This is the second installment of a five-part series that examines the National Basketball Association’s athletes from a fantasy perspective. Most recently, we broke down the league’s shooting guards; this week, on to the centers! Strong fantasy franchises, like their professional counterparts, must possess a top-tier big man capable of providing his team with the bulk of its boards and blocks. This big man can, however, also assume the form of a power forward. Why are there so few “legit’ centers?” Because there’s a dearth of true seven-footers in the league today and, unless you’ve got a real pituitary disorder on your hands, most people aren’t gonna be scrapin’ seven feet tall. Some teams (for example, the Phoenix Suns) will even play without a center in the lineup. With players such as PF Amare Stoudemire combining the bulk of a center with the athleticism and agility of a forward, such teams have no need to field a center. There’s a new big man in town, and he plays a hybrid center/power forward role.
Allow me to preface that different fantasy leagues will list athletes at different positions. A center in your league might be listed as a power forward in another. In addition, this piece does not review every center in the league. And with that disclaimer, on to the “Center-Piece” of this series!
At the Top of the Game
Tim Duncan (SA): Simply put, Duncan is the most fundamentally sound big man in the league. Possessing an arsenal of low post moves, he averages a very impressive double/double consisting of 21 points and 12 boards per game. In addition, Duncan dishes 2.6 assists per game and leads all centers in blocks at nearly three per contest.
Dirk Nowitzki (Dal): Eye-poppingly nimble for a seven-footer, Dirk’s able to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop, owns a very reliable mid-range jumper, and is “money” from beyond the arc with a three-point shooting percentage of 40%. The giant German’s arguably the most valuable center in the league and the “sole” concern with Dirk is what it’s always been: a pair of balky ankles.
Shaquille O’Neal (Mia): Although statistically he might not be the top big man in the league, Shaq remains the most dominant center in the game. That’s an important distinction; Shaq’s arrival in Florida has helped transform the Miami Heat into a dominant team while elevating the play of SG Dwyane Wade and PF Udonis Haslem. Averaging more than 23 points and 11 boards per game, Shaq-Daddy leads all centers with a shooting percentage of 61%.
Yao Ming (Hou): Although he’s in his third season, we’ve yet to bear witness to the highly anticipated “Ming Dynasty.” Make no mistake, Yao’s level of play is quite high, but he isn’t the defensive force one might expected. At his height, Yao should be pulling down double-digit boards while averaging a double-double, yet he’s doing neither. Some were expecting the arrival of SG Tracy McGrady to boost Yao’s production, but the gentle giant’s stat line hasn’t changed significantly since Steve Francis’ days in Houston. From a fantasy perspective, Yao is a serviceable yet unspectacular center.
Other Top Centers
Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cle): One of the most offensively skilled centers in the league, “Big Z” is lethal from three-point land, notches almost 17 points per
game and is working well with talented youngsters SG LeBron James and PF Drew Gooden. Ilgauskas is, however, a defensive liability. That flaw should not, however, have any effect upon his fantasy value.
Jamaal Magloire (Cha): The Kentucky product was starting to come on strong when he went down with a dislocated finger in late November. Fantasy owners left with a glaring hole in the middle of their lineups eagerly await his return from the IL, but that probably won’t happen before late February … so don’t hold your breath!
Rasheed Wallace (Det): Although he’s getting up there in years, ‘Sheed’s pouring in almost 14 points and pulling down 7+ boards per game, and is still capable of providing a fantasy team with “big help.”
Brad Miller (Sac): As reliable as they come, Miller’s developed into a top-tier player over the past two seasons. Draining almost 15 points per contest on an eye-opening 54%, Miller leads all centers with more than three dimes per game and cleans the glass like Windex, averaging 9+ rebounds per game. At this point, Miller remains an undervalued fantasy player.
Kurt Thomas (NY): The Knicks’ recent history includes a considerable number of overpriced, under-talented players who received maximum-dollar contracts. Unlike many others who’ve come and gone during his tenure in New York, however, Thomas still retains value. But, keep an eye on young center Nazr Mohammed who’s really stepped up his level of play and surprised Knick observers. Placing Thomas in this tier was not an easy decision for a number of reasons. It is but a small step for the veteran to go from this category to “Centers in Decline.”
Sleepers and Centers on the Rise
Chris Bosh (Tor): Former high flyer and heir to the Jordan throne Vince Carter was moved so as to allow Bosh the playing time he desperately needed. Bosh’s value should only increase as the season wears on, and a recent string of 20+ point, 10+ rebound performances is a harbinger of the good things to come. Currently, Bosh is averaging 15+ points on 47% from the field, and is hauling in 8+ boards per game. Bosh is a star in the making, as is the next center on the list…
Emeka Okafor (Cha): This former UConn star is the NBA’s hands-down Rookie of the Year. A powerful paint presence, Okafor’s averaging 15+ points, 11+ rebounds, and shows no signs of hitting the rookie wall. A humble kid, the early success Okafor has enjoyed isn’t going to his head and, more importantly, indicates that he possesses a greater upside than many NBA observers had originally projected.
Nazr Mohammed (NY): A throw-in in the Tim Thomas trade, Mohammed has actually turned out to be a real find. He’s also the Knicks’ center of the future. If you picked Mohammed up off of the waiver wire as I did, you scored yourself a top ten fantasy center.
Eddy Curry (Chi): Finally, Curry is beginning to live up to his considerable potential. The former fourth overall pick is also developing nice chemistry with the team’s talented young core. Averaging 15+ points on 53% from the field, few centers can match such accuracy. Previously considered a defensive liability, Curry’s improving defensive statistics seem to indicate that he’s determined to shed his “underachiever” label and become a complete player.
Chris Kaman (LAC): Chris Kaman, “Shaggy” to friends, was the ‘03 draft’s sixth overall pick and has really begun to pay dividends this season. Instructed by Clipper skipper Mike Dunleavy to “up the offensive tempo,” Kaman responded in consecutive games against the Lakers and Mavericks, posting a combined 27 points, 28 boards, and seven blocks. If he’s still available, Kaman is worth picking up off your league’s waiver wire right now!
Dan Gadzuric (Mil): The former UCLA star has begun to post some impressive numbers, including a recent 19-point, 14-rebound eruption against the Denver Nuggets. Averaging less than one turnover per game, Gadzuric is shooting an impressive 60% from the field and could prove to be a second half sleeper.
Samuel Dalembert (Phi): If you’re in a deep… ok, a very deep league, and need rebounds or lack a center, there might be some merit in picking Sammy up off of the wire. Having finished last season in impressive fashion, owners rightfully expected to see big things from Dalembert this season. Thus far, however, he’s been maddeningly inconsistent. Still young, possessing tremendous upside, and having demonstrated that he can compete at the pro level, Dalembert qualifies as yet another deep sleeper capable of paying great dividends once he puts it all together.
The Bigger They Are… Centers Whose Value May Be Dropping
Marcus Camby (Den): Over the course of his career, Camby’s visited the DL more often then some people visit the bathroom. While Camby remains capable of posting big numbers playing alongside talented youngsters such as PF Kenyon Martin, SF Carmelo Anthony and PG Andre Miller, just keep in mind that the guy’s always one misstep away from the IR list.
Vlade Divac (LAL): Age and injuries have exacted a heavy toll upon Divac. In the declining stage of his career and injured, he’s not worthy of even a bench spot. Retirement is more than likely in Vlade’s imminent future.
Dikembe Mutombo (Hou): This former star player still takes great delight in wagging his finger after swatting a shot into the tenth row, and his true age? Well, that’s anyone’s guess!
Michael Olowokandi (Min): The “Kandi Man” played well enough to secure himself a “Lotto-style” contract … and hasn’t been heard from since.
New Jersey native Jamey Feuer has written several articles for the Football Cafe; this series marks his first foray onto the hardwood.
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