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.
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 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
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