By Chris Le
The highly anticipated Greg Oden era is delayed one more year, and the Shaquille O’Neal era appears to be dwindling faster than Dane Cook’s appeal. But in Oden’s absence and Shaq’s decline, there still remains a handful of true game-changing centers.
Reviewing the list, however, I’m surprised at the abundance of one-dimensional players that occupy the center position. Most fall into one of two categories: (1.) Offensive monsters who are barely passable defenders, or (2.) defensive stalwarts with the scoring prowess on par with Dennis Rodman. From top to bottom, considering its lack of major depth, center may be the weakest position in the league. This ain’t our fathers’ NBA, when the five spot was the glamour position with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and Nate Thurmond ruling the paint.
Yao Ming – Last year, Yao (25.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 bpg) developed into the best center in the league, showing flashes of utter dominance with his post game and shooting touch. Too bad he missed most of the season. If he wishes to keep his perch at the top, he must remain healthy, and most of all, get out of the damn first-round.
- Amare Stoudemire – The poster-boy for knee microfracture recoveries (particularly Oden), STAT came back from the usually long-affecting surgery and made the All-NBA First Team. Expect his quick recovery to improve even more significantly this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns to his 2005 form and averages over 25 points a game. There are some who believe Stoudemire should top this list.
- Dwight Howard – Prediction: the Orlando Magic will make the playoffs and Howard will top this list by next season. Judging from the FIBA and preseason games, he has developed a post game and 15-foot range. Yikes. He was scary enough when his only offensive move was dunking. This kid has no ceiling. And since I’m in a prediction-y mood, here’s one more: Howard will average at least 20 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and shoot just under .600 from the field.
- Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq can’t be Superman anymore, and it’s becoming more and more apparent each year. The injuries keep increasing, while his stats, minutes and games played go down. Yet, he’s still 7’1” and 325 pounds (to be generous), which means he’s still incredibly effective even when marginally in shape and healthy. Good thing he has D-Wade; I don’t think the Big Diesel can carry a team on his own any longer.
- Marcus Camby – In 2007, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year played some of the best basketball in his life. The blocks (3.3, tops in the league) and rebounding (11.7, 5th in the NBA) were there as usual, but he dished out a career high 3.2 assists a night. Plagued by injuries his whole career, Camby played in 70 games, the second highest GP in his 11 years as a pro. Should he stay healthy, he will continue to be a defensive monster.
- Tyson Chandler – Getting out of Chicago appears to be the best thing that ever could’ve happened to Chandler’s game. After one year with the New Orleans Hornets, he immediately made an impact, particularly with his rebounding. He was second in the league in rebounds per game (12.4) and led the NBA in offensive rebounds (320).
- Ben Wallace – Not quite what he was in Detroit, Big Ben still made the All-Defensive Second Team, thanks in large part to his 10.7 rpg (6th in the NBA), 2.0 bpg (10th), and 1.4 spg (10th). And usually offensively challenged, he dished out a career-high 2.4 assists. But with an ankle sprain, Wallace starts the season on the injured list.
- Mehmet Okur – The prototypical European center who’s short on defense and athleticism but heavy on offense. Having shot .356 from beyond the arc in 2007, opponents must respect his range, which means defending centers often times have to go out of their comfort zone. With Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer on his side, it makes life for opposing teams pretty hard.
- Eddy Curry – In his second season in a Knicks uniform, he finally lived up to his potential. His presence is mainly felt on the offensive end, posting 19.5 ppg on .576 shooting from the field (good enough for 4th in the league). For the sake of New York fans and Isiah Thomas, let’s hope Curry progresses even more in the coming years.
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas – I think people tend to undervalue Z’s importance to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is easy to do with LeBron James as his teammate. But at the start of every game, the Cavs consistently feed the ball down-low to Z and try to get him going early. If he does, everything else flows a lot easier, particularly for LeBron. His 11.0 ppg in ’07 is a little disappointing, but he probably possesses the best mid-range jumper of any center in the game.
Honorable Mention: Emeka Okafor, Andrew Bogut, Nenad Krstic