The “true” NBA center is a dying breed, but there’s still plenty of quality heading into the 2013-2014 season, even if it’s usually not found among those who are able to put up a lot of points. Guys like Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard are better known for what they can do on defense, but along with Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert and Chris Bosh they form the best in the league at this position.
There are talented scorers among NBA scorers like Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez and DeMarcus Cousins, but considering the way the league is going and the majority of points coming from the permieter, having a center that’s a defensive liability doesn’t really cut it when you talk about the absolute best in the league.
Number 6 – Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
There aren’t too many true centers left in the NBA, and among them, Joakim Noah might be the most versatile. He’s an excellent defenders and rebounder (11.1 boards, 2.1 blocks per game), but his biggest assett is the ability to play the pivot for a team that was in dire need of a playmaker and a smart guiding hand when ti comes to creating for others. He averaged a career high 4 assists per game to gov with his 11.9 points a night, although his dime number should drop now that Rose is back.
Number 5 – Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
It’s easy to make fun of Chris Bosh – he’s the lesser superstar in the big three and his offensive abilities weren’t really used by the Heat offensively in terms of points generating. But few big man in the league can serve as such an effective decoy and long range shooter, and people forget just how important he was for them during the regular season, especially when Wade and his knees weren’t in agreement, He averaged 16.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and the Heat are going to need pretty much the same from him, despite playing out-of-position, this year as well.
Number 4 – Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
At his best, he might the best lane defender in the NBA, managing to block and clog the entire paint area during the playoffs in the series against the Clippers and the Thunder. Combine that with a soft touch from mid range and possibly being the best passer among the big men in the league (he’s the best passer on the Grizzlies), and you get one of the more complete players in the NBA. He averaged 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4 assists per game last season, improving vastly in the postseason.
Number 3 – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
One of the questions about Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs has to do with their ability to put games 6 and 7 of the NBA finals behind them. Duncan had that hook shot / layup miss that seemed to stay with him for a long time, but if mentally the Spurs are over their collapse, they should be right were they left off, which is just near the top of the NBA. Duncan averaged 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks last season, and if Tiago Splitter can continue to improve, we shall see more of the same from Duncan, who is still one of the best in the league when healthy and being 37 years old.
Number 2 – Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Hibbert had an OK regular season for the Indiana Pacers, but his series against the New York Knicks (destroying Tyson Chandler) and his ability and presence against the Miami Heat propelled him into the very elite of NBA big men. He averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and if he can work on spreading out his effort throughout games and not just waste all his energy on both of ends of the floor early on, he should be one of the more dominant paint presences in the league for many years.
Number 1 – Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Despite whatever it is he did or didn’t do with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard is still the best center in the NBA. He averaged 17.1 points and an NBA-best 12.4 rebounds last season even without playing healthy (shoulder) for long stretches last season. If he’s actually going to be happy in Houston along with James Harden and Omer Asik, his ability to not just be very hard to stop in the paint but be the number one defensive presence in the league, who can change shots better than anyone else and only needs mediocre perimeter help to make it happen.