The Death and Rebirth of the Center Position in the NBASeptember 6, 2017
Above, Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant centers in history, and Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the NBA’s Rising Stars at the Center position.
This summer C Dwight Howard was traded for G Marco Belinelli, C Miles Plumlee, and a 2nd Round pick before the 2017 NBA Draft. Dwight Howard is a rough and tough center in the league who will try every time to dunk the ball on you while also putting up a double-double and protecting the rim. Although he doesn’t have much of a shot, he is a dominant force in the paint offensively and defensively and has been for several years. When receiving this information at the time of the trade I was puzzled. I kept asking myself, “Has the NBA outgrown the value of a solid paint player?”
From Centers like Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlin and Kareem and then Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal, there have always been dominating big men in the paint. All 5 of those players I just mentioned brought fear into the eyes of their opponents from single handedly dominating the paint and post, crashing the boards heavily, and rejecting every shot possible.
As I watch today’s NBA, I have seen the Center position evolve. The position has become tall, athletic, and shooting big men who help run the fast break and rebound the ball well. Two great examples of this new type of Center live within DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins and Karl-Anthony Towns. These guys not only are double-double machines but, can shoot from all spots on the floor and even extend their shot to the three point line, something we never saw in players like Shaq and Wilt. With this ability the “new center” as I call it, has evolved not only the position but the game of basketball itself. With not only the ability put their back to the basket and score, they can shoot from all over, which spaces the floor from all five positions making it extremely tough to defend.
Pictured above, 8-time NBA All Star Dwight Howard will be playing for the Charlotte Hornets this upcoming NBA season.
For example, when playing the Timberwolves this upcoming year it will be a challenge to cover them defensively. With the additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague along with growing superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns and the coming along of Andrew Wiggins, teams won’t be able to double team any one or make the risky play because everyone on the squad can shoot lights out. Also, the New Orleans Pelicans have two shooting big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Having both of those guys who can dominate the paint and shoot from all over, spaces the floor incredibly well and allows them to dominate other teams in that respective area.
Although, there still are those centers who dominate the paint better than anyone such as Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Rudy Gobert. You can rely on these guys to crash the boards better than anyone and protect the rim with power but understand that player is limited offensively. Jordan and Drummond are two guys who struggle not only shooting the basketball from mid-range but also shooting from the free throw line. They both posted the 2 worst free throw percentages in the ENTIRE league with Drummond posting a .386% from the line and Jordan slightly above him at .482%. That center is dying out in this today’s NBA as teams rely not only on paint dominance but shooting and converting at the free throw strike. To use Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic as examples, these two guys shoot great percentages from the line posting 2nd and 3rd among Centers respectively. KAT posted a .832% from the line placing him 2nd and Jokic posted a .825% mark at the strike. This not only raises their PPG average but also could be the difference in a late game situation where you count on a center to knock down two free throws to seal the victory.
The new breed of Centers also have strong playmaking abilities. They are so athletic and have very high basketball IQs and have acquired the ability to dish to open teammates from the perimeter like a guard and to also do it with their back to the basket in the post. Jokic and Cousins are among the top passing centers in the league. Jokic posted 4.9APG last season ranking him 2nd among Centers and Boogie dished out 4.6APG ranking him 3rd behind Jokic and Al Horford (5.0APG). Guys like Shaq and Hakeem had a career assists per game average of 2.5. Some guards and Small Forwards in the league do not even post assist numbers like that and having that ability is unbelievable for a team to have.
Above, DeMarcus Cousins, Wilt Chamberlin, and Elgin Baylor show the evolution of Centers from the beginnings of the NBA to the present
Centers have become more agile, better shooters, and outstanding playmakers than ever before. With the emergence of young stars such as Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and more, the big men in the NBA are making that transition and evolution from the big time dunking and rebounding players to this new faceup, three point shooting, playmaking and finesse stars you see in the game today. The old Center is dead and the new Center has been born. The game has changed and I am excited about it.
Written by Nick Kazandijan