We complete our positional power rankings in the NBA with the top ten centers:
10. Nikola Vučević – Orlando Magic
In his first full season as a starter last year, Vučević was one of just four NBA players to average a double-double and register at least one block per game. The Switzerland native just turned 23 and will, again, see big-time minutes as the Magic starting center. Many will argue that his numbers were inflated playing on an anemic Magic team last year, but it’s hard to argue with his across-the-board line: .519 FG%, 13.1 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game (second in the NBA) and 1.0 blocks per game. It isn’t hard to imagine Vučević improving his offensive game in his third pro season, especially with the Magic bringing in rookie Victor Oladipo who should be able to open up a stagnant Orlando offense.
9. Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets
The seven-foot Brooklyn center is perhaps the best scoring center in the NBA. He has a mid-range shot that improves every single year, he can put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim, he also has great post-up moves that combined with his height, are practically impossible to defend against. Very few rival his scoring touch, but on the other end of the court, Lopez is near the bottom of the big men. At first glance you might translate his 2.1 blocks per game from last season as a measure of his defensive capability. But need we remind you of his height? He is more often out of place than in place on defense which allows easy baskets — he is able to pick up a couple blocks per game thanks to his towering frame, however. He is a terrible rebounder: 6.9 RPG last year in 30.4 minutes per game. To put that in perspective, 114 NBA players pulled in more rebounds per 36 minutes than Lopez. His offensive awareness is just as great as his defensive awareness is bad. But his 20 points per game ability keeps him among the games best centers.
8. Larry Sanders – Milwaukee Bucks
Larry Sanders finally got his chance last season to prove his worth. The six-foot-eleven 24-year-old almost posted a double-double with points (9.8) and rebounds (9.5), but fell just short due to only playing 27.3 minutes per game. Sanders also started just 55 of the 71 games he appeared in, further altering his chances at registering a bigger season. But this coming season, Sanders should be given a full year and a healthy load of minutes to build off his tremendous breakout season. His 2.8 blocks were bested by only Serge Ibaka last year, but Ibaka’s three year reign on that category might be Sanders’ to steal now that his training wheels are completely off. His top-20 rebounding rate and increased playing time make him an easy double-double candidate this year.
7. Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets
The 2012 first overall pick proved he was worth the selection last year with the lowly New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans). After getting off to a rough start while battling several minor injuries, the 6′ 10″ 20-year-old turned it on after the all-star break. 15.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks in two-dozen games showed just how good this kid can become. He only was able to play in 64 games and at a clip of 28.8 minutes per, so a full season and a bigger workload could turn Davis into one of the most stat-stuffing centers the game can offer. The greatest thing about Davis is that there is very little he needs to work on. He can shoot (.516 FG% and .751 FT%), he can defend with the best of them thanks to his lanky frame, and he is intelligent and coachable. He is a coach’s dream and is only 20. It might not be long before Davis is in the top-five of this list.
6. Al Jefferson – Charlotte Bobcats
Al Jefferson has bounced around in his nine-year NBA career, with three stops of three years each in Boston, Minnesota and Utah. Now with the Bobcats and out of a crowded frontcourt in Utah, Jefferson could get back to his earlier 20-10 days. At 28, Jefferson has a handful of years left in his prime and could become the go-to man in Charlotte, he could easily put together the finest season of his career this year. Last season he averaged 17.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG and 1.0 steals. This season he should easily register in the low-20’s scoring, with 10-plus rebounds with similar blocks and steals numbers. His field goal percentage, which is exactly .500 in his career and never floats very far above or below that mark, combined with his great free-throw shooting make him one of the most refined and consistent centers in the game.
5. Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah is difficult to appreciate; he spends a lot of time injured, doesn’t put up eye-popping numbers, and is not flashy on the court. Even more so, he gets under the skin of opposing players with borderline dirty defense. But he is great at getting teammates energized with his all-out style of play. While that often leads to him injuring himself, he is a great team player and is a perfect fit for the Bulls. Last season was one of Noah’s finest yet. He posted a career high in points with 11.9, rebounds with 11.1, assists with 4.0, blocks with 2.1, steals with 1.2 and FT% at .751. Basically every single category he took a huge leap in. While you can’t expect that out of him again, especially as he approaches 29, the return of Derrick Rose might free him up on offense and improve his efficiency. He shot a career low .481 from the field last year.
4. Al Horford – Atlanta Hawks
After missing all but 11 games in 2011-2012, Horford returned to the court last season and put together the best year of his career. Horford played a whopping 37.2 minutes per game, which led to 17.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG with 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Horford is one of the smartest centers in the game and has a great awareness on both ends of the court. Horford rarely makes foolish mistakes and often looks for teammates cutting to the rim from his post position à la Tim Duncan. In that sense, Horford is very much an old-school big man. The Hawks have removed Horford’s frontcourt mate Josh Smith and replaced him with Utah Jazz’s Paul Millsap. It will be interesting to see how Horford adjusts to playing alongside a more traditional frontcourt player, but his demeanor suggests he will handle it quite well.
3. Roy Hibbert – Indiana Pacers
The seven-foot-two, 300-pound Hibbert couldn’t do a single push-up or even run properly in 2004 during his first season with the Georgetown Hoyas. In 2013, Hibbert posted 17.0 PPG, 9.9 rebounds per game and 1.9 blocks in 19 postseason games for the Indiana Pacers. Not a bad turnaround. Hibbert made several of the game’s best big men look completely inferior in the paint and almost helped the Pacers to the NBA finals last year. Due to his size, Hibbert will and should never see more than 30 minutes per game, which will always keep his numbers severely in check. But when Hibbert is on the court there are arguably no better centers in the game. In the postseason, his minutes jumped up to 36.5 per game and he proved that when given the time, he is simply dominant and impossible to defend. He is only 26 years old, so improvements to his game are likely. Hibbert, without really doing anything, severely alters an opposing team’s game plan, simply with his presence down low. Hibbert posted 2.6 blocks per game in the regular season last year while pulling in 8.3 rebounds (10.4 per 36 minutes).
2. Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol has always played under the spotlight of his big brother Pau, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. When Marc was traded to Memphis from Los Angeles, the Grizzlies sent out his brother Pau in what was basically a dump of a player they knew they’d end up losing in the long run. They didn’t realize they would end up getting the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. Gasol has transformed into one of the most complete big men in the game, perfecting almost every aspect of the position. While his scoring and rebounding numbers aren’t indicative of the second-best center in the NBA, his presence on the court is rivaled by very few in the NBA. Very few teams in the NBA run their game through their center, but the Grizzlies do. Gasol even chipped in with 4.0 assists per game last year and shot .848 from the free-throw line. It’s hard to come across centers who are seven-foot-one, play 35 minutes per game and have missed just four games in the past three seasons. Other than Gasol, there aren’t any.
1. Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard has been at risk recently of his claim to be the best center in the NBA. But when he wants to be, and is healthy, there is no center in the NBA who can do what Howard can do on the court. The seven-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year is now on a very talented Houston Rockets squad, and seems to be happy for the first time since his early years in Orlando. Howard was considered to have had a down year last season with the Lakers, but in that bad season he posted 17.1 points per game with 12.4 rebounds (leading the league) and 2.4 blocks in 76 games. The prospects of Howard playing alongside James Harden are scary, and if the two click, the 27-year-old Howard could help the Rockets to an NBA finals appearance. He will always be a nightmare from the free-throw line, but that’s something that never kept Shaquille O’Neal from being the best. Howard could be in line for a return to 20-plus points per game and 14-plus rebounds per game. Expect him to get back into the MVP consideration this season.