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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

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NBA Summer League’s Biggest Pre-Tournament Names

The Las Vegas NBA Summer League has, for 9 years, served as a platform for young stars to showcase their every talent. Teams continually hand young players the proverbial keys, and watch as they grow and operate before their eyes. The event has given way for many incredible performances, with players such as Anthony Randolph, Randy Foye, and Anthony Morrow setting the basketball world on fire, if only for 10 days.

The bottom line is the event has inspired leadership, creativity, and the willingness to succeed. Here are a few of this year’s players who have stood above the rest in terms of development and sheer talent:

Andrew Goudelock

Goudelock’s brief NBA career has seen him opposed to seemingly unsurmountable odds. He’s gone from being a relative nobody to becoming a player that Lakers fans everywhere identify with. He served as one of the late season’s feel-good stories, and he’s kept on the same track through his first 3 games in Las Vegas’ NBA Summer League.

During the season turned shipwreck for the Lakers, Goudelock was able to earn himself national recognition. Injuries to Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant left the Laker backcourt in shambles, allowing for Goudelock to earn playing time for a team who hardly held him in their afterthoughts.

Through his postseason stint, Goudelock averaged 12 PPG, 1.7 RPG, and 1.7 SPG in 26.7 MPG. While not earth-shattering numbers, the ability to create points in bursts gave the 2nd year guard life beyond the pine. In his second game with the Bulls’ Summer League squad, Goudelock unleashed on his potential, dropping 31 points on 10-13 shooting.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers

The competition hardly speaks for itself, but the ability to score is evident in Goudelock’s approach. His abilities, along with the development of Marquis Teague, have secured the Bulls the 1st overall seed in the tournament-style format the NBA Summer League introduced this season. Though not with the Lakers now, Goudelock may be earning himself a bench spot for a team in need of a backup guard who can create baskets in a burst. At worst, he could be drawing interest from teams overseas, which is a significant success in its own right.

Jonas Valanciunas

The 2012-2103 season saw Valanciunas force his way in the Raptors’ starting lineup, only to give minutes back to players behind him on the depth chart. While his size and mental makeup are prime for his position, his basketball IQ and offensive moves need work. It’s for this reason that he wasn’t awarded more than 23.9 MPG in his rookie campaign.

The NBA Summer League has given Valanciunas the opportunity to showcase his abilities, and prove to the team that he can be their lone starting center. Though he has continued to struggle with foul counts, he has shown a few reliable post-up moves along with enough defensive presence to make a difference.

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There’s a lot riding for the Raptors with Valanciunas’ development. With only way-past-his-prime center Marcus Camby and Aaron Gray serving as positional backups, it will be up to Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to equip the paint for the Raptors.

Against the Miami Heat on July 13th, Valanciunas scored 23 points on 8-10 shooting. It’s this same type of production that the team hopes to see out of him in the regular season, as the former 5th overall pick will finally have the opportunity to prove what he’s made of. Odds are in his favor as his success in limited opportunities has evidenced.

Malcolm Thomas

Another Chicago Bulls standout, Thomas quickly put the basketball world on notice with his 22-rebound performance against the Denver Nuggets on July 15th. If otherwise not noted, that now stands as the Las Vegas NBA Summer League record for rebounds in a single game performance.

Thomas has bounced around during his first couple of years in the league, unable to find a stable fit. Having been undrafted in 2011, the expectations have never been high for the former San Diego State transfer. It seems, though, that Thomas has found a home abroad as On October 3, 2012, Thomas signed a one-year contract with the Euroleague team Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel.

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If his Summer League performances can be used as testimony, the Israeli team will be very hopeful to keep him. Though his skill-set is limited defensively, Thomas possesses great offensive abilities for a man his size. Soft hands and a knack for corralling rebounds, Thomas is poised to succeed at the professional level. If Thomas can develop a few reliable post-up moves and learns to defend the paint with some authority, we could be seeing him back in the States within a few years.

The reality of the matter is that players like Malcolm Thomas are aplenty in events such as the NBA Summer League, but it’s the few that are able to shine in their limited opportunities that have a chance at future exposure. In Thomas’ case, it might be a few years before we see real development, and we might never see him suit up for another NBA team. His performances this summer have been, if nothing else, an indicator of the unappreciated talent that the NBA possesses.

Questions or comments you’d like to share? Feel free to leave them in the marked section below. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you all.

The Western Conference Offseason. Sky Rocketing or Digging For Gold?

The 2013 NBA offseason has given way for a few major and a lot of minor changes atop the Western Conference, though probability points toward many of the same faces residing above the West in the upcoming year. Things move at a blistering pace this time of year, and today is the official start to a dramatic offseason that’s seen a few teams get better, and a few embrace the wrong side of .500.

Let’s begin with this offseason’s Better or Worse

The Better

Houston Rockets

The team that made one of the biggest splashes during the last offseason might have one-upped themselves in this free agency period. The Houston Rockets were able to secure the biggest ticket on the market this offseason in the form of the “Dwightmare” himself, Sir Howard.

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Though the fit is yet to be determined, the fact of the matter is that the Rockets reeled in the game’s premier center in Dwight Howard. The past couple of seasons have displayed the 6’11” big man in negative light, but the reality tells a different tale. Dwight Howard is finally in a comfortable basketball situation, with the next four years of his basketball life taking place in a static location, with a team that has as much potential as any up-and-coming team this league has to offer. Combining Howard’s low-post game with Kevin McHale’s love for the back down game will be a joy to watch, as Howard will surely blossom in the soon to be revamped Houston offense.

Combining him with young and quickly rising players James Harden and Chandler Parsons should bode well for the Houston’s success this upcoming season. Houston is desperately shopping Jeremy Lin, presumably to give Harden heavy run at the point guard position, while allowing them to play Omer Asik alongside Howard in the frontcourt.

Regardless of the moves yet to be made, the Houston Rockets stand now as one of the most interesting teams to watch in the upcoming season. No other Western Conference team made a playing change as significant as Houston’s addition of Howard, and it will bode well for them in the coming months.

Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 50-32

Los Angeles Clippers

A lot of noise has come from down south this offseason, but the team with arguably the biggest difference-maker of the offseason is out beachside in the form of Doc Rivers. The addition of Rivers not only gave the Clippers one of the biggest coaching edges in the league, but it ensured that they kept their superstar point guard, Chris Paul.

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Doc Rivers gives the team something that hasn’t been on the table in the past: home-grown motivation. Doc, over the years, has had an immeasurable impact on team unity and overall confidence. He has already begun lighting a fire underneath one of the team’s best players, Blake Griffin. In a recent ESPN interview, Griffin had this to say to a reporter asking him whether or not he thinks he’s “soft”.

“I’ve never really worried about being called soft or people thinking I’m soft,” the star power forward told ESPN reporters. “If anybody wants to step and take that challenge I’m more than happy — off the court — because I don’t want to get suspended. It’s not something that I dwell on. I’ve never really had a problem with being soft.”

Now, this isn’t to say that Blake Griffin is going to come out throwing elbows this season, but we could see him impose a new presence on the court. If he does take a big step forward in the upcoming season, you can bet that Doc Rivers will have a lot to do with it.

The team traded away rising backup point guard Eric Bledsoe and starting small forward Caron Butler, but they replaced them with two sure-handed shooters in J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley. Both of these players have displayed a blistering touch from beyond the arc and will surely love the opportunity to receive passes from Chris Paul. Combined with the presumed progression of Blake Griffin’s low-post game, the team will be primed for a well-spaced and well-armed team this upcoming season. They found their backup point guard in Darren Collison and their backup small forward in re-upped Matt Barnes.

The Clippers are poised to take a big step forward in the upcoming season, and LA’s new star-studded lineup will prove that they’re worth the trip for primetime ticket payers.

Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 56-26

The Worse

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are not on this list because they made bad moves. They’re on this list because of the moves that they failed to make, for better or worse.

The key losses the Nuggets are set to incur come in the form of ex-head coach George Karl and ex-midl-level-star Andre Iguodala. George Karl was released upon the end of yet another postseason fizz-out, and Andre Iguodala left for the team that would actually offer him a contract: the Golden State Warriors. Not only has Denver lost out one of the best head coaches in the NBA, but they’ve lost out on a source of much of their defensive presence during last season. They’ve yet to attract a significant free agent, and have balked at any significant improvement whatsoever.

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It seems that the Denver Nuggets have given way to the Brian Shaw era, which isn’t really a downgrade at the head coaching position. Shaw has worked hard for his opportunity, riding one pine too many in my opinion. The problem here is, that the retooling needs to take place from the bottom up, and the simple addition of Shaw will not help Denver’s case this season. It seems that they are doomed to remain a middle of the pack team, unless they were to make a move worth talking about in the next few weeks.

Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 44-38

Los Angeles Lakers

It’s interesting to see that the team across the offices in Staples Center are on the opposite side of things in terms offseason improvement. While they missed out huge in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Lakers may have actually set themselves up for future success. Regardless of that detail, though, this segment is about the 2013-14 season, and the Lakers have definitely gotten worse this offseason.

Dwight Howard bolting to what Shaq refers to as a “small town” in Houston, basically turned the upcoming season into a Wiggins-or-bust scenario for the Lakers. Unfortunately for them, they have a certain spirit in the locker room that will not allow for that sort of thinking to take place. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will be back and at it trying to help raise another banner on the Lakers end of Staples, but it will be in vain for reason beyond their control. This team is simply not equipped to win. The move they’re set to make in the amnesty of Metta World Peace is not for this season’s team success, it’s a financial decision handed down in order to save money for an otherwise wasted season.

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The Lakers’ only available funds were handed to Chris Kaman in the form of the team’s mini-mid-level exception. The move is solid, but it’s hardly a game changer. The team is simply too old to compete, and if they knew what were good for them, they’d take a year off and hope for better things in the next offseason, when bigger and better names become available. As much as it pains me to say, the Lakers have no plausible solution, and their season will leave high hopes tarnished in LA.

Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 40-42

Leave me any comments or questions in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you, for better or worse.

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