By: Mike Wagenman
Just a few seasons ago, the center position was one of the weakest in the NBA. In 2013, it has become one of the deepest. Here is a list of the 30 best men in the middle. Note: Tim Duncan considered a PF and Andrew Bynum not included due to uncertain return date.
30. Robin Lopez – New Orleans Hornets: Had this list been compiled last season, Lopez probably wouldn’t have cracked the top-50. Thanks to the best season of his five-year NBA career, the seven-footer comes in at number-30 on the list of top centers.
Lopez has started all 75 games for the Hornets this season, which eclipses his previous season-high of games played. Speaking of season-highs, Lopez is on pace to set new personal bests in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, free throw percentage, minutes played and field goals made. At 11.1 points, 5.4 boards and 1.6 blocks per game, he provides a viable option for New Orleans to spell Anthony Davis, or even better, play beside him.
29. Spencer Hawes – Philadelphia 76ers: Like Lopez, Hawes has just recently clawed his way onto this list. Hawes had a formidable final two years in Sacramento, but never seemed to find his niche in Philly. That is, until March of 2013. Remember, although Hawes is in his sixth season, he is just 24 years old.
On March 2 against the Warriors, Hawes had possibly his worst game as a pro, finishing with zero points and just four rebounds on 0-for-9 shooting. Since then, the seven-foot-one center is averaging 15.1 points and 10.0 boards and has nine double-doubles. Quietly, Hawes has begun to develop a bit of a three-ball as well.
28. Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons: Talk about freakish athleticism and worlds of talent. Despite lingering injury troubles, Drummond has shown flashes of promise and scary ability to play above the rim.
The six-foot-ten rookie has been on the receiving end of some fierce alley-oops, and has swatted his share of shots into the front row of the crowd. Drummond is still raw and needs to polish his low post game on both ends of the floor, but at just 19 years of age, he has plenty of time to learn from teammate Greg Monroe.
Drummond averages 7.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks off the Detroit bench. Per Ian Thomsen of SI.com, he averages 18.3 rebounds per 48 minutes (most by a rookie since 1985-86) and he is one of four centers (joining Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol) with 85 blocks and 45 steals this year.
27. Tiago Splitter – San Antonio Spurs: While Splitter may not live up to Skip Bayless’s high praise and win Sixth Man of the Year, he has made the most of his expanded role which includes 53 starts. The third-year center is averaging 10.4 points, 6.3 boards and nearly a block per game. Splitter has recorded three times as many double-doubles this season (nine) as he did in his first two years combined.
Perhaps the most underrated part of the 28-year-old Brazilian’s game is his shooting efficiency. Splitter makes 73.5 percent of his free throws and 56.9 percent of his field goals. His trademark floater in the lane has proven difficult to defend.
26. Chris Kaman – Dallas Mavericks: Kaman’s stats have surely been on the decline over the past few seasons, but he is still a solid and reliable man in the middle. Kaman is arguably one of the most underrated big men of the mid-2000s, and people seem to forget that in 2007-08, he averaged 15.7 points, 12.7 boards and 2.8 blocks for the Clippers.
This season, Kaman scores 10.8 points per game and pulls down 5.5 rebounds to provide a solid option at center for the Mavs who have had a revolving door of players at that position over the past few seasons.