Centers in the NBA used to dominate on a nightly basis, command double teams, and were arguably one of the top three players in the game, on both sides of the court. Since the days of David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal, the center position has seen its lack of pure dominance.
Looking at some of the game’s current centers, each does possess a unique skill set though. Here’s a breakdown of the top five centers for 2013-2014.
In what was considered a down year for D12 in Los Angeles with all of the team’s expectations, Howard still led the league in rebounding for the fifth time in his career, averaging 12.4 per game. Now in Houston, he pairs with a young star in James Harden and a supporting cast full of shooters, similar to what he had in Orlando when he carried them to the 2009 NBA Finals. When it comes to big men and their production, it does not always come down to numbers. In a perimeter-driven league, what is it that most teams would want their big man to do? That’s an easy one: rebound, play defense and command double teams, never mind leading the league in scoring. Howard is not as polished offensively as these other centers, but he’s still able to be as effective as them with his strength and athleticism. Technique is a means to an end, meaning a player has to have all kinds of moves and countermoves, fundamentals, footwork if they’re limited in other aspects in the paint. Howard has been one of the few dominant centers on both sides of the court in the league since Shaq and he’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. In Houston, it is probable he will be a top five MVP candidate as well.
Gasol is coming off a season in which he won his first Defensive Player of the Year award, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals as well. As an opposite to his brother Pau, Marc likes to bang inside and has a wide body with some girth to him. He’s efficient working the jump hook or the turnaround jumper in the post and, just like Pau, is one of the better passing big men in the league. His numbers for last season were 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
With his dominating playoff performance against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Hibbert solidified himself on this list. His regular season numbers were 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2. 6 blocks, which jumped up to 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds against Miami. At 7’2” and 280 pounds, he’s easily the most imposing big man in the paint. Hibbert has an old-man type of game with hook shots from anywhere in the paint, but he did shoot it at a career-low 44 percent. Expect his overall stats to improve again in his sixth season.
At just 23 years of age, Cousins averaged 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds a game last season in Sacramento in his third season. He’s another one of these physical centers whose game is predicated on strength and finishing ability inside. Cousins would be higher on this list if he was better on defense and that is the next challenge for his game. Can he grow into an equally efficient defender as Gasol and Hibbert? In five years, we could be talking about the best center in the game if his game continues to develop and he keeps his head on his shoulders.
Lopez is the top scoring center at 19.4 points per game and he does it in a variety of ways. He’s a finesse player who can hit erratic shots that stretch out to 20 feet and he’s also quite savvy at drawing fouls in the post. The downside to his game is that he is one of the worst rebounding big men in the league, basically averaging less than seven a game by default as a 7-footer. The Nets are hoping the addition of Kevin Garnett will teach Lopez how to be more aggressive defensively and improve his rebounding numbers.