jan. 26

Basketball Insiders releases its first standout player watch of the year for the Eastern Conference. Tristan Tucker highlights some of the players that have shown out but are still vastly underrated.

Tristan Tucker

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This season, the All-Star game will not be played, though players will still be able to receive the honor and go down in the record books all the same. While players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and many more are surefire All-Stars, Basketball Insiders wants to give credit to some of the players that are being overlooked around the league.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Basketball Insiders’ first edition of its standout player watch from the Eastern Conference, in no particular order.

Jerami Grant

When the Detroit Pistons signed Grant, someone that averages 9.8 points across his career, to a three year, $60 million deal in the offseason, everyone around the NBA raised their eyebrows. It was then reported that the Denver Nuggets offered the same deal to try and keep Grant, but he took on a role that would see him be the feature offensive piece in Detroit.

That move has completely paid off and Grant is having a year that almost no one, other than himself, could have expected. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and .9 steals per game, all career highs.

Grant is also having his most efficient season beyond the arc, shooting 38.2 percent from deep on 6.9 attempts per game, a fairly high number.

The Pistons are bad, there’s no way to sugarcoat that, but Grant alongside other pleasant surprises in Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Saddiq Bey have made the team enjoyable to watch. Grant is playing like a legitimate superstar and should be named to the All-Star team this year, in whatever form that may take.

Zach LaVine

Over the last three seasons, LaVine has continued to improve and this season is no different. Despite averaging 23.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 45.3 percent shooting from the floor and 37.4 percent from deep across his Chicago Bulls career, LaVine has yet to make an All-Star team.

Perhaps that will all change this season, as LaVine is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, plus close to a 50/40/90 split. The Bulls are decent this season, currently at 7-9, but for LaVine to be an All-Star lock, they’ll likely need to be in playoff position at the time of All-Star selections.

Jaylen Brown

Brown appeared on Basketball Insiders’ week one MVP ladder, and that was no mistake. There’s a reason Brown was never included in any potential James Harden trade chatter, no matter how much the Houston Rockets may have wanted him – and that’s because he’s the real deal.

This season, Brown is the seventh-leading scorer in the league and is putting up an astounding 27.3 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals, shooting 43 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game.

The Boston Celtics haven’t been at full strength for much of the season, without Jayson Tatum as he deals with a case of COVID-19, but Brown has his franchise among the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference nonetheless.

Julius Randle

Randle had a season to forget last year after signing with the New York Knicks on a three-year, $62 million contract in the summer of 2019, as he took a dip in scoring and efficiency across the board from his breakout season the year before with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Something changed in the 6-foot-8 power forward over the offseason, as he is having a career year with the Knicks and has the team firmly in the playoff picture with an 8-10 record. The main difference in Randle’s game has been his shift in playstyle, transitioning to a playmaking big instead of someone that’s primarily an undersized low post threat.

Randle is averaging career highs in multiple statistical categories, up to 22.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic is criminally underrated year after year and this season is more of the same. One of the only reasons the Orlando Magic is able to remain competitive in the face of huge injuries to key players like Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu is the play of Vucevic.

Vucevic has been giving it his all this season, putting up a career-high in points per game with 23.2 and has put in the work necessary to improve his long-range game. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from three on 6.4 attempts per game, by far and away the best deep shooting performance of his career.

While Vucevic has been named to an All-Star team before, his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the best bigs in the league, a narrative that he’s doing his all to change.

Domantas Sabonis/Malcolm Brogdon/Myles Turner

So many players have been playing stellar ball for the Indiana Pacers that it was impossible to narrow this selection down to just one.

Sabonis has downright played his way into the MVP conversation, notching a double-double in every single game he’s appeared in this season. Sabonis was an All-Star last year, and his play has continued to improve as he’s averaging 20.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.

Brogdon has also played his way into the MVP race, having been included in Basketball Reference’s ladder in the first month alongside Sabonis. It’s not hard to see why as he’s averaging what is by far a career-high 21.9 points with 7.1 assists on 39.5 percent shooting from deep on 7.1 attempts per game. Brogdon has also improved his on-ball defense, averaging 1.6 steals per game, a career-high.

Meanwhile, Turner may just be the most overlooked of them all, as he’s the heart and soul of this Indiana defense. Turner should be firmly in the lead for the Defensive Player of the Year award, as he’s holding opponents to shoot below league average and has averaged a whopping 4.1 blocks per game.

Honorable mentions: De’Andre Hunter, Gordon Hayward

It was hard to narrow this list down in the first place, with so many notable performances coming out of the Eastern Conference on a nightly basis. OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher are showing out for the Toronto Raptors and are helping that team back into the playoff picture, Shake Milton looks like one of the best guards in the conference while Tobias Harris is revitalizing his career under Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers.

However, our honorable mentions this week are De’Andre Hunter and Gordon Hayward, both of whom are playing at a near All-Star level.

Hunter made the jump into a lead wing for the Atlanta Hawks after a promising first season and is up to 17.4 points per game, upping his efficiency across the board and fresh off a 33-point performance versus the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Charlotte Hornets’ signing of Hayward to a huge deal was widely panned across the league but the Hornets were always going to have to empty their pockets to get a player of his caliber. Hayward is averaging 24.1 points per game and is eerily close to a 50/40/90 shooting split. Hayward, alongside teammate Terry Rozier, have the Hornets in contention for a playoff spot, with both players playing at extremely high levels.

With so many outstanding players in the league, this list will be sure to change on a weekly basis. Be sure to check back at Basketball Insiders to see which players continue to shine!

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