By Evan Oscherwitz
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Cousins’ completeness, size, and all-around mastery of the center position makes this an easy pick.
Cousins, who only played one season at Kentucky, is one of the few one-and-done players who was able to immediately make his team better. Despite his sporadic outbursts, and lack of media attention and fan votes, Cousins is easily the first center any executive would want to build their team around based on talent and production alone.
André Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Like DeMarcus Cousins, Drummond is a massive one-and-done college player who immediately helped a down-and-out team shed their “snakebitten” label, but while Cousins is a dominant presence on both sides of the ball, Drummond lacks the offensive prestige that distances Cousins from the rest of the pack and struggles mightily from the free-throw line.
Offensive woes aside, Drummond is a perennial All-Star and defensive Adonis who uses his expansive reach and brute strength to swat down shots and grab rebounds with reckless abandon, as well as being a serviceable pick and roll tool for Stan Van Gundy’s offense.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Gasol is a powerful 7-footer who helps make Memphis a contender year after year, averaging over 19 points per game in 2015-2016, and around the same amount for his career.
Gasol’s worth became truly apparent after he was lost for the season with a broken right foot during the month of March. Memphis began a downhill slide that culminated with them being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, missing the offensive surge provided by Gasol.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Despite being only 6-foot-10, and being considered a tweener by many analysts, Horford has been easily the best player on a juggernaut Hawks squad for the past few seasons.
Drafted by Atlanta during a notably rough period in the team’s history, Horford has logged in 14.3 points per game, along with 9 rebounds in his nine seasons as a member of the Hawks, in addition to nine consecutive playoff appearances.
Horford is set to hit the free agent market this summer, and is more or less guaranteed to land a monster contract from whatever team he ends up signing with.
DeAndré Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Jordan’s stats speak for themselves. He is the NBA’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at over 70 percent shooting for his career, to go along with 2.3 blocks and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Jordan has averaged a double-double the past two seasons, and the Clippers have made the playoffs for four straight years.
However, as with Andre Drummond, Jordan’s struggles at the free throw line have been well documented, and his lack of production when key players in the Clippers’ back court are sidelined shows reliance. This, along with the fact that his monster dunks receive copious amounts of air time, may indicate that Jordan is overrated, and definitely impacted his position on this list.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Gobert was one of the five or so players from the horrific 2013 NBA draft who turned out to be serviceable players, despite being picked No. 27 in that draft.
Gobert has been more than just serviceable with Utah, and has cemented his status as the starting center on a team with the potential to be great. Gobert’s height, defensive skills, and solid offensive post play make him a force to be reckoned with in the paint, and easily earn him a top 10 spot on this list.
Nikola Vučević, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic have a very serious problem: they cannot score. In 2015-2016, Orlando’s offense was ranked No. 20 in the NBA. There was, however, a bright spot on that team; a 7-foot tall, dark haired bright spot from Montenegro named Nikola Vučević.
Vučević, who has been with the Magic his entire career, somehow managed to carry a team with a subpar offense to 35 wins, while averaging 18.2 points per game. Some nights it felt as though Vučević had scored 40 or 50 points because of how efficient he was on offense, and he almost certainly would have been a top 10 scorer if he drew more fouls.
He was also a force inside, with improved on-ball defense that helped narrow what otherwise would have been a horrific +/- margin.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
The NBA community is very high on Whiteside at this point in time, and it is easy to see why. He is a strong 7-footer with great blocking and rebounding skills who has the ability to throw down earth-shaking slams.
However, Whiteside is incredibly raw, having only played parts of three seasons in Miami and Sacramento, with mixed success. Moreover, Whiteside’s offensive game is in need of serious refinement. His career average of 11.7 points per game looks average even at first, but becomes even more concerning when one considers that close to half of those points are from dunks, and that a further third come off of offensive rebounds.
Furthermore, though few people know it, Whiteside is one of the biggest ballhogs in the NBA, registering the highest ballhog index among centers; and despite having played three full seasons, Whiteside has only recorded 35 assists in his entire career, which works out to 0.3 assists per game. Yes, you read that correctly.
Given all of this, along with the fact that playing in one of the biggest markets in the country, with a star-studded cast of teammates causes him to be severely overrated, putting Whiteside anywhere above eighth on this list would be absolutely preposterous.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Despite only being a rookie, Towns put together a remarkable 2015-2016 campaign in which he was named Rookie of the Year. Towns propelled the Timberwolves to a 29-53 record, 13 games better than the previous year.
Coming into the year, Towns was considered a defensive big, but he shed that label quickly as the season got started, averaging 18.3 points per game. His defensive game remained strong, as Towns averaged 10.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest. Several scouts predicted he would be a top big man in three to four years, and Towns certainly appears to be on track.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Lopez’ stats look like they would earn him a top five spot on this list. So why don’t they?
First of all, Lopez plays on one of the worst teams in the NBA, so he needs to get the ball in order for his team to have a shot at victory. His 20.6 points per game in 2015-2016 are due in large part to the fact that he is essentially the Nets’ offense. If Lopez doesn’t possess the ball, the Nets don’t score; so naturally, the Nets aim to give him the ball as much as possible.
This substantially inflates his stats, and as such, creates doubt as to whether or not Lopez is really as good as his numbers indicate. Regardless of the grey area, Lopez’ figures are good enough to keep him in the top 10.
Jonas Valančiūnas, Toronto Raptors
While most of the credit goes to Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and coach Dwane Casey, the big man from Lithuania played a large part in the rise of the Raptors.
His stellar post defense, shot blocking, and rebounding allows the explosive offense to catch a breath in between series, and his pick setting and solid midrange jump shot provide alternatives when Lowry and DeRozan are cold.
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
While Karl-Anthony Towns handily won Rookie of the Year, Jahlil Okafor put together a great year of his own, despite playing on a team that won only 10 games.
Okafor, despite being a member of the worst offense in the NBA, put up 17.5 points per game, including 22 in his debut against the playoff-bound Boston Celtics. Unless management continues an insanity-provoking trend of drafting centers for no reason, Okafor should be a mainstay at the five in Philadelphia for years to come.
Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks were disappointing in every way possible in 2015-2016. Coming off a playoff appearance, the meteoric rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the acquisitions of point guard Michael Carter-Williams and center Greg Monroe, Milwaukee was expected to contend in the Eastern Conference this year. They never even came close.
Carter-Williams displayed extreme difficulty scoring, and Monroe struggled in his first season with the team. Despite logging 15.3 points per game, Monroe was unable to make an impact as far as wins were concerned, and had difficulty altering his defensive game to fit his new position after having played power forward in Detroit. Monroe averaged 8.8 rebounds, the lowest since his rookie year, and only 0.8 blocks per game.
The team’s mediocre overall defense led to them allowing 103.2 points per game on average. Playing in the East, Monroe was frequently exploited on defense by star centers like Andre Drummond, Nikola Vučević, Hassan Whiteside, and Al Horford. Monroe will need to make strides on defense if the Bucks are to become contenders again.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Once a top five center, a series of bad career decisions fueled by an inflated ego caused a massive plummet in Howard’s production.
Howard’s numbers have been average since he arrived in Houston, and this past season was no different, as Howard averaged 13.7 points, with similarly average defensive production. Howard will hit the market this offseason, and the hope is that Howard may be able to rediscover some of his past prestige in a new city.
Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
Gortat comes from a boxing background, and he plays like it. The native of Łodź, Poland has made a name for himself for his aggressive post play, tremor-causing dunks, and propensity to send opponents’ shots into orbit with an effortless swat.
The powerful Pole recorded a respectable 13.5 points per game in 2015-2016, and was 1/10th of a rebound of averaging a double-double. His blocks per game figure was solid as well, averaging 1.3 stuffs per contest. Despite being in the same division as three of the top 10 bigs on this list, Gortat held his own against every one of them, and deserves more credit than he gets for that fact.
Gortat has also gained notoriety for catching on in the league despite being picked No. 57 in his draft class, which ended up being lined with busts. All of this is more than enough to earn Gortat, who has forever been a dark horse, a spot in the top 15.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets
Despite being 31 years old and struggling with injuries in 2015-2016, the man affectionately known as “Big Al” still managed to log 12 points per game, and the team won 33 percent more games with him than they did without him.
Jefferson was electric in the Hornets’ playoff battle against Miami, and he helped push the series to seven games with his stellar play on both sides of the ball. With his team on the cusp of becoming a serious contender, Jefferson could yet see more postseason action in the near future.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah’s 2015-2016 season made ranking him incredibly difficult. Noah missed significant time with shoulder injuries on numerous occasions and played in only 29 games all season, only two of which were starts. Noah’s 8.8 rebounds per game were still solid, despite his injuries, and despite being a slight drop off from the previous season.
Noah’s injuries, however, severely stymied his offensive production, limiting him to 4.3 points per game. While Noah’s offensive stats are ugly, his defense was on point, and being only two years removed from a Defensive Player of the Year award, it is more than likely that Noah will return to form in 2016-2017.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner’s awkward running style caused him to fall in the draft. As one would expect, the teams that passed on him missed out on a remarkable young player because of a completely stupid and trivial idiosyncrasy.
Turner’s stellar play pushed the Pacers over the postseason hump and he took center stage in a tightly contested first round series against the Toronto Raptors that the Pacers lost in seven. All told, Turner averaged a solid 10.3 points per game, along with 5.5 rebounds. Turner is only 19 years old, and figures to improve on his solid rookie production in years to come.
Robin Lopez, New York Knicks
The younger of the Lopez brothers (though only by one minute) has come a long way since coming into the league in 2008.
Lopez’ years in Phoenix were quite simply ugly, as he constantly lost his starting spot to aging bigs like Shaquille O’Neal and Jarron Collins, only to regain it and lose it again due to poor performance.
When he was traded out of Phoenix, his numbers became better almost instantaneously, a trend that continues to this day. This season, Lopez averaged a decent 10.3 points per game to go along with 7.3 rebounds. Not bad for somebody who used to back up Earl Barron.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Since being drafted by Boston in 2012, Sullinger has had an up and down career. Initially a power forward, Sullinger struggled mightily in his first few seasons before moving to center during the 2015 offseason.
Coach Brad Stevens hypothesized that Sullinger’s bulk would be more useful there than at the four. Sullinger started the season as the backup to Tyler Zeller, but stole his starting spot in March, and put together a string of solid performances. The future looks comparatively bright for Sullinger heading into 2016-2017.
Mason Plumlee, Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers were perhaps the biggest overachievers of the 2015-2016 season. After losing LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews to conference rivals, Portland was not expected to make the playoffs.
They did more than just make the playoffs, beating a heavily favored Clippers team in the first round and taking a game from the Warriors in the second. While this success is generally attributed to the stellar backcourt play of Damian Lillard and Most Improved Player winner CJ McCollum, Mason Plumlee was a solid replacement for Aldridge, averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest, both career highs.
Plumlee’s solid rim protection helped the Trail Blazers’ cause in their first round victory over the Clippers, as Plumlee shut down DeAndre Jordan (No. 5 on the list). Plumlee’s defense was also instrumental in helping the Blazers contend in a division with bigs like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Karl Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert, which contributed in no small part to their earning the 5 seed in the west.
Zaza Pachulia, Dallas Mavericks
Even though he is 32 years old, Zaur “Zaza” Pachulia proved that he can still be a formidable presence inside this season.
Many viewed him as just a one year stand-in to sustain the Mavericks until they could sign a high profile big like Dwight Howard or Al Horford, but Pachulia exceeded everyone’s expectations in 2015-2016 by averaging 8.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in his first season with Dallas.
Pachulia played well enough to maintain his starting spot even as young prospect Dwight Powell began to show promise, and was a key player in the Mavericks’ late season surge to lock up a playoff spot. However, Mark Cuban has made it clear that the Mavs will be pursuing a center in free agency, and because of this it is unlikely that Pachulia will start for Dallas in 2016-2017.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Steven Adams might just be the most interesting player in the NBA. With a bushy mustache, flowing locks, tribal tattoos, Tongan ancestry, and a middle name like Funaki, he certainly seems to have the title locked up.
Despite not lighting up the stat sheet with his 8.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, Adams is a key contributor on a Thunder squad that contends for a title almost every year, and does a lot of the not so glamorous jobs that don’t appear on the box score.
Adams is an animal in the post, and his aggressive defense is instrumental in making the opponent angry, and therefore less concentrated on running the plays. Adams stands his ground no matter who he’s up against, be it an elbow-throwing Hassan Whiteside or an unruly Blake Griffin, and is one of the most feared players in the league as a result.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Here we have potentially the most controversial placement on the list. Putting Tim Duncan, one of the greatest big men to ever play the game, at No. 24 on a list ranking centers just seems wrong. Unfortunately, despite all of his greatness, this is the most logical spot for Duncan.
The 2015-2016 season was without a doubt the worst of his illustrious 18-year career, which included 15 All-star selections. Duncan averaged only 8.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, well below his career average.
In addition, watching Duncan play was not the electrifying experience one is accustomed to. Duncan looked old and slow, and drastically underperformed in what may have been his last season as a professional basketball player.
Jusuf Nurkić, Denver Nuggets
Jusuf Nurkić is a massive human being. Standing at 7 feet tall and tipping the scales at 280 pounds, the native of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the strongest players in the NBA.
Nurkić is still relatively raw, however, and has not quite figured out how to translate his size into great stats, averaging 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest in 2015-2016. However, he has improved since coming into the league, and it stands to reason that Nurkić could achieve success sooner, rather than later.
Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns
Tyson Chandler may very well be the most overpaid player in the NBA. Signed by the Suns on a grossly grandiose 52 million dollar deal this past offseason, the 33-year-old former DPOY has struggled mightily in the Valley of the Sun, averaging 7.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, both well below his career average.
In addition, Chandler’s starting spot may be in jeopardy, as Alex Len, previously thought to be destined for draft bust status, dished out a few monster games down the stretch for Phoenix, including a 38-point outburst against the playoff-bound Charlotte Hornets.
All hope is not lost, as Chandler averaged 10.3 points and a career high 11.5 rebounds per game just two years ago with Dallas; but should he have another dismal season in 2016-2017, questions will arise as to whether or not Chandler has fallen off of the proverbial cliff.
Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers
By all accounts, the Cavs are doing alright. They have yet to lose a game in the playoffs after blowing away the Eastern Conference during the regular season. However, the team is by no means flawless, and one glaring weakness exists at the center position with Timofey Mozgov.
The 7-footer from Russia has struggled at the 5, averaging only 6.2 points per game despite being part of the best offense in the East. Mozgov was even worse on defense, averaging a lamentable 4.4 rebounds per game, second worst among starting centers in the league, despite his notably large stature.
His extremely limited progress over the last few years is cause for concern, and it has relegated him to a spot in the bottom five.
Alexis Ajinça, New Orleans Pelicans
After he won the 2014-2015 finals as an assistant with the Warriors, incumbent Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry made a rather bold statement by declaring that he would “be back [in the finals] the next year.”
The idea of the Pelicans reaching the finals seemed unlikely at the time, and is infinitely more laughable in light of New Orleans’ disastrous 2015-2016 campaign, in which they stumbled out of the gates and never recovered.
Although Anthony Davis put together another monster season, his season-ending shoulder injury derailed any hopes the team had of reaching the postseason. Another notable injury was that of center Omer Ašik, whose knee surgery forced the 7-foot-2-inch Alexis Ajinça into the starting lineup.
Ajinça struggled mightily, averaging only 6 points per game in relief of Ašik. The Pelicans came tumbling to a 32-50 record and missed the postseason by an extensive amount of games. So much for Alvin Gentry being a psychic.
Roy Hibbert, Los Angeles Lakers
There was a time during his tenure with the Indiana Pacers when Roy Hibbert was considered a premier center in the NBA. The 7-foot-2 big man from Georgetown was a force on the glass, and was selected to the All-Star team two years in a row.
That time has long come and gone, as Hibbert now finds himself ranked as the second-worst center in the league, the victim of an unprecedented free fall. Hibbert began to show signs of regression in his final year with Indiana, and was traded to Los Angeles immediately following the 2014-2015 season.
Hibbert has struggled mightily since arriving in LA, averaging a miserable 5.9 points and 4.9 boards per game in 2015-2016, as the Lakers finished with a 16-66 record, the worst in the history of the franchise.
Hibbert’s play was comically bad, and his season high in points was a mind-boggling 12 points against the Heat on January 17th. Seriously, not good.
Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
And here we have the most dishonorable spot on the list, number 30, the worst starting center in the NBA. This year, ironically, the worst center plays on the best team. That’s right, Andrew Bogut, the former #1 overall pick, and starter on the winningest team in NBA history, is the worst starting center in the NBA.
Why? For starters, Bogut averaged an astounding, remarkable, incredible 5.4 points per game, the lowest average for a starter at any position, and his 7 rebounds per contest were also well below average.
Bogut looked washed up, to put it bluntly, hobbling down the court in between possessions, and almost failing to leave the ground entirely on attempted blocks, the many injuries he has sustained over his career appear to have taken their toll on the massive Aussie.
Bogut, despite being only 31, appears destined for an early retirement sooner rather than later, an unfortunate end for such a talented player.