Three Ways the NBA Saved the Center Position
Typically in an All Star game, the league is showcasing its best talent at every position and giving the fans the chance to see the cream of the 500+ player crop. The point guard position in recent years has Chris Paul, the off guard has Kobe Bryant, the small forward has LeBron James and the power forward has Tim Duncan. But what about the center, a position that once used to dominate the NBA? The 2011 All Star game featured 3 centers, Yao Ming, who never played due to injury, Dwight Howard, and Al Horford. At the time, Howard was really the only one to be worthy of an all-star nod. The position was so bad that a year later the league took the center position off of the All Star ballot all together. The point was that the league was completely dried out of centers.
Then, the league began to evolve and progress with its style of play as well as some well-needed drafting of these big men.
Here is how the center has come back.
The center is no longer on the block: According to Synergy sports, 62% of all made field goals from players playing the 5 spot last year came off of put back from missed shots. To get so many offensive rebounds and put backs, the player can’t wait on the block for the ball, taking them out of defensive positions. Now many times, teams run offenses that deal with centers catching the ball at the free throw line or setting a screen for a teammate. They are no longer stagnate like in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The big men of today are active and moving far more than they used to, which can lead to momentum towards the rim and easier put backs.
The Big Man is now becoming the new distributor: With kudos to NBA great Bill Walton, the NBA has never seen centers that can pass the way many of them are now. Joakim Noah of the Bulls is currently leading his team in assists with about 5 a game. Marc Gasol is at 4 a game with star Demarcus Cousins also over 3 assists as well. This is simply a byproduct of where and how the Center is being integrated into the offense. With many team running a flow offense, the 5s are getting the ball around the 3 point line where no one will go guard them, this gives them the freedom to find open teammates or cutting wings in the case of a slip. It’s not that these guys are better passers than their predecessors, it’s simply they are being used more efficiently. Changing the game without really scoring.
The Center is finally realizing defense does lead to offense: Right now the league has 10 centers that are averaging at least 10 rebounds and 2 blocks --the first time in league history. However, of the 10, 8 are also averaging double digits in points. So if they playing further away from the basket and getting the ball less, how are they still scoring? With defense. As the tempo of the league increases, these centers get rebounds, give good outlet passes, then trail the play until they slide in and get easy layups or dunks in semi-transition. It’s because they are able to get the rebounds that they are essentially controlling the tempo of the game for themselves.
From the measly 3 centers that the NBA had to offer in 2011, they have really improved their quality. The NBA now has “stars centers” in Demarcus Cousins, Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Joakim Noah and Al Horford, as well as invaluable top 50 overall players such as Marc Gasol, Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan and Nikola Pekovic. The center position is certainly back and so to should it be on the all-star ballot.