Only one center averaged over 20 points per game last season and he’ll now be playing power forward for the Golden State Warriors. Centers have gone from the focal point of the offense to a team’s clean-up crew. Few plays are designed specifically for centers, they have to get their points by crashing the offensive glass and slamming home rebounds. Being the biggest player on the squad doubles as becoming the biggest target to foul. Rarely will you see a center with a clear path to the basket and the result is devastating hit on seemingly every shot attempt. Six opening day starters are returning from significant injuries last season and one more, Boston’s Kendrick Perkins, isn’t expected to be back until mid-February.
30. Darko Milicic– Minnesota Timberwolves
For some reason, Minnesota is convinced Darko Milicic can turn his career around. Even presented with his disastrous tenures in Detroit, Orlando, Memphis and New York, the Timberwolves still dished out a four-year $20 million deal to a player we labeled as the biggest draft bust in NBA history. In the words of Chris Webber, during his infamous interview with Minnesota’s general manager during the NBA Summer League, Good luck.
29. Joel Anthony– Miami Heat
Considered just a body out there for the Heat, Joel Anthony’s job is to get out of the way and let the super-trio Miami assembled carry the load. Anthony boasts career averages of just 2.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, all Miami is looking for is a dramatic increase in just one category: minutes per game, which sits at just 17, so an improvement there really doesn’t require much.
28. Nazr Mohammed– Charlotte Bobcats
With Erick Dampier released in mid-September, Nazr Mohammed has emerged as the starter in Charlotte. Only starting more than 35 games twice in his 12-year career, the Bobcats are thin up front and need Mohammed to stay on the floor much more than the 18 minutes per game he’s averaged during his career.
27. Antonio McDyess– San Antonio Spurs
The leading candidate to lose his starting position before opening day on this list, Antonio McDyess would be better served coming off the bench during his 15th season in the NBA. With promising rookie Tiago Splitter finally joining the team (he’s played professionally in Spain since being selected by the Spurs in 2007), McDyess can become a top reserve.
26. Ben Wallace– Detroit Pistons
It seems like yesterday Ben Wallace was the emerging defensive superstar leading the Pistons to be the top team in the Eastern Conference. Wallace, now 35, has seen his numbers drop and his presence on the defensive end diminished. The NBA’s living definition of perseverance will likely call it quits following this season .
25. Andris Biedrins– Golden State Warriors
Halfway through his astonishing six-year $63 million deal, Andris Biedrins has done little to live up to the huge contract awarded to him during the summer of 2008. Playing just 33 games last year, Biedrins touted the most startling stat of the year, shooting 16 percent from the free throw line. No it’s not a misprint, 16 percent from the free throw line.
24. Ronny Turiaf– New York Knicks
Brought into New York as insurance Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks $100 million man, won’t play center, Ronny Turiaf is expected to do what he does best: hustle. Turiaf has always faced an uphill battle trying to play in the NBA and the Knicks are just hoping for him to grab some rebounds and help Stoudemire on the defensive end.
23. Mareese Speights– Philadelphia 76ers
A third year center with just three career starts on his resume, Mareese Speights is being counted on to become the top interior defender on the team. Speights served the role successfully in college, helping the Gators capture consecutive national titles, but has experienced trouble finding minutes (16.2 minutes per game) during his professional career.
22. Samuel Dalembert– Sacramento Kings
Playing last season with the weight of Haiti on his shoulders, Samuel Dalembert made his native country proud by personally donating $100,000 to earthquake victims. Posting nine games with 15 or more rebounds, Dalembert provides much needed veteran leadership to Sacramento.
21. Nenad Krstic– Oklahoma City Tunder
No player had a more interesting summer than Nenad Krstic. Playing for his native Serbia, Krstic was at the center of a brawl while playing Greece, earning a three game suspension after throwing a chair and hitting an opponent in the head.
20. Mehmet Okur– Utah Jazz
After rupturing his Achilles tendon during the first game of the post season, Mehmet Okur’s return for opening night is in jeopardy. Even before the injury, Okur had difficulty remaining on the floor, playing 29.4 minutes per game, his lowest amount since joining the Jazz six years ago.
19. Emeka Okafor– New Orleans Hornets
Never making the impact he was projected to as the second overall selection in the 2004 NBA Draft, Emeka Okafor took another step back during his first season in New Orleans. Averaging career lows in points, rebounds and blocks per game, Okafor has to improve his play for New Orleans to even think about a playoff appearance.
18. Roy Hibbert– Indiana Pacers
The latest installment from a long line of Georgetown centers, Roy Hibbert is looking to make the impact other Hoya alums have made, turned to Hall-of-Fame center Bill Walton for tutelage. Standing at 7’2, Hibbert needs to average more than 1.6 blocks per game to have a significant impact on the Pacers defense.
17. Brendan Haywood– Dallas Mavericks
Blessed with all of the skills any big man would want, Brendan Haywood just can’t seem to hone in his talents and produce on a consistent basis. In 77 total games last season, Haywood posted 39 games with nine or less points and 38 games when he scored in double figures. For a seven-footer with his skills, Haywood shouldn’t have any trouble scoring the ball.
16. Nene– Denver Nuggets
Playing 82 games for the first time in his career, Nene’s healthy streak didn’t last too long. He was unable to play for Brazil in the FIBA World Championship because of an inflammation in both of his legs. Although he’s expected to suit up on opening night, the Nuggets can’t afford to have a repeat of their injury troubles from last season.
15. Greg Oden– Portland Trail Blazers
Portland is still unsure if Greg Oden will be on the floor opening night but have the best insurance policy in the league, Marcus Camby. All of the injuries at the center position killed the Trail Blazers chances of competing in the playoffs, but if Oden can actually play 82 games (the exact total of his first two years), Portland becomes a serious threat in the Western Conference.
14. Anderson Varejao– Cleveland Cavaliers
An ankle injury sidelined Anderson Varejao, playing for Brazil, for much of the FIBA World Championship and his healthy return is a must for Cleveland. With only 72 starts in his six-year career, the Cavaliers are counting on their center more than ever, as two of teams best players departed for Miami.
13. JaVale McGee– Washington Wizards
By simply trying out for a team, NBA fans are expecting a huge third season from JaVale McGee. After dominating the NBA Summer League competition (averaging 19.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and shot an amazing 69 percent from the field) McGee earned an invite to represent Team USA at the FIBA World Championship. Although he wasn’t among the final 12 players selected, McGee was able to hold his own and has raised expectations for the Wizards.
12. Robin Lopez– Phoenix Suns
Quickly going from the less valuable twin brother to an absolute necessity in Phoenix, Robin Lopez and his bad back may have been the only thing keeping Phoenix from advancing to the NBA Finals. Resting the entire summer should have Lopez ready to become even more of an asset for the Suns and climb closer on this list to his brother, Nets center Brook.
11. Andrea Bargnani– Toronto Raptors
Finally displaying the skill set that convinced the Raptors to take him with the top overall selection in the 2006 NBA Draft, Andrea Bargnani is hoping to keep advancing his game in the absence of Chris Bosh. Averaging a career high 17.2 points per game last season, Bargnani must develop some type of defensive game to represent the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game.
10. Shaquille O’Neal– Boston Celtics
Even at the age of 38, there is no possible way to not include Shaquille O’Neal in the top-10 list of any center ranking. Maybe he can’t do it every night, but there is still plenty left in the tank and he is still one of the most dominant finishers in the league. Now with a legitimate chance to catch Kobe Bryant in the title department, look for an extra motivated Shaq in Boston.
9. Al Horford– Atlanta Hawks
Heading into the final year of his contract, Al Horford claimed he is ‘going to war with who I’ve got’ in the front court, never a good sign going into the season. Hoping to land Shaquille O’Neal in the off season, Atlanta instead opted for Etan Thomas, a poor, dead man’s O’Neal.
8. Chris Kaman– Los Angeles Clippers
Not many basketball players can become a Youtube sensation for having fun on July 4th, but Chris Kaman became everyone’s favorite after blowing up $10,000 worth of fireworks. Unlike the show he made online, Kaman quietly made his first All-Star squad last season by 18.5 points per game along with 9.5 rebounds.
7. Andrew Bynum– Los Angeles Lakers
There is no question Andrew Bynum is a talented player. In 65 regular season games he averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds per game and shot an outstanding 57 percent from the field. The problem is he’s never healthy enough to stay on the court (only playing more than 65 games once in his five-year career) and has become the most valuable trade asset for the Lakers. If the right opportunity comes along, Bynum will be out of Los Angeles.
6. Marc Gasol– Memphis Grizzlies
Long considered as the garbage the Lakers threw away to acquire his brother Pau, Marc Gasol has carved out a nice career in Memphis, posting 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. As one of the stars for the Spanish team in the FIBA World Championship, the other Gasol displayed his extraordinary game and has the Grizzlies threatening to end their four year playoff drought.
5. Andrew Bogut– Milwaukee Bucks
There remains some uncertainty if Andrew Bogut is going to be ready for opening night, but his return has the Bucks anticipating their best season since reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. Bogut suffered one of the most gruesome injuries (you can find the video for yourself) in recent memory, but his healthy return from a broken wrist and elbow solidifies Milwaukee’s starting lineup.
4. Joakim Noah– Chicago Bulls
No player may better exemplify the modern center than Joakim Noah. Chicago drew up zero plays for Noah, but he still managed 10.7 points per game last season off pure hustle. Averaging 11 rebounds during the regular season (and 13 in the playoffs), Noah has spent the summer developing a mid-range jumper and may have a play or two designed for him this season.
3. Brook Lopez– New Jersey Nets
The only positive thing the Nets could take away from last season’s miserable season was the play of Brook Lopez. Jumping his scoring average by five points per game from his rookie season, Lopez has become the most complete offensive center in the league. Look for him to post the first of many 20 point-10 rebound averages of his career this year.
2. Yao Ming– Houston Rockets
After missing the entire season last year nursing a left foot fracture, Yao Ming as issued himself an ultimatum, stay healthy this season or retire from the game. The past five years of his career have been marred by various leg and foot injuries and the toll of carrying his 7’5 frame up and down the court may be too much of a cross for Ming to bear.
1. Dwight Howard– Orlando Magic
When it comes to top NBA centers, there’s Dwight Howard and the rest of the field. The unfortunate part for Magic fans is Howard could have suited up for Team USA in the FIBA World Championship and gotten some run as the top player in a pressure packed tournament. Instead, he opted to film a movie in China. Wait, there’s an Orlando superstar center spending his free time acting instead of working on his free throws? Sound familiar?
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