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Who will be the NBA’s best center in 3 years?

Over the past couple of decades, the NBA has undergone a revamping of sorts. The game is not what it once was (for better or worse), and the changes continue to flow in at a steady pace. David Stern is retiring after 30 years at the helm, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are hardly the Larry O’Brien magnets that they once were, and players are no longer draft-eligible out of high school.

However subtle, these changes affect the game in more ways than the any spectator can count. Stylistic differences are the norm in today’s NBA, and teams no longer fit the mold of the 80’s and 90’s. Just as every player is equipped to succeed in his own unique way, so too is every era assigned a specific set of strengths and weaknesses.

The 2013 version of the NBA offers fans a look at what can become of “super teams” and the implementation of “small ball.” It’s no longer a game of dominating centers, but rather one of finesse wings and sensationally athletic forwards. In a country where abundance can be considered the norm, it’s scarcity that peaks the most interest. It’s for that very reason that I present to you the NBA centers that I believe will be at the top of their class in 2016.

Marc Gasol

The success of the younger Gasol brother has been clearly noted around the NBA, most recently exemplified in his winning of the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Award. While not your typical face-of-a-franchise center, Gasol possesses irreplaceable qualities for a player at his position. At age 28, Gasol experienced his most productive season as a professional. He averaged 1.7 blocks and 1 steal per game. Though his numbers are not eye-popping, his presence in the middle gave way for Memphis to obtain the second-best defensive rating among all NBA teams, while allowing only 88.7 points per game.

The reason Gasol is primed for success into his 30’s is his destitute reliance on athleticism. He’s a skilled center, who can pass, defend, and score at a high level. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to do it at the same or greater volume in the years to come.

2013-2014 stats projection*:

14.4 PPG / 8.1 RPG / 3.7 APG / 1.8 BPG / 1.0 SPG

Roy Hibbert

Roy Hibbert has to be one of the most frustrating players in the NBA. Though constantly underwhelming, he occasionally bursts onto the scene in memorable fashion (can’t forget Game 3 of the ECF). The reason he is on this list is not based on past performance, but the potential for future success. He has never averaged more than 12.8 points per game, or more than 8.8 rebounds. What he has done is improve on a yearly basis. With the scarcity of talent at the position, a little more improvement might be enough to place in him in the upper tier.

The past season was a down one for Hibbert, but if postseason success can be weighed on a curve, he more than made up for his regular season shortcomings. He’s already shown flashes of impending success, and he will only continue to improve his game. If he can stay healthy (which he has shown the ability to do), and continue to work on his offensive game, he could become one of the top centers the NBA has to offer. It’ll be up to him whether or not that thought comes to fruition.

2013-2014 stats projection:

15.2 PPG / 10.3 RPG / 2.0 APG / 2.8 BPG / 0.6 SPG

Joakim Noah

The scouting report on Noah, tracing back to his Gator days, has told of a player with unrelenting energy and hustle. His work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes to win are the primary reasons he’s on this list. Though continually forgotten among the league’s best players, Noah has improved every season since his first in the NBA. Unlike the other two players on this list, though, injuries have significantly derailed his improvements.

When considering what makes a good center great, Noah’s qualities seem to stand out among the rest. Though an unconventional scorer, his ability to defend and reel in rebounds makes up for his slight shortcomings on offense. Though he might not develop any significant new skills, he does has the opportunity and willingness to master them the ones he has. He runs the floor well, can pass effectively, and can actually shoot better than he’s given credit for (horribly unappealing as his form may be). On top of what he does effectively on offense, Noah has relentless hustle and is an aggressive (albeit occasionally obnoxious) defender.

Like Hibbert, Noah has a lot of work to do as a scorer, but with the right amount of work, he can become the NBA’s best center.

2013-2014 stats projection*:

11.9 PPG / 10.9 RPG / 3.5 APG / 1.9 BPG / 1.1 SPG

Purposefully omitted: Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Nikola Vucevic, DeMarcus Cousins

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the players on this list, or anything at all, leave me a comment in the section below (or contact me on Twitter via @VoicetheStands)!

* All projections gathered from Basketball-Reference.com

NBA Cellar Dwellers on the Rise

The NBA, and any professional sport for this matter, is about keeping up. With teams constantly making changes in efforts to improve, the rest of the league is left in a position to match or be left behind. For a number of teams, being “left behind” isn’t a problem, as it falls into their plans exactly. The popular term for teams that choose to lose games (or not make a significant effort to improve) in an attempt to recuperate down the road is “tanking.”

Tanking isn’t a socially popular route to success, but it is effective in its own right. If implemented correctly, and without lapse, it can be the best way for a team to improve.

The idea works this way:

  1. Losing a lot of games earns the team a better chance at securing a high draft pick
  2. Draft picks come with rookie contracts, which means guaranteed salary relief for 3+ seasons
  3. With salary relief in the fold, the team is open to pursuing open-market contracts

The process is long and grueling for players and the fan base. In the absence of shortcuts, though, it can carry with it the opportunity for future success. The most notable team to successfully implement the tactic: the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s in their mold that teams take their shot at revamping, and the effectiveness is evident in the team’s recent streak of success.

Here are some teams that have endured failure, and are on their way to recovering winning tradition.

Detroit Pistons

The road back from a 2005 Finals appearance has been a bumpy one for the Detroit Pistons. An excruciating Game-7 loss to the Spurs left the team in shambles, and though they’ve had to take their share of beatings, they seem to finally be back on the way up.

Following the upcoming season, the team will rid themselves of old losing traditions in the forms of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey. Exit the fighting, enter exciting. The Pistons signed the do-it-all forward Josh Smith to a 4 year/$54 million contract during this offseason. Pairing him with their young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, gives the Pistons their front court of the future.

andre-drummond-greg-monroe

On paper, the team looks to be a floor-spacing disaster, but the success doesn’t have to be immediate. With the flexibility that the team possesses past this season, they will have the resources to address their biggest concern.

As for the back court, Brandon Knight is a solid option for the time being. A true passing point guard might be ideal, with so much muscle down low, but that too will likely be addressed within the season. Rodney Stuckey is still on the roster as a guard, and the team signed aging-but-effective point guard Chauncey Billups as well.

These are certainly short-term solutions, but regardless of immediate indecision, the team is poised for future success. That’s what this is all about. The Pistons have placed themselves in a position where winning games is no longer distant and out of focus. If they continue on this path, and avoid bad contracts, they can jump on the contender’s bandwagon in the near future.

New Orleans Pelicans

In the absence of Chris Paul, the freshly-bestowed Pelicans have made quick work of their recovery. The route they have taken has been a combination of cellar-dwelling and sound free-agent decisions. Each has provided the team with the opportunity for future and immediate success.

With the 1st overall pick in last season’s NBA Draft, the Pelicans took Anthony Davis, the über-talented forward/center out of Kentucky. While the draft didn’t provide many high-reward options, the pick was solid and the player received will certainly prove his worth. In addition to selecting Davis, the Pelicans signed stretch-forward Ryan Anderson. This season, the Pelicans traded another high draft pick, Nerlens Noel, to the Philadelphia 76ers in return for Jrue Holiday and a future draft pick. With their point guard of the future in fold, the Pelicans received Tyreke Evans in a three-team trade.

new-orleans-pelicans-b-

Eric Gordon included, the Pelicans have secured themselves one of the best starting-5’s in the Western Conference. While the price tag on piece might prove to be a problem in later seasons, the team is primed for immediate success in a conference as wide open as their future.  The team’s purpose post-Paul was to return to the postseason, and develop a new winning tradition. It seems as though the team has done just that, as they have once again given the city a reason to hope.

Cleveland Cavaliers 

Cavaliers fans have been the victims of an NBA casualty. Once-in-a-generation superstars usually stick with one team in an effort to establish legacy and renouncing geographical fame. It’s for this reason that the city took such a big hit when LeBron James decided to bolt for Miami (which turned out to work in his favor).

Three long seasons removed, Cleveland is once again in a position to win games. With two 1st overall picks in the last three seasons, the Cavaliers picked up a superstar in Kyrie Irving and a promising young forward in Anthony Bennett. That’s not all they’ve done right, though. Pairing the two with underrated big man, Tristan Thompson, and the high-reward gamble in Andrew Bynum has the team primed for playoff contention.

The most exciting thought for Cleveland is that team is poised to contend beyond this season. Jarrett Jack is the player with the highest guaranteed salary going into 2014. Andrew Bynum is working with a second-year option, so if he doesn’t work out, cutting him will be the team’s option of choice. Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller all have team options as well. Assuming they are all exercised, and Bynum is kept around, they will still be sitting on $17 million worth of cap space.

If you can tell where this is going already, don’t stop me now. With the potential to sign a big name in 2014, the Cavaliers will most definitely move still waters in an attempt to make a splash. An abundance of non-guaranteed contracts gives the front office all of the power they need to operate. If an opportunity to sign a player such as LeBron James were to present itself, the team will be in the mix from beginning to end. It’s this position that the team has worked hard to place themselves in, and it is in their every right to reap the benefits of early suffering turned success.

Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@VoicetheStands).

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