Al Jefferson removed any misconceptions about his game during his debut season in Charlotte.
During the first nine years of his career, the 6-foot-10 center from Mississippi was relegated to putting up phenomenal numbers on lottery bound teams.
While in Boston, he was the promising young center on a team looking to rebuild.
Then he was dealt to Minnesota as the primary piece sent back in the Kevin Garnett deal.
Twice with the Timberwolves he was able to average over 21 points and 11 rebounds, but the team won a combined 46 games in those two seasons.
It wasn’t until he was shipped to the Jazz that Jefferson started to be appreciated.
Jefferson solidified himself as one of the most potent scorers in the post, but as Utah embraced a youth movement, he became expendable and the franchise didn’t tender him an offer when he became an unrestricted free agent.
The main criticism of Jefferson’s game was his inability to defend and even though he managed to tally impressive scoring and rebounding numbers, it never translated into team success.
The second free agency began during the summer of 2013, Charlotte, following a 21-win season, reached out to Jefferson hoping he can become the key player to the franchise.
Jefferson agreed to a three-year $41 million deal and responded with 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists, helping the team win 43 games and secure just the second playoff berth in franchise history.
More impressive, he was part of a team that found success with its defense, allowing the fourth fewest points a game last season.
Both Jefferson and Charlotte enter the 2014-15 season facing massive expectations and for the first time, both seem poised to live up to them.
30. Kendrick Perkins– Oklahoma City Thunder
Coach Scott Brooks has continued to ignore the pleas for Oklahoma City to start Steven Adams at center. Shaquille O’Neal even gave Perkins the dubious MVP honor in his Shaqtin a Fool award for the most questionable plays of the season. Last season, Perkins had more turnovers (90) than assists (67), blocks (32) or steals (26) while he averaged just 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. Even though 152 of his 193 field goal attempts came at the rim last season, Perkins shot a career-low 45.1 percent from the field.
29. Tyler Zeller– Boston Celtics
At the 2012 NBA Draft, the Celtics possessed the 21st and 22nd overall selections and hoped the former North Carolina star would last long enough. Dallas chose him with the 17th overall pick and then immediately dealt him to Cleveland, where he struggled to produce consistent numbers. As the Cavaliers began clearing cap space to free up enough room to sign LeBron James, Boston finally saw its opportunity to land the 7-footer that averaged 5.7 points and 4.0 rebounds a game last season.
28. Samuel Dalembert– New York Knicks
Consistent shot blocking has essentially been eliminated from Dalembert’s game. In his 12 seasons in the NBA, Dalembert has averaged 1.8 blocks per game, but last season he swatted away 1.2 shots. The 33-year-old has still shown flashes of dominance, such as his 12 points, 15 rebound, seven block effort against Brooklyn. The former Seton Hall standout had 16 games with at least 10 rebounds, but he manged just five double-doubles as he scored just 6.6 points a game, the fewest since his rookie year.
27. JaVale McGee– Denver Nuggets
A fractured tibia limited McGee to just five games last season, taking away the top shot blocker in Denver. The 7-footer has two-years and $23.2 million remaining on the four-year $44 million extension he signed in 2012 and has seen his scoring, rebounding and shot block averages decrease over the past two years. McGee is an athletically gifted player and the Nuggets have been seeking production at the center position and after missing all of last season, he will be given every opportunity to produce.
26. Tiago Splitter– San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio won the 2014 NBA title even with a step back in output from the center it just signed to a four-year $36 million contract. Splitter posted 8.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks a game, each figure lower than his previous season. The Brazilian center registered just one game with 20 points and logged just five double-doubles. San Antoino will keep featuring Boris Diaw for extended periods, as he can fill in as a facilitator of the offense.
25. Jordan Hill– Los Angeles Lakers
Erratic rotations prevented Hill from ever being a consistent producer in fantasy basketball, but his rebounding ability made him a viable option for many fantasy owners. Hill’s energy helps him snare offensive rebounds, as he grabbed an average of 2.7 a game even though he played less than 21 minutes a game. The role for Hill should be much more defined, after Los Angeles brought him back with a two-year $18 million deal should help produce an uptick on the 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds he posted.
24. Enes Kanter– Utah Jazz
The Turkish center is hoping to become the anchor in the middle for Utah. Kanter saw a significant increase in his time on the floor, nearly doubling his minutes per game to 26.7 minutes a night. The third overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft averaged 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. Even though 61.6 percent of his attempts came right at the rim, Kanter converted just 49.1 percent of his attempts from the field, a five percent decrease from his sophomore campaign.
23. Miles Plumlee– Phoenix Suns
As a rookie, Plumlee was relegated to just 14 appearances with the Pacers and he scored a total of just 13 points. To complete the deal for Luis Scola, Plumlee was sent to Phoenix and he made a surprising contribution to the team, averaging 8.1 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. The biggest area of development Plumlee needs comes on the defensive end, as he ranked 115th in the league as opponents scored 0.83 points per possession when being defended by the 6-foot-10 center in the post.
22. Anderson Varejao– Cleveland Cavaliers
Varejao’s innate ability to grab rebounds makes him a commodity in fantasy basketball. In his 10th season with the Cavaliers, he averaged 9.7 rebounds a game in 65 appearances. Thirty times Varejao grabbed 10 or more rebounds, with his primary highlight coming against the Magic, when he posted 25 rebounds (eight coming on the offensive end) to go along with 18 points, three assists and a block. The Cavaliers are hoping Varejao and Kevin Love and form one of the most dynamic rebounding duos in the league.
21. Robin Lopez– Portland Trail Blazers
By becoming an effective offensive rebounder, Lopez was one of the pleasant surprises in fantasy basketball last season. The 7-footer out of Stanford grabbed 4.0 offensive rebounds a game, tying him with DeAndre Jordan for the second most in the league last season. The result was an increase in minutes, as he averaged a career-high 31.7 a game and all of the offensive rebounds contributed to easy looks at the rim, as Lopez shot 55.1 percent from the field.
20. Andrew Bogut– Golden State Warriors
Bogut managed to average 10 rebounds a game for the third time in his career, even thought the Warriors limited him to less than 27 minutes a night. The Australian’s ability to grab rebounds in bulk, as he compiled 15 or more rebounds on eight occasions, along with his shot blocking ability gives Bogut plenty of upside late in the draft. The one area fantasy owners need to be cautious of is his free throw shooing, as he made 34.4 percent of his attempts at the line, a figure that would have ranked as the lowest in the league if he attempted enough foul shots.
19. Roy Hibbert– Indiana Pacers
There were two different versions of Hibbert last season. The 7-foot-2 center earned a place on the Eastern Conference All-Star team by averaging 11.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and was the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year honors by averaging 2.6 blocks per game. As the season progressed, Hibbert became less effective and his numbers after the All-Star break (9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) and the figures decreased once the playoffs started. Even with his massive size, he averaged just 5.5 rebounds and was held scoreless four times.
18. Tyson Chandler– Dallas Mavericks
A return to the Mavericks may reinvigorate Chandler’s career. During his lone season in Dallas, he established himself as a defensive catalyst, leading to his free agent deal with the Knicks. New York decided to part ways with the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, citing chemistry issues, as the primary reason for his removal from the team. Chandler was limited to just 55 games last season, but he remained effective, averaging 9.6 rebounds while he shot 59.3 percent from the field.
17. Jonas Valanciunas– Toronto Raptors
While playing for Lithuania at the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, Valanciunas established himself as one of the most dominant post players in the world. The Raptors center averaged 14.4 points, shot just below 70 percent from the field and he grabbed 8.4 rebounds a game. Valanciunas proved why Toronto patiently waited for him to join the team, as he didn’t play his first NBA game for a full year. During his sophomore season, the 6-foot-11 center averaged 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
16. Marcin Gortat– Washington Wizards
The first player to make a move in free agency was Gortat, agreeing to resign with the Wizards after being offered a five-year $60 million deal. During his first season in Washington, the Polish center averaged 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 blocks a game. Gortat maintained his efficiency around the basket, connecting on 54.2 percent of his attempts from the field. The 30-year-old submitted his best performance of the season during an overtime victory against the Raptors, when he posted 31 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks before fouling out.
15. Nikola Pekovic– Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota has one of the most interesting dilemmas at the center position in the NBA. Pekovic has played just one season of the five-year $60 million contract extension he just signed, but rookie Gorgui Dieng grabbed five rebounds a game even though he played just 13.6 minutes a game. Injuries limited Pekovic to just 54 appearances, but he played the best basketball of his four-year career, averaging 17.5 points on 54.1 percent shooting from the field and 8.7 rebounds a night.
14. Brook Lopez– Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn’s exorbitant starting lineup lasted just 17 games, as a broken foot and a subsequent ankle surgery, knocked Lopez out for the season before January. The injury to Lopez was part of a disastrous season for the Nets, as 19 different players suited up for the team. Prior to his injury, the former All-Star seemed poised for another stellar campaign, as he averaged 20.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game before he suffered the injury against Philadelphia.
13. Omer Asik– New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans is vying for having the best post defense in the league. The addition of Asik, a 7-footer was dealt away from Houston for a first round pick next summer, putting an end to a center by committee approach employed by the Pelicans last season. A year after leading the league in total rebounds, the Turkish center was benched after he initially refused to play alongside Dwight Howard. Once the Rockets placed him back on the court, Asik produced, averaging 7.9 rebounds in just over 20 minutes a night. Extended time on the floor should result in a dramatic increase in his shot blocking, as he turned back just 0.8 shots a game.
12. Larry Sanders– Milwaukee Bucks
In his first season as the franchise player, Sanders disappointed on and off the court. A fight at a night club not only brought him negative attention after he signed a four-year $44 million deal, but forced him to miss an extended period of time as the result of a thumb injury suffered during the altercation. During the limited time he was on the floor, just a total of 23 games, Sanders struggled to find his rhythm, averaging 11 points on 46.9 percent shooting, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game. Prior to signing the contract, Sanders was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year honors, as he swatted 2.8 shots a night, expect him to return to an elite shot blocker this season.
11. Nikola Vucevic– Orlando Magic
Orlando faces one of the most difficult decisions entering the 2014-15 season. Vucevic, a 23-year-old center capable of averaging a double-double each night, is eligible for a contract extension and two centers of a similar caliber, Marcin Gortat and Nikola Pekovic, each signed a five-year $60 million offer. Vucevic is a dominant rebounder, as evidenced by his nine game streak with at least 10 or more rebounds and the two contests he totaled over 20, but his defense is a huge question mark. Opponents converted 56.6 percent of their attempts at the basket when being defended by Vucevic, making him one of the easiest defenders to attack the rim against.
10. Al Horford– Atlanta Hawks
A torn pectoral muscle shut down Horford’s season in December. The former Florida star was on pace to be selected to his third career All-Star game, as he averaged career-highs with 18.6 points on 56.7 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks a game to go along with 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists a night. Horford even knocked down a pair of game winning shots for good measure. The injury forced Horford to work primarily with his left hand, a skill he hopes to exploit as he begins his contract push for next summer.
9. Nerlens Noel– Phildelphia 76ers
The 76ers are hoping to be the first team to have a player selected as Rookie of the Year in consecutive seasons since the Buffalo Braves had Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio win the honors in 1973 and 1974. Noel was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but missed the entire season recovering from a torn ACL. Finally making his debut for Philadelphia in Summer League play both in Orlando and Las Vegas, Noel emerged as a dominant shot blocker, sending back 16 shots in six games, a trait that should carry over into the regular season.
8. DeAndre Jordan– Los Angeles Clippers
The potential was evident. As the less heralded member of ‘Lob City’, Jordan showed a knack for tracing an alley-oop pass from any where on the floor and sending it through the rim. Until last season, he wasn’t able to apply the same skill when tracking down rebounds or trying to send back an opponents shot. The 2013-14 season served as a breakout campaign for Jordan, as he led the league in defensive rebounds (783), total rebounds (1,114) and field goal percentage (68.3) while his 2.5 blocks per game were the third most in the NBA.
7. Chris Bosh– Miami Heat
Suddenly, Bosh has become the face of the franchise in Miami. The former Georgia Tech star has been selected to nine consecutive All-Star games and is hoping the streak continues as he prepares to take on a much larger role with the Heat. Bosh rejected a maximum contract from Houston to stay in South Beach, agreeing to a five-year $118 million contract this summer. In each of his four seasons in Miami, Bosh has seen his scoring, rebounding and assist averages decrease, but with a much larger role in the offense, he is hoping to return to his 20 point, 10 rebound form, something he accomplished three of his final four seasons with the Raptors.
6. Marc Gasol– Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis just signed Zach Randolph to a contract extension, now it must find a way to keep Gasol on the roster next summer. The Spanish center possesses the rare combination of elite rebounding and excellent passing, as he has averaged at least eight rebounds and three assists along with 14 points in each of the past three seasons. The Grizzlies saw just how vital Gasol was to their team last year, going 40-19 when he played and 10-13 when he sat with a knee injury.
5. Andre Drummond– Detroit Pistons
Offensive rebounding is all about effort and no player in the league exuded more effort on that front than Drummond. In his sophomore season, the former Connecticut star led the league with 440 offensive rebounds. The 7-footer played sparingly for Team USA during its run to the gold medal this summer at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, but the experience along with the tutelage of new coach Stan Van Gundy could help Drummond become the league leader in double-doubles, as Kevin Love only tallied more than his 57 a year ago.
4. Joakim Noah– Chicago Bulls
No player at the center position averaged more than the 5.4 assists Noah posted last season. In his seventh season, Noah was able to display his complete game, as he dished out 10 or more assists on eight occasions, snared 10 or more rebounds 57 times and scored at least 20 points in 12 contests. As always in Chicago, defense is the key and no player proved to be better than Noah last season. The 29-year-old center won Defensive Player of the Year honors after he posted 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 assists a night.
3. Al Jefferson– Charlotte Hornets
The only thing capable of slowing down Jefferson during his debut season in Charlotte was plantar fasciitis. The injury limited the 29-year-old during last year’s first round meeting in the playoffs, ultimately forcing him to miss the Game 4 and his team was swept. Jefferson is now pain free and ready to add to his impressive totals. As one of just five players to average over 20 points and 10 rebounds last season, Jefferson has become a consistent fantasy contributor.
2. DeMarcus Cousins– Sacramento Kings
A summer spent overseas with a group of elite players has helped mold player into All-Star talents for over two decades and the most intriguing prospect following the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball tournament is Cousins. As the backup center for Team USA, Cousins executed his role perfectly, even leading the team in field goal percentage. There is no question Cousins is talented, as his 26.1 PER rating (fifth best in the league) can attest to, only Sacramento needs its young center to become a team leader.
1. Dwight Howard– Houston Rockets
The Rockets do have a pair of All-Stars and following his declaration that Houston won’t miss Chander Parsons, someone he deemed as just a role player, Howard once again has much to prove. In his first season with the Rockets, after he was recruited to the team by Parsons, was a successful one. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year averaged 18.3 points, shot 59.1 percent from the field, grabbed 12.2 rebounds and rejected 1.8 shots a game.